The Littlecote House is a stately home in Wiltshire, England, that was the scene of a violent murder of an infant and became haunted by the “Burning Babe” and other Ghosts.
The crime took place in 1575. Littlecote was then owned by William Darrell, whose family had owned the home since 1415. Darrell was known as “Wild Darrell” because of his debauched behavior and outrageous lifestyle.
The story goes that one night a nobleman sent for a midwife from another village. He had her blindfolded and taken to the house. She was taken upstairs to a room where a woman was in labor and was instructed to help deliver the baby. As soon as the child was born, the nobleman ripped it out of her arms and threw it into the fire. She was given a purse full of money and was then taken home, still blindfolded. However, she had the presence of mind to surreptitiously snip a piece of curtain before she left. She also counted the stairs on her way out.
The next day, she reported what had happened to the local magistrate. Immediately Littlecote was the suspected scene of the crime. An investigation was made, and it was found that the number of stairs matched the number the midwife had counted, and her piece of fabric matched a hole in the bed curtains in one room.
In another version of the story, the midwife was too frightened to talk and said nothing until confessing on her deathbed. She said she had been promised a large sum of money to help in secret a lady who was about to give birth. She was taken blindfolded to a house she did not recognize. When the baby was born, a man ordered her to throw the child in the fire. She refused to do so, and the man snatched the baby from her and threw it on the fire himself, holding it down with his boot until the body was burned.
Whatever the true version, Darrell was arrested. He was somehow acquitted (it was said he bribed the judge, Sir John Popham), causing a scandal. Darrell died 14 years later in 1589 when he was hunting in Littlecote Park and his horse threw him. He broke his neck, dying instantly. Sir Popham inherited his property. It was said that Darrell’s horse had reared up at the sight of the ghost of the murdered baby.
In accounts of the story made a century and more later, the murdered baby’s mother was identified as either Darrell’s wife’s maid or his sister. Littlecote was strongly believed to be haunted as a result of the horrible crime committed there.
The infant’s ghost, called the Burning Babe, appears at Darrell’s Stile, the site where Darrell was thrown by his horse. The site is haunted by Darrell himself, accompanied by phantom hounds. Horses are still frightened in this spot.
Darrell also has become a DEATH OMEN, appearing at Littlecote with phantom coach and horses whenever an heir is about to die.
Other ghosts include a silent woman who holds a baby and walks in the room where the murder took place; a woman who appears in the garden; a woman who carries a rushlight; and Gerald Lee Bevin, a tenant of Littlecote in the 1920s, who was convicted of swindling.
Sounds of phantom footsteps on the stairs have been made by the ghost of a lady dressed in a pink nightgown with a lamp in her hand. Terrifying screams have been heard in the middle of the night coming from the bedroom and landing where the murder took place. Littlecote is open to the public.
- Brooks, J. A. Britain’s Haunted Heritage. London: British Tourist Authority, 1990.
- Norman, Diane. The Stately Ghosts of England. New York: Dorset Press, 1987.
- Whitaker, Terence. Haunted England. Chicago: Contemporary Books, 1987.
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