The ghost who haunts Seckford Hall
- Credit: Gregg Brown
He’s a ghost with a social conscience who angrily returns to Seckford Hall in Suffolk to protest the fact that the money he bequeathed to the local poor was actually embezzled by rich people who had no need for it.
The hall is a stunning echo of Britain’s Tudor past, a manor house that dates to the 1530s built to the south west of Woodbridge as the family home for Thomas Seckford, an official at the court of Queen Elizabeth I and a Member of Parliament (confusingly, his brother was also Thomas Seckford and also an MP).
Educated at Cambridge, Seckford became one of Queen Elizabeth’s two masters in ordinary of the court of requests, a job which involved him dealing with the poor and accompanying the monarch as she journeyed around her realm.
Seckford would deal with pleas of poor men by means of petitions to the crown and Elizabeth herself held court at Seckford, it is said that the four poster in the Tudor Room dates to 1587 and is where the Queen slept during her stay (and less romantically, the chair her grandfather Henry VII died on).
He was made surveyor of the court of wards and liveries in 1559 and became a great benefactor of Woodbridge, his charity – The Seckford Charity, endowed with lands at Clerkenwell – supported almshouses the grammar school and other institutions in the town.
Thomas lived through times when civil disturbance and vagrancy were rife and when attitudes towards the poor were horrific: anyone over the age of 14 found guilty of begging would be whipped and then burnt through the gristle of their right ear with a red-hot iron.
Responsibility for the poor had belonged to the monks in the Roman Catholic Church before Henry VIII’s reign but when he broke with the church in order to marry Anne Boleyn, that responsibility passed to the Crown until it was swiftly sidestepped by Henry’s daughter Elizabeth, who passed it to wealthy landowners, businessmen and lawyers, such as Thomas.
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Seckford took his role very seriously and was dedicated towards making provision for those less privileged than he.
When he died in 1587 aged 72 without leaving issue, he was buried in a chapel on the north side of St Mary’s Church in the town which is now an organ chamber; his coat of arms can be seen in the north window of the west wall of the church.
But he would visit his family seat again – many times.
It is said that Seckford haunts the building at night, now a hotel, dressed in elaborate Tudor costume, with a high-crowned hat, and carrying his staff of office – as he wanders through the corridors, he is heard to mutter and complain that the money he endowed for The Seckford Trust to benefit poor families in the town, was mishandled by his executors and used for other purposes.
Another theory is that Seckford was, like Thomas Howard the Duke of Norfolk, cursed with bad luck as a consequence of acquiring church property following the dissolution.
A secret passage is said to exist between Seckford Hall and Thomas’ town house, Woodbridge Abbey in Church Street, which occupies the site of a 12th century Augustinian priory – whether Thomas Seckford drifts from one to the other through the subterranean walkway is, however, unknown.