Glimpses of Paranormal Warwickshire Part 11: Thomas Oken’s House and Lord Leycester Hospital, Warwick

This is the eleventh in a series of glimpses into my new book Paranormal Warwickshire which will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th November 2020.

Thomas Okens House Warwick
Thomas Oken’s House Warwick (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

For all those who have completed their visit to Warwick Castle, and leave the castle by the town gate, Thomas Oken’s House will be seen straight ahead, between Castle Street and Castle Lane. This beautiful timbered property is now occupied by the Thomas Oken Tea Rooms. Thomas Oken himself built the house over 500 years ago. He was a philanthropic Elizabethan merchant, and he is renowned for his generosity as the benefactor of the town of Warwick.

Inside Thomas Oken's Tea Rooms Warwick
Inside Thomas Oken’s Tea Rooms Warwick

Those who work in the tea rooms – and especially the young waiters and waitresses – along with several customers, and the current owner, Joanna Hobbs, have plenty of reasons to feel that Thomas’s benevolent influence still lingers there. Thomas died in this house on the night of 29 July 1573, leaving an amazing bequest to the town of Warwick, giving his name to a fund which still yields revenue today for the benefit of local causes.

Commemorative plaque Thomas Oken and his wife Joan in St Marys Church Warwick
The commemorative plaque to Thomas Oken and his wife Joan in St Mary’s Church Warwick (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

Numerous strange experiences have been reported in his house, including a few apparitions, a strong sense of ‘presence’ (experienced when the building is empty apart from one person), and curious auditory phenomena too.

Much of this does seem to be associated with the person of Thomas Oken himself; and to learn more about his life, and his significance in the story of Warwick, we must go to the Lord Leycester Hospital, further down the high street in Warwick.

Lord Leycester Hospital, Warwick

Surely this is one of England’s loveliest buildings (in the eyes of many, and certainly in mine). First built in the late 14th century, it was taken over by Sir Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester, in 1570 as a retirement home for venerable retired service personnel. These were known as ‘the Brethren’, and the building was never what we now know as ‘a hospital.’ The present-day members of the Brethren, with their Master, live in the building. Behind the building is an exquisite garden, known as The Master’s Garden.

The property is regularly used by TV drama and feature film-makers as it represents a perfect authentic Elizabethan setting with its courtyard, its gallery, guildhall, great hall and brethren’s kitchen..

At night it is floodlit, and I love to gaze at it as I walk along the high street towards this medieval vision. It appears to me like a storybook image. I find myself remembering haunting childhood stories like The Pied Piper of Hamelin, as I approach. These are the kinds of stories that inhabit our minds, and create unexpected connections in subsequent years. Of course it may have a lot to do with illustrations of medieval towns in children’s storybooks. The Lord Leycester Hospital seems to match these.

Guildhall Lord Leycester Hospital Warwick
The guildhall in Lord Leycester Hospital Warwick where Thomas Oken presided over the guild in the 16th century (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

Thomas Oken served in a capacity equivalent to that of Lord Mayor, as the Master of the Guild, and would have presided over meetings in the guildhall (on the first floor of the building). Visitors may find an engrossing exhibition here about his life, and the circumstances of his bequest to the people of Warwick.

Thomas Oken image in exhibition Lord Leycester Hospital Warwick
Thomas Oken image in guildhall exhibition at the Lord Leycester Hospital Warwick (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

Do check out my other posts in this series, which I began on 14th August 2020 with Shakespeare’s Ghosts and Spirits, and which brings us up to the publication date of my book Paranormal Warwickshire – 15th November 2020.

Warwick Castle

Guy’s Cliffe, Warwick

Gaveston’s Cross and the Saxon Mill, Warwick

St Mary’s Warwick

Kenilworth Castle

Abbey Fields, Kenilworth

Leamington Spa

Baddesley Clinton

Stoneleigh Abbey

The other posts in the series will cover the following locations:

Rugby Theatre and other Rugby locations

Nuneaton locations

Ettington Park Hotel, Stratford-upon-Avon

The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

Holy Trinity, Stratford-upon-Avon

Coughton Court, Alcester

You can pre-order Paranormal Warwickshire here.

Glimpses of Paranormal Warwickshire Part 10: Stoneleigh Abbey

This is the tenth in a series of glimpses into my new book Paranormal Warwickshire which will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th November 2020.

Stoneleigh Abbey from other side of river Avon Paranormal Warwickshire
Stoneleigh Abbey from other side of river Avon (photo credit Sheila Robinson)

Stoneleigh Abbey occupies land granted to a group of Cistercian monks by Henry II in 1154 , but twenty five years after the dissolution of the monasteries, now a roofless ruin, it was sold to Sir Rowland Hill and his protegee Sir Thomas Leigh.

First an Elizabethan mansion emerged from the ruins of the abbey. The property would remain in the hands of the Leigh family for the next four centuries. One member of the family, another Thomas, became the 1st Baron Leigh after he found favour with King Charles I , and by the seventeenth century the property had become a sumptuous and richly furnished mansion. Damaged by a fire in the 1960s, the grand rooms were beautifully restored and now offer a fascinating experience for visitors.

Much of the building is occupied by private residents but those gracious rooms, the chapel, the library, the Humphrey Repton gardens and the Orangery are all open to visitors. The association of the Leigh family, and thus the Abbey, with Jane Austen, via her mother Cassandra Leigh, and a very fruitful visit in 1806, makes the Jane Austen tour a rivetting addition to the more general but equally entertaining history tour.

Chandos Leigh, nineteenth century poet, and member of the literary establishment, was the first Baron Leigh of the second creation, and it is in his lovely library (my favourite room) that we may encounter some strange phenomena, and hear a few curious anecdotes.

Chandos Leigh, poet, and first baron Leigh of the second creation, painting at Stoneleigh Abbey
Chandos Leigh, poet, and first baron Leigh of the second creation, painting at Stoneleigh Abbey (with permission)

You may wander through the Humphrey Repton grounds, and cross the River Avon (which was specially diverted here from its natural course, to ensure the gracious silver stone building might be reflected in the water, and shown to its best advantage) to gaze at the Abbey from the opposite bank.

One of my stories comes from a visitor who was doing this very thing, when she saw someone whom she took to be an irate landowner – and later had to revise that view. You can find out more in my book Paranormal Warwickshire when it comes out in November 2020

Stoneleigh Abbey bridge, river and field
Stoneleigh Abbey -bridge, river and field (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

Do check out my other posts in this series, which I began on 14th August 2020 with Shakespeare’s Ghosts and Spirits, and which brings us up to the publication date of my book Paranormal Warwickshire – 15th November 2020.

Warwick Castle

Guy’s Cliffe, Warwick

Gaveston’s Cross and the Saxon Mill, Warwick

St Mary’s Warwick

Kenilworth Castle

Abbey Fields, Kenilworth

Leamington Spa

Baddesley Clinton

The other posts in the series will cover the following locations:

Thomas Oken’s House, and the Lord Leycester Hospital, Warwick

Rugby Theatre and other Rugby locations

Nuneaton locations

Ettington Park Hotel, Stratford-upon-Avon

The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

Holy Trinity, Stratford-upon-Avon

Coughton Court, Alcester

You can pre-order Paranormal Warwickshire here.

Glimpses of Paranormal Warwickshire Part 9: St Michael’s Church, Baddesley Clinton

This is the ninth in a series of glimpses into my new book Paranormal Warwickshire which will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th November 2020.

Baddesley Clinton photo credit Abigail Robinson Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman
The Manor House at Baddesley Clinton (photo credit Abigail Robinson)

The medieval manor house at Baddesley Clinton is one of my favourite National Trust properties. Full of secrets and stories, this is the style of architecture I most love, timber-framed, set within a moat, full of secrets and stories, with its nooks and dens and unexpected corners and disappearing staircases… and of course the much-loved priest-holes.

St Nicholas Owen 1550-1606 master priesthole builder photo credit Wikimedia commons Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman
St Nicholas Owen 1550-1606 master priest-hole builder photo credit Wikimedia commons Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman

Not so much loved, I imagine, by the sixteenth century Jesuit priests who had to hide in them for days to escape Elizabeth I’s priest-hunters; although they would certainly have been grateful for the sanctuary, knowing the alternative; arrest, trial and execution by hanging, drawing and quartering.

No, we are the ones who have the luxury of loving the priest-holes; for today we gaze with awe and wonder at the sheer ingenuity, physical strength and building skills of the master priest-hole builder, Nicholas Owen (later canonised by the Catholic church).

The original house was built here in 1400. Its name derives from a Saxon called Baeddi, who first cleared the site in the Forest of Arden where the house stands, and the de Clinton family, who dug the moat in the 13th century.

For 500 years the house was owned by the Ferrers family, passing from father to son for twelve generations. The Ferrers family remained loyal to the Catholic faith despite periods of persecution after Henry VIII’s split from Rome.

Edward Ferrers built much of what we see today, from 1526 onwards.

The Quartet in the Great Hall Baddesley Clintond painting by Rebecca Orpen Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman
Gifted artist Rebecca Orpen (1830-1923) came to live at Baddesley Clinton in 1867 with her husband Marmion. In this painting she shows herself and Marmion with her aunt Georgiana and Georgiana’s husband Edward in the Great Hall. Known as The Quartet, they were all artistically gifted, and filled their lives here in this lovely manor house with poetry, painting, writing and music.

Many curious tales are told of the house, many by National Trust staff. One of the tales concerns the lingering presence of an unfortunate 15th century priest, one Willelmus Foster, who was killed by the hot-headed owner of the manor, Nicholas Brome (1450-1517) in a fit of misdirected jealousy.

It is in St Michael’s Church, close by the manor house, that we may find ample evidence of Nicholas’s attempt to make amends. This is a fascinating story in which repentant Nicholas went to elaborate lengths to save his soul, according to the accepted beliefs of the time.

The tower of atonement St Michaels Church Baddesley Clinton photo credit Jamie Robinson Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman
The tower of atonement at St Michael’s Church Baddesley Clinton (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

He funded the construction of two towers in two churches, one of which is at the church in nearby Packwood, and the other of which is here at Baddesley Clinton. They are called the Towers of Atonement.

Nicholas also became a member of eight religious fraternities, praying each day for the souls of their members. Thus he was spared the usual penalty for murder, according to the law of the land (i.e. paying in the traditional manner for murdering the priest). It may also have had something to do with the fact that he was the lord of the manor.

It makes a fascinating story for us today, and it is recounted in the church, where Nicholas may be seen kneeling in prayer, resplendent in the stained glass of the east window.

Nicholas Brome stained glass east window St Michaels Church Baddesley Clinton photo credit Jamie Robinson Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman
Nicholas Brome kneeling in prayer – in the stained glass east window St Michael’s Church Baddesley Clinton (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

He did however, as a final spiritual insurance policy, make reparation for his sins by directing that he be buried just outside the west door of the church, under the step where the doormat is placed, so all who entered the church might walk over him.

Nicholas Brome under doormat St Michaels Church Baddesley Clinton photo credit Sheila Robinson Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman
Plaque marking burial place of Nicholas Brome under doormat of St Michael’s Church Baddesley Clinton (photo credit Sheila Robinson)

Do check out my other posts in this series, which I began on 14th August 2020 with Shakespeare’s Ghosts and Spirits, and which brings us up to the publication date of my book Paranormal Warwickshire – 15th November 2020.

Warwick Castle

Guy’s Cliffe, Warwick

Gaveston’s Cross and the Saxon Mill, Warwick

St Mary’s Warwick

Kenilworth Castle

Abbey Fields, Kenilworth

Leamington Sp

The other posts in the series will cover the following locations:

Stoneleigh Abbey

Thomas Oken’s House, and the Lord Leycester Hospital, Warwick

Rugby Theatre and other Rugby locations

Nuneaton locations

Ettington Park Hotel, Stratford-upon-Avon

The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

Holy Trinity, Stratford-upon-Avon

Coughton Court, Alcester

You can pre-order Paranormal Warwickshire here.

Glimpses of Paranormal Warwickshire Part 7: Abbey Fields, Kenilworth

This is the seventh in a series of glimpses into my new book Paranormal Warwickshire which will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th November 2020.

Former cloisters Abbey Fields Kenilworth photo credit Jamie Robinson Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman
Looking over the remains of the former cloisters at Abbey Fields, towards the churchyard of St Nicholas Kenilworth (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

Abbey Fields in Kenilworth are a well-loved open space with a lake, adjacent to the thirteenth century parish church of St Nicholas. For centuries this land belonged to St Mary’s Abbey, before it was dissolved in 1538. This abbey gained its status in 1447 having previously been a priory for Augustinian canons.

remains former chapter house Abbey Fields Kenilworth photo credit Jamie Robinson Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman
Remains of former chapter house of St Mary’s Abbey, at Abbey Fields Kenilworth (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

Today parts of the cloisters remain, as do stones from the former chapter house, and also parts of the gatehouse and arch leading from Abbey Fields into the churchyard.

Remains of arch Abbey Fields Kenilworth photo credit Jamie Robinson Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman
Remains of arch at Abbey Fields Kenilworth (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

The lake here would have formerly been one of the stew ponds where the monks bred fish for their tables.

lake in Abbey Fields Kenilworth photo credit Jamie Robinson Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman
The lake in Abbey Fields Kenilworth (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

When I walk through Abbey Fields, past the cloisters, along beside the Finham Brook, or through the archway into the shady and atmospheric churchyard, I cannot help but think of those former inhabitants, the monks and the abbot, and of their daily ordered existence for so many centuries on this land where I walk.

Poignant feelings arise: an awareness, perhaps, of those who have occupied this same space before us, and who have imprinted upon it their hopes and dreams, their faith and doubt, their joys and sorrows.

Curious incidents have been reported here; both eerie sensations, and sighting of apparitions. You can find out more about these in my book Paranormal Warwickshire, which is coming out in November.

Do check out my other posts in this series, which I began on 14th August 2020 with Shakespeare’s Ghosts and Spirits, and which brings us up to the publication date of my book Paranormal Warwickshire – 15th November 2020.

Warwick Castle

Guy’s Cliffe, Warwick

Gaveston’s Cross and the Saxon Mill, Warwick

St Mary’s Warwick

Kenilworth Castle

The other posts in the series will cover the following locations:

Leamington Spa

St Michael’s Church, Baddesley Clinton

Stoneleigh Abbey

Thomas Oken’s House, and the Lord Leycester Hospital, Warwick

Rugby Theatre and other Rugby locations

Nuneaton locations

Ettington Park Hotel, Stratford-upon-Avon

The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

Holy Trinity, Stratford-upon-Avon

Coughton Court, Alcester

You can pre-order Paranormal Warwickshire here.

Glimpses of Paranormal Warwickshire Part 6: Kenilworth Castle

This is the sixth in my series of glimpses into my new book Paranormal Warwickshire which will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th November 2020.

Kenilworth Castle keep. Photo credit Jamie Robinson Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman
Kenilworth Castle keep. Geoffrey de Clinton built this in the 1120s. It was blasted by the Parliamentarian troops of Colonel Joseph Hawkesworth in 1649 after the English Civil War. The troops also breached the dam and drained the Great Mere which formerly surrounded the castle. Photo credit Jamie Robinson Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman

I have long loved Kenilworth Castle, very close to my home, and one of English Heritage‘s most treasured castles. Not only has it provided the setting for one of the British Monarchy’s most romantic episodes – the elaborate programme of festivities laid on by Sir Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, in 1575, as his last and most extravagant attempt to win the hand of Elizabeth I in marriage – but also it encompasses a glorious, dramatic and turbulent span of English history from as far back as the 1120s.

Leicesters Gatehouse Kenilworth Castle photo credit Jamie Robinson Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman
Leicester’s Gatehouse at Kenilworth Castle (photo credit Jamie Robinson). Many strange tales emerge from the Gatehouse. The top floor houses a fascinating exhibition about the royal love story between Elizabeth and Dudley.

Of course, many have reported ghostly apparitions, strange occurrences and curious anecdotes about this castle. Stories cluster around the castle stables and Leicester’s Gatehouse.

The stables Kenilworth Castle photo credit Sheila Robinson Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman
The stables at Kenilworth Castle (photo credit Sheila Robinson). They were built in 1553 by Sir Robert’s father, John, Duke of Northumberland. The stables are reputed to be haunted.
View of the Kenilworth Castle keep from the Elizabethan garden photo credit Sheila Robinson Paranormall Warwickshire SC Skillman
View of the Kenilworth Castle keep from the Elizabethan garden (photo credit Sheila Robinson). This garden was faithfully recreated by English Heritage from the detailed written description of one of the Earl of Leicester’s servants. The original garden was created in 1575 by Sir Robert Dudley to entice Elizabeth I to accept his proposal of marriage.

Check out my other posts in this series, which I began on 14th August 2020 with Shakespeare’s Ghosts and Spirits, and which brings us up to the publication date of my book Paranormal Warwickshire – 15th November 2020.

Warwick Castle

Guy’s Cliffe, Warwick

Gaveston’s Cross and the Saxon Mill, Warwick

St Mary’s Warwick

The other posts in the series will cover the following locations:

Abbey Fields, Kenilworth

Leamington Spa

St Michael’s Church, Baddesley Clinton

Stoneleigh Abbey

Thomas Oken’s House, and the Lord Leycester Hospital, Warwick

Rugby Theatre and other Rugby locations

Nuneaton locations

Ettington Park Hotel, Stratford-upon-Avon

The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

Holy Trinity, Stratford-upon-Avon

Coughton Court, Alcester

You can pre-order Paranormal Warwickshire here.

Glimpses of Paranormal Warwickshire Part 5: St Mary’s Church Warwick

This is the fifth in my series of glimpses into the pages of my new book Paranormal Warwickshire which will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th November 2020.

Gothic tower of St Marys Church Warwick at night - photo credit Jamie Robinson Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman
Gothic tower of St Marys Church Warwick at night – photo credit Jamie Robinson Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman

St Mary’s Church Warwick stands close to Warwick Castle, at the heart of England’s history. The church foundations date back 900 years, and it is believed a Saxon church stood here before the Norman conquest. The first Norman earl of Warwick began a collegiate foundation here modelled on the cathedrals of St Paul’s, Lincoln, York and Salisbury; and his son completed it in in 1123.

Beauchamp Chapel St Marys Church Warwick - photo credit Jamie Robinson Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman
The Beauchamp Chapel, St Mary’s Church Warwick – photo credit Jamie Robinson

The church therefore has been a centre of faith for many centuries, and the rich atmosphere within this magnificent building bears testimony to that. St Mary’s holds many treasures, the greatest of which is the elaborate Beauchamp Chapel, commissioned by Richard Beauchamp, earl of Warwick from 1401 to 1439. The chapel today offers us a rare glimpse of medieval splendour, much of which was destroyed in English churches after the Reformation.

Gothic tower St Marys Church Warwick sited over the street photo credit Sheila Robinson Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman
Gothic tower of St Mary’s Church Warwick. The earlier tower was destroyed in the Great Fire of Warwick in 1693. Sir Christopher Wren advised on the best location for the new tower and recommended that it be sited over the street (photo credit Sheila Robinson) Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman

Around and behind the church building we are drawn into a different world: in the graveyard, many curious tales are told by those who walk among the tombstones.

Gravestone of eight month old Mary Ann in the churchyard of St Mary’s Church Warwick. Curious anecdotes surround this and other graves of children in the south-eastern corner of the graveyard

Check out my other posts in this series, which I began on 14th August 2020 with Shakespeare’s Ghosts and Spirits, and which brings us up to the publication date of my book Paranormal Warwickshire – 15th November 2020.

Guy’s Cliffe, Warwick

Gaveston Cross and the Saxon Mill, Warwick

The other posts in the series will cover the following locations:

Kenilworth Castle

Abbey Fields, Kenilworth

Leamington Spa

St Michael’s Church, Baddesley Clinton

Stoneleigh Abbey

Thomas Oken’s House, and the Lord Leycester Hospital, Warwick

Rugby Theatre and other Rugby locations

Nuneaton locations

Ettington Park Hotel, Stratford-upon-Avon

The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

Holy Trinity, Stratford-upon-Avon

Coughton Court, Alcester

You can pre-order Paranormal Warwickshire here.

Glimpses of Paranormal Warwickshire Part 4: Gaveston’s Cross and the Saxon Mill

This is the fourth in my series of glimpses into the subject of my new book Paranormal Warwickshire which will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th November 2020.

Saxon Mill Warwick photo credit Abigail Robinson Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman
View of the Saxon Mill Warwick photo credit Abigail Robinson

Today I feature two locations very near to my home: the Saxon Mill pub and eatery north of Warwick town, and Gaveston’s Cross, hidden in a wood on privately-owned land across the road.

Saxon Mill Warwick outdoor dining area photo credit Jamie Robinson Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman
Saxon Mill Warwick outdoor dining area photo credit Jamie Robinson

Both have a fascinating history, and are the scenes of haunting experiences. Many curious incidents have been recounted at these two locations. The Saxon Mill draws visitors not only for its hospitality, its menu and its bar; but also for the sheer romantic beauty of its setting on the river Avon, by the bridge across the weir, leading to Milverton Hill. As if this itself wasn’t enough, it provides the perfect site to view the poignant ruins of Guy’s Cliffe, across the mill pond and further up the river.

Guys Cliffe from Saxon Mill photo credit Abigail Robinson Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman
Guys Cliffe seen from Saxon Mill photo credit Abigail Robinson Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman

Of course curious anecdotes are related of the pub itself; and I include these in my book. But the most compelling stories are of visions experienced by those standing on the bridge or upon the riverside path opposite Guy’s Cliffe, as they gaze towards the ruined mansion.

Meanwhile, further up the road from the Saxon Mill, we may find – if we are persistent enough – Gaveston’s Cross, hidden in a wood. The cross commemorates a murderous act of revenge by the then Earl of Warwick Guy de Beauchamp and his henchmen, in the year 1312, when Piers Gaveston, King Edward II‘s favourite, had finally pushed his luck too far.

Gaveston's Cross Warwick SC Skillman Paranormal Warwickshire
Gaveston’s Cross Warwick SC Skillman Paranormal Warwickshire

We may however look to the year 1821, and to the colourful former owner of Guy’s Cliffe, Bertie Greatheed, for the reason as to why this monument is there at all. Bertie caused the cross to be erected on his land, in a direct line of sight from the top floor of his flamboyant gothic mansion. Bertie himself was a creative man, a writer, traveller and architect, a ‘child of the romantic era’ and I think it appealed to him to mark this example of human infamy, so he could see it whenever the mood took him.

So he caused the cross to be erected, and upon it was carved a fascinating inscription, full of wordy relish. I understand that the wording was devised by the local clergyman. It manages to heap recrimination on everyone involved, and simultaneously derive self-righteous glee from the wrongdoings of the past.

Gaveston's Cross inscription photo credit Rob Woodgate Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman
Gaveston’s Cross inscription photo credit Rob Woodgate Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman

Check out some of my previous posts on the Saxon Mill and Gaveston’s Cross.

You can find out more about these two intriguing Warwickshire sites in my book Paranormal Warwickshire which will be published by Amberley on 15th November 2020, and can be pre-ordered here.

Glimpses of Paranormal Warwickshire Part 3: Guy’s Cliffe

This is the third in my series of glimpses into the subject of my new book Paranormal Warwickshire which will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th November 2020.

Guy’s Cliffe claimed its hold on my imagination from the first time I saw it, not long after I moved to Warwickshire twenty six years ago.

Guys Cliffe seen from Saxon Mill photo credit Abigail Robinson Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman
Guys Cliffe seen from Saxon Mill photo credit Abigail Robinson Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman

Clinging to a cliff alongside the river Avon north of Warwick, this ruined gothic mansion nearly fulfilled Shakespeare’s words in Two Gentlemen of Verona Act 5, Scene 4:

Leave not the mansion so long tenantless,

Lest, growing ruinous, the building fall

And leave no memory of what it was!

As in the case of all grand historical houses, this one has been vulnerable to the changing fortunes of the families who held it over the centuries, and in particular the use to which it was put, and the way it was treated, during the two World Wars. Some of these grand houses were saved, others not.

Guys Cliffe courtyard photo credit Jamie Robinson Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman
Guys Cliffe courtyard photo credit Jamie Robinson Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman

In this case, the mansion at Guy’s Cliffe, first built by wealthy landowner Samuel Greatheed in 1751, has survived the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune – but only in a ruined state. Today it teases and haunts those who view it, with its gothic architectural flourishes, thanks to the romantic imagination of its most colourful owner, Bertie Greatheed, whose influence is felt everywhere in Warwick and Leamington Spa.

Guys Cliffe entrance courtyard photo credit Jamie Robinson. Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman
Guys Cliffe entrance to the Courtyard photo credit Jamie Robinson. Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman

The full story is told in my book Paranormal Warwickshire, in which I repeat many curious anecdotes about this atmospheric ruin and its environs. During the course of my research, I interviewed the custodian Adrian King whose love of the history and the spiritual ambiance of this location is very evident; not least in the facts that he currently leads a major fundraising effort to restore the site, and also hosts popular ghost-hunting tours at this location.

The present ruinous condition of the mansion serves only to feed the imagination of all those who view it from the Saxon Mill, further down the river, and all those who tour the ruins as I did, with Adrian’s expert guidance.

Guys Cliffe 1900 photo credit Warwickshire County Record Office SC Skillman Paranormal Warwickshire
Guys Cliffe as it appeared in 1900 photo credit Warwickshire County Record Office SC Skillman Paranormal Warwickshire

The land on which Guy’s Cliffe is built attracted ancient Celtic people and Christian hermits long before any structures existed here. According to 16th century historians, the combination of an idyllic glade with many clear streams above a steep rock full of caves… washed at the bottom by a crystal river proved irresistable to the Romans, cave-dwelling hermits, the Earl of Warwick, and chantry priests; and to many others.

The enduring legend of Guy of Warwick is centred upon this location, and the tragic tale of his wife, the lady Felice, and her fateful plunge from the cliff has imbued the site with its poignant aura.

John Rous historian chantry priest guys cliffe Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman
John Rous, medieval historian and Chantry Priest at Guys Cliffe, writing in the year 1440, tells us of the Celtic monk St Dubritous who established the St Mary Magdalene Oratory here in the year 600

Now, the grounds of Guy’s Cliffe receive loving attention; clearance work and restoration of the formal gardens is underway and in the not too distant future, visitors may gain greater access to this beguiling location with its ruined mansion, the Chapel of Mary Magdalene with its statue of Guy of Warwick, its mysterious grounds and outbuildings, which never cease to deliver curious experiences and strange stories, right up to the present day.

Check out my previous posts on the subject of Guy’s Cliffe estate.

The walled garden which was formerly the kitchen garden for the mansion

and

romantic ruin in a dreamlike state

If you are interested in supporting the fundraising project headed by Adrian King do look here for further details.

You can read much more about Guy’s Cliffe in my book Paranormal Warwickshire which will be published on 15th November 2020 by Amberley Publishing. Pre-order the book here.

Australia and New Zealand Mini Series Part 28: Queensland, Australia: from University Campus to Botanic Gardens and Iconic Lookout: Brisbane Highlights

This is the twenty-eighth and final post in my series of short reflections on different places in Australia and New Zealand, as experienced during my November 2019 visit.

Map of Australia and New Zealand

In my last post I wrote about our final visit in New Zealand: Auckland Botanic Gardens. Whilst there we enjoyed the outstanding Sculptures in the Gardens exhibition which continues to showcase and celebrate New Zealand sculptors and artists, through to March 2020..

After flying from Auckland to Brisbane, we were to catch up on some of Brisbane’s highlights in the closing days of our visit.

Promotional websites for Brisbane will point up a number of places to visitors as the “jewels in the city’s crown” but I think the University of Queensland campus certainly deserves to be one of them. I worked there in the School of External Studies, during the time I lived in Brisbane during the 1980s. Much has changed since then but I still enjoyed walking once more through the cloisters of the Great Court, and admiring the wonderful landscaping and of course the magnificent poincianna tree with profuse blossoms, and fragrant frangipani trees which you may see here. Among many other outstanding features, the campus also has a stunning art gallery.

Out last two visits in Brisbane were to the Look-Out and the Botanic Gardens at Mount Coot-tha.

The Lookout is one of Brisbane’s most popular tourist destinations, offering almost 360 degree views. I’ve been there many times in the past, and often a glorious blue sky and clear atmosphere makes this a joyful experience for visitors. However, on this occasion, at the summit the heat was fierce, and the smoke from bushfires was very much in evidence, filling the Brisbane skies.

For me this was a nostalgic, poignant visit, though it has always given me pleasure just to be there and do some tourist-watching! The views from this lookout must be the most popular place in Brisbane as a backdrop for photo opportunities, and at the height of the holiday season, myriads of holiday-makers from all around the world enjoy posing in happy and often artfully-arranged groups.

Our final visit was to Mount Coot-tha Botanic Gardens. These gardens, too, I have loved and often wandered around in the past; today, sadly, the temperatures and humidity were so high, we were unable to tour the gardens as there is much uphill walking, and again a lovely lookout at the highest point of the gardens.

Instead we did the Rainforest Trail: always a blessed relief and an excellent option in times of fierce heat and humidity!

I was also a pleasure afterwards to enter the air-conditioned atmosphere of the Sir Thomas Brisbane Planetarium. The day of our visit the Planetarium was offering as its midday show, “Cosmic Collisions” narrated by Robert Redford. I’ve been to the planetarium show too in the past and greatly enjoyed it.

It was a pleasure to return once more to Brisbane and to the many familiar haunts that I remembered from the four and a half years I spent living there in the 1980s. Inevitably there have been tremendous changes, and yet these simply serve to highlight and set in sharp relief those elements which endure, and arouse a sense of recognition, bringing again a sense of deep connection.

These can arise at unexpected moments, sometimes the subtropical forest of a mountain lookout, or a kookaburra sitting on a branch in front of the panorama of the Samford Valley; at other times the glimpse of a gracious colonial Queenslander with its iron lace balustrades; or the feeling of walking through spacious galleries and gazing at the water features of the State Library of Queensland or the Gallery of Modern Art, or the lovely landscaping of the South Bank Parklands.

Perhaps I may best end by highlighting an excellent presentation of the history of the city, in the Museum of Brisbane to be found in the City Hall in King George Square.

There, aboriginal people speak on video. They represent the ancestral owners of all the land upon which Brisbane is built.

“We believe the land respects us if we respect the land.”

Another said, very gently, of the great city that has risen up on this land: “We wish it wasn’t here. But times change.”

I thought of the corroboree spaces, the campsites, the burial grounds and other places of aboriginal life along the Brisbane river in the past. These were all vividly depicted on a timeline map of the Brisbane river, to be found on display in the museum.

“We believe the land respects us if we respect the land”.

Their words, and the feeling behind them made me feel sad. And yet, I reflected, if the feelings of the aboriginal people had been respected, and their land not taken from them and occupied…. I would never be here myself.

SC Skillman, psychological, suspense, paranormal fiction & non-fiction. My next book, Paranormal Warwickshire, will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th June 2020 and is available to pre-order now either online, or from the publisher’s website, or from your local bookshop.

Australia and New Zealand Mini Series Part 27: North Island, New Zealand: Auckland Botanic Gardens

This is the twenty-seventh post in my series of short reflections on different places in Australia and New Zealand, as experienced during my November 2019 visit. Today concludes my account of a journey through New Zealand’s North Island.

map of New Zealand
map of New Zealand
Map of Australia and New Zealand

In my last post I wrote about our visit to the Coromandel Peninsula.

Map of the Coromandel Peninsula

I described our stay in Hahei, on the South Pacific coast, and our boat trip to Cathedral Cove: which appears as the first dramatic setting for the Pevensie children as they arrive unexpectedly in Narnia in the opening scene of the film Prince Caspian.

On the last day of our day we headed south again back to Auckland. Before returning to Auckland airport for our return flight to Brisbane, we visited the Auckland Botanic Gardens.

The entrance to the gardens featured lovely architecture, sculptures and water features.

Inside the entrance area we found an art gallery and cafe. Here in the Auckland Botanic Gardens, Sculpture in the Gardens will showcase and celebrate some great sculptors and artists through to March 2020. We found much to inspire, move and challenge us. I was particularly impressed by a white sculpture of a sad seated girl: poignant, graceful and evocative.

White sculpture of sad seated girl in the entrance area of Auckland Botanic Gardens

Another sculpture which fascinated me, by artist Oliver Stretton-Pow, represents a vision of a city. Called Just City, the artist created it in 2019 using wood, steel and found objects.

Just City, a sculpture in the entrance area of Auckland Botanic Gardens, created in 2019 by artist Oliver Stretton-Pow, using wood, steel and found objects.

Out in the gardens we found this intriguing installation by artist Jeff Thomson. Jeff is known as “Mr Corrugated Iron” and he called this installation Islands. Using corrugated iron, water, galvanised steel mesh, hay, wire, wetland and aquatic plants, he has re-created some of the 50-pus islands of the Haurakia Gulf. He hopes that by playing with positive and negative shapes, he will make us question the relationship between land and sea.

Later we wandered through an area of the garden which featured giant bees on honeycomb.

The ingenious use of arts and sculpture interwoven with colourful planting delighted us all.

Elsewhere in the gardens, we found an area devoted to demonstrating styles of garden design and planting suited to specific climates and location; I was interested to find a recommendation of “green manure” very similar to that seen in Ryton Organic Gardens in Warwickshire a year or so ago. ‘Green manure’ rules, in both the UK, and in New Zealand twenty six hours fight away!

We then set off for Auckland airport and so ended our tour of New Zealand’s North Island, a green and beautiful land full of majestic landscapes and sublime coastal scenery, along with outstanding tourist attractions and awesome geological wonders.

In my next post, the last in my ‘Australia and New Zealand’ series, I share more images of lovely botanic gardens: this time, on the slopes of Mount Coot-tha in Brisbane.

SC Skillman, psychological, suspense, paranormal fiction & non-fiction. My next book, Paranormal Warwickshire, will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th June 2020 and is available to pre-order now either online, or from the publisher’s website, or from your local bookshop.