Thursday 6 August 2015

The Ghost of Madame Gould

I am thrilled to welcome Chris Woodyard to the salon again today for the last of three spooky Georgian tales!


Although this tale was recorded by the Rev. Sabine Baring-Gould, it was an eighteenth-century ghost story from the family estate, Lew Trenchard House.

“Lew Trenchard House is haunted by a White Lady, who goes by the name of Madame Gould, and is supposed to be the spirit of a lady who died there like Queen Elizabeth, seated in her 
chair April 10, 1795. Her maiden name was Belfield; she was born in 1711, and she married William Drake Gould, son of Henry Gould, of Lew Trenchard, and Elizabeth, daughter of 
Philip Drake of Littleham. 

“At Lew House there is a corridor extending the whole length of the upper story of the house; along this the lady is supposed to walk at night, and her step has been frequently heard. 

Lew Trenchard House
Lew Trenchard House
“My mother has often told me how she has heard the step at  night, as though proceeding from high-heeled shoes, walking slowly up the corridor, and thinking it might be my father coming to bed she has opened the door to admit him ; but on looking out she has seen the moon streaming in through the windows on an empty passage, down which she still heard the measured tread. My sister often expressed her desire to hear the steps of the spectral lady, but was still disappointed, though she sat up on purpose. 

“One summer night, however, she was sitting in her room, with window and door open, writing a letter, and thinking of anything but the old Madame, when she heard steps along the 
corridor. At the moment she thought it might be my father, and she rose, took up her candle, and went to the door to speak to him. To her surprise she saw no one, but the steps passed 
her, and went on into the lumber-room at the end of the passage. Being a resolute and courageous young lady she followed the sound into the room, but could see no one. She also opened the only other door beyond her own, and which gave admittance to one of the servants’ rooms, to ascertain whether the noise could have proceeded thence, but she found the two maids fast asleep. 

“At the end of the house is a long oak-tree avenue; the White Lady is said to have been seen pacing up and down this, gleaming in and out among the gnarled tree-trunks, as she passed into the moonlight or disappeared in the shade. 

“About three miles off is a quaint old granite mansion, half pulled down by my grandfather, and turned into a substantial farmhouse. This ancient house belonged originally to the Woods, 
and there was a standing feud between that family and my own, till they were ruined, and Madame Gould bought the land and house from them; after which she declared she should die happy. 

“On the confines of this property, called Orchard, is a deep gloomy valley, through which trickles a rill of dark water, under the shadow of the thick fir plantations which clothe the sides of the glen. It goes by the name of the Black Valley, and the Bratton-Clovelly road plunges down into it, crosses a little bridge, and scrambles up the opposite side through the gloom of the over- 
hanging trees. On the side of the road is an old mine-shaft, long abandoned. It is confidently asserted by Lew and Bratton people that, on dark nights, Madame Gould is to be seen, 
dressed all in white, standing by the side of the stream, with a phosphorescent light streaming from her face and her clothes; and that she stoops and takes up handfuls of water, which 
she allows to trickle down in sparkling drops through her fingers. Sometimes she combs her long brown floating hair with a silver comb; and many a Bratton man, returning from market, has seen her and been nearly frightened out of his wits. Not many years ago a man of that village had his leg broken by falling over a hedge, in his attempt to escape from the apparition as it issued from the old mining-shaft and made towards him. 

A Supposed Portrait of Madame Gould
A Supposed Portrait of Madame Gould
“A young man, named Symmonds, living at Galford, a farm in the parish, left home for America during the old Madame’s lifetime. After some years he returned, and hiring a horse at Tavistock he rode home, a distance of twelve miles. It was a clear moonlight night, and as he passed through the Lew Valley, with the white rime lying thick on the grass, he noticed a newly- 
ploughed field, in which the plough had been left. On this was seated a lady in white satin, with long brown hair floating down her shoulders. Her face was uplifted, and her eyes directed 
towards the moon, so that Mr. Symmonds had a full view of it. He recognised her at once, and taking off his hat he called out, ’ I wish you a very good night, Madame.’ She bowed in 
return, and waved her hand, the man noticing the sparkle of her diamond rings as she did so. On reaching home, after the first greetings and congratulations, he said to his aged parents, ‘What 
do you think now? I have seen that strange Madame Gould sitting on a plough, this time o’ night, and with frost on the ground, looking at the moon.’ All who heard him started, and a blank expression passed over their countenances. The young man, seeing that he had surprised them more than he anticipated, asked what was the matter. The reply was, ‘Madame was 
buried three days ago in Lew church.’

“Old Lew Trenchard church was handsomely furnished with a carved oak screen and bench-ends..The carpenter who was employed in 1832 to replace these old benches with neat deal pews, before leaving his work one evening, out of curiosity, opened the vault in which lay William 
Drake Gould and his lady. Finding the lady’s coffin-lid loose, he proceeded to raise it, that he might take a look at the redoubted Madame. Immediately she opened her eyes, sat up, and rose to 
her feet. The carpenter, who was an elderly man, frightened out of his senses, rushed from the church, which was filled with light from the body of the risen lady. As the man dashed down the 
churchyard avenue he turned his head back, and saw her over his shoulder gleaming in the porch, and preparing to sail down the path after him. 

“From the church to his house was a good mile and a quarter, and the road passes nearly all the way through woods. He ran as he never ran before, and as he ran his shadow went before him, cast by the light which shone from the spectral lady who followed him. On reaching his house he burst the door open, and dashed into bed beside his wife, who was infirm and bedridden. Both then saw the figure standing in the doorway, and the light from it was so intense that, to use the old woman’s words, she could see by it a pin lying on the floor. 

“There is a stone shown on the ‘ramps’ of Lew Slate Quarry where seven parsons met to lay the old Madame. Opinions differ as to what took place whether she was laid in part or not at all. 
Some say that the white owl, which nightly flits to and fro in front of Lew House, is the spirit of the lady conjured by the parsons into a bird; others doubt this; but I believe all agree that the parsons failed because one of the number was ‘a bit fresh’ when he came, and had forgotten the right words to be used.” 

Notes on the Folk-lore of the Northern Counties of England and the Borders, William Henderson

The notion of a ghost being “laid” by parson or parsons is a popular one in the 18th and early 19th century. A difficult spirit could be “bound” by special incantations in Greek, Latin, or Arabic and ghosts were often “conjured” into bottles or other containers and thrown into water. Alternately, a ghost might be ordered by an authoritative parson into an animal such as a horse or bird or forced to bail out a pond with a pierced shell. Rev. Baring-Gould also speculates that the White Lady ghost is somehow related to the Germanic goddess Dame Holle or European White Ladies, thought to be remnants of pagan belief in water nymphs and other genii loci. 

About the Author

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the DeadThe Ghost Wore BlackThe Headless HorrorThe Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

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This post copyright © Chris Woodyard, 2015.


Mari Christian said...

what a charmingly told story. The ghost of Mrs Gould, in fact, seems rather harmless.

Sarah said...

She sounds a most benign apparition.

Catherine Curzon said...

She does indeed!

Catherine Curzon said...

And really quite likeable!