Little Lawford

A complex and persistent tale of haunting is set in and around the now-demolished Little Lawford Hall, for a long time the seat of the Boughtons – a family with the sinister Red Hand of Ulster in their armorial bearings. This heraldic emblem is in fact the badge of baronetcy, but is accounted for in popular imagination, here and elsewhere, by various tales of bloodshed. In the case of the Boughtons the most generally accepted version, given for instance by George Morley in Shakespeare’s Greenwood (1900), is that one of them, in Elizabethan times, heroically lost an arm in battle and was thereafter nicknamed One-Handed Boughton. Alternatively, the local writer Meg Atkins states (1981) that his hand was amputated as a penalty for moving his neighbour’s landmark – a heinous sin, according to the Bible, but not one which English law has ever punished in this way. In either case, it was he who returned as a ghost; Morley tells how he would terrify anyone who attempted to sleep in the chamber which had been his, and drove round the district in a phantom coach. By the eighteenth century, the situation had become so intolerable that one of his descendants, Sir Edward Boughton, summoned a team of twelve parsons to conduct an exorcism, each armed with a candle. Once the ghost appeared, eleven of them were unable to keep their candles burning, but the twelfth, Parson Hall of Great Harborough, was a man of great faith; his candle remained alight, and his unfaltering prayers eventually forced the ghost down into a bottle, which was tightly corked and thrown into a nearby marl-pit. But even he could not obtain an unconditional surrender; before entering the bottle, One-Handed Boughton stipulated that he must be allowed two hours of freedom every night in which to ride round the lanes in his coach. Like the anonymous spectral huntsman at ILMINGTON, Boughton sometimes orders those who meet him to open a gate for him, but (according to traditions current late in the nineteenth century) it is inadvisable to obey.

Lawford Hall was demolished in 1784. Early in the nineteenth century, there was some excitement over a bottle found in a pond in what had been its grounds. Could this be the one in which Boughton was confined? Meg Atkins reports that it was given to the nearest relatives, the Boughton-Leighs of Brownsover Hall – whereupon the spectral coach was seen heading in that direction. The bottle was locked away in a massive cupboard, and the family maintained that if it were removed, one of them would die. Eerie sounds of footsteps, hoofbeats, and carriage wheels continued to be heard in and around the house until the family left it after the Second World War, having buried the bottle in concrete at a secret place. The house is now a hotel, and is no longer haunted.



Haunted England : The Penguin Book of Ghosts – Written by Jennifer Westwood and Jacqueline Simpson
Copyright © Jennifer Westwood and Jacqueline Simpson 2005, 2008