At Dagenham Park, near Romford, it was said in the early nineteenth century that the ghost of James Radcliffe, Earl of Derwentwater, walked the gallery adjoining the chapel.
According to one tradition, after his execution at the Tower of London for rebellion in 1716, Lord Derwentwater’s body was buried in London at St Giles-in-the-Fields, but another says that he was taken to the Catholic chapel at Dagenham Park, before being carried back to DILSTON, his home in Northumberland.
Lady Derwentwater had rented the house at Dagenham Park during her husband’s imprisonment. It was not far from Thorndon, the residence of Lord Petre, who married the earl’s daughter Anna Maria in 1732 after her father’s death. William Howitt, who reports the haunting in the second series of his Visits to Remarkable Places (1842), also gives details evidently handed down among the Petres. He says that some years previously, in the almshouses at Ingatestone, founded by Lord Petre’s family, there had been an old woman who said she had frequently heard from her mother that she had assisted in sewing on Lord Derwentwater’s head. (Whether this is true or a tradition is a moot point: it conflicts with later evidence that the head was placed in the coffin beside the corpse.)
Still at Thorndon in Howitt’s time were pathetic relics of the earl and more macabre ones of the execution itself. He writes:
At Thorndon there is an oaken chest, with an inscription in brass engraved by Lady Derwentwater’s orders, containing Lord Derwentwater’s dress which he wore on the scaffold – coat, waistcoat, and breeches of black velvet; stockings that rolled over the knee; a wig of very fair hair, that fell down on each side of the breast; a part of his shirt, the neck having been cut away; the black serge that covered the scaffold; and also a piece which covered the block, stiff with blood, and with the marks of the cut of the axe in it.
Lord Derwentwater’s execution shocked local people in the places he lived, with whom he was popular, and this inspired traditions concerning him. It was only to be expected that in Essex, where both memories and physical memorabilia survived, people should tell ghost stories connected with his regrettable end.
Haunted England: The Penguin Book of Ghosts – Written by Jennifer Westwood and Jacqueline Simpson –
Copyright © Jennifer Westwood and Jacqueline Simpson 2005, 2008