About a mile (1.6 km) outside the town stands Clopton House, originally an Elizabethan mansion but remodelled in the eighteenth century, which is reputedly haunted by the ghosts of several family members who came to tragic ends. Unfortunately, though their names and the dates of their deaths can be checked, the details have been passed on only by Victorian writers, who tend to dramatize the events. One of the family, Margaret Clopton, was found drowned in 1563 in a well in the grounds (still called Margaret’s Well). It is alleged that she killed herself because her father would not let her marry the man she loved; she can be seen by the well, and in her old bedroom. Another, Charlotte, met an even worse fate, according to William Howitt’s account in 1844:
In one of the bed-rooms (said to be haunted …) hung a portrait … singularly beautiful … and that was the likeness of Charlotte Clopton, about whom there was so fearful a legend told at Stratford church. In the time of some epidemic, the sweating-sickness or the plague, this young girl had sickened, and to all appearance died. She was buried with fearful haste in the vaults of Clopton chapel, attached to Stratford church; but the sickness had not stayed. In a few days another of the Cloptons died, and him they bore to the ancestral vault; but as they descended the gloomy stairs, they saw, by the torchlight, Charlotte Clopton in her grave-clothes leaning against the wall; and when they looked nearer, she was indeed dead, but not before, in the agonies of despair and hunger, she had bitten a piece from her round white shoulder! Of course, she had walked ever since. This was ‘Charlotte’s chamber’.
A generation later, an Alice Clopton was kidnapped on her wedding day by a rejected lover who, realizing he would not be able to outrun his pursuers because the double weight was slowing his horse, flung her into a river to drown, and made good his escape. Recounting these tales at the beginning of the twentieth century, George Morley rather implausibly claimed that the first two had inspired two famous writers: Shakespeare, in his description of Ophelia’s drowning, and Poe, in ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’.
Finally, the folklorist Roy Palmer in 1976 mentioned a tradition that the ghost of a Catholic priest, caught and murdered while hiding in the house, haunts certain stairs and corridors; an indelible bloodstain marks the spot where his body was dragged along a landing to a bedroom. There is probably some connection here with the historical fact that Ambrose Rookwood, one of Guy Fawkes’s co-conspirators, was living in Clopton House as a tenant at the time of the plot, and that when the place was searched after the arrest of the plotters, various Catholic objects were discovered.