Merry Christmas Everybody! This season is a time of tradition, and we here at Skullduggery in the Smoke uphold that most Victorian of holiday pageantry: Ghost Stories for Christmas. As in years past, we examine the fanciful and dolorous haunting of the British Isles for adventures ideas suitable for your holly-and-ivy-trimmed gaming table. All our haunting are selected from Peter Underwood’s “Gazetteer of British, Scottish, & Irish Ghosts”. So bring a torch Jeannette Isabella, we’re telling Ghost Stories for Christmas!
The Countess of Devon built Buckland Abbey near Yelverton for the Cistercian order of monks in 1278. Monks of the order remained at Buckland until their expulsion by King Henry VIII in the 1540s. The king sold Buckland Abbey to Sir Richard Grenville in 1541. The estate passed to his grandson also named Richard Grenville, an explorer, and privateer. Grenville renovated the abbey’s church into a country home by dividing the large open interior into three floors of rooms. The church’s bell tower remains, though it has been made into a pigeon house. He demolished most of the abbey’s outlying buildings but kept the massive stonework barn intact. Around the grounds, carefully selected and grown plants fill beautiful gardens originally cultivated by the Cistercian monks.
Strangely, Grenville sold Buckland Abbey in 1581, only four years after completing his renovations. After the sale, he discovered the two men purchasing Buckland Abbey were agents of his rival Sir Francis Drake! Grenville had previously planned to undertake a circumnavigation of the world which was preempted by Drake’s historic journey. Despite owning many estates throughout Devon, Drake made Buckland Abby his primary residence between raids, excursions, and cruises. Drake’s stature as a national hero preserved the home from alterations through the years. The Drake family still owns Buckland Abbey.
Even after his death, legends of Drake linger over the house. His sword, Bible, and other possessions remain in the abbey, but the most famous relic of Buckland is Drake’s Drum. Drake carried a drum marked with his family’s crest during his famous circumnavigation of the world. As he lay dying of dysentery in 1596, Drake ordered the drum sent to Buckland Abbey instructing that if England ever needed him again, he would return to save it after hearing the beating of his drum.
Additionally, Drake’s specter supposedly rides across the countryside leading ghostly hounds whose howling is so terribly, the sound instantly kills any living dog hearing it. At night Drake’s ghost leaves Buckland driving a black coach for the port town of Plymouth. Four headless horses pull the coach and stranger still, twelve stunted goblin-like creatures with fiery eyes and smoking nostrils run before it!
There are a few legends saying Sir Francis Drake, not Sir Richard Grenville, remodeled the abbey and it only took three nights of work with the help of the Devil in exchange for Drake’s soul. The legend further posits, Drake’s ghost flees the horrible hounds of hell searching for unbaptized souls. So in summary, Drake’s coach pulled by headless horses pursues strange goblin-things and is pursued by hellhounds trying to claim his soul. What are the goblins? Do they have his soul or the key to getting his soul back?
Buckland Abbey must have a dark secret history to justify all the peculiar facts in its past. For example, the Church excommunicated the first Cistercian monks inhabiting the abbey shortly after they started their residence. After taking it from the church, the king sold the abbey to Sir Grenville who passed it down to a grandson sharing his name. This grandson sells the abbey to a hated rival coincidentally born only a few miles away. There is something about that house that invites conspiracy. Any house with that past has to be haunted.
Drake’s drum could be a very sinister necromantic object. He may have been tricked by a vengeful necromancer into tying his soul into his drum in an attempt to gain immortality. The drum traveled all the way around the world, Drake was buried at sea, and his body was never recovered so his undead revenant could pop up anywhere the drum is beat to serve his new master.