Ghosts of Cippenham

There is a disappointing lack of ghostly and other supernatural phenomena recorded in Cippenham. The only building credited in books with being haunted is Cippenham Place. In Ghosts Along The Thames by Anne Mitchell, 1972, it says:

Another old house in the town is Cippenham Place. This is in Cippenham Lane, now another suburb but once part of the ancient manor of Cippenham, the records of which go back to 1042. Cippenham Place was built in 1550 on the site of the old Manor House, the existence of which was recorded in 1501 though it may have been standing for many years before that date. It is believed that there was yet another building before it on the same site, the ancient Cippenham Palace. Edward II rowed up the Thames to Cippenham Palace during the years between 1307 and 1327, for there was then a navigable backwater which ran close to the house. Like all old houses should, it has its legend and its ghost. In the days of Elizabeth I, the then owner was returning home late one night and fell into the moat and was drowned. From that time on, the legend says, on the anniversary of his death a procession of cowled monks circles the house three times; they carry an empty coffin and are searching for his remains. The present owners view the legend with affectionate scepticism. But, come the next anniversary, in May, they will again hold vigil in order to give it every chance of proving right.

Cippenham Place. A timber framed Tudor house of 1550 which stands in partially moated compound.

There are many inaccuracies in the above and the tale itself is hardly convincing. The apparition must have been seen a number of times for it to have been noted that it appears during May. It must have been quite long-lasting (compared to the more usual fleeting spectral shades) given that the monks got to circle the house thrice. It would have been much easier for the monks to put the coffin down and fan out to look for the dead owner, but perhaps that would look less ghostly. I wonder how observers of the apparition could tell that the coffin was empty. It seems unfortunate for the monks that their spirits have to return rather than the spirit of the person who drowned.

John’s encounter with a spectre in Littlebrook Avenue

An acquaintance told me his own experience of an apparition in Cippenham (or more accurately Haymill), which bears some minor similarity to the above. When John was in his early twenties, he and his brother had gone to a New Year’s Eve party in 1992/3 held at a house in the Fairway, Burnham. Long after the party had ended they stayed conversing with the hosts and other friends. At around 4 am, they decided that they would avoid an expensive taxi journey and walk to John’s flat in Cippenham. It was an unusually clear, warm night, but very blustery. For no particular reason, they chose a route of Whittaker road and then Littlebrook Avenue. By that point on the journey, they hadn’t encountered any other person or even (that John could remember) seen a car go by.

Littlebrook Avenue runs alongside the Millie nature reserve. The avenue runs adjacent to a watercourse inside the Millie which is connected to the moat at Cippenham Place. John and his brother were on the opposite side of the lane. John glanced up ahead thought he saw someone. A few seconds later, sure enough, there was a figure on the far side of the road about 100 yards ahead walking towards them. The first noticeable thing about this stranger was that he was walking rapidly, taking large strides. A few seconds more, and he was close enough for John to discern that the man was tall, broadly built and bald-headed, but strangely he appeared to be a wearing monk’s habit. It instantly occurred to John that the man must be returning from New Year’s fancy dress party. Not being quite sure of what his eyes were telling him in the gloom, John turned to his brother and said “What do you see up ahead?”. His brother looked ahead and said incredulously “There’s a monk!”. What followed a few seconds later John found very difficult to describe adequately. “As I continued to watch the man walking towards us, he decomposed into the branches of the hedgerow that were being blustered by the wind. Not only was he gone, it was as if he had never been there at all and his apparent form had just been a trick of the branches moving about in the wind. But I had been watching him for some seconds and my brother saw him clearly too without me suggesting to him what I was seeing”. John never discussed the story much with his brother after the time “there was nothing we could say about it. Neither of us believed it was supernatural but we were totally mystified as to the explanation”. There looked are no known published references either to hauntings or monks in the area of Haymill.

It can be creepy walking in Littlebrook Avenue along by the Millie

A non-supernatural explanation is most likely. Perhaps there was indeed someone returning from a fancy dress that night. Seeing two strangers approaching and fearing that they might be trouble ‘the monk’ decided to dart through one of the entrances to the Millie just at the moment, the brothers were exchanged looks of disbelief. When John looked up again his eyes seized on some movements of branches which he took for the monk he had just been watching. His mind succeeded in mapping the waving branches into the shape of the striding monk but the visage quickly broke down.

John’s account seemed at least more convincing than the Cippenham Place story. When I was a boy and I lived in Cippenham, locals were just as familiar with a different ghostly story about Cippenham Place. This story was that during the English Civil War, a round-head soldier had kicked a toddler down the stairs of Cippenham Place, causing the child’s death. Ever since then, on rare occasions, crying can be heard that appears to come from the bottom of the stairs but will abruptly stop when the hearer approaches. This story, although not a dramatic as a spectral procession of monks, seems more believable. Whereas there seems to be no record of monks having resided in the area, the account of a skirmish at Cippenham shows that villagers certainly did experience some rough treatment at the hands of round-head troops.

Malcolm’s experience of a haunted Cippenham House

As a teenager, many decades ago, I once stayed in a notoriously haunted house in the area. I won’t say where but at that time people referred to it as “The Old Lodge”. The house dated to the Tudor period and was oak beamed with low ceilings and full of nooks and odd spaces including what was said to be a priest-hole. The surrounding  land had archaeological traces of occupation dating back to Saxon times and it was mooted that the site had been of some pagan significance. In the garden there was a tumulus which believed to be prehistoric and grounds had been terraced using thick stone slabs which had previously been placed over burials in London to prevent grave robbing.

The family that lived there believed that the house had once been used to hold occult rituals, such as the black mass. Their belief was based on various artifacts, such as the door knocker. This was a long bronze casting containing Cerberus, the three-headed dog of Greek mythology who guards the entrance to underworld. Concealed below the actual knocking lever was the head of the god Hades, who as ruler of Hell is vaguely equivalent the Christian Devil. Door knockers such as this were thought to indicate membership of the notorious Hellfire club which met to practice their satanic rites in nearby Medmenham Abbey and West Wycombe Caves in the 18th Century. It was believed that the house had a disturbed atmosphere in a spiritual sense and the family members had a number of strange experiences over the years. A son who slept in the attic priest-hole found that he had been locked in one night, although the lock had no known key. Occasionally invisible invisible presences were ‘felt’ by physical sensation. The piano once played unaided. Perhaps the strangest incidents involved ‘something’ that mimicked different family members calling out from unoccupied parts of the house. On three occasions they resorted to having exorcism masses performed  which seemed to improve matters.

The original door-knocker was in the image of Cerberus and Hades.

I got to stay in the house at the invitation of two daughters who were around my age, on an occasion when their parents were staying away for the night. Their younger brother was there and a also female friend of the sisters. The three siblings were obviously used to living in the house, but without their parents there, they seemed nervous and we all became increasingly creeped-out as darkness descended on a cold and wintery November evening. We sat around the blazing fireplace in the lounge, playing games and chatting (I don’t think there was a TV). The house seemed alive with creaks and bumps like an old sailing ship, but no doubt this was only due to the wind and the rapidly falling outside temperature . We were all a bit jumpy though.

We decided that we would all stay in one bedroom and we kept the light on and talked late into the night. One of the sisters began to suffer a severe asthma attack and we were became increasingly anxious for her. I went to the toilet which was down the corridor with great trepidation for fear of ghostly encounters. On my way back I heard a sound like something falling on the carpet behind me. As I re-entered the bedroom I turned to see that something was lying on the carpet that I can say with certainty hadn’t been there when I passed by. The something turned out to be a Tarot card, specifically a Queen of Swords.

The siblings told me that an older sister who no longer lived at home had once experimented with Tarot cards, but had got spooked and burnt the pack. It seemed that somehow this card had survived. They were under the impression that The Queen of Swords represented a bad omen. From what I read subsequently, as much as a Tarot card can a good or bad omen out of the context of a reading, there are many cards that would be worse omens such as The Tower, The Devil, Death or the Three of Swords. The son threw the card into the hearth. Nothing much happened the rest of the night and the sister that was ill got better.

I’ve often puzzled over what happened that night as and how this card came to appear, but we never spoke of it again, and I lost contact with the others when I went to university and never saw them again to speak of. I am not a believer in manifestations of the supernatural, but this incident certainly made me wonder.


8 Responses to Ghosts of Cippenham

  1. Dave Hill says:

    It is in LOWER Cippenham Lane, when I was a kid the Griffith’s owned it, I played with sons Hugh & Stephen but in the barn, never in the house. In my bro’s time (he was 6 years older) he played there with Vandervell boys, their father owned it, of bearing and racing car fame. Dunno about your ghosts!

    • Admin says:

      I agree that Cippenham Place certainly is in Lower Cippenham Lane, but I wanted to quote precisely what Anne Mitchell’s book says. It is interesting that you never got to hear the story. Perhaps it didn’t exist much earlier than 1972, when the book was written. Anne Mitchell doesn’t reveal her sources. I lived practically opposite Cippenham Place for around 8 years but unfortunately never witnessed a single ghostly monk, let alone a whole procession of them.

  2. Rosemaria Coakley says:

    I lived in the gables on Cippenham lane. That was haunted. I heard crying. Foot steps, doors opening. And things being moved around at night time. Was not scared as it’s only the living that hurt you.

    • Dreadnaught says:

      Thank you for your comment. Where is the gables, and how long ago was this?

      • Rosemaria Coakley says:

        The Gables is the large house at the end of Westgate playing field. Next to the police houses. Not sure if it’s still standing. As I left Slough 15 yrs ago.

  3. Mimia Umney-Gray says:

    My family owned and I lived in Cippenham Place, then known as The Old House, on Lower Cippenham Lane, at the age of 3 or 4 around 1947/8 with my family.
    I would be please to get any further information.
    We children played in the barn still standing at the entrance. there was a moat, then dried up, behind the barn and around the main house.

    I would love to research further back in time if anyone has information.

  4. Karen says:

    When i was about 18 i drove threw burnham lane in my mini around 2am as i drove past the garage my car seemed weird in the distance i saw a man in black with a cross around his neck .it was so shiney. He was in the rd …my car glided along and everything went black.. i knew i had hit him but my brakes failed stil putting pressure on my brake it finally stopped .shaking and legs like jelly i thought ive killed him ilve killed him …not thinking i jumped out my car next to the garage was a high fence i ran over as i saw the back end of the man over the fence i called out are u ok ..the other side of the wired fence was bushes …i got really freaked ran back to my car locking the door i drove home shaking all the way …next night i saw an ex boyfriend in tanners i told him what happened …he said haymill schl was a mill hence the name run by monks ….

    • Dreadnaught says:

      Thanks Karen. Really interesting, particularly that what happened to you so close to where the monk spectre was in Littlebrook Avenue. What year would this have been?

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