Uncanny UK editor Richard Holland continues his chart of the most haunted places in Britain.
35. LITTLECOTE: Hungerford, Berkshire
This grand Elizabethan mansion, now a luxury hotel, is one of the most famous haunted houses in Britain thanks to the story of ‘Wild Will Darrell’ and a plucky midwife. It’s more than just a legend: Darrell really was brought to trial after the midwife, who was dragged out of her bed and blindfolded, delivered a baby to a frightened masked woman in an unfamiliar mansion and then watched horrified as a man ‘of haughty and ferocious looks’ grabbed the infant and threw it on the fire. The midwife secretly snipped away a fragment of the drapery round the woman’s bed and counted the stairs leading down from the chamber when she was led blindfolded out again. This evidence identified the squire of Littlecote, William Darrell, as the man she saw murdering the baby.
Darrell was brought to trial but, typically for the times, acquitted. However, he died a little while later when he was thrown from his horse while out hunting. His horse had shied, apparently for no reason but the locals said it had been startled by the apparition of ‘the Burning Babe’. Darrell and his hounds are said to haunt the location of his death, which is still known as ‘Darrell’s Stile’. The villainous squire is also believed to trundle up the drive in a phantom coach as a warning of a coming death in the house. The room where the child was killed is haunted by a sorrowful young woman with a baby in her arms.
There are several other ghosts at littlecote unrelated to the Darrell legend. A woman haunts the Chinese bedroom and another wanders the passages with a taper in her hand. Another female ghost has been seen in the garden and a man, possibly a former tenant called Gerard Lee Bevin, haunts the Long Gallery.
[SOURCE: Lore of the Land by Westwood and Simpson; Haunted Britain by A. Hippisley Coxe]