You may have heard of Bisham Abbey for it is one of England’s most well-known sports centres, indeed it is now run by Sport England and many great sporting teams train here – including England Rugby, England Football and most recently Barcelona FC. But, you know me well enough by now to know that it isn’t sports teams that has bought this wonderful building to my attention! No, it is its history – also the little fact that it is considered one of the most haunted buildings in Britain…
The manor house itself was originally built around 1260 by two Knights Templar to be a Community house, unfortunately the Knights were suppressed in 1307 when King Edward II took over the manorial rights and granting them to several family members.
Later in 1310 the manor was used for the confinement of Queen Elizabeth of the Scots, who was the wife of Robert the Bruce. Queen Elizabeth was brought to Bisham after she her step daughter Princess Marjorie and her sister in-law Lady Christine of Carrick were captured on the Isle of Rathlin during the Scottish Wars of Succession.
In 1335 the manor was bought by William Montacute, 1st Earl of Salisbury who built Bisham Priory in 1337 to house the Austin Cannons. This was a big deal to the point where King Edward II laid the foundation stone, in fact you can still see the original brass plaque that was fixed to the building at Denchworth. Unfortunately for the Cannon’s the Priory was dissolved on the 5th July 1537 by Henry VIII. Henry at this time was rather fickle and changed his mind and refounded it as a Benedictine Abbey. It lasted barely six months as an Abbey and was finally dissolved by Henry (I did mention that he was fickle!) in 1538 – it is now that things go wrong. When the Abbot at the time, John Cordery was being expelled (and dragged kicking and screaming from the steps of the High Alter) he became enraged at the thought of his Abbey being turned into a private home. So, as he sat in a cart outside the Abbey he cursed the building…
“As God is my witness, this property shall ne’er be inherited by two direct successors, for its sons will be hounded by misfortune.”
It seems that someone was listening as his cursed was being laid, but I will come to that
shortly. Back now to the manor which was eventually given to Anne of Cleves, Henry VIII’s fourth wife who in turn swapped the manor for Westhorpe Park in Suffolk with Sir Philip Hoby. Sir Philip died childless and left Bisham to his half-brother, Sir Thomas Hoby and his wife the notorious Lady Elizabeth Hoby.
The Hoby’s were widely respected and highly influential, in fact Lady Elizabeth was considered (along with her sisters) to be one of the most educated women at the time. She was also known to be incredibly arrogant and very proud, she is also said to be still living at Bisham despite the fact that she died in 1609.
Lady Elizabeth Hoby
Elizabeth was the third daughter of Anthony Cooke, the tutor to Edward VI and he raised his daughters highly educated. Once married and her children were at the age to be educated, Elizabeth decided that she herself would tutor them. Although she was educated she perhaps wasn’t the best teacher as her levels of patience were said to be non-existent.
One particular day of learning she had growing increasingly frustrated with her youngest son, William. One particular day of learning after her other children had completed their days learning and left, Lady Elizabeth was left with little William as he struggled over his page, but it was when he pressed down too hard on his quill and blotted ink all over his parchment. Elizabeth was enraged and whipped the little boy for his mistakes, drawing blood and dragged him up to the tower room, she tied him to his chair explaining that he would remain there until he had completed his work making it perfect.
To work off her frustration she went for a ride on her horse, but her peace was once more interrupted by a maid telling her she had been summoned to court. This was not too unusual as Elizabeth was very good friends with Queen Elizabeth I, in fact the Queen had been sent to stay with the Hoby’s as a young girl when her sister Mary Tudor was on the throne and once Queen of England, Elizabeth would often visit the Hoby’s.
Elizabeth rushed off to the Queen at Windsor without so much as a goodbye. She stayed with the court for about a week, Elizabeth it was well-known loved to socialise and reveled in her stay with her friend the Queen. Upon her return her children ran out to meet her, all except little William. Lady Hoby at first thought he was still sulking from his past punishment, when she enquired as to William’s whereabouts maid responded “ma’am, we thought he was with you?”. Horror descended upon Elizabeth as she started to realise what had happened, she gathered her skirts and ran up the stairs to the tower room. She threw the door open to find that her young son was still tied to the little chair had starved to death.
Now, this is the legend but I think that it is important to note that there are no recorded
children of Lady Hoby called William, some believe that the little boy was either born on another estate – as she had more than just Bisham or that it is Thomas posthumous (after her 1st husband passed away). Regardless, it is claimed that when the manor was let to a Mrs East she discovered a number of papers, books and other rubbish when she decided to take up some of the floor boards to rebuild. The builders that had made the discovery called Mrs General Vansittarther who rushed to the house with her sister in-law to view their findings. When the arrived the found amongst the papers little books which were exercise books belonging to the Hoby’s including on covered in ink blots with the name William. Mrs Vansitterther’s sister in-law said to wait until the Admiral arrived before they decided what to do with them. unfortunately the books disappeared but luckily the women recorded their experience in their journals.
It wasn’t just the Hoby’s to experience great tragedy, George Vansitterther eventually bought the manor, after he had passed away it was left to his grandson (and namesake) who passed away with no children so it was passed to his cousin Edward. Edward had been told of the ghostly resident but one night after the Vice-Admiral had finished playing chess with his brother, when he had this experience.
“We had finished playing” says the admiral, “and my brother had gone to bed. I stayed some time with my back to the wall turning over the day in my mind. Minutes passed. I suddenly realised the presence of someone standing behind me. I tore round and it was Dame Hoby.”
It was as he rushed from the room that he noticed that the large portrait painting of the Dame was missing something – Elizabeth.
It was Henry, Edwards son who was the next to directly inherit Bisham, unfortunately tragedy struck when his son died whilst attending school at Eton College at fourteen, Sir Henry’s daughter also passed away with both her heirs (nephews) dying in World War Two.
It is now in the possession of the Sports Council as a memorial which is what you can see today.
Other than the spirit of Elizabeth Hoby, who has been seen by many tearing sheets of beds, throwing objects about, washing her hands as if there is something on them that she is desperate to get off and sobbing uncontrollably. There have been lights seen playing across the lawn that have been recorded throughout history. A blue mist has also been seen rolling from the house down to the Thames as well as it is believed Lady Hoby lighting up the tower room.
So, if you are in the area regardless of ghostly stories Bisham is definitely worth a look as it has been around since 1260! If you have been to Bisham Abbey I would love to hear from you – it sounds like a fascinating place!