Weird Suffolk: The strange hauntings at Abbas Hall, Great Cornard

Abbas Hall, Great Cornard

Abbas Hall, Great Cornard - Credit: Archant

Just a few miles from the Victorian house that many believed to be the most haunted house in England is another fine hall which boasts its own spectral past.

Abbas Hall is one of only two examples of late 13th century aisled hall houses in Suffolk – inside the house you can still see traces of the wooden frame while outside it is a gorgeous example of an Elizabethan remodelling project. It is said that Gainsborough chose the view from Abbas Hall’s terrace for his 1740 painting Cornard Wood.

In the 1950s, one of the hall’s residents was Yvonne Spalding, who looked after the hall for the owner, a solicitor, in exchange for being allowed to live in the property, rent-free, and also tended a herd of jersey cattle kept on a nearby estate. Another was, possibly, a ghost.

Ms Spalding reported, in around 1952, that she had heard footsteps and heavy dragging noises from bedrooms upstairs, neither of which she could explain. Lord Abinger, whose cattle Yvonne tended on the Essex border, told her that he had seen the face of an old woman looking through the upstairs window, but when the pair went to investigate, no one could be found.

(As an aside, Lord Abinger’s grandmother was adopted by Sir Percy Shelley, the only son of poet Percy Bysshe and Mary Shelley, who wrote Frankenstein, and she went on to inherit part of their literary estate. Abinger devoted much time to cataloguing the Boscombe Collection of Shelley letters and manuscripts now at the Bodleian Library in Oxford)

On another occasion, Ms Spalding was alone in the house one evening and was reading in the living room when she heard the sound of kitchen door latch moving: her dachshund dog and Siamese cat both stared at the door, their heads moving in unison as they appeared to follow something which was moving to the door which opened to the stairway.

She then heard the latch to the stairway door open and then the same dragging noise was heard in the upstairs bedroom, as if someone – or something – was dragging its feet. At this point, she gathered up her pets and fled the hall to spend the night with friends.

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Psychic investigator Philip Paul from The Ghost Club, a paranormal investigation and research organisation founded in London in 1862, thought to be the oldest such organisation in the world and which boasted Charles Dickens and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as members, agreed to look into the curious case of Abbas Hall.

A report in The Daily Herald in March 1952 gave details of a séance led by Mr Paul: “In the circle were eight men and five women, including two doctors. The séance was held in an upstairs bedroom with blankets over windows and doors. It went on from 8.15 to 9.30pm,” the article reads.

“John, a medium, went into a semi-trance and said: ‘This building stands on the proposed site of an early Dominican monastery, but there was a controversy about it and a heated battle was fought. A monastery was built nearby.’ Mr Paul commented late: ‘Unknown to John there are footings of a monastery in the garden.’

“John went on: ‘This building was used by refugees from the Great Plague. Then some Dutch people lived here. They had one child, a mentally deficient girl. She died by falling from an upper window in this house. Her father was accused of murder and put in the stocks. He disposed of her body in the well. She is coming into this room and now into the circle. She wants to be seen. She has two teeth missing from the upper set.’

“Mr Paul commented: ‘Bones were found in the well.’ John asked the ghost of the girl to knock and tapping came from several parts of the dark room. John and his party went off to Sudbury to sleep, leaving the haunted house to Mr Paul and his pretty young wife, Madge.”

Fascinated by the story, two American GIs – Harvey McDowell and Elroy Gunther - took a taxi across Suffolk to sleep at Abbas Hall.

The report continued: “Mr Paul fell asleep and his wife and the Americans were munching apples when Madge and Harvey both heard footsteps in the room above – that bedroom. Mrs Paul says she saw a small figure in the doorway when John left and later in the bathroom a woman who said: ‘Go away, I don’t want you here.’ The same woman wakened her in the night in that room – and this time she smiled. The two Americans had a quiet night. So had Mr Paul.”

For more Weird Suffolk stories click here.

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