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Dylan Jones

The Haunting of Bisham Abbey
Llancaiach Fawr Book
The Ghost Tour of Wales
Haunted Holidays

It is said to be the most haunted house in Berkshire – yet only boasts one ghost!  However, the ghost is said to be none other than the 16 century Lady Elizabeth Hoby, the cruel mother responsible for beating her young son to death over the state of his books.


Our story begins not with Lady Hoby herself, but in the years preceeding her occupancy of Bisham Abbey.  When the black monks of Bisham were forcibly evicted in 1538, they did not go quietly.  In fact it is said that Henry VIII’s commissioners had to physically drag the Abbot from the steps of the High Altar.  He allegedly cursed any family who should ever live there:

"As God is my witness, this property shall ne’er be inherited by two direct successors, for its sons will be hounded by misfortune."

According to David Nash Ford, “misfortune has indeed struck the sons of Bisham’s owners, the Hobys and latterly the Vansittarts, with alarming regularity”. The first instance of a sudden death associated with the Manor is by far the most disconcerting and directly connected to the haunting.  This is the account of William Hoby.


William was the youngest son of Sir Thomas & Lady Elizabeth Hoby.  He was brought up at Bisham Abbey by mother – a proud and ambitious woman according to some.  To others she was cold and hard.  This might be attributed in part to the death of her husband whilst the children were young.  She was, however, one of the most learned ladies of the age, and oversaw all her children’s tuition herself.  Dame Hoby was a perfectionist and as a result expected perfection from her pupils.  In order to do this, she used strict methods of discipline.


William was not as bright as his siblings, and regularly blotted his copybooks.  During a lesson in a summerhouse had been constructed for the children on the edge of the lawn down by the River, one villager reported that he had once heard her violent shouts and saw her beating William about the head with her ruler.  The poor child collapsed on the ground with blood streaming from his eyes, nose and mouth.


However, the main incident that we are concerned with occurred in the Abbey’s tower room.  William had taken longer than usual that morning to complete his tasks, unlike his siblings, and had blotted his books again in the process.  Lady Hoby administered her usual brand of punishment bringing ruler rose high in the air and brought it down sharply on the William’s head.  What occurred next is indicative of a woman devoid of restraint, and filled with abject cruelty.  Again and again Lady Hoby beat him to the head, till he lay on the floor bleeding once more.  Her hands were covered with blood, but her temper had not yet been fully expelled.  She fetched rope and dragged poor William back up into his chair.  She  tied the rope around him, thrust the quill back into his quivering hand and the copybook into his face.  In fury she screamed at him to re-write every word, then left the room still enveloped with rage, locking William inside.


Later that morning, Lady Hoby was summoned to Court by Queen Elizabeth I and was ordered to leave without delay. She immediately rode to Windsor, without a thought for packing or saying goodbyes, and leaving the children in the care of her servants.  It was several days before she returned home to Bisham Abbey.  All her children, with the exception of William ran out to greet her.  Lady Hoby asked after her youngest son. "We thought he was with you", came the reply.  An unpleasant jolt of fear and realisation hit Lady Hoby. She raced up to the Tower Room but it was too late.  William was dead.


Lady Hoby was filled with remorse for her wicked actions and spent the rest of her life in sorrow and misery.  After her death in 1609, her ghost was reported wandering through the house.  Lady Hoby has been allegedly seen many times since.  Reminiscent of Lady Macbeth, she is seen with a fountain floating before her and she tries to wash William’s blood from her hands.


The Reported Phenomena


According to David Nash Ford, Lady Hoby’s best known appearance was to Admiral Edward W. Vansittart, when she stepped down from her portrait to stand beside him. She has allegedly appeared before other guests, displaying a temper that must have struck fear into their hearts, by “tearing curtains from beds, throwing things around rooms, and threatening to strike them bald”!


Thankfully however, her appearances are more generally composed, dignified and contained to the interior of the building.  However, she was once allegedly seen by some young boys down by the river, and some even believe she is responsible for the mists which often envelope the Abbey, drawing the most unwilling of passers-by into the depths of the River Thames – yet another reason that some fear the appearance of this daunting apparition.  Interestingly, some have reported that her apparition is in negative, with black face and white clothes – an opposite of the portrait on display in the main hall.  It is reported that the more often effect of the haunting is merely her sobbing that is heard, or a light seen in the empty Tower Room.

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