MYSTERY WIRE — How many long-dead souls have walked through the halls of Hampton Court Palace?
More importantly, how many still do?
This sprawling complex on the edge of London has been home to many of England’s monarchs.
Henry VIII is the palace’s most famous resident and brought all six of his wives here. Could some of them still be stalking the grounds?
Jo Cooper is a warder at the palace and leads ghosts tours of the site.
The most famous spot on her route is the ominously named Haunted Gallery.
Legend has is that Henry’s fifth wife, Catherine Howard, made a last desperate beg for mercy here.
Accused of adultery and awaiting certain death, she broke free from her guards, ran down the corridor towards the chapel door where Henry was praying, hoping to plead her innocence to the king.
Catherine never reached him and she was taken away and later executed.
But residents who lived in the palace during Victorian times believed she never really left.
They reported hearing anguished shrieks coming from the Haunted Gallery.
“Some were brave enough to open the door and look through the gallery and see a young girl in a white dress, walk down the gallery and up to this door and then turn away as if she was being dragged by guards all the way back down the end of the corridor and through the doors there at the end, just going through like a mist and all the time shrieking and sobbing as if her life were in danger,” says Cooper.
It’s not just the Victorians who have reported supernatural experiences here.
Visitors on modern day ghost tours have some hair-raising tales to tell.
“Years ago, on two separate lantern-lit tours, two separate ladies, when they entered the gallery, they literally collapsed where we’re standing right here. When they came round, they reported that the minute they entered, they felt cold, as if they’d walked into a freezer and then they felt as if they’d been punched. And then blackness as they fell to the floor,” says Cooper.
Catherine is not the only female spectre said to roam the palace.
The Silverstick Stairs lead up to apartments used by some of Henry VIII’s wives.
Jane Seymour gave birth to the king’s only male heir, Edward VI, in a room above this staircase. It’s also where she died, just 12 days after her son was born.
In line with tradition, her heart was removed and buried in the Chapel Royal at the palace, while her body was buried at St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle.
Now, a spirit reportedly appears here on the anniversary of Edward VI’s birth.
“People have reported seeing a lady in a long white robe with her golden hair flowing down across her shoulders and a white shining face glide down the staircase, holding in her hand a lighted taper, a long, thin candle with a flame which never flickers and never goes out,” says Cooper.
The sad spectre seems to move down the stairs and towards the doors that lead out into the internal courtyard of Clock Court.
So why can’t she rest in peace?
“We believe because Jane comes down the stairs and she goes into Clock Court, it’s as if she’s searching for something. Now, is this the heart which is buried beneath the Chapel Royal altar, or is this her son that she was separated from too soon and never saw grow into the future king?” suggests Cooper.
Some of the palace’s ghostly inhabitants are of less grand extraction.
During Victorian times, an elderly woman called Lady Hildyard lived in a grace and favour apartment here.
She complained to the building’s managers that she was regularly disturbed by two male apparitions and heard unexplained knocking in her home.
She was informed that they only had jurisdiction over the real world, not the spiritual one.
Lady Hildyard thought she would have to live with the supernatural disturbances forever.
But in 1871, maintanence on the drainage system revealed an interesting discovery – under the flagstones of nearby Fountain Court were two male skeletons.
Studies dated them to the late 1600s – around the time a catastophic accident during the construction of a new section of the palace which killed two workmen.
“Now we have records that the master carpenter was given enough money to give those two unfortunate gentlemen a proper burial. But I think we probably know what happened. In the building site of Fountain Court, he probably found it more convenient to slip the two gentlemen under the nearest flagstone and keep the money possibly going down to the nearest tavern,” says Cooper.
“Well, there is a happy ending to this story because after they had been studied, the two skeletons were given that proper burial in St. Mary’s Church in Hampton and Lady Hildyard to the very end of her life was never disturbed by her gentleman callers ever again.”
So what of the people who work at the palace now?
Are they ever visited by an other worldly presence?
Cooper has a story of her own.
“One November afternoon, very late, it was quite dark, I heard a strange knocking noise coming from a cupboard which was always locked and it sounded just like this (knocks on door) constant for about a minute. As if somebody was desperately trying to get out. When we unlocked the cupboard, there was nothing and nobody inside,” she says.
When something goes bump in the night at the palace, who knows what might be there.