It’s Christmas time and once again the legends and folklore of the British Isles provide lumps of coal aplenty for all your players. We are again (we’ve done it twice so it’s a tradition now) looking at British ghost stories and picking out bits to adapt for Victoriana adventures. As before, all our tales come from the fabulous “Gazetteer of British, Scottish, & Irish Ghosts” by Peter Underwood, a terrific guide full of horrific hauntings. So bring a torch Jennette Isabella, we’re telling Ghost Stories for Christmas!
North of the town of Blandford in Dorset, a spectral suicide haunts the remains of the Eastbury Park country estate. The estate once held a huge mansion in the Baroque style, commissioned by politician George Dodington. Dodington died in 1720, two years after construction began, but his heir, George Bubb Dodington, continued the construction of his late uncle’s grandiose mansion until it’s completion in 1738. Both Dodingtons spared no expense. The construction cost over £140,000 not including its costly furnishings or the extensive grounds keeping.
After George Bubb Dodington’s death in 1762, his cousin, Richard Grenville-Temple (the Earl Temple of Stowe) inherited Eastbury Park. Already wealthy and not needing another expensive country house, especially one so gaudily out of style, Grenville-Temple had the majority of the mansion blown up 44 years after its construction, leaving only the kitchen wing standing. He had the remains refurbished as a stately house and hired a steward named William Doggett to care for the estate and oversee it’s tenant-farmers until he could sell his burdensome inheritance.
Doggett proved either a hateful steward or a foolish one. In some stories, Doggett stole thousands of pounds from his employer, sold the mansion’s furnishings, and abused the tenants under his authority. According to another source, he loaned his brother a massive amount of his master’s money. When his brother couldn’t pay him back, Doggett sold the estates furniture to hide the financial loss. In either case, Doggett shot himself in the head before he could be caught.
After his suicide, a strange ritualistic apparition appeared on the property. On certain nights of the year, a phantom coach, driven by a headless coachman and pulled by headless horses, picks up a lone passenger and takes him to the house. The passenger exits the coach, goes to the room where Doggett killed himself, and soon after a gunshot sounds. Those who saw Doggett in life claim the passenger wears the same yellow ribbons tying his knee-breeches Doggett used to wear.
In 1855, Eastbury Park belongs to James John Farquharson that famous sportsman and Master of Hounds (the leader and organizer of a foxhunt). Even at his ripe old age of 71, Farquharson regularly performs his duties. He uses the property’s grounds as a kennel for his massive pack of over 150 hounds and houses his 50 horses in the stableyard. In the constant animalistic cacophony, it’s surprising anyone hears a ghostly gunshot!
Perhaps some of the items’ Doggett sold to cover his losses were more valuable than he realized. Did several magical artifacts bind his specter to the house until their recovery?
William Doggett’s body was buried in St. Mary’s church yard. In 1845, workmen exhumed his body during the church’s demolition. His body looked fresh, his cheeks had a healthy rosy glow, and his characteristic yellow ribbons looked brand new. Before his reburial, a stake was driven through his heart. Whether Doggett is a ghostly vampire or a vampiric ghost, if that stake gets removed Farquharson may end up with a new servant who knows the house well, and wears old-fashioned ribbons.
Pioneer of the English Gardening style, Charles Bridgeman, planned the extensive and extravagant gardens of Eastbury Park. As is common in this school of landscaping, Eastbury had a replica Grecian temple as a decoration on its grounds. While this temple served purely aesthetic purposes, any estate landscaped in the English Gardening style could have a temple just sitting there ready for more magical usage. A petty conjuror could gain power by dedicating an unused temple as a site of worship to a particular pantheon. Perhaps the temple isn’t a replica. No Archon would want its temple used as a simple decoration, and could subtly manifest its outrage.
George Bubb Dodington had a reputation for intrigue among his friends, and may have been a spy against the Jacobites for the crown. So many parts of Eastbury park’s history suggest a cover-up. Did the lavishness of the mansion’s design hide secret constructions below ground? A few pounds for carpentry and excavations get easily lost in such a massive undertaking. Was Doggett murdered to keep a Star Chamber site safe? Was the house’s demolition a cover story for its destruction from a more violent source, like a demon or giant mechanical monster?