In Tadworth Court, there hangs a portrait of an unknown lady in seventeenth-century costume; she stands among flowering shrubs and trees, while an area of partly erased paint gives the impression of a second face looming between the branches behind her. Writing about the Court in the 1920s, Frances Leaning found that a story centred upon this picture was known verbally and with many variations to nearly everyone in Tadworth (a hamlet in the Banstead area), and had been so known since the 1850s.
It was said that the portrait showed one of a pair of sisters who had lived in that house long before; both were in love with the same man, one happily, and one in vain. One day, he came to visit the one he loved, and she, hearing his voice in the main entrance hall, leaned over the balusters of the upstairs gallery to greet him. In a frenzy of jealousy her sister seized her from behind and tipped her over the balusters, so that she fell to her death on the stone-flagged hall; then, maddened by horror at her own crime, she rushed through a certain room, up a certain narrow staircase, and out onto the roof, from which she threw herself down. Shortly afterwards, it was observed that the shadowy face of the murderous sister had appeared in the background of her victim’s portrait, and could not be erased. Nor could the painting itself be removed from its place; whenever it was disturbed in any way, the ghostly sounds of the tragedy would be heard again in the house. There had at one time also been indelible bloodstains on the hall floor, but later the stone paving was replaced.
Being a historian, Frances Leaning had hoped to pin down names and dates for this tragedy, but could find no evidence; despite the strong conviction of local people that ‘there must be something in it’, she was forced to conclude that someone simply invented it, to fit the unknown lady’s portrait, and perhaps to impress ‘Christmas guests assembled round the blazing logs in the great hall fireplace, where the gallery showed dimly at dusk and the ceiling was lost in shadows’.