More puzzles

Hello there, Stephen here: as you may have seen, we’re adding another one of Ranulph Williams’ stories to the site today, and I’ve been thinking more about the strange messages we’ve been getting on the site: its something I’m worried we’re going to forget about in the confusion of the next week or so.

The more I think about it, the more interesting the strange messages become – I’m convinced now that they have something to do with the longer introduction to ‘Haunted Houses’ that my correspondent suggested appeared in the first edition of the collection.

Certainly it seems likely that the haunted house that Williams talks about in the shorter introduction that we have here on the site must surely be the Mazehouse itself. And if that’s true, the longer version may well have had more information about what happened to Williams here.

Although the text that’s appearing on the site is hopelessly jumbled, I can pick out, at least, the references to Flower Queans and Corn Dollies, that point us to the local traditions I’ve written about on the site already, and parts sound like references to the myth of the Woman of Flowers, that Ranulph Williams wrote about in his book ‘The Labyrinthine King’. Anything more defeinite if harder to figure out – beyond the fact that its not very cheerful, what with all that talk of murder and death.

The biggest puzzle of all, of course, is how the text is getting posted to the website at all. We’re all pretty sure now that no one in the house is sending the messages, and Gary is pretty sure that no one outside could be, either – so could this be something paranormal, could this be an online haunting? It’s not inconceivable, after all, if paranormal phenomena do have an influence on electro-magnetic fields, as we suspect (and as we’re hoping to discover with our monitor system) they why shouldn’t they be able to affect computers? It would certainly be a first, as far as I know, and an amazing discovery for our investigation.

Of course, if this is so, then we still have to ask, who is sending this text, and why? We have been talking about Ranulph Williams and his experiences here, in the house, is this some echo of those experiences? Or does it have some other meaning?

But that, of course, is what we’re here to do, isn’t? To investigate.

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Mazehouse in the War

During the Second World War, the Mazehouse, which was unoccupied at the time, was requisitioned for military use. The house is ideally placed not far from the east coast and was used initially as a training centre for SOE recruits.

 

Later on in the War, however, it seems that the house was used by the secret services for a very different purpose. Certainly at one stage late in the War, the house was used as a radio broadcasting station. It was at this time that the writer Ranulph Williams, among others, was stationed in the house.

 

The idea, it seems, was to broadcast into mainland Europe, with covert relay stations making it seem as if the broadcasts were coming from within the occupied territory itself.

 

Some of the broadcasts were of propaganda and counter-intelligence material, but a lot of it was simply designed to provoke and demoralise German occupying troops. This led to some very bizarre broadcasts, including hardcore pornography and, under Williams’ influence, some occult and supernatural themed news and stories.

 

This project was closed down after only a few months of operation, ostensibly because it was difficult to prove any effectiveness for the broadcasts, although there have been persistent rumours that certain incidents in the house meant that the project could not be continued anyway.

 

The house then remained unoccupied until after the war.

Wartime history

Hello there, Stephen here. I just wanted to say thankyou to the reader who got in touch with some details about Ranulph Williams and his history with the Mazehouse, which has allowed us to add a new article to the site about the history of the house during the War.

One mystery remains, which is what exactly happened in the house that affected Williams so much. My correspondent says he has heard that the first edition of ‘Haunted Houses’ had a foreword that included much more information about the Mazehouse but which was cut down to the one we have on the site for later editions.

I’d love to heard from anyone who could lay their hands on a copy. In the meantime I’m going to see what else I can find out.

Rev Robert Brightley

Beauchamp_kills_SharpBy the middle of the nineteenth century the Mazehouse had become the rectory for the nearby church of St Dymphna and home to the Brightleys, the family of the Rev Dr Brightley, the parish vicar. As with many of the lives associated with the house, the story of the Brightleys is a sad one, for all the salacious delight it afforded the newspapers of the time.

Brightley had come to the area with his new wife looking for a fresh start, but it was not to be the start he wanted. It seems likely, in retrospect, that Mrs Brightley probably had a history of mental illness and she was certainly described by her contemporaries as a nervous and easily upset woman.

From the very beginning, it seems, she took against the Mazehouse, falling ill and complaining of persistent bad dreams and odd and ill-explained phenomena. But the Reverend Brightley was able to secure the services of a Dr Steven Knight, a local doctor renown for his ability with female patients.

Sadly, Dr Knight proved all two able in his dealings with Mrs Brightley and the to fell in love, apparently arranging to abscond together. A servant, however, revealed the plot to Rev Brightley who, in the ensuing row, attacked Dr Knight fatally with a fire-iron. A witness to the attack, Mrs Brightley appeared to lose her mind completely and never completely regained her full wits.

The subsequent trial of Reverend Brightley became a brief national obsession, not least due to the Reverend’s insistence that the Mazehouse was haunted and that all three of them, he, his wife and the Doctor, had been possessed by devils that had forced them to act in the way they had. It was eventually ruled that the Reverend, like his wife, had lost his wits due to the tragedy that had befallen him and he was incarcerated in a mental institution for the rest of his life.

The house then passed into the hands of a distant relative, but due to its ill fame, was not fully occupied again until some fifty years later, when most people had forgotten the horrors of the ‘Devil’s Doctor’ and the murder of the Mazehouse.

The Flower Quean

Abel_Grimmer_002The Harvest Festival has been an integral part of country life for millennia and many parts of the country have their own particular way of marking it. The tradition of the ‘Flower Quean’ is a celebration unique to the area around the Mazehouse

In many harvest traditions the last sheaf of wheat to be cut is honoured, sometimes being used to make a corn dolly or traditonal effigy, often being ritually buried in the fields to bless the next year’s crop. In the locality of the Mazehouse this role is taken, not by corn, but by a collection of flowers.

The flowers are gathered throughout the year and carefully dried before being assembled into specially shaped bunches known as ‘Flower Queans’. During a Harvest Supper at the parish church of St Dymphna’s the various ‘Flower Queans’ produced by members of the parish (usually, but not exclusively, the women) are judged by the vicar and the church wardens, to choose the true ‘Flower Quean’ for that year.

The Harvest Supper usually ends with a number of parlour games and contests, with the winner being awarded the honour of looking after the ‘Flower Quean’ for the rest of the year.

Although there is some evidence in parish records of similar rituals existing in the past, the current tradition has it’s roots in the last century when the vicar at the time decided to revive the local folklore, which probably also accounts for the consciously archaic spelling of the name.

It was as part of this recreation of the traditon that the ceremony became associated with the local folklore of King Lucy and the Woman of Flowers.

While the ritual may have been inspired and created from genuine local folklore, it is impossible to know how much of it has any actual antiquity despite the efforts of many antiquarians to discover pagan roots to the ceremony.

Sir Francis Day

DunstanvilleFor several centuries, from the late fifteenth century until well into the nineteenth, the Mazehouse formed part of the estate of May Hill Hall, home of the Day family, key figures in the local aristocracy. The most famous of the Days, although the word infamous might be more appropriate, was Sir Francis Day, the twelfth Baronet, who lived at May Hill in the latter half of the eighteenth century.

In local legend Sir Francis cuts a dramatic and dangerous figure. He and his cohorts, known as the Demons, apparently conducted Satanic rituals in a temple in the gardens of May Hill, rituals that culminated in the raising of Satan himself. The Devil, it seems, granted Day a true demon as a familiar in return for the hand of Day’s sister in marriage. The deal was concluded in an obscene parody of a wedding ceremony that ended with the Devil carrying his unfortunate bride off to Hell with him.

Needless to say, there is very little evidence that Lucifer got married at May Hill. The story, though, does have some basis in fact, and the tragedy of the Day family is certainly true.

For one thing, Day did have a temple in his grounds – several, in fact: classical follies in the fashion of the time. And one of them was certainly used for meetings of the Daemons, an exclusive gentleman’s club of which Sir Francis was a founder member. For all that their name was surely chosen to provoke the conservative ecclesiastical establishment, Satanic rituals were not what they were about. Their name was also intended to evoke classical philosophy and they were a group of men dedicated to following a new rationality in contemporary politics. For Sir Francis was, in fact, extremely active in politics and social reform, particularly becoming known for his charitable work on behalf of illegitimate children, who he maintained should not be made to suffer for the ‘moral infirmities of their progenitors’.

This attitude may have had a lot to do with Sir Francis own half-sister. Augusta, who Sir Francis lodged at the Mazehouse, was herself illegitimate, the result of one of Sir Francis’ father’s many affairs, but Sir Francis insisted on treating her as a full and legitimate member of the family.

The two were certainly very close, and when someone came between them, only tragedy could result. That someone was a local worthy called John Hiver, who began to pay attentions to Augusta, attentions which appear to have been reciprocated, judging from family letters.

Sir Francis, however, was incensed, and eventually challenged Hiver to a duel. Hiver ended up severely injured, eventually dying of his wounds and Augusta committed suicide soon after. Although he was never prosecuted for duelling, Sir Francis subsequently withdrew from public life, leaving his tragedy to grow into the wild folk tale of black magic and evil deeds it has since become.

He is now buried next to his beloved Augusta in the chapel at May Hill.

A barely recognisable version of the Sir Francis myth was used as the basis of a rather cheap British horror film in the late sixties: The Devil’s Bride.

Ranulph Williams and Me

Ranulph Williams

Ranulph Williams

I ought, really, to take this oportunity to declare an interest, now that we have mentioned Ranulph Williams. If the Mazehouse is thought to have influenced him, then it has also influenced me – for he certainly has. I first came across Williams as a child, in an old copy of his ghost story collection ‘Haunted Houses and other Places of Interest’ on the shelves of my aunt’s spare bedroom. Already at a young age fascinated by the paranormal, I devoured the book, even committing the dreadful sin of taking it away with me. I will give it back though. One day. I would be the first to admit that Williams’ ghost stories are not the scariest. He is no M R James. They are even sometimes downright funny. But it wasn’t really the stories that grabbed my attention. For me the most important part of the book was the introduction. This really opened my childish eyes. Here Williams talks about how he believes that ghosts and hauntings are part of our landscape, how it is places that are haunted and that it is when we enter those places that we get caught up in whatever this haunting is. It is this introduction that played a large part in setting the course that has led me to where I am today, and which still forms a lot of my beliefs about what I do. So you might well imagine that the connection with Williams made me even more enthusiastic about this investigation that I already was: what better place, after all, to explore his beliefs than here? To come to this haunted place, that so haunted him, and try to discover just what that haunting is.

Ranulph Williams

One of the more notable past occupants of the Mazehouse has been the novelist and ghost story writer Ranulph Williams. Williams was stationed in the house during the war, when it was requisitioned by military intelligence, and stayed there for almost two years. Although we know comparatively little about what he was doing there, we do know that his time in the house, and one particular, apparently violent, event, had a lasting and formative influence on Williams as a writer. Williams went on to be, at least to his contemporaries, a well known writer of ghost stories and other tales of the supernatural, often tracing his inspiration back to the event he, himself, had witnessed. He also wrote several novels, including a retelling of Arthurian myth, in ‘The Labyrinthine King’, which partially updates the myth to modern times and was well recieved on publication. Another of his novels, ‘Deus Ex Machina’, was adapted in the 1960s into an ultimately rather disappointing horror film, ‘The Demon Machine’, of which Williams himself once said that the only horrifying thing was the unconvincing nature of the rubber demon and the wooden star. Some of Williams’ short stories were later adapted for television in a short seasonal series of one off films for Christmas, 1974. Most of Williams’ work is now out of print, beyond a few ghost story anthologies, and he has largely been forgotten by the reading, and the critical, public.

History of the house and area

Hello there – this is just a quick blog because I meant to say earlier that this week on the website we’re going to be looking at some of the history of the house – in particular some of the stories associated with it. I’m particularly excited because we’re going to be talking about one of my favourite writers, Ranulph Williams, who is very important to this investigation for a number of reasons, and Gary tells me that he has managed to get some of Williams’ writings digitised so we will hopefully be sharing some of them with you!

History of occupation of the house

The Maze House is a Grade II listed building. It is mainly nineteenth century but still retains parts of the original eighteenth century house, particularly at the front of the building. The site, however, has been occupied for years. The grounds contain the foundations of a medieval abbey – with one wall at least partially standing. It is thought that there has been a religious settlement on the site, or in the area back into the Anglo-Saxon period. An archaeological dig in 1924 turned up the remains of a Roman villa. The most remarkable find of which being parts of a mosaic floor with a geometric pattern on it. There is some evidence to suggest even earlier Celtic occupation of the site, but this has not been tested. The inhabitants of the house have led a no less chequered past than the building itself. The house is often pointed out as the home of Mary Day, the sister that the wicked Sir Frances Day married to the Devil – if you believe local folk tales, although the current construction is certainly too recent to fit the bill, even if you believed the story. It is known, however, that it was owned by a Mr Day when it was sold to the Brightley family in the early nineteenth century, although it is thought that even this was a family transaction, the Brightleys being related to the Days through a cadet branch. Although the family fortunes have been somewhat erratic, the house has remained in the Brightley family ever since. The current owners are not currently resident. According to them the house is definitely haunted.