There are plenty of ghost stories from the 18th and early 19th century, and I have previously written about The Hammersmith Ghost, but today I have a very different ghost story for your Halloween.
This story took place at a large, old mansion house, by the Welsh name of Tee Gwyn, or The White House, just outside the village of Llanfyllin in Montgomeryshire.
A gentleman by the name of Mr Thomas, a supervisor of excise, was ordered to take over responsibility for the district from another supervisor, as was often the case at that time. Mr Thomas was married with children, but rather than arrive with his family, he went on his own, on the assumption that once he’d settled in the area, his wife and family could join him.
He had never been to Wales before and as you would imagine he wanted to find out more about the area and make sure that wherever he was bringing his family to that it was suitable. Unfortunately, the only vacant house was the large, old, dilapidated mansion house, which stood in decay, at the foot of a mountain. Mr Thomas was advised that it was that or nothing.
The house had a large garden which was full of weeds and the steps leading to the door covered with moss and several windows were broken, the whole place had an air of neglected grandeur.
Upon visiting the mansion house, he decided to see if there were a few suitable rooms that would be suitable to live in and the cheap rent proved a suitable inducement.
He was directed to a man whom he believed to have been the owner who instantly offered to let him the mansion at the low rent of five pounds a year. Mr Thomas didn’t really want or need a large house but didn’t think it was suitable to continue living at the local ale house for long as he wanted his family to be with him as soon as possible.
He decided that four or five rooms upstairs would be fine, so struck a deal, five pounds a year, and purchased a few bits and pieces to make it feel more homely until his family arrived with all their possessions.
On the first night he lit a large fire to make it feel more homely and to get rid of the dampness, had a cup of grog and settled down to enjoy a good night’s rest.
The following morning, he went into the village to the barber’s shop for a shave, where several people enquired how he had slept. He declared that he had enjoyed the best night’s sleep of his life, but was somewhat taken aback by the question, until the locals revealed that the house was believed to be have been haunted for over fifty years.
Mr Thomas was a very down to earth gentleman and just laughed at the idea of ghosts and declared that he didn’t believe in ghosts.
On returning to the house, he began sorting it out and preparing for the eventual arrival of his family and didn’t give the ghost story another thought.
Given his role as that of an excise officer, he thought an empty house might have made the perfect place for working an illicit still, so he spent much of the next day checking out the vaults and all hiding places, but didn’t find anything to indicate any sign of anything suspicious.
As night drew on, he threw an extra log on the fire, and having borrowed a chair in the town, he at himself down in front of the fire, ate his bread and cheese, and once again, supped his cup of grog.
He did still have a niggling worry in his mind about the possibility of there being an illegal still, and that given the remoteness of the property, that if it were being used to brew illicit alcohol, someone could return during the night and that if someone found him there, he could have his throat cut and his body thrown into a tub, while his wife and family would be none the wiser.
Fears of the living, more than the dead, worried him until eventually he decided, in case he heard anything going on that he needed to remain as quiet as possible, and send all the information he could to the heads of his department. He could see by his watch that it was nearly twelve o’clock, but he couldn’t sleep.
All of a sudden, he heard footsteps on the staircase, and he felt or thought he felt his hair lift his hat involuntarily a least an inch off his forehead. His heart began to beat faster and faster, the logs did not seem to blaze as brightly; he listened anxiously … but heard nothing, not a sound.
Eventually, he plucked up the courage to open the door and took himself off to bed, having given the fire a last poke, to keep it going. He had just begun to doze off when he was woken by a strange clattering on the staircase, as if ten thousand imps were ascending to his room.
In the panic of the moment, he jumped out of bed, rushed to the landing, where he distinctly heard the said imps clatter down the broad staircase again, making faint shrieking cries, which died away with the sound of their footsteps as they seemed to disappear into the vaults.
To him, it was clear that there were other tenants living in the house beside himself, he kept as quiet as possible, but was anxious about what he thought he had heard. Eventually, as he watched the dawn break in the east, he got up and began searching to find out where thee noises had come from.
He found absolutely nothing, the house was silent, not even a footstep on the staircase, although he could have sworn that he really did hear his disturbers ascend towards his room, and then depart.
On his visit to the town that morning, the previous day’s inquiries were repeated, but he strenuously denied having been disturbed, for fear he should be thought a coward. The next evening, he decided to find out whether anything really did climb the staircase, or whether it was mere fancy. With that, he spread a thick layer of sand on every step, imagining that if his tormentors were really substantial, they must leave some tracks behind them.
In the middle of the night, the same extraordinary noise was heard, so, armed with with pistols, and a lamp, Mr Thomas set off downstairs as fast as he could. The imps, however, were too quick for him, and he couldn’t even get a glimpse of them.
Yet again, did he searched everywhere in vain, he was retracing his steps when he remembered the sand, which, in his terrified descent he had forgotten about, when, to his horror, he perceived some five or six hundred cloven tracts ! They were too small for goblins, and much too large for rats. Mr Thomas was more puzzled than ever, he had no idea what could have left such marks, certainly not a ghost, he thought.
The matter assumed rather a serious aspect, and he wrote to his wife, ordering his wife not to join him until he wrote to her again, he didn’t want to put his family in any danger. All day long, he racked his brain as to the species of creatures that had disturbed his peace and quiet.
Over and over again, he concluded that perhaps it was a trick, and as often did he abandon that notion as improbable ; but then he could not account for his not being able to see what had made the tracks.
He had given up every idea that rats could have made such a noise or tracks so large, but he decided to set a few rat traps to try to solve the mystery. Accordingly, he purchased six, as that was all he could get, and on the fourth night he carefully set them in a row on one of the steps of the staircase, so that if the imps ascended in a column, he was sure of catching at least one of them.
Still, he would not abandon his pistols or his lamp, but determined to be on guard all night.
About the mystic hour of twelve, he heard the jumping or hopping, as it seemed, up the stairs, and while he cocked one of the pistols, he heard a trap go off, then another, then another, succeeded by appalling shrieks, and the same clattering noise down stairs again.
He proceeded to the spot, and there, much to his surprise he found three fine fat rabbits, caught by the legs in the traps.
The reality was, there was no ghost, just the inhabitants of an adjoining rabbit warren who used to make their way up through the sewers into the deserted mansion, and their gambols through the empty rooms first gave rise to the story of ‘Tee Gwynn’ being haunted.
With that, Mr Thomas was reassured and immediately sent for his family, and they now enjoy a house, and as many rabbits as they could eat, all for five pounds a year!
As to whether there was any truth in the whole story, who knows.
Hampshire Advertiser 3 November 1827
Bodfach house and grounds c1781 National Library of Wales