Here’s another of my haunted locations for Paranormal Warwickshire.
Abbey Fields in Kenilworth is much loved by the local people and I have continuously visited this atmospheric place ever since my children were young.
The ancient abbey ruins, the beautiful old church of St Nicholas and its enchanting churchyard, the view of Kenilworth Castle, the lovely lake and the Finham Brook that runs through Abbey Fields – all combine to make this a place that draws many back again and again.
Recently I walked along the path beside the Finham Brook, noticing how high and lively the waters ran, and an old lady turned to me and said she had come out from her home where she lived alone, and setting aside all worry about the ongoing pandemic, she found joy and consolation in gazing at these tumbling waters. She always finds it in Abbey Fields. She echoed my thoughts exactly.
A place haunted by many happy memories… and by other curious tales too which you might find in my new book Paranormal Warwickshire.
Out now, it may feed a curiosity about atmospheric places, enhance your knowledge of English history, and also provide a welcome retreat from the current woes of the UK, as you enjoy the many photographs. An ideal gift this Christmas, it’s available everywhere good books are sold.
Today I share an extract from my chapter on Kenilworth Castle, a historical site of great spiritual resonance, looked after by English Heritage, and a place I love and have visited many times.
John of Gaunt’s great hall saw many feasts, the walls covered with vibrant tapestries, blazing logs spitting and crackling in the great fireplace and the table laden with banquets. We can imagine the heat that billows through the kitchen, and see the toiling cooks and servants amid the steam, and smell the sweet and savoury fragrance of the dishes that are being prepared and cooked.
The Castle passed into John of Gaunt’s hands in 1361. John was created Duke of Lancaster and fought long campaigns in France and Spain. But in 1391 he set about converting the castle into a palace, and during the following eight years he held his great banquets.
Two centuries later, Sir Robert Dudley’s guests arrived at Leicester’s Building, the special accommodation he built to house Elizabeth I and her entourage during their famous nineteen-day visit between 9 and 27 July 1575.
Sir Robert’s father John, Duke of Northumberland, built the castle stables in 1553. Today the stables contain the castle tea rooms and restaurant, and an exhibition of the castle’s history. The stables have the reputation of being haunted. Visitors have reported seeing the ghostly apparition of a young stable boy. He is dressed in ragged clothes, is thought to be around fourteen years old and of the period not long after the stables were built. He has been seen in three places: the stables, around Leicester’s Gatehouse, and wandering among the ruins.
Other strange experiences in the stables are reported by English Heritage staff, who claim to have heard voices from behind locked doors, and felt presences in the kitchen.
In 1575 Sir Robert spent a considerable amount of time and money preparing for Elizabeth’s visit and his last attempt to persuade her to marry him. As part of his preparations, not only did he build the impressive accommodation block, but also he added Leicester’s Gatehouse. The gatehouse is set up to look as it would have done in the 1930s, when it was used as a private residence. On the top floor is an exhibition to explore the royal love story between Elizabeth and Dudley.
Several paranormal tales emerge from Leicester’s Gatehouse. Some visitors describe the apparition of a little girl who asks for her daddy. Others have witnessed a spectral man dressed in black who was killed in a swordfight. Other reported appearances include an old lady who breaks the same candle time after time.
from Paranormal Warwickshire by SC Skillman
To find out more, why not preorder Paranormal Warwickshire, published on 15th November 2020, widely available online and through all good bookshops.
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.
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.
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.
As English Heritage members we’ve visited this castle many times but it was so beautiful to see the trees, castle ruins and grounds illuminated with imaginative light displays. We particularly enjoyed the large projected image of Elizabeth I
on the side of Leicester’s Building – which was constructed specially to accommodate the royal party and all the guests during Elizabeth’s famous 19-day visit to Kenilworth Castle in July 1575, during which Sir Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, made his last attempt to win her hand in marriage.
Dancing figures of light appeared on the walls, and before us a banqueting table was laid out with goblets – just a mere shadow of the lavish parties which John of Gaunt threw here during the 1360’s having turned the fortress castle into a palace.
The Elizabethan Garden looked enchanting with the central statue on the fountain fully illuminated and lights dancing and playing in the garden.
Sir Robert Dudley missed a trick when he tried to impress Elizabeth I with his creation of the original garden here – if he’d put on a light display like that after dark, I think he might have succeeded in winning her hand after all…
The English love to do fun – and some might even think silly – things on Boxing Day.
Perhaps this is a relief from all the stress of preparing for Christmas. It’s also the opportunity for people to gather together in the fresh air and enjoy themselves with traditional English entertainments.
The events were organised by Kenilworth Lions who not only give people a lot of fun and enjoyment, but also provide tremendous support to local charities through their fundraising.
The entertainments included Morris dancers, Punch and Judy Show, and the best dressed dog contest at Kenilworth Castle…
……..and the annual duck race along the brook through Abbey Fields – an event which attracts a huge crowd. We followed this with another very popular local activity – a walk through the fields behind Kenilworth Castle, through the area once covered by the Great Mere, filled with pleasure boats, out to the former site of Henry V’s “Pleasance in the Marsh” and back again to the Castle….
May I take this opportunity to wish you a happy New Year and for all of us the chance to play our part in making the world a more compassionate, caring and loving place for us all, one in which people may come together in a spirit of mutual tolerance, acceptance and good will, so in many more countries people may enjoy being together as shown on the pictures in this blog post.
The classic children’s writers who have touched upon this theme include Lewis Carroll, Kenneth Grahame, George Macdonald, Louisa May Alcott, Frances Hodgson Burnett, A.A. Milne and others whose books I have loved. No wonder, then, that this view immediately appealed to me when I visited Kenilworth Castle again today.
View from the Keep into the Elizabethan Garden at Kenilworth Castle
I had always loved these wreaths and jumped at the chance to find out how to make one myself.
16 of us turned up in the Castle shop ready for action and a very jolly English heritage shop assistant in festive mood plied us with spicy Christmas mead samples.
Then we headed off for the Stables, which were very cold, and met our teacher, a professional florist called Zoe.
Fortified by English Heritage ginger wine we watched Zoe demonstrate and listened to her instructions, then we were off, with buckets of damp sphagnum moss, sharp and potentially lethal lengths of wires, secateurs, spruce branches and reels of wire.
What I hadn’t previously realised was how much skill, patience and dexterity is involved in making these wreaths, and that rubber gloves and protective clothing are to be recommended.
Some of us seemed to have a natural flair, others were more challenged. For me, time was fast running out as I battled in a welter of wires, spruce branches, damp moss, and blood from the cuts I had acquired trying to locate the end of the sharp wires that I had pushed through the moss in order to twist them round back into the moss and attach my “accessories” – dried orange slices, fir cones, sprigs of red berries, bunches of cinnamon sticks and seed-heads.
As I finally staggered out of Kenilworth Castle with my heavy wreath I reflected upon what joy this would give me and a sense of achievement as my family enjoyed a truly hand-made traditional Christmas wreath!
Now English Heritage have completed new staircases and viewing platforms allowing visitors to ascend to the different floors of Leicester’s Tower for the first time in 350 years. I’ve visited the Building and climbed those staircases twice recently.
A poignant story surrounds this tower. Built by Sir Robert Dudley especially to house Queen Elizabeth I and her courtiers, it represents a huge and extravagant investment, not only of his personal wealth (which was vast) but of his hopes and dreams. They were doomed not to be fulfilled. Queen Elizabeth stayed here 19 days in 1575, the longest of her 4 visits to Kenilworth to be entertained by Sir Robert, her favourite courtier. He hoped this time to win her hand in marriage. But it was not to be.
Many historians have speculated on Elizabeth’s reasons, for there is strong evidence she loved him. Her reasons would have been political, psychological, emotional – historian and novelist Alison Weir will soon be visiting Warwick Words, our local literary festival, to speak on The Marriage Game; and I will certainly be in the audience, for I share Alison Weir’s fascination with this subject.
The truth is, Sir Robert abandoned all hope of marrying the Queen after she left in 1575. The building was little used thereafter. 80 years later its owner stripped it and left it in ruins.
ON all my previous visits over the past couple of decades, you could only look up inside the empty shell. But now you can ascend to each level, and read the story about each floor, and gaze through the windows at the views its former users would have admired, and imagine how it must have been during those 19 days in which Sir Robert’s greatest hopes and longings were invested.
All you need is a physical object, and a great story. And here now, on these viewing platforms, as I gaze at the walls where rich tapestries would have hung, I feel as if I am recapturing something of what Elizabeth and her courtiers experienced when they used these rooms.
The former empty shell has gained a new life. You can see the whole story again in a new light, feeling almost as if you are entering Sir Robert and Elizabeth’s psychic space.
Castles always make me happy. I’m lucky to live within a short distance of two of the country’s greatest – Kenilworth and Warwick.
I’ve visited both many times but it’s Kenilworth that most captures my imagination. Is this because it lies in ruins whereas Warwick is still intact and has a Tussauds exhibition in it? When I consider Kenilworth, from the time Geoffrey de Clinton built the Keep with Henry I’s money in the 1120’s, right through to when Colonel Joseph Hawkesworth blasted it after the English Civil War and then moved into Leicester’s Gatehouse and set up home there, I think of the castle’s history blended with all the happy times I’ve spent in it.
As I wander round Kenilworth Castle I wish I had a virtual reality CGI device that I could hold up to the ruined chambers and see superimposed over them exactly how this room looked in the castle’s days of glory. Instead I have my imagination.
With it, I can see John of Gaunt’s great hall in its prime, the walls covered with vibrant tapestries, blazing logs set in the grand fireplace, and the table regularly laden with banquets. I can experience the kitchens as they were, full of heat and toiling cooks and servants, when Leicester’s Building was used to accommodate Elizabeth I and Sir Robert Dudley’s party of guests in 1575 . I can visualise the great mere that surrounded the castle, and picture the tiltyard when it was in full operation. I can replace the floor of the great hall in the Keep, and restore it to how it was when Edward II was forced to abdicate in it.
As for the Elizabethan garden, I imagine it seductive, scented, densely-planted with shrubs in full bloom, with its four obelisks and central marble fountain, and a gemstone-studded aviary filled with lovebirds – for that is how it would have been when Sir Robert Dudley ushered Elizabeth I into it, hoping to persuade her to marry him (she still refused, but I’m sure she enjoyed herself there).
Castles make me happy – to the extent that I only have to glimpse battlements above trees to feel that surge of joy. Why, I wonder? Castles are associated with prisoners thrown in dungeons to die; massive social inequality and injustice, arrogant lords feasting in their halls wth the social elite of the land while the masses labour and starve; wars, battles, sieges, boiling oil, death-holes, trebuchets loaded with rotting animal carcasses… and yet castles make me happy. I suggest this is because they are all bound up with story, and story is all about meaning, and we value meaning above all.