Freshwater. Ghosts of the Isle of Wight, with Margo Williams.

A ghostly figure is sometimes seen haunting High Down near the Tennyson monument. Not so long ago an attempted ambush revealed the ghost's identity.
Photo image of Tennyson Monument, High Down, Freshwater isle of Wight.
Tennyson Monument, High Down, Freshwater isle of Wight.

The Ghost of Tennyson Down

In the fantastic read: 'Ghosts of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight' Donald Parr relates the spooky evening during the winter of 1893 when Freshwater residents staged an ambush to catch a ghostly figure in green cape and big hat seen wafting the downland above Farringford House.

Tennyson died three months before. The ambush offered an opportunity for Freshwater residents to confirm or disprove the truth of the afterlife. Popular at the time Victorians were fascinated by spiritualism, often in the form of sceance events during which the dead supposedly came to communicate with the living.

Also gaining popularity, Science's new theory - evolutionism - challenged the existence of God and the supernatural. To confirm it so, science commissioned its top scientist Sir William Crookes to prove ghosts and sceances were fake.

Ambush on High Down

Meanwhile, the folk of Freshwater saw perfect opportunity to test for themselves. A ghost was seen on High Down, it looked like someone known to be dead; haunting a place ideal for an ambush. Some among the ambushers assumed it was a joker playing a prank of dressing up in their recently deceased celebrity poet's favourite outfit.

The ambushers chose their night, gathered atop High Down, rebranded Tennyson Down. They hushed on seeing the figure breeze through the mist and come toward their trap. “Everywhere suddenly turned cold,” gulped one of the ambushers.

The figure didn't alter course, or stop to offer a big reveal. Instead the misty figure breezed completely through the body-block of a dumbstruck ambusher.

“It was like a cold damp piece of blotting paper passing right through,” said another. “I am convinced that what I and so many others saw and reported was the spirit of Lord Tennyson. You see I knew him so well.”

Most Haunted island

Image of The Freshwater cliffs circa 1850 by Brannon.
The Freshwater cliffs circa 1850 by Brannon.

Poetry in Motion

The Tennysons – Emily and Alfred - moved to the island in the summer of 1857, purchased Farringford House, a beautiful ivy-covered Georgian house a quarter mile up the road from Freshwater Bay. Alfred set to work composing amid the overwhelming perspectives of the Needles peninsular.

Literary critics believe Alfred wrote his finest work on the Isle of Wight; among the classics 'Charge of the Light Brigade' and 'Idylls of the King', a timely update on the King Arthur legend, featuring Druid Merlin and Vivien; Lancelot's brave adventuring and the parting of Arthur and Guinevere.

Victorian Society's Big Problem - Evolutionism

Most followers believed their favourite poets engaged in social commentary. The reading and listening public had always turned to their literary greats to offer wise perspective on dramatic social change, and in the 1860s an enormous change detonated in the Victorian community.

Charles Darwin's 'On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection' published in 1859 implied that Adam and Eve were not humans' first parents, more likely our first mom and dad were apes. Every Sunday morning in All Saints' church in Freshwater, church bells rang hard in defiance; as they did in Brighstone and every other House of God. Every Sunday God was busy with prayers and questions.

Worse followed, archaeological teams working in the Holy Land recovered ancient cuneiform writings undermining Bible claims that Noah was the first person to survive the great flood.

Many feared the consequence for the human community from out-of-control industrialism allied to morally-unconstrained science.

People needed answers but the greats - Byron, Shelley and Keats - were gone. However there was the new best-selling poet Tennyson.

Photo image of Farringford House, Freshwater Isle of Wight.
Farringford House, Freshwater Isle of Wight.

Farringford Museum

His old home now is a splendid museum, cared for and loved by those who appreciate his fine poetry. During summer months it is open to visitors, tours of the house and gardens, with a fascinating introduction to Tennyson, his poetry and his west Wight world.

Farringford's previous owner was holiday camp king Fred Pontin, who buried his favourite racehorse Specify somewhere in the grounds; and offered refreshments in the bar or tea and cake in the drawing room, where spectacular views south to Blackgang Chine had a soundtrack of instrumental medley melodies. Those repeated songs probably felt like an unexpected level of hell for the ghosts who haunted the house.

One is a female figure sometimes seen dancing across the lawns; the other sits moodily in the drawing room. Some wonder if it is the poet himself.

Both ghosts doubtless appreciate the change of management and new sensitivity to their period. The house museum is a must visit for any Isle of Wight tourer.

Exploring the haunted Isle of Wight

Image of Tennyson's handwritten notes for "Idylls of the King".
Tennyson's handwritten notes for "Idylls of the King".

Idyll of the King of Poetry

In Farringford House, Alfred composed an answer to science's challenge.

Through these stories of King Arthur Victorian England was reminded of a previously perilous transition from crisis into an age of Faith.

Alfred became so famous, everyone who was anyone visited the Isle of Wight to discuss the crisis. The guest-list at Farringford during Tennyson's golden years was a mind-boggling memento of Victorian celebrity. Statesmen, scientists, Broadway stars, artists; the average IQ so high, Freshwater was renamed "Athens of the West".

Which makes identifying the ghost seen dancing across the lawns an intriguing and impossible mystery unless someone manages to get a quote. That sort of thing isn't done much these days, sceances are not so popular even though Sir William Crookes proved the existence of ghosts.

Science and Sceances

After a rigorous investigation of the evidence Crookes published his results to the Journal of Science with the irritating for some conclusion that ghosts were a real thing.

But the media preferred to focus on his unconventional love-life and so his evidence was lost; buried in scandal. Now no one believes in the supernatural. There is no such thing as ghosts; no misty figures in green cape and big hat up near the big monument on the sea cliffs.

Which conclusion probably pleases the ghost of Tennyson Down.

Thank you for your company on this short tour of Isle of Wight mysteries and haunting. If you would like to know more about Margo Williams' investigations in Freshwater and other famous and forgotten personages, read this book. Now available from Amazon.

Book cover link to purchase Ghost Encounters Famous and Forgotten.
Now available in ebook and print from Amazon
Related Links

Farringford Museum

Alfred Tennyson

Charles Darwin

Sir William Crookes