Tuesday, 14 July 2009
Armine - A Ghost Story
Hunstanton Hall is in the County of Norfolk. It it a moated Tudor manor house and here is the ghost story that is associated with it. It is the story of a woman’s obsession with a particular item in her home. The object of her pleasure and her concern was a carpet. Yes, a carpet. This was no ordinary piece of woven fabric but was a beautiful and antique Persian carpet that had been given to her by the Shah of Persia.
Can emotions be so powerful that they persist beyond the grave? I will leave it up to you, my dear friends and readers, to decide.
The Hall has been the ancestral home of the Le Strange family for hundreds of years and although many valuable items were lost in a fire in 1853 and fire struck again in 1951, the hall remains.
The lady at the centre of this story was Armine. Armine was a widow and she inherited the Hall on the death of her brother in 1760. Apparently she was a strong and determined character.
The fly in the ointment was her son, who made her life at the hall less than happy. Nicholas was her eldest son and seemed intent on destroying the family fortune. He was known throughout Norfolk as the “Jolly Gentleman” - but jolly in this context does not mean friendly, outgoing and happy. He was a compulsive gambler and drinker, totally selfish by nature and only thinking of himself.
He built up many debts and, as those debts mounted, things began disappearing from the Hall. Books from the very valuable library, silver plate and jewellery which had been handed down for generations. All vanished. Soon the beautiful house was being stripped and Armine knew just who was responsible.
As she grew older she started to fret and worry more and more. She feared that soon there would be nothing left and Nicholas would eventually let his eye fall upon her beloved carpet.
In 1768 she became very ill and knew that she was dying. She summoned her son to her bedside. She accused him of selling nearly everying adding “I am told that if I were able to look out of the window of my bedchamber, I should miss the deer in the Park.” Totally unashamed Nicholas admitted that yes, the deer had gone, he had lost them at cards the week previously.
Armine voiced her fears that, once she was dead, he would also dispose of her precious carpet which was very valuable indeed. Nicholas appeared genuinely shocked at the idea and said he has never even considered it, knowing how much it meant to her. However, Armine knew him better and, mustering all her strength, demanded his solemn promise that he would never ever sell the carpet. He clasped his mother’s hand in his and vowed he never would.
Armine was not convinced. “Remember, Nicholas” she continued, “if you break your promise or if you or anyone else commit the enormity of selling the carpet, or letting it go out of the Hall, I shall return and haunt this house. I swear it, and I know I shall be permitted to do so.”
These words truly shocked and scared Nicholas and, after her death, he decided to put temptation out of the way. He had the carpet taken up from the drawing room and stored away in a wooden box, well nailed down and out of convenient reach.
For the rest of Nicholas’s lifetime and well beyond it, Armine’s delightful carpet mouldered in some dusty store room at the Hall, totally undisturbed and forgotten by all.
Eighty years were to pass. Eventually the Hall passed into the possession of Hamon Le Strange. Hamon married Emmeline Austin. She was a very beautiful American from Boston. She was lively and energetic and breathed new life into the Hall. She was absolutely delighted to be the mistress of an English stately home. She wanted to be the new broom that swept clean.
She set out exploring every nook and cranny, arranging the cleaning and tidying, discovering long forgotten items. Eventually she came across the nailed box. She was at first very excited but then disappointed to find, when opened, it only contained a dusty old carpet. She did not want to use it but wanted to find a practical use for it. Being a kind-hearted person she decided that it should be cut up in many smaller pieces and made into useful hearthrugs for poor members of the local community.
She set off in her carriage with the piles of rugs which she presented to the cottage families who were, of course, delighted with these unexpected gifts. She went home feeling very pleased with her generosity.
As her carriage arrived at the gatehouse, she was alarmed when, looking up, she found that she was being watched from the window by an elderly woman. The woman’s face was a picture or rage and hatred. Emmeline was very shocked because she immediately recognised the face as being that of Armine whose portrait hung in the Hall.
She hurried inside and immediately told her husband what she had seen. He at once remembered the family story and how Armine had threatened to haunt the place if the carpet was ever disposed of and Emmeline had disposed of it. Hamon told his wife that she must get the pieces back, however embarrassing that might be. She refused, she said she could not do that, she would not take things back. Then she thought she might have imagined it or it was a trick of the light.
Within hours she knew she had not imagined it and it had been no trick. For several days and nights the Hall was haunted by Armine’s restless ghost. The whole household was in sheer terror with the rappings, bangings and sightings.
She decided she had to take action. She had to purchase good quality Axminster rugs and distribute them to those who had received pieces of the Persian carpet. Eventually all the pieces were reunited and stowed away back in the box. However, they could not be put back together as one carpet.
Maybe this is why Armine still continues to appear from time to time, being seen and heard. She had managed to prevent her wayward and selfish son from disposing of the carpet but could do nothing about the innocent desire of a pretty American to do good in a little village. Her beloved carpet had been destroyed forever and she has kept her promise.