Wolstan Dixie (1701-1767) 4th Bt of Boston Hall, Leicestershire, and his family seated around a harpsichord by Henry Pickering, 1755 (via Wikimedia)

Sir Wolstan Dixie, 4th Baronet: myths and facts

We looked at Sir Wolstan Dixie, 4th Baronet of Market Bosworth in an earlier blog, and we promised we’d return to him in due course, to take a closer look at the man and his family.

Sir Wolstan was a pugnacious and pig-headed bully, and legend suggests he committed an awful crime.

Sir Wolstan Dixie (1700-1767), 4th Bt, Market Bosworth by Henry Pickering, 1741; Nottingham City Museums and Galleries
Sir Wolstan Dixie (1700-1767), 4th Bt, Market Bosworth by Henry Pickering, 1741; Nottingham City Museums and Galleries

We mentioned in our previous blog that Samuel Johnson lived with the family at Bosworth Hall for a time, while he was employed by Dixie as an usher at the local grammar school, ‘but was treated with what he represented as intolerable harshness; and, after suffering for a few months such complicated misery, he relinquished a situation for which all his life afterwards he recollected with the strongest aversion, and even a degree of horror’. At times, it’s difficult to know what is true and what is a tall tale when it comes to Sir Wolstan: he’s reputed to have made his butler the headmaster of the grammar school, purely because he could do so and no-one could nay say him. But, we reckon we can debunk that last one as a myth; we’ll say why at the end of this blog.

Sir Wolstan Dixie also fell out with his neighbours, particularly with Wrightson Mundy of Osbaston Hall and Markeaton. Dixie attacked one of Mundy’s waggoners when he caught the man driving across his park so Mundy disguised himself as a waggoner and repeated the offence. When Dixie tried to pull the waggoner down he got the surprise of his life when the man revealed himself to by Mundy, who then proceeded to deliver one almighty beating to the bemused Sir Wolstan Dixie. Possibly Mundy was the same squire with whom Sir Wolstan came to blows after the latter had closed off a footpath which gave access across some of his land. Shortly afterwards, Sir Wolstan appeared at court and was presented to George II and the king, when he heard that Sir Wolstan’s estate was Bosworth Park, recalled the ancient battle fought in 1485 and asked, “Bosworth! Big battle at Bosworth, wasn’t it?” With the memory of his recent fight fresh in his mind, Sir Wolstan stupefied the king when he replied, “Yes, Sire. But, I thrashed him!”

Wrightson Mundy, Esq. (1715-1762) by an unknown artist; Derby Museums Trust
Wrightson Mundy, Esq. (1715-1762) by an unknown artist; Derby Museums Trust

In May 1735, at All Hallows by London Wall, he married Anna Frere, a young, beautiful and – most importantly for Sir Wolstan – an extremely wealthy heiress. Anna had been born on the island of Barbados in 1711, the daughter of John Frere who, just before his death in 1721, was the acting governor of Barbados. After his death, his widow, Elizabeth, and her young family (there were four daughters, of whom Anna was the eldest, and two sons) returned to London and took a house on Great Russell Street in Bloomsbury. Elizabeth Frere died in March 1735 and just two months later, Sir Wolstan snared his young bride… and her fortune which amounted to over 20,000l.

In our earlier blog we recounted how Sir Wolstan kept Anna a virtual prisoner at his Leicestershire estate, Bosworth Hall at Market Bosworth, while she was pregnant later that year, having given his coachmen instructions that Lady Dixie was not to be driven further than three or four miles distant from her home. He also had Anna’s old family servant arrested and thrown into Newgate on a trumped up charge of theft when she displeased him.

The couple’s first child, born in 1736, was a daughter who was named Rebecca. There followed a son, Wolstan in 1737 and another daughter, Anna born in July 1739. Lady Dixie died giving birth to Anna; she was buried at Market Bosworth on 5 July 1739.

After just over a year’s mourning, Sir Wolstan married again. His second bride was Theodosia, daughter of Henry Wright of Mobberly Cheshire, and the wedding took place on 26 December 1740, at the bride’s parish church. With Theodosia, Sir Wolstan had six more children, one son, Willoughby, born 1742 and then five daughters, Purefoy (born 1743), Theodosia (born 1744), Eleanor Frances (born 1746), Rosamond (born 1747) and Juliana (born 1749).

Lady Dixie by Henry Pickering; Nottingham City Museums and Galleries
Lady Dixie (it is not known which of Sir Wolstan’s wives this is) by Henry Pickering; Nottingham City Museums and Galleries

Theodosia died in 1751. The painting below, of Sir Wolstan Dixie and his family, is dated four years after her death, and shows Sir Wolstan’s nine children. From left to right, they are probably Juliana, Eleanor Frances, Willoughby, Rebecca, Purefoy, Theodosia, Anna, Wolstan and Rosamond, with Sir Wolstan Dixie seated far right.

Wolstan Dixie (1701-1767) 4th Bt of Boston Hall, Leicestershire, and his family seated around a harpsichord by Henry Pickering, 1755 (via Wikimedia)
Wolstan Dixie (1701-1767) 4th Bt of Boston Hall, Leicestershire, and his family seated around a harpsichord by Henry Pickering, 1755 (via Wikimedia)

At Scarborough, in September 1758, Sir Wolstan married for a third and final time, to another wealthy heiress, Margaret daughter of William Cross, a ‘young lady with a handsome fortune’. Two of his children had, however, died since that family portrait had been painted. Purefoy Dixie was buried on 22 July 1757 at Market Bosworth and her sister Theodosia is also said to have died the same year.

Anna Dixie, the younger of the two daughters from Sir Wolstan’s first marriage to Anna Frere also died, and was buried 13 February 1758, aged around 19-years. It is Anna’s death which has given rise to a terrible legend. We can find no corroboration of it in contemporary sources, so give it here merely as hearsay.

It came to Sir Wolstan’s attention that Anna was surreptitiously meeting a young man in Bosworth Park (some sources say he was the gardener). In a cruel plan, Dixie set man-traps, intending to catch his daughter’s beau in one, but it was Anna herself who stepped into the device. Her screams led to her rescue from the jaws of the trap and she was carried back to the hall, bleeding heavily. There she died, and it’s said that her ghost haunts the hall to this day.

We have absolutely no idea how much of that tale is true, if any at all. What we can say, however, is that the portrait below, merely labelled as Miss Dixie and by Henry Pickering, dated to c.1750-1755, must be either Rebecca or Anna Dixie. (We have seen it erroneously called a portrait of Eleanor Frances Dixie, but this is impossible as she is too young to be the lady in this portrait.)

Miss Dixie by Henry Pickering, c.1750-55 (probably either Rebecca or Anna, eldest daughters of Sir Wolstan Dixie, 4th Baronet)
Miss Dixie by Henry Pickering, c.1750-55 (probably either Rebecca or Anna, eldest daughters of Sir Wolstan Dixie, 4th Baronet); Nottingham City Museums and Galleries

Rebecca Dixie died, unmarried, in 1762 and was buried 19 April at Market Bosworth while Juliana, the youngest of the Dixie children died in the December of the same year. Only the two sons, Wolstan and Willoughby, and two of the girls, Eleanor Frances and Rosamond survived their father, who died in 1767.

Miniature of Sir Wolstan Dixie by Gervase Spencer, 1748. © Bonhams
Miniature of Sir Wolstan Dixie by Gervase Spencer, 1748. © Bonhams

Two years later, Sir Wolstan’s eldest son, also Wolstan and, since his father’s death, the 5th Baronet, was declared a lunatic. Willoughby Dixie, the second son, took over the management of the estate, and of the grammar school. It was Willoughby who appointed Joseph Moxon, a waiter at a local pub, to the position of headmaster. This is clearly the origin of the story that Willoughby’s father appointed his butler to the job. Unless, of course, it was a case of like father, like son?

N.B.: The chapel of the Fleet Prison in London was notorious for clandestine marriages. On 19 May 1734, one Wolstan Dixie married a woman named Mary Guest. It’s an unusual name; there certainly weren’t many Wolstan Dixies around of marriageable age in 1734. We’re just throwing it in there, as a possible first marriage to Sir Wolstan… and if it was him, then either Mary Guest died within a year of her marriage or Sir Wolstan added the charge of bigamy to his many offences.


Relevant parish registers

The Baronetage of England, Thomas Wotton, Richard A Johnson and Edward Kimber, 1771

Cases in Chancery: The Attorney-General v. Dixie. Bosworth School, ex parte. 1807

Samuel Johnson by Walter Jackson Bate, 1975

London Evening Post, 28-30 September 1758

A case of 18th Century Witchcraft in Silsoe Bedfordshire

I came across this curious case in the British Mercury or Annals of History, Politics, Manner, Literature and the Arts 1788 and thought I would share it with you.

A few months since some extraordinary particulars were given in this paper relating to the daughter of Mr. Capon, a considerable farmer at Silsoe, in Bedfordshire, discharging from her stomach 52 brass pins, a pincushion stuck with pins and needles, a pair of small scissors, with an iron chain etc.

The strange propensity of this child to swallow the above and various other indigestible substances, was by the ignorant attributed to the power of witchcraft and a man named Saunders, a gardener at Silsoe, was reprobated as a wizard and was accused of having exerted his diabolical influence over Mr. Capon’s daughter.

Courtesy of Lewis Walpole

About eight years ago Mr. Saunders and his wife were ducked at Silsoe till they were nearly drowned, on the supposition that one was a witch and the other a wizard.

About a month since the above mentioned Saunders died, and Mr. Capon’s daughter having, through the assistance of the Faculty much recovered in health, the ridiculous notion that her singular conduct was the effect of the super-natural agency of Saunders is amazingly strengthened; for though since April the child had been gradually recovering from a very ill state of health, the untaught multitude obstinately insist that the favourable change is but the natural consequence of the death of Saunders, who notwithstanding the strong prejudice against him was, by the more rational part of his neighbours always considered as an industrious, inoffensive man.

Not only in Bedfordshire, but in many other parts of the Kingdom, the absurd notion of the power of witchcraft is as strongly prevalent as at Yatton, Bristol or any part of Somersetshire.

V0025858 A wizard casting spells from his magic circle by the light Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org A wizard casting spells from his magic circle by the light of his cauldron surrounded by creatures. Engraving by I. Wood. By: I WoodPublished: - Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
A wizard casting spells from his magic circle by the light. Wellcome Library, London

The case also attracted interested from the media with the national ones giving similar accounts, some stating that the child had to be watched day and night in case she decided to start eating other things not designed for human consumption.

I have done some research to try to find out who the child was and so far no luck. The wizard aka Mr Saunders could have been Thomas Saunders who was buried on 22nd April 1788 at Southill, Bedfordshire but apart from that there don’t appear to be another possible matches, so if those names mean anything to any readers please do let me know, as I would love to find out whether there was any truth in the story.


The British Mercury Or Annals of History, Politics, Manners, Literature, Arts Etc. of the British Empire, Volume 6, Issues 27-39, 1788

The Battle of Culloden; Peel Ross; Highland Council

The Curse of the Nine of Diamonds

Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

Whilst researching our book, An Infamous Mistress: the Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott, we came across ‘The Curse of the Nine of Diamonds’, in reference to Grace Dalrymple Elliott’s paternal family.

Grace Dalrymple made a ‘marriage-a-la-mode’ to a wealthy doctor in 1771, but it was not a success! Grace was young, tall and beautiful and her husband, Dr John Eliot, was much older, and reputedly much shorter too, than his new wife. The workaholic doctor allowed his wife to be escorted around London by his friends and other young men, while he basked in the reflective glory of having a wife who was desired by many but ‘owned’ by him. When this ran to its obvious conclusion and Grace was discovered at a bagnio with Viscount Valentia, a divorce swiftly followed leaving Grace, although still not legally an adult, to survive on her looks and her wits.

And so Grace Dalrymple Elliott (she chose to spell her surname differently from her husband, possibly in defiance to him) became a courtesan, notorious amongst the ranks of the Cyprian Corps.

We know that Grace had longed to use the crest of George, 4th Earl of Cholmondeley, one of her lovers but, denied permission to have his arms displayed on the door of her new carriage, Grace instead opted to display those of Dalrymple of Stair instead (although truly not entitled to do so), promoting her aristocratic connection, albeit a distant one, with the then current head of that family, John Dalrymple, 5th Earl of Stair.

The heraldic arms of the Dalrymple of Stair family is known as The Nine of Diamonds, a reference to the nine diamond lozenges which are displayed on it.

Nine Diamonds - arms

There are numerous theories as to the origins of this curse, but the earliest one we have found dates back to 1708 where it was reported in the British Apollo or Curious Amusements for the Ingenious’, 3rd September.

Q. Why is the Nine of Diamonds call’d the curse of Scotland?

A. Diamonds as the Ornamental Jewels of a Regal Crown, imply no more in the above-nam’d Proverb than a mark of Royalty, for SCOTLAND’S Kings for many Ages, were observ’d, each Ninth to be a Tyrant, who by Civil Wars, and all the fatal consequences of intestine discord, plunging the Divided Kingdom into strange Disorders, gave occasion, in the course of time, to form the Proverb.


Amongst these theories as to the origin of the curse, the one that appears reasonably plausible concerns John Dalrymple, 1st Earl of Stair, who ordered the massacre at Glencoe (1692). The massacre caused an outcry across Britain and as his family coat of arms contained the nine of diamonds at its centre the card, as a result, assumed this appellation.

The Massacre of Glencoe by James Hamilton (c) Glasgow Museums. The Massacre of Glencoe took place on 13 February 1692, when government troops slaughtered 38 members of the Clan MacDonald in their homes. Some survivors managed to avoid the attack, as shown in this later painting, and attempted to escape through the snow.
The Massacre of Glencoe by James Hamilton
The Massacre of Glencoe took place on 13 February 1692, when government troops slaughtered 38 members of the Clan MacDonald in their homes. Some survivors managed to avoid the attack, as shown in this later painting, and attempted to escape through the snow.
(c) Glasgow Museums

There was also a somewhat later theory which, bearing in mind the above newspaper report, would now appear to be totally implausible. The account stated that it was due to the Duke of Cumberland who, on the evening before the Battle of Culloden in 1746, was playing cards with his staff when a young officer appeared and wanted to know the orders for the battle.

The Battle of Culloden; Peel Ross; Highland Council
The Battle of Culloden; Peel Ross; Highland Council

The Duke, it is reputed, ordered “no quarter” to the Jacobites. The young man was worried by this possible massacre and asked the Duke to write down the order, he duly obliged and wrote it on the nearest playing card which happened to be a nine of diamonds.  This interesting theory we know now is impossible as the ‘curse’ was already in existence.

The Duke of Cumberland (1721–1765) by Stephen Slaughter (attributed to), c.1750. (c) Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
The Duke of Cumberland (1721–1765) by Stephen Slaughter
(attributed to), c.1750. (c) Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds

Another suggestion seems to relate ‘Pope Joan’ which was a  card gambling game that was played from at least 1732. The nine of diamonds was a significant card and was called the pope.  The pope was regarded a villain amongst Scottish reformers and so the nine of diamonds was renamed the curse of Scotland in this game.


Clearly the mystery continued to make news and in 1786, The General Evening Post offered the following explanation:

‘… the proverbial expression of ‘The Curse of Scotland’ to have taken it’s rise from the Earl of Stair’s (who had a principal hand in the Union) bearing nine diamonds in his coat of arms, and as the Scotch have considered that event as an unfortunate one, and distinguished it as the ‘Bitter Onion’ they have since called the nine of diamonds ‘the Curse of Scotland’.

Whatever its true origins it was considered to be the unluckiest card in the pack. Grace would surely have known of these stories, but the distinction of displaying these arms on the door of her coach overcame any associations with a reputed curse.

An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott by Joanne Major and Sarah Murden. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Infamous-Mistress-Celebrated-Dalrymple-Elliott/dp/1473844835


Divorced wife, infamous mistress, prisoner during the French Revolution and the reputed mother of the Prince of Wales’ child, notorious courtesan Grace Dalrymple Elliott lived an amazing life in eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century London and Paris. Strikingly tall and beautiful, later lampooned as ‘Dally the Tall’ in newspaper gossip columns, she left her Scottish roots and convent education behind, to re-invent herself in a ‘marriage a-la-mode’, but before she was even legally an adult she was cast off and forced to survive on just her beauty and wits. The authors of this engaging and, at times, scandalous book intersperse the story of Grace’s tumultuous life with anecdotes of her fascinating family, from those who knew Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, and who helped to abolish slavery, to those who were, like Grace, mistresses of great men. Whilst this book is the most definitive biography of Grace Dalrymple Elliott ever written, it is much more than that; it is Grace’s family history which traces her ancestors from their origin in the Scottish borders, to their move south to London. It follows them to France, America, India, Africa and elsewhere, offering a broad insight into the social history of the Georgian era, comprising the ups and downs, the highs and lows of life at that time. This is the remarkable and detailed story of Grace set, for the first time, in the context of her wider family and told more completely than ever before. 

Ghostly evidence of murder

In our last blog we told the tale of an eighteenth-century ghost who helped a girl find a hoard of buried coins beneath the stone flags on the floor of her cottage. Today we discuss another ghost who initially seemed equally as helpful, but this one was bent on revealing a murderer rather than a treasure trove and was not what it initially seemed.

The report was circulated in the Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, dated the 18th March 1762, and began with the following notice:

The Public having for some Time past been impos’d on with so many sham Ghosts, (which credulous People are apt to place too much Belief in), the following may not be disagreeable to the Generality of our Readers.

This referred to the recent controversy in London over the Cock Lane ghost, a supposed haunting carried out by ‘Scratching Fanny’ the dead common-law wife of William Kent, but one really perpetrated by Elizabeth Parsons, the daughter of a man who had recently had a dispute with Kent.

Scene from David Garrick's play 'The Farmer's Return from London. An Interlude'; cottage interior; the actor David Garrick as the Farmer, seated in centre, his right hand on table beside him, his left hand holding his pipe, relating the story of his conversation with the Cock Lane Ghost to his family. British Museum, 1766
A scene from David Garrick’s play ‘The Farmer’s Return from London. An Interlude’; cottage interior; the actor David Garrick as the Farmer, seated in centre, his right hand on the table beside him, his left hand holding his pipe, relating the story of his conversation with the Cock Lane Ghost to his family.
British Museum, 1766

But, to return to our tale…

On a dark night, a farmer’s wife lay tossing and turning, her worry for her missing husband keeping her awake. He had gone to the market at Southam, a small market town about 6 miles south-east of Leamington Spa in Warwickshire, and should have been home hours before. Early the next morning there was a knock at her door.

The farmer’s wife found a man standing there who asked her if her husband had returned the previous evening. She replied in the negative and told him that she ‘was under the utmost Anxiety and Terror on that Account’. The man gave a startling reply.

Your Terror, said he, cannot equal mine, for last Night, as I lay in Bed, quite awake, the Apparition of your Husband appeared to me, shewed me several ghastly Stabs in his Body, told me he had been murthered [sic] by [here he named the individual], and his Carcase thrown into such a Marle-Pit.

The man at the door had named both the murderer and the pit and, after the alarm had been raised, the pit searched and the unfortunate farmer’s body found, the man named by the ghost was arrested. The wounds on the body matched the account given by the ghost and it appeared that the farmer had returned to give evidence against the man who had taken his life.

Haunted Hillborough, Warwickshire by British School (c) Shakespeare Birthplace Trust; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Haunted Hillborough, Warwickshire by British School
(c) Shakespeare Birthplace Trust; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

So thought the men who had taken the murderer into custody, and so thought the jury when the case came to trial at Warwick before the Lord Chief Justice Raymond, all convinced by the evidence said to have been given by the deceased who had helpfully pointed the finger at his murderer and saved them the bother of finding him themselves. They were all set to convict the man accused of the crime until the Judge checked them and spoke to them.

I think, Gentlemen, you seem inclined to lay more Stress on the Evidence of an Apparition, than it will bear. I cannot say that I give much Credit to these Kind of Stories, but be that as it will, we have no right to follow our own private Opinions here. We are now in a Court of Law, and must determine according to it; and I know not of any Law now in being which will admit of the Testimony of an Apparition; not yet if it did, doth the Ghost appear to give Evidence.

The Judge instructed the Crier to call for the Ghost, which he did – three times. Perhaps predictably, the ghost of the murdered farmer neglected to appear in the courtroom.

The Judge continued to address the jury. He pointed out that the man who stood accused of the crime had an unblemished character up to that point, that no cause of a quarrel or grudge between him and the deceased man could be discerned. The Judge gave his verdict.

I do believe him to be perfectly innocent; and, as there is no Evidence against him either positive or circumstantial, he must be acquitted.

Then the Judge pointed his finger at another man in the courtroom, the man who had seen the apparition and had repeated the tale to the poor farmer’s widow.

But from many Circumstances which have arose during the Trial, I do strongly suspect that the Gentleman, who saw the Apparition, was himself the Murtherer [sic]; in which case he might easily ascertain the Pit, the Stabs, &c. without any supernatural Assistance; and on such Suspicion I shall think myself justified in committing him to close Custody, till the Matter can be further enquired into.

With the man in custody, a warrant was granted to search his house and strong proofs of his guilt were discovered. Faced with these he confessed to the murder and was executed for his crime at the next Assize.

The report in the newspaper ended with the following cautionary words – something to bear in mind if you are visited this Halloween.

It is hoped that this simple Relation of a Matter of Fact, now on Record, will be a sufficient Caution to others, not to be over hasty in giving Credit to the Testimony of Apparitions.



Robert Raymond, 1st Baron Raymond (1673 – 1733) was appointed Lord Chief Justice of the King’s Bench in 1725, and held that position until his death in 1733. Although this story has been oft repeated we can find no mention of it before 1762, some twenty-nine years after Raymond’s death.


Silver coin hoard, the latest c.1700.

A helpful eighteenth-century ghost

As Halloween draws near, we thought we’d take a look this week at a couple of helpful (in their own spectral way) eighteenth-century ghosts.

Our first is a ghost that directed the girl it was haunting to a considerable fortune – one we’d all probably be inclined to welcome this Halloween! The Leeds Intelligencer, 3rd July 1764, reported on the story. In the village of Uppingham in Rutland an eighteen year old girl, the daughter of Cornelius Nutt, began to receive visits from a ghost who spoke to her.

Cornelius, or rather Thomas Cornelius Nutt, had married Ann Smyth on Christmas Eve 1741 at St Michael’s in Cambridge and they had a large family with their first few children born at Oakham before they moved to Uppingham. If the girl who saw the ghost was around eighteen years of age she must have been Cornelius’ second child and eldest daughter, Ann, named for her mother and baptised at Oakham on the 1st September 1745.

The hall of the Norman castle at Oakham, Rutland, UK, with All Saints church tower and spire in the background. © Simon Garbutt (Wikipedia)
The hall of the Norman castle at Oakham, Rutland, UK, with All Saints church tower and spire in the background. © Simon Garbutt (Wikipedia)

The ghost informed Miss Ann Nutt that something of value was hidden within her house and when she told her father he had some of the flagstones in the floor of their cottage taken up but nothing was found. The ghost kept on appearing though, and so the girl persuaded a man who was working nearby to take up one particular flagstone (we know not why that certain one – perhaps the ghost had directed her a bit more closely, obviously slightly exasperated with her father’s poor attempt) and when they dug under it they found a black pot. The pot, when opened, was found to contain almost two hundred ancient silver coins.

Silver coin hoard, the latest c.1700.
Not the coins found at Uppingham but perhaps similar. Silver coin hoard, the latest c.1700. © British Museum via Wikimedia.

Cornelius Nutt took possession of the coins and, despite being offered a guinea a piece for them, he intended to take them to London to sell them for a higher value.

The newspaper article ended with a word of caution from the author to Ann and the helpful ‘ghost’:

We would advise this girl, as well as the ghost, to keep their conversation to themselves lest they should both be brought into Westminster-hall.

The British Numismatic Society, in its ‘Additions and Corrections to Thompson’s Inventory and Brown and Dolley’s Coin Hoards, Part 1’ by H.E. Manville, and concerning post-Roman coin hoards, mentions the one found by Ann Nutt and speculates that the coins were English silver and quotes the Gentleman’s Magazine of June 1764.

Friday, 22 June. Near 200 pieces of antient [sic] silver coin being discovered at the house of Cornelius Nutt at Uppington [sic] in Rutlandshire, a report was spread that the man’s daughter had been informed of the place where they were hid in a dream. Be that as it may, some of these coins are said to be very valuable.

Watch out for our next blog later this week for part two and another helpful ghost.

A Trusty Maid; Geroge H Hay; Hospitalfield Arts

Sally Smith: the ‘ghost’ of Brumby Wood Hall

Brumby Hall
Image courtesy of David Wright. http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/592174

Brumby Wood Hall in Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire, now a nursing home but once a fine private mansion, is reputed to be haunted by the ghost of a former housekeeper.

Sally Smith, born c.1759, was not just the housekeeper, but also the mistress of the owner, Thomas Pindar Esquire, a reserved and slightly eccentric gentleman some twenty-three years Sally’s senior who displayed ‘monkish habits’ fostered by a long residence in a college.  He had inherited Brumby Wood Hall from his younger brother, the Reverend Robert Pindar who had died in 1795, and Sally presided at the table and over the house, fully mistress of it. The legend says that Sally expected to inherit Brumby (sometimes called Bromby) Wood Hall when her lover died but was cruelly cut out of his will and, in the 1830s, either threw herself from one of the windows or hung herself from the four-poster bed.  Her restless spirit now walks the corridors and grounds of the hall, waiting to hear news of her inheritance.

Thomas Pinder actually died in the May of 1813 aged 77 years and was buried at Owston Ferry in the Isle of Axholme on the fifteenth of that month.  His will, written on the 15th October 1811, far from cutting Sally out, left her the use of his mansion for her life together with the household furniture, carriages and several nearby farms together with a small yearly annuity and Sally lived on at Brumby Wood Hall until her death almost twenty years to the day after that of Thomas Pindar’s.  Sally too was buried at Owston Ferry, on the 24th May 1833, noted in the burial register as being of Brumby Wood Hall.

Her life as mistress of the Hall was not plain sailing though, and it is the dispute ensuing after the reading of Thomas Pindar’s will which has led to the half-remembered tale and the stories of Sally haunting her former home.

In the May of 1822, a singular case was heard at the Lincoln Assizes, brought by Sir Montague Cholmeley against the Honourable John Lygon, younger brother to Earl Beauchamp of Madresfield Court near Malvern in Worcestershire.  Both men had, at times, been the beneficiary of Pindar’s will and Cholmeley contested the final one which had left the life interest in the Hall to Sally Smith.

Thomas Pindar had been a fellow of Magdalen College at Oxford and it was here that he had been introduced to Earl Beauchamp and his younger brother, John Lygon, whose family name had formerly been Pyndar (their father had changed his surname upon inheriting his maternal grandfather’s estate), and a relationship was assumed between them.  The two families regularly corresponded and visited from 1804 and in 1805 Thomas Pinder made a will leaving his fortune to John Lygon. In the same year, he had asked Earl Beauchamp for a substantial loan of £5000, and the Earl had complied with this request.

NPG D22348; John Reginald Pyndar, 3rd Earl Beauchamp by Richard James Lane
John Reginald Pyndar, 3rd Earl Beauchamp.
Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery.

 On the 2nd April 1810, a second will was made; Pindar had wanted Mr Foulkes, an eminent London solicitor, to draw up the will but Foulkes was unwell and instead a Mr Hutton of York was employed.  This will gave the estate of Brumby Wood Hall to John Lygdon in tail male, with ultimate limitation of Lady Cholmeley, Pindar’s niece. Elizabeth Harrison, the daughter of John Harrison and Catherine Pindar of Norton Place, Lincoln, had married Sir Montague Cholmeley, 1st Baronet, on the 14th September 1801 (Catherine Pindar was the daughter of the Reverend Robert Pindar).

Brumby - Harrison pedigree

A month later Hutton was back at Brumby Wood Hall to draw up another will, this one however in favour of Sir Montague Cholmeley’s family and placing Cholmeley’s youngest son in the place formerly occupied by John Lygon.  Hutton added two codicils to this third will, one in August 1810 and one in December to the benefit of Sally Smith.

Sir Montague Cholmeley, who had never visited Pindar at his home, now told friends that he would be benefitted by Pindar’s death, describing Brumby Wood Hall as “a charming little hunting-box here intended for my second son!” But this came to the ears of Pindar and he decided that Lygon should be the beneficiary after all.

Mr Foulkes was now once again summoned and this time complied with the request.  He found Thomas Pindar frail in body, almost bedridden and with little control over his bowels (they were described as being very relaxed), virtually deaf and going blind, but, Foulke’s asserted, still in full control of his mind.  On the 15th October 1811, a fourth and final will was drawn up, this one leaving the Hall to Sally for her lifetime and after her death to John Lygon. Mr Hutton was asked to hand over the will made the year previously but refused to do so.

Brumby - Pindar pedigree

And so the stage was set for a protracted legal battle after Thomas Pindar died in 1813.  Cholmeley alleged that Pindar did not know his own mind when the 1811 will was made and accused Sally of being the person who had instigated it to her own benefit.  Lygon, in turn, accused Hutton of acting in the interests of Cholmeley rather than his client.

Cholmeley had wisely waited until the two men who, along with Foulkes, had witnessed the 1811 will had died before bringing this case to court and he drew on several former servants to Pindar who testified to the old man’s feebleness and mental incapacity. Mr Foulkes dismissed this, claiming that after Sally, whose voice Pindar was familiar with, loudly repeated his words to Pindar the old man was full well able to understand and to ask genuine and rational questions about the execution of the will. Of course, all this provided enough fuel for the local gossips to keep going for many years from the death of Pindar to the case being brought to court nine years later, with Sally made out to be a gold-digging termagant who had had the feeble and kindly old gentleman, and his household, under her control.  Enough to give rise to the legend about her ghost and a missing inheritance which still continues more than 180 years after her death.

The case lasted from nine o’clock on the morning of Wednesday 13th March to half-past five the next day, but at last the jury came to a verdict, finding in favour of John Lygon, who had already added the surname of Pindar (although he chose to spell it Pyndar) on to his own in anticipation of his inheritance.

John Lygon Pyndar, who also succeeded to the title and estate of Earl Beauchamp after the death of his brother in 1823, possibly then tried to recover the £5000 loan given to Thomas Pindar by his brother from the life interest and annuities granted to Sally for, in 1823, Pindar vs Smith was heard in the High Court of Chancery, after which the creditors of the late Thomas Pindar were asked to send in proof of their debts.  Pindar’s earlier wills had provided for repayment of this substantial debt; the last one in 1811 ignored it to Sally’s detriment.

After Sally’s death, a sale of all the household furniture, carriages and livestock at Brumby Wood Hall (detailed below) was made, pursuant to her own will, and John Lygon Pyndar took possession of Brumby Wood Hall and its surrounding estate. We have found no record of the manner of Sally’s death, but this in itself tends to suggest that her end, at the age of 74, was a peaceful one and not suicide.


Near Burringham Ferry, Lincolnshire


Farming Implements, &c.




At BROMBY WOOD HALL (by order of the Executor of the late Mrs Smith,) on TUESDAY and WEDNESDAY, July 9th and 10th instant, at Ten o’Clock in the Forenoon of each day.

THE Genteel HOUSEHOLD FUNITURE, comprising Mahogany Sideboards; Card, Pembroke, and Round Tables, Rosewood Chiffonier; two Sofas, sets of Mahogany Hair-seated Chairs; Barrel Organ, with fours stops, Piano-Forte; two Cellarets; several Pier and Swing Glasses; Bracket-Clock; Clock in Mahogany Case; Timepiece; Chimney Ornaments; Barometer; Bookcase, and several volumes of Books; Brussels and other Carpets; Hearth Rugs; Four Post and Camp Bedsteads; Mattresses; several Lots of excellent Blankets and Counterpanes; Mahogany and Walnut Chests of Drawers; Dressing Tables; Bed-side and Stair Carpets; Brass Rods; with a large assortment of Kitchen Furniture and Culinary Utensils; a few sides of BACON, 100 Bottles of good RASPBERRY and other English-made WINES; and several other Articles too numerous to insert.

The FARMING STOCK consists of three good Milch Cows; one Calf; two Pigs; twenty-six Ewes and thirty-one Lambs; eight fat Ewes; ten Hogs; one Waggon; two Carts and Gearing; one Stack of Hay; two pieces of Stacks of Hay; Garden Rollers; and sundry lots of Old Wood.

Also, a good TRAVELLING CARRIAGE, with Harness for two Horses, two useful Carriage HORSES; a Brown Hackney PONY; Saddle, Bridle, Side Saddle, &c. &c.

The Sale of the Farming Stock, Carriage, and Horses, will take place on TUESDAY, and the Furniture on WEDNESDAY.

Hull, June 21, 1833.


Lincolnshire Pedigrees, edited by the Rev. Canon A.R. Maddison, M.A., F.S.A., 1904, volume 3

Lincolnshire Pedigrees, edited by the Rev. Canon A.R. Maddison, M.A., F.S.A., 1906, volume 4

Stamford Mercury, 10th May 1822

Stamford Mercury, 14th March 1823

Jackson’s Oxford Journal, 17th May 1823

Hull Packet, 5th July 1833


The Hammersmith Ghost

Towards the end of 1803, a number of people in the Hammersmith area of London claimed they had seen and, in some cases, even been attacked by a spectre which they believed to be the ghost of someone who had committed suicide. What they allegedly saw was an apparition dressed in white robes. One woman, in particular, said that she saw something rise up from the tombstones, she tried to run but the ghost overtook her, held her in its arms, she fainted and was discovered later by neighbours who took her home and put her to bed.   At that time it was the case that anyone who committed suicide could not be buried in consecrated ground as it was believed that their souls would not rest.

With all these reports the locals set up patrols and on the 3rd January 1804 Francis Smith, aged 29 years, an excise officer, armed with a gun saw a figure in white. He demanded the identity of the figure and when the figure did not respond but moved towards him, Smith shot the apparition. It was established afterwards that the apparition who died from this shot was a 23-year-old James or Thomas Milwood, a bricklayer, who according to the Old Bailey transcript was wearing:

Linen trowsers [sic] entirely white, washed very clean, a waistcoat of flannel, apparently new, very white, and an apron, which he wore round him; his trowsers [sic] came down almost to the edge of his shoes’

We have seen records that name him as James Milwood, but just to confirm and to set the record straight, according to the burial records for Hammersmith the deceased was a Thomas Milwood, aged 22.


Francis Smith gave himself up to the police and was put on trial at the Old Bailey for murder. It was decided by the judge that if the case were proven then he would be found guilty of murder and nothing less. The jury, however, was sympathetic and gave the verdict as manslaughter but the judge was not happy with this and the jury was forced to revise it to murder.

After passing the sentence of death Lord Chief Baron Macdonald reported the case to the King and the sentence was reduced to a year’s hard labour.

After the trial, a shoemaker, by the name of John Graham, admitted that he was the ‘ghost.’  He had covered himself in a white sheet to frighten his apprentice for reading ghost stories to his children.

Full transcript available at – Old Bailey Online

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Hammersmith Broadway; Hammersmith and Fulham Archives and Local History Centre

A Well-Authenticated Ghost Story from 1822

The following ghost story, in time for Halloween, is taken from The Morning Post, 16th October, 1822.



An old woman had for many of the latter years of her life indulged herself in sitting up in bed in such a position that her knees and her chin were constantly next door neighbours.  From this attitude she never departed; so that, for a long time previous to her decease, the tendons and muscles which are used in extending the lower limbs of the body were contracted, and refused their offices.

In this situation she was in the habit of taking exercises by gently see-sawing, or rocking herself backwards and forwards.  She died at last, a fate which all persons, eminent or not, must submit.

Her corpse was watched by some of her female acquaintances and relations, “who, towards the witching time of night,” had their meditations or speculations interrupted by a noise which they fancied was a dreadful peal of thunder.

The first impulse was to cast their widely opened eyes towards the body of the old dame, when, to their utter horror, they beheld her started from the recumbent posture of death, into her usual position, and exercising herself in rocking or see-sawing, as if nothing extraordinary had happened.

This sight was beyond the endurance of any female fortitude, and the whole party rushed out of the room without politeness enough to wish the old body joy on returning to its customary occupation.  On the circumstance being bruited abroad, the undertaker, a man of considerable resolution, ventured into the haunted apartment, and there found the fact as stated by the terrific feminines.

But he presently solved the mystery, by observing that the large weights which he had placed on the corpse to straiten it for burial, had rolled off and fallen on the floor, which was the cause of the noise, and the body being released from its unwonted confinement, had relapsed into the contracted state to which it had so long been habituated.  Some oscillations naturally followed the unexpected recovery of liberty, which made the attendants imagine that they beheld the workings of supernatural powers.

giving up the ghost

Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Collection