WEIRD SUFFOLK: Could the Acton Miser have returned from the grave to protect his riches?
PUBLISHED: 18:00 01 February 2020
Think twice before you try to find the treasure said to be hidden in Acton - it is guarded by a ghost who won't hesitate to let you know who the riches belong to.
It's a twisting tale - one which involves ghost horses, headless grooms and a carriage racing through Acton at midnight, the other a hidden chest of treasure guarded by a spectre.
William Sparrow Simpson wrote in 1889 of Acton's strange claim to fame: "... legend was current not many years ago, that on certain occasions... the park gates were wont to fly open at midnight...and a carriage drawn by four spectral horses, accompanied by headless grooms and outriders, proceeded with great rapidity from the park to a spot called 'the nursery corner'. "What became of the ghostly cortege at this spot, I have never been able to learn; but though the sight has not been seen by any of the present inhabitants, yet some have heard the noise of the headlong race." It is this corner, close to the gates of the former Action mansion and at a crossways, where tradition has it that a bloody battle was fought during Roman times and where a chest filled with treasure was hidden, filled with gold and silver, in nearby Wimbrell Pond.
Simpon adds: "...if any daring person ventures to approach the pond, and throw a stone into the water, it will ring against the chest; and a small white figure has been heard to cry in accents of distress, 'That's mine!'. I send you these legends as I have heard them from the lips of my nurse, a native of the village."
Could the story of the hidden fortune be linked to the money left by William Jennens?
His father Robert had started to build Acton mansion but when he died in 1775, William inherited the house and promptly scrapped his father's plans, preferring to live in unfurnished rooms in the basement with his servants and dogs, shunning visitors. He became known as the Acton Miser and Charles Dickens is said to have used him as inspiration for his darkest novel, Bleak House. Said to be one of the richest men in England, Jennens amassed a fortune worth around £230 million in today's money by lending to London gamblers and then charging huge interest rates.
By the time he died - with his unsigned will in his pocket and with no heirs or relatives - Jennens was fabulously wealthy and the list of people who believed they had a claim to his estate was so long that the legal battle was fought for 117 years. Jennens v Jennens commenced in 1798 and was abandoned in 1915 when the legal fees had exhausted the Jennens estate of funds: William is buried with his parents in a marble vault in All Saints Church, close to his long-demolished mansion and Nursery Corner.
Did William hide more treasure in the pond? Is it him guarding his cash from beyond the grave?