Knighton Gorges House. Ghosts of the Isle of Wight, with Margo Williams

Most extraordinary ghost site on the Isle of Wight is Knighton Gorges manor, not least because no such house exists. But sometimes it appears, Brigadoon-like. Locked Haunted Room and everything.
Photo image of Knighton Gorges gateposts. All that remain of the island's finest house.
Knighton Gorges gateposts. All that remain of the island's finest house.

The Ghost House Ghost

An eye-witness reported a drive-by ghost encounter outside these gateposts at Knighton Gorges manor house, near Newchurch. Quite literally a horse and carrage at full gallop careered past, knocked him into the ditch.

The witness picked himself up and chased after the reckless carriageteer. Chased all the way to the big house and hammered on the door. No answer. Tapped on the window, he saw between the curtains a fancy-dress party in full swing, Georgian wigs and dandies fopping and dancing to music.

No one answered the summons so the witness walked away disturbed but respectful of their ignorant disdain. He stopped at the next cottage down the road and found welcome and a hot meal. He told the friendly hostess and her husband about his near-miss up by the old gateposts, how he saw a party of gentry inside the big house.

"Which house might that be?" asked the hostess.

The visitor carried a tourist map and showed her.

"No house there, not for many years," she said. "Bad house."

Engraved illustration of the only picture of Knighton Gorges House, circa 1850.
The only picture of Knighton Gorges House, circa 1850.

Knighton Gorges House Before it Disappeared

Knighton Gorges isn't a bad house. It is bare ground. All that remain are the gateposts.

But it was a magnificent house, finest on this island said those who saw it and entered. Rebuilt and remodelled in the 1600s during the reign of King James, on the footings of an older house belonging to the de Morvilles. An island family best remembered for its notorious son, Hugh.

Sir Henry Englefield visited during the 1800s and noted Knighton Gorges house was:

"By far the most considerable and beautiful of the ancient mansions of the island." The old manor house had a "fine grey tint, the west end enveloped in ivy winding round tall clustered chimney stacks, and a glowing yellow ancient moss-tiled roof."

Inside, Sir Henry saw spacious drawing room and a long gallery through the centre of the building.

Exploring the haunted Isle of Wight

The Ghost of Knighton Gorges

But it was a haunted house. Since way back in distant days residents and guests reported noises of ghostly clanking, like the sound of heavy chains. Heard inside a single room, mostly kept locked. A Latin curse etched above the doorway to keep inside its dangerous spirit. "The Room of Tears" so it was called.

No one knew the ghost's identity. Most assumed it must be the doomed soul of Hugh de Morville who in 1170 heard his king complain: "Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?" and delivered to the Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Beckett, what he believed to be the king's dismissal from that post, with extreme prejudice.

The ghost had to be bad Sir High. No one deserved to live happy ever after that sort of thing.

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Illustration of beautiful Newchurch vale, featuring Knighton Gorges House, circa 1850.
Beautiful Newchurch vale, featuring Knighton Gorges House, circa 1850.

Hugh de Morville's Very Bad Deed

That dark deed happened during the dark afternoon of Tuesday December 29th 1170. Sir Hugh travelled from his family home to join three other armed men, given sixty shillings apiece by the Archbishop of York.

They arrived at the gate of Canterbury Cathedral. Witnesses recalled an evening service underway; chanting wafted through the candle-lit building. A monk in the kitchen first saw the intruders and yelled alarm. Monks skittered along the cloister to tell Archbishop Becket but he waved them away, said the disturbance was nothing serious and to continue with the service.

A monk pleaded with him to take cover at the high altar so God could protect him. Others pushed closed the cloister door and slammed home the bolt.

Witnesses report Thomas' response. He saw the closed door and roared "I will not have the cathedral turned into a castle,’ and before anyone could stop him he pulled back the bolt and opened the cloister door.

Hugh de Morville and his three assassin friends clanked along the cloister toward the doorway. "Where is the archbishop? Where is the traitor?!" they chorused.

‘Here I am," Thomas appeared in the doorway. "No traitor, but archbishop and priest of God."

Photo imagesof stained glass depiction of Thomas Becket and cloister to the Martyrdom. Canterbury Cathedral.
Left: Thomas Becket in stained glass. Right: cloister to the Martyrdom. Canterbury Cathedral.

Hugh de Morville explained the reason for their arrival, appealed to the archbishop to reverse his recent decisions over excommunications that so upset King Henry. "Politically-motivated," said one unfriendly assassin. "Turbulent priest," added another.

"No, it is done and will not be undone," Thomas replied.

Sword tip knocked the cap from the archbishop's head. ‘No?' asked de Morville.

Thomas gazed heavenward and muttered a prayer. "I commend myself to God and the blessed Mary," he said. ‘To the patron saints of this church, and the blessed Dionysus, and the blessed martyrs of this church and..."

What happened next was not good.

The Room of Tears

Sir Hugh returned to Knighton Gorges, guessed he couldn't hide from God's displeasure on the Isle of Wight, grabbed whatever he could carry and fled north to his castle in Yorkshire.

Each Sunday in All Saints church in Newchurch its priests preached with some satisfaction as house ownership passed from de Morville's family into the de Gorges, and so lost its cursed name. As centuries passed and guests of the de Gorges reported sinister sounds of supernatural chains heard clanking in an upstairs bedroom most assumed God caught up with Sir Hugh and brought him home for punishment.

The haunting got so bad, the room was locked and a curse written above the door.

In the mid 1700s a new noise was heard accompanying the clanking chains, sounds of someone sobbing tears. Everyone assumed Sir Hugh finally realised there was no forgiveness. But others wondered if the Room of Tears' occupant might be someone else, someone more recent.

The Dillngtons' Disaster

Cursologists believe de Morville's sin was a supernatural stain that affected the whole house and everyone who lived there. But that is not so obvious. Ownership and apparent contentment passed from the Russells and the Gilberts, then into the Dillngton family in 1563.

Proof of the curse is cited by what happened to the Dillingtons; last of whom, Sir Tristram in 1721 chose to join the ghost and most likely is responsible for sobbing the pitiful accompaniment to Sir Hugh's percussion of chains.

Distraught by grief at the cruelty that tormented his life and took his family, he opened the locked room and never came out again, alive.

"Bad house," said the hostess and maybe she was right. "They strapped Sir Tristram to his horse and drove it into the pond. Claimed he must have drowned by accident, so everyone agreed no need for inquest. Saved the manor for his sisters."

But the house didn't last much longer.

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 and what happened to Knighton Gorges House and other life and death matters, read this book. Now available from Amazon.

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Knighton Gorges Manor

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