In 1779, Lyttleton returned from Ireland to his house in Hill Street, Berkeley Square, in London. He was visited by several guests, among them Lord Fortescue, Lady Flood, two unmarried sisters by the name of Amphlett, and a friend who recorded the account of Lyttleton’s mysterious death.
Lyttleton was not in good health, and had suffered suffocating fits during the preceding month. According to the friend’s account:
It happened that he dreamt, three days before his death, that he saw a fl uttering bird, and that afterwards a Woman appeared to him in white apparel, and said to him, “Prepare to die; you will not exist three days.”
His lordship was much alarmed, and called to a servant from a closet adjoining, who found him much agitated and in a profuse perspiration. The circumstance had a considerable effect all the next day on his lordship’s spirits. On the third day, which was a Saturday, his lordship was at breakfast with the above personages [the guests], and was observed to have grown very thoughtful, but attempted to carry it off by the transparent ruse of accusing the others at the table of unusual gravity. “Why do you look so grave” he asked. “Are you thinking of the ghost? I am as well as ever I was in my life.”
Later on he remarked,
“If I live over tonight, I shall have jockeyed the ghost, for this is the third day.” The whole party presently set off for Pit Place [Lyttleton’s gloomy mansion in Epsom, now a suburb of London], where they had not long arrived before his lordship was visited by one of his accustomed fits. After a short interval, he recovered, dined at five o’clock, and went to bed at eleven. When his servant was about to give him a dose of rhubarb and mintwater, his lordship, perceiving him stirring it with a toothpick, called him a slovenly dog, and bid him go fetch a teaspoon.
On the man’s return, he found his master in a fit, and, the pillow being placed high, his chin bore hard upon his neck; when the servant, instead of relieving his lordship on the instant from his perilous situation, ran, in his fright, and called out for help; but on his return he found his lordship dead.
Thus, the apparitional DREAM warning proved to be true.
Yet another apparition was connected to Lyttleton’s death. On the day of his demise, Lyttleton and others planned to visit a nearby good friend of Lyttleton, Miles Peter Andrews, Esq., who lived at Dartmoor. At the last moment, Lyttleton excused himself, perhaps because he was anxious about the death warning. He sent along no excuse to Andrews.
That night, Andrews went to bed early because he was not feeling well himself. Shortly after he retired, he was startled when the curtains of his four-poster bed were drawn aside by Lyttleton, who was dressed in one of his distinctive nightgowns. Andrews assumed that Lyttleton had decided to visit after all, and was playing a joke on him. He said to the figure, “You are up to some of your tricks. Go to bed, or I’ll throw something at you.” Lyttleton, however, merely gazed at him mournfully and responded, “It’s all over for me, Andrews.” Andrews, still thinking his friend was playing a joke, picked up one of his slippers and threw it at Lyttleton, who then seemed to glide into the adjoining dressing room.
Angry, Andrews jumped up and searched both bedroom and dressing room, but he found both empty and the doors bolted from the inside. He rang his bell for his servants and asked them about Lyttleton, but the servants, puzzled, said he had not been in the house all evening. Andrews still did not suspect anything strange, and ordered the servants to deny Lyttleton a bed, saying he could instead go to one of the inns at Dartford.
The news of Lyttleton’s death during the night reached Andrews the next day. He fainted when he heard it, and reportedly “was not his own man” for three years following.
Premonitory death dreams are not uncommon, though the symbolism usually is more couched and not as direct as the Woman in White telling Lyttleton directly that he would be dead in three days. The initial appearance of the bird is significant, for birds are symbols of spirit and the soul, and are associated with heaven. The Woman in White also is a heavenly messenger. However, as was typical of the day, the dream apparition and death were blamed on the revenge of an allegedly evil woman, the late Mrs. Amphlett, who was rumored to have died of a broken heart because Lyttleton had callously seduced both daughters.
Premonitory death dreams often are met by great resistance by the living, and by a determination not to die. (See DEATH-BED VISIONS.)
The accounts of Lyttleton’s death and apparitional appearance before Andrews do not mention timing, but it is most likely that Lyttleton appeared to his friend at his moment of death, as is the case in other crisis apparitions. He was dressed in his nightgown; typically, the dying who appear are clothed as they are at the moment of death.
- Harper, Charles G. Haunted Houses: Tales of the Supernatural with Some Accounts of Hereditary Curses and Family Legends. Rev. and enlarged ed. London: Cecil Palmer, 1924.