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Charlotte - A real ghost story for Samhain

Sahmain is upon us, and with the thinning of the veil between this world and the next, my mind was drawn to the story of Charlotte White (née Smyth), who lived in Berechurch Hall in Colchester, Essex, in the UK. She was born in Middlesex in 1813 and died in Wethersfield Manor in Essex, in 1845.


Charlotte was the daughter of Sir George Henry Smyth and his wife Eva. She married Thomas White of Wethersfield Manor, in St. Michael's Church, next to Berechurch Hall, in 1832 and bore six children.


When Charlotte was a child, her father had a pool built for her in Lethe Grove. It was inspired by Charlotte's love of a tapestry that hung in Berechurch Hall, which depicted an Egyptian queen bathing in a pool, surrounded by her dogs. Charlotte's pool was built of red bricks and was adorned with oyster shells. It had a grotto next to it, which had three small seats built into it, where Charlotte could change, while the other two seats were for her maids.


The local folklore tells of Charlotte having done her husband a wrong. The story tells of him having forgiven her, presenting her with a white gown that was trimmed with swan's down, as a token of his forgiveness. Unfortunately, Charlotte was not able to forgive herself.


Following Charlotte's death in October of 1845 from consumption, her remains were interred in the family vault of the Audley Chapel at St. Michael's Church. To this day, a beautiful sculpture remains in the Audley Chapel, which bears her name and an inscription in her memory, which reads:


In the vault beneath

rests all that yet is mortal of

CHARLOTTE.

The beloved wife of Thomas White Esq of Weathersfield,

the very dear and only child and heiress of

Sir G. H. Smyth, Bart of Berechurch Hall.

She died Oct 17th 1845, aged 33 years.

This tablet is erected by her sorrowing relatives,

to mark the early tomb of one who as

daughter, wife and mother,

combined with a most tender affection,

the exemplary discharge of every duty,

and the practice of all Christian virtues.


These words may serve indeed to tell the stranger

how much lamented was the loss of one,

so lovely in her life, and yet so early doomed;

but alas! No epitaph can fitly record

those endearing qualities which have raised for her

a sweet and lasting monument

in the hearts that once shared her love

or rejoiced in her friendship.


Unfortunately, it seems, following her death, Charlotte's spirit remained restless and over the 178 years since her death, there have been at least six unrelated, recorded sightings of Charlotte's ghost in the grounds of what was her father's estate in Berechurch.


Charlotte's memorial in the Audley Chapel


In the 1930s, Berechurch Hall was looked after by Mr. and Mrs. Chilvers. Mrs. Chilvers had a conversation with a woman, who asked her if she had encountered Charlotte yet. Mrs Chilvers was obviously rather shocked, when the lady told her that Charlotte was the resident ghost. As the story goes, Mrs Chilvers took no notice of the lady, dismissing her comments.


Fast forward one week, Mrs Chilvers went to let her cat in. While she waited for the cat, she saw a white figure, approaching along the drive. As the figure approached, Mrs. Chilvers notices that the figure was transparent. Mrs Chilvers stepped back in shock, and the figure rose into the sky and vanished!


During World War II, Berechurch Hall was repurposed as a camp for German prisoners of war. One of the commanding officers, patrolling while on duty one night, was surprised, to come across two soldiers passed out in the yard. When they eventually came to, they described seeing a lady in a white dress, who appeared out of nowhere. One of the German prisoners of war also saw a similar apparition.

I first learned of Charlotte in 1990, when I was at primary school. My teacher showed us a really grainy picture of what remained of Charlotte's Pool - a damp hollow in the ground beneath two enormous trees, which had their roots exposed, making for a very eerie scene. As a child with an overactive imagination, I was terrified at the thought of a ghost existing so close to where I lived.


Charlotte's Pool in 2012


In 2012, when I was researching for my novel about Charlotte, I came across a poem, which put my mind at rest. It described a young boy, who claimed to have seen Charlotte's ghost, near what remained of her pool, in the 1970s. The poet described Charlotte as peaceful and loving.


There are numerous other tales of Charlotte's ghost, and I've even heard rumours of sightings of her in the new block of flats which stand on the old foundations of Berechurch Hall.


Charlotte

by Annie Bell


Why do you call me ‘The Lady in White’?

Why do you act like I give you a fright?

Why do you only see this satin dress?

Can you not see that I look like a mess?


I’m going to tell you: to try to explain

quite what my dress means: how it speaks of my pain.

This dress: this white dress of satin so fine,

trimmed with soft swan’s down, destined to be mine:


a gift from my husband to forgive me a wrong

but I felt unforgiven my life and death long.

When I died, trapped right here, it was all I could wear:

my symbolic shackle, far too much to bear.


A symbol of marriage, innocence, love.

A symbol of purity, peace - like a dove

A symbol of betrayal, of evil, of guilt,

corroding my soul like an acid-soaked quilt.


I need you to listen. I need you to hear.

I need you to help me escape from my fear.

Call me nevermore ‘The Lady in White’.

Call me my name. I’m Charlotte.


Despite his intentions so sweet and so kind,

even after so long, it just serves to remind

of that fatal mistake: my only misdeed

and his well-meaning love meant my fate was decreed.


Stuck here alone for all of these years,

the world deaf to me and bound by my fears.

My silvery voice dumb, I walked through the night

and all you could see was ‘The Lady in White’.


I need you to listen. I need you to hear.

I need you to help me escape from my fear.

Call me nevermore ‘The Lady in White’.

Call me my name. I’m Charlotte.


Irony now was my twisted new friend,

as after my death, my life did not end.

Trapped in my invisible prison of love.

No way to ascend to my place high above.


Despite my good deeds and my Christian faith,

despite my fine conduct, I’m stuck as a wraith,

spooking young children, and looking a mess,

defined by this elegant, lead lined dress.


I need you to listen. I need you to hear.

I need you to help me escape from my fear.

Call me nevermore ‘The Lady in White’.

Call me my name. I’m Charlotte.


Oh people who seek me, who see me, please know,

I’m not what I seem in this ghastly ghost show.

I am not a scary wood haunting spook.

I’ll never hurt you. If you see me, just look.


You’ll just see a lady: a lady who died.

Look closer. You’ll see the pain in my eyes,

the tears locked inside me, in a chest that can’t rise.

Say my name. Ask a question. Look beneath my disguise.


I need you to listen. I need you to hear.

I need you to help me escape from my fear.

Call me nevermore ‘The Lady in White’.

Call me my name. I’m Charlotte.


Note: The images in this post are edited versions of photos taken of me, in locations around Berechurch Hall, when I performed as Charlotte at a Janes Walk in Colchester, organised by Colchester poet Wayne Richard Baker, in May 2018. You can read more about this here.



For more information on Charlotte White, please click the links below to view my past posts about her on Blogger.



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