Nunwell House. Ghosts of the Isle of Wight, with Margo Williams.

Nunwell House's most famous haunting is a ghostly Grey Lady wafting and weeping through the elegant rooms. Guests guess it is an Oglander, but which one?
Photo image of Nunwell House, Ashey. Isle of Wight
Nunwell House, Ashey. Isle of Wight

Those who report sightings of Nunwell's 'Grey Lady' ghost describe Elizabethan era clothing, a ruff collar and long sumptuous gown. Some guests next morning complained to their hosts of her waking them in the night with the sound of weeping.

Others intriguingly complain of a cheek-slapped mid-night awakening by unfriendly invisible hands.

The history of this beautiful historic house in Ashey, near Brading is well-documented thanks to its former owners, the Oglanders; so there are clues to her identity.

Most Haunted island

Sir John Oglander

The Oglander family lived here for the best part of a thousand years.

During the 1600s Elizabethan Sir John Oglander made note of the curious comings and goings of his time, both locally and nationally. Careful though not to say too much during the Civil War. His profiles of Queen Elizabeth, King James and King Charles I's visits to the island helped flesh out the dry bones of historic facts.

His reports on his neighbours offer interesting insight into the island community.

Image montage of Sir John Oglander's timeline of 3 monarchs and a tyrant.
Elizabethan Sir John Oglander lived through 3 monarchies and a tyrant. Elizabeth I. James I. Charles I & Protector Cromwell

Everyone Expects the Spanish Armada

Born in the year 1585, (the 27th year of Elizabeth I's reign). For the first three years of his life, John's parents William and Ann were aware of Sir Francis Drake's attacks on Spanish ships, described as 'singeing the King of Spain's beard'.

Thereafter, the threat of Spanish retaliation and invasion became ever more intense, and the contingency for evacuating their family to the mainland was a priority.

1588 the threat of Spanish invasion was imminent. The family, all except Sir William was evacuated to the mainland. The Armada arrived, was defeated and the threat lifted; nonetheless Ann Oglander insisted on their family's permanent removal to Beaulieu. However, from 1588 England enjoyed a golden period free of threat of invasion.

And Nunwell lived in peace.

Photo image of Nunwell House, Ashey near Brading. Isle of Wight.
Nunwell House, Ashey near Brading. Isle of Wight.

The Violent Ghost of Nunwell House

No one knows why the Grey Lady takes to slapping the sleeping. Guests have remarked upon the venom in the impact and suggest their assailant might be male. Which means Nunwell may be the site of multiple haunting. Not uncommon in old houses.

Few suspect amiable Sir John, but maybe he did have a dark side. The politics of his days and the suffering he endured during imprisonment in Cabbage Lane in London; and the loss of his wife probably affected his good nature.

Exploring the haunted Isle of Wight

Illustration montage of Sir John's notebook entries, populated by the movers and shakers of his lifetime.
Sir John's notebook entries, populated by the movers and shakers of his lifetime. Top left clockwise, King Charles and Buckingham, Thirty Years' War soldiers; George Villiers aka Buckingham; Archbishop William Laud; Parliamentarians; Thomas Wentworth; Francis Bacon at the Globe Theatre.

Scrapbook of a Civil War

Sir John witnessed this country's greatest social and political trauma. Its king engaged in a civil war with parliament, which resulted in the monarch's arrest and termination. That drama unfolded during the course of three monarchies.

During Queen Elizabeth I's reign, in England a new 'puritan' group wanted to remodel the Church of England and purge it of High-church ritual and ceremony and so avoid temptation to which so many churchmen seemed to succumb. Elizabeth silenced them.

Under King James' 1st England for the first time in many years experienced security against foreign threat. James' policy was to maintain this, promote peace rather than provoke war with anyone. Except those who doubted the 'Divine Right' of kings to rule.

Puritans did exactly that when son Charles succeeded to the throne and demonstrated a canny ability to make the wrong decision on most things. "If that's God's choice," wondered the Puritans, "We have a problem."

During his not-so-great escape, Charles came to stay at Nunwell and for a long evening shared his thoughts on the state of God, England and Hindsight before imprisonment in Carisbrooke Castle.

Image of the 3-faced King by Van Dyck
The 3-faced King by Van Dyck

1 minute profile. King Charles I

Said Lord Clarendon of Charles: '...He was the worthiest gentleman, the best master, the best friend the best husband, the best father, and the best Christian that the Age in which he lived had produced and if he was not the best King, if he was without some parts and qualities which have made some kings great and happy, no other Prince was ever unhappy who possessed of half his virtues and endowments, and so much without any kind of vice.'

Or, alternatively:

'...It might be said of him, that his head was as full of schemes as a warren was full of rabbits'*... Warner Marten and Muir.

Oglander the ‘Malignant’

On the break-out of civil war, Sir John Oglander was committed to supporting King Charles, but when the king’s forces at Carisbrooke Castle surrendered to the army in the summer of 1642 Sir John's views were considered 'malignant'.

1643. Big trouble: Sir John admitted his admiration of King Charles.

Cabbage Lane Woes

A Roundhead reported a conversation on the subject, within days Sir John was in prison. A warrant of parliament was issued for delinquency. Held for eight weeks he agreed to sign a declaration in support of parliamentary forces against the royalists, and was released.

Image of Sir John Oglander (actor)
Sir John Oglander

The army suspected its authenticity. May 1644 he was ' the committie of both kingdoms committed close prisoner to the basest place in London, a messenger's house at the furthest end of Cabbage Lane in Westminster...'

'...By the mediation and solicitation of my poor wife, I was released and committed prisoner to my own lodging, the Seven Stars, in the Strand, some month longer, then procuring my liberty within the lines of communication. My poor wife, overheating her blood in procuring my liberty, got the smallpox and died, making me a worse prisoner than before. O' my poor wife, with my blood I write it!'

Sir John was allowed home on the 25th of March 1646. His wife was dead, his son too, and his first duties on return was to bury two grandchildren and repair his home, plundered by parliamentarians.

King Charles Comes to Nunwell

However, by November 13th 1647 Nunwell was restored enough for a royal visit by King Charles on the Thursday after his arrival on the island. Sir John gave the king £100 in gold coin and suggested he escape as soon as possible.

Charles agreed. "But not yet," he whispered. "I can escape any time I wish.".

Sir John did not live to see the Restoration of the monarchy. He died at Nunwell in November 1655 and was buried in the chapel of his family at the east end of the church at Brading.

Some Brading ghost hunters wonder if the cheek-slapping ghost of Nunwell is none other than King Charles himself, expressing frustration for not taking Sir John's good advice.

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 Nunwell House and other famous and forgotten personages, read this book. Now available from Amazon.

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