Everyone loves a spooky story and the New Forest is filled with them! As Halloween approaches, take a trek through our horrible history - then visit the places where it all (allegedly) happened…
The White Witch of Burley
Ever wondered just why the pretty village of Burley has so many stores devoted to all things witchy? Well, one of the reasons is because it was home to the woman who was arguably Britain’s most famous witch.
During the early 1950s, Sibyl Leek arrived in Burley and opened two antique shops. Given that you could be prosecuted for witchcraft until 1951 – a Scottish woman was sent to prison for the crime in 1944 – it’s easy to see why Sibyl initially kept quiet about her unusual interest.
After witchcraft was decriminalised, Sibyl gradually came out as a white witch and by the late 1950s she could regularly be seen around the village, wearing her trademark cape and touting a black jackdaw called Mr Hotfoot Jackson.
Sibyl gave numerous press and TV interviews and stated in one: “I am a witch” and because of this drew hundreds of visitors to Burley, with whom she’d discuss her spells and ideas on healing. This didn’t please everyone and after growing tired of the attention, she moved to Florida, where she died in 1982
Her legacy can be seen in the Coven of Witches store, which, in addition to having a portrait of her hanging above the Jacobean fireplace, is also rumoured to have a ghostly cat!
The King’s Ghost
There are no dead bodies at Rufus Stone today, just a monument inscribed with writing marking the spot where, it’s rumoured, the hated King William II or William Rufus, died in 1100, after being mysteriously hit by an arrow.
Was it an accident - something more sinister? The rumours are that his younger brother, Henry, who was quick to seize the throne and blame the death on the unfortunate Sir Walter Tyrrell, was the real killer.
What is known is that cruel Rufus, son of William the Conqueror, was deeply hated and this may be why so many legends have sprung up about his death and its aftermath.
Rufus was said to have received a warning from a monk that he may die while out hunting. His ghost – clad in medieval clothing with distinctive red hair - is said to haunt the area around Stoney Cross, and there are also reports that his phantom funeral procession occasionally appears.
Folklore claims that a pond in nearby Castle Malwood turns red on the anniversary of Rufus’s death, after his alleged killer, Sir Walter Tyrrell, washed his bloodied hands in it. And Tyrrell’s anguished ghost is said to haunt the road named after him in Burley.
Given that it dates back to the thirteenth century, it’s not hard to see why Beaulieu’s Abbey and Palace House are said to be home to a number of apparitions and spooky goings-on.
Ghostly monks who sing and chant are said to have been heard in the abbey, whilst the Sherlock Holmes creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who lived at nearby Minstead, held a séance at Palace House, allegedly making contact with a spirit.
Creepier still are the stories of a ‘blue lady’, who can reportedly pass through walls and has made strange noises in the private apartments of Palace House. She’s believed to be Isabella, a former Countess of Beaulieu, who died in 1786 – but she may have made a reappearance in 2013. A Palace House guide who was trying out her new phone camera in the Lower Drawing Room was astonished to see that the image showed up a ghostly female figure in blue…
Meanwhile, in Beaulieu village, an ancient boot was discovered by builders working on an estate house. The item was believed to have been placed in the property to ward off evil spirits and witches.
The cursed painting of Breamore House
The magnificent Tudor house near Fordingbridge, Breamore House, is said to be haunted by two generations of ghosts, both connected by a cursed painting.
The trouble started in 1600, after Breamore’s owner, Christian Doddington, flung himself to death off a church in London, following a protracted legal dispute with his neighbours.
He said he would rather die than life with ‘infamy and torment’ and his distraught widow, Christine Doddington, commissioned a portrait of herself in mourning garb to mark the tragedy.
On her deathbed she is said to have cursed the painting, stating that anyone who moved or touched it would come to harm.
After a cleaner working in the house during the 1950s fell and broke their leg on the same day they moved the portrait, it has never been moved since.
Meanwhile, back in the 1600s, Mrs Doddington’s younger sister was murdered by her son and is claimed to haunt the blue bedroom where she died. Legend has it that the appearance of her ghost portends a serious illness or death.