Marbury Hall, near Comberbach

Up to the 1930s, a skeleton used to be kept in an oak chest in this house. Why this should be so is not known; one explanation might be that some family member had been a medical student, or an art student, who used it in his work. But of course such a dramatic and mysterious object inspired rumours, and by the mid twentieth century a colourful legend had developed, with several variations of detail.

According to this tale, at some unspecified time in the past one member of the Barrymore family (owners of Marbury Hall) travelled to Egypt, where an Egyptian girl fell so passionately in love with him that after he left she made her own way to Cheshire and refused ever to go home again. Some say he then married her; others, that he had meanwhile married his English sweetheart, but installed the Egyptian at Marbury as his mistress. In either case, it is said she grew so fond of the house that she insisted that if she were to die her body must remain there, not be buried in the churchyard. In due course she did die (some say she was murdered on the staircase), but her request was ignored and she received a normal funeral. Soon afterwards, bells began ringing of their own accord, and her ghost was seen riding a white horse. To put a stop to the haunting, the family disinterred her corpse and brought it home, where it was laid in an oak chest.

A later generation of owners, it is said, tried to transfer it to the family vault, while others tried to get rid of it entirely by throwing it into Budworth Mere. Each time they were forced to bring it back. It was kept in the chest until the 1930s, but then removed; some say it was reburied in the churchyard at midnight, others that it is bricked up somewhere in the walls of the house.

The park round Marbury Hall is also reputed to be haunted by a more conventional ghost, a lady on a white horse, who can be seen at sunset. She too is supposed to be a Lady Barrymore. The inspiration for this legend was a real mare, the Marbury Dun, so swift that Lord Barrymore wagered the Hall itself that she could gallop from London to Marbury in a single day, between sunrise and sunset. She won his bet for him, but tradition asserts that she dropped dead on arrival, after drinking from a trough in the yard. She was buried in the park, under a stone reading:

Here lies Marbury Dunne,
The finest horse that ever run,
Clothed in a linen sheet
With silver shoes upon her feet.

The ghost story which grew from this claims that Lord Barrymore had bought this mare as a wedding present to his wife, promising it would be there on the wedding day, and in order to keep his promise insisted on the fatal gallop. Lady Barrymore was so upset that she died soon after of a broken heart, and her last wish was to be buried by the well where the horse died, not in the churchyard. Lord Barrymore refused. Her ghost told him she would never rest, but would ride her lovely mare for ever.



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