Weird Suffolk: The Queen of Hell from Boulge
- Credit: Archant
It is said that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned – but in Boulge in Suffolk, the woman in question who haunts the village in a coach pulled by headless horses is so furious that she’s known locally as the Queen of Hell itself.
The ghost in question is said to be a Mrs Short, who inherited the long-since-demolished Boulge Hall from the man who built it, her husband William Whitby. On his death in 1792, the then Mrs Whitby lived alone until she met her second husband, Henry Short, a former lieutenant colonel in the Royal Dragoons.
To say the marriage was stormy would be an understatement: Mrs Short didn’t earn her nickname as ‘the Queen of Hell’ without reason – she was Short tempered, one might say.
Thomas Wright, in The Life of Edward Fizgerald, written in 1904 (more of him later), said that Mrs Short was an imperious and bad-tempered old lady, adding: “She and her husband Colonel Short often fell out and at such times the colonel would only speak to his dog, she to her cat. After a particularly bitter quarrel, Mrs Short declared that she would not live with her husband again.”
Mrs Short ordered that a new home be built in the grounds of Boulge Hall, a thatched cottage where she could escape when life at the grand Hall became intolerable. A letter survives written by the Suffolk antiquary Henry Jermyn on March 14 1802, which recounts a tale from Mrs Short’s nephew, Charles Rissowe.
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We learn of the Lady of the Manor’s activities on New Year’s Day in 1800, when she threatened to burn down the farm house and buildings, destroyed the windows in the dining room and broke down a door “to regain her liberty” after her husband had entreated four men to restrain her and remove a knife from her clutches.
The Hall suffered a burnt floor after the incident and it is believed that the rumour mill constructed a ghastly tale of a murder and an indelible bloodstain on the hall floor from fragments of the truth.
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The Folklore Society’s 1895 volume stated: “She murdered a gentleman at Boulge Hall. The stain is on the floor where she murdered him. Now (that is 70 years after) she comes out of the gate in a carriage with a pair of horses that have got no heads. She wears a silk dress. There is a light on the carriage, and a man drives the horses. About three years ago a servant girl lived there. Mrs. Short went into her room and pulled all her things off her. The girl said she felt its (the ghost’s) breath like a wolf upon her.”
A year after the eventful New Year’s Day, John Fitzgerald bought the Hall for his daughter Mary and her new husband John – the purchase was on the understanding that the Hall would remain in the hands of the Shorts until they died, but Mrs Short kept the Grim Reaper waiting until 1831, when she was 84.
The couple lived instead at nearby Bredfield House and eventually moved into Boulge Hall in 1835. Their son Edward Fitzgerald refused to move into the Hall and instead lived in a thatched cottage on the estate, believed to be that lived in by Mrs Short.
Edward, a close friend of Alfred Tennyson and William Makepeace Thackeray, was the translator of famous Persian poem The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam which was published anonymously in 1859 and then enlarged in subsequent editions in 1868, 1872 and 1879. With an unhappy marriage of his own, Fitzgerald was famously unkempt and chronically untidy – when he died in 1883, his body was buried in the churchyard of St Michael and All Angels in the village and a rose from the tomb of Omar Khayyam planted at the foot of his grave.
In some accounts of the ghostly occupant of the hellish carriage seen in Boulge, it is Fiztgerald and not the Queen of Hell who is said to be seen at midnight – a headless coachman takes the reins, dismounting to open a pair of ghostly gates. There are no earthly remains of the Hall or the cottage – the former was demolished in the 1950s – but some say an echo from the past still remains on moonless nights when the clock strikes 12.
For more about England’s lost country houses visit www.lostheritage.org.uk
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