I`d like to tell you a story.
Once upon a time there was a man who lived on a beautiful large farm near the sea, on a very dangerous stretch of the Devonshire coastline.
Many ships foundered on the rocks in that area, and the villagers all would salvage what they could from the shipwrecks to eke out their meagre existence.
One man , Alexander, went further, in order to fund his addiction to alcohol and gambling. He became a wrecker and plunderer of ships.
He was ashamed of what he did, yet he continued to do so.
One night his young son William wondered where his father could be going on such a stormy night, and he followed his father to the cliff edge, and watched, to his horror, as his father deliberately lured a passing ship to its doom on the treacherous rocks in the sea.
Alexander was shocked and appalled to find that his son had discovered his shameful secret, and fearful that a chance remark of his son could lead to his discovery and arrest, he sent his son abroad to school, for he could not bear the thought that an innocent comment from young William might one day cause his own horrific death by public hanging for such a crime...........
William grew up a steadfast and honest man, getting married and having only one child, a lovely daughter named Katharine, who in turn grew up , fell in love and married a ship`s captain from Ireland.
Further grief came to William, for on his father`s death, it was found that Alexander`s debts were truly horrifying, and their loved family home had to be sold to settle the debts.
William was able to stay on the farm as a tenant, but it gnawed at him that he no longer owned his family`s home.
One night, in a fit of madness, he decided that he would wreck a ship deliberately in order to plunder it and earn enough money to buy back the ancestral home. He had no desire ever to wreck again, and it seemed a way out of his troubles.
Against the pleading of his wife, he made his way to the cliff-top near his home and waved a light, fooling the ship that it was approaching the lights of St Nicholas` Chapel and safe harbour at Ilfracombe town. The ship was wrecked and the crew died on the cruel rocks.
William gathered a good haul of valuables and storing them in a nearby cave, prepared to cart them to his home, when he saw the almost lifeless body of a woman on the rocks, her face badly disfigured from the ravages of the accident. He carried the woman home, where he and his wife tended her, but she never regained consciousness and died of her injuries a few days later.
William was faced with a dilemma, for the local constabulary had already visited all the surrounding houses,asking if anyone knew what had happened to the foundered ship`s cargo. He had denied any knowledge of the event, and what was he to do now ?
He could not declare the woman`s death to the authorities or to the clergy, without placing himself under grave suspicion of involvement, nor could he dig a grave on the farmland without fear of being dscovered, so after stripping the woman of her rich jewellery and heavy moneybelt, he placed the body in a tiny bedchamber under the eaves of the thatched roof of the farmhouse, and sealed up the window and narrow passage way at both ends so successfully that it was impossible to detect.
Some weeks later, a list of the ship`s passengers was circulated in the area, asking if anyone had found the bodies of the missing passengers. Idly, William read the list, and was appalled to read that there had indeed only been one woman aboard the ship he had wrecked, and that woman was no other than his beloved married daughter Katherine, on her way to visit her loving parents and bringing many valuable gifts for them.
Insane with grief , his wife died shortly afterwards, and unable to bear the knowledge of what he had done, William left the farm for ever, and moved to Cornwall, where he lived for many years. On his deathbed, he made a confession admitting to causing the wreck.
In the meantime, other tenants lived on the farm, and one day, the thatched roof began to leak. The lady of the house left for market, leaving her husband strict instructions to mend the thatch before she returned.
Her husband climbed up a ladder to the level of the thatch, which hang down very low over the walls in this part, and as he stripped away the old thatch, he noticed to his surprise the remains of a blocked up window. Puzzled, he counted the windows on the front of the house, then went indoors and counted all the windows again. There was definitely one window unaccounted for, and having mended the thatch, he waited anxiously for his wife`s return.
Together, they broke down part of the lathe and plaster wall in their bedroom and found a narrow passageway leading between two of the bedrooms. Because there was a staircase at each end of the house, no-one had realised the existence of this passageway...........
Curious, they broke down the plaster walls and found the concealed bedchamber, with a small four-poster bed with tapestry hangings. As they parted the curtains, they were faced with the sight of a skeleton lying on the bed, with the remains of her rich clothing.
It was the body of William Oatway`s daughter Katharine, and she was reverently buried next to her mother in the parish church graveyard, where she remains to this day.
As you may have guessed, we visited this house, Chambercombe Manor , when we were away on a brief holiday in Devon last week !
It is very ancient, mentioned in the Domesday book, and belonged to the family of Lady Jane Grey, who was very briefly Queen of England. It was an important Manor House in the Middle Ages and even had its own Chapel, which we visited, and a priest`s hole made during the persecutions of Catholics under Queen Elizabeth I.
It is well worth a visit, though the guide makes great play of the number of people(including herself) who have experienced supernatural happenings there.
As for me............
I just said prayers for the repose of the souls of Katherine and her parents :-)