Tappington Hall (the most haunted house in England)

The Easter break in Kent which I had planned for my return from India would have been something of a disappointment without our visit to Tappington. Bitterly cold weather and a raging chest infection took a lot of the fun out of the trip so I had thought to pass straight over it in my blog and move on to other things. But this is hardly fair because it wasn’t my trip alone and I’m not writing a tourist brochure where everything has to be sunny and perfect. Just because I stayed in the hotel bedroom while Grahame explored Dover Castle on his own and later, at Tappington, felt too sorry for myself to pick up a camera and go outside to snap Izzy feeding a newborn lamb doesn’t mean I can consign the whole thing to the recycle bin.

Here are such souvenir images as I’ve managed to put together (with a few borrowed ones to fill in the gaps). I think you can see from my picture with the Kentish delft tiles (20) how ill I was feeling but at least I’ve found a photo of Izzy with one of the cats (18) so perhaps she will forgive me.

The present Tappington Hall was built in Tudor times on the foundations of a much larger manor house, described in the Domesday book of 1086 as Tupton. It would not be surprising to find that a dwelling of such age laid claim to a ghost or two but so many stories are associated with the house that it seems to have formed the greater part of the inspiration for The Ingoldsby Legends, written between 1837 and 1847 by Thomas Barham.

The Reverend Barham was a gentleman clergyman who had inherited the house as a child in 1795. He had suffered a disabling coach accident but was clearly a lively and entertaining man with a great imagination so he allowed himself to be persuaded to contribute a story to Blackwoods magazine. The stories, which gained enormous popularity in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, featured many details of this region of Kent (often exaggerated, sometimes invented) and came to be known as the Ingoldsby Legends. .

After all, the name Barham is an altered and anglicised derivation of FitzUurse and it was Reginald FitzUrse, a thuggish Norman nobleman, who struck the first blow in against Archbishop Thomas Becket on the 29th December 1170 in Canterbury cathedral. Tappington Hall formed part of his estates and the association is simply too good to be passed over despite the fact that there is no actual evidence that the four assassins stopped here on their bloody mission from the King,

A deep notch in the oak bannisters is claimed to have been left when two brothers, each supporting opposing sides during the English Civil War, met on the stairs late one night. Candles flickered, tempers flared, an axe was swung and, of course, the ghost of the the loser in this tragic encounter is still around to greet the unwary. Later stories of Bad Sir Giles who abducted the gamekeeper’s little daughter and murdered a guest in his bed might have their origins in fact but this part of Kent was also a rich source of smugglers’ tales, witchcraft lore and rumours of hanged men who rose from their graves at crossroads.

Unlike the works of his friend and contemporary Charles Dickens, the stories and verses that Thomas Barham wove from such sources have not always  stood the test of time. Even the better known Jackdaw of Rheims, which I had heard of, turns out to have some questionable content. It starts well enough, a mischievous satire on the pomposity of the church as a jackdaw is elevated to sainthood after repenting the theft of the Cardinal’s ring but when the name “Jim Crow” is bestowed upon the bird at the end something doesn’t quite sound right.

Barham cannot be castigated for any association with the Jim Crow (segregation) Laws enacted in the United States since they were not introduced until 1876, long after his death. However, the sad fact is that these laws took their name from a popular, early nineteenth century “blackface” music hall song called “Jump, Jim Crow” which was based upon the story of a crippled African slave. However flippant and unconsidered the Reverend’s inclusion of the name in his poem may have seemed at the time, some things are just not acceptable any more.

Tappington Hall today has a wonderful, lived-in ambiance. The stories may have been embellished but many of the original fixtures and furnishings are  lovingly maintained with the addition of embroidered cushions and antiquarian books. The welcome is wonderful, the cake delicious and, of course, there are a couple of cats lazing by the fire.

Categories: Britain, East of England


  • Chris says:

    At least the tea looks good, when are you going to complete the bit about the ghost stories?

  • nicola ainsworth says:

    I’ve written about a few of the stories and tried to capture some of their atmosphere. The fact that they date from such different periods makes them all the more fun. I’m not surprised that books like the Ingoldsby Legends have fallen out of fashion but I’d certainly like to dip in and read a sample. Perhaps a copy illustrated by the great Arthur Rackham?

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