My night locked inside a house haunted by its gout-suffering mistress

My night in a haunted house: Man spends the night in a National Trust property where guests have been mysteriously ‘pushed’ down the stairs and ghosts ‘roam the halls’ – with spine-tingling results…

  • Ham House in Richmond, London, is rumoured to be haunted by ghosts
  • Elizabeth, Duchess of Lauderdale, died there 17 years after she was deserted
  • Reporter was locked into the house for the night to see what it’s really like 

National Trust property Ham House, a 17th-century home situated on the banks of the River Thames, is said to be haunted by a ghost that roams its halls. 

Visitors have reported being mysteriously ‘pushed’ down the stairs and have seen the ghost of a spaniel wandering the first floor. 

Here, FEMAIL reporter Luke Andrews tells of the night he spent at the property – and it’ll make your spine tingle… 

FEMAIL reporter Luke Andrews tells of the night he spent the night at Ham House, Richmond, which is said to be haunted. Guests report being mysteriously pushed down this staircase

This is the Duchess’s bedroom, and the room where she died. The 320-year-old’s shadow is said to still appear in the mirror by her bed

Ham House in Richmond, London, pictured, was built in 1608 as a retirement home for naval captain Thomas Vavasour, before Charles I gave it to Elizabeth’s father

All the photos are black. 

The camera was on auto, morning light streaming through the windows and electric lights illuminating the landing in one of the National Trust’s most haunted mansions – but the £300 Canon couldn’t see it.

It couldn’t see the bones of a white and brown King Charles spaniel said to prowl the first floor, despite a video taken under the same light conditions coming out perfectly.

In the bedroom where the gout-ridden and heavily indebted Elizabeth, Duchess of Lauderdale, died, nothing came out.  

A silver mirror, perched on a table to the left of the room, threatening to capture the shadow of the 320-year-old woman dressed in black mourning clothes at any moment, was the only object revealed when the black photographs were lightened.

Approaching Ham House in Richmond, London, I felt as though I was walking into the Woman in Black.

The 17th century stately home, where Charles II came for dinner before the dining room floor was knocked through to make a grand entrance room, looked like the right place for a phantom to press its hand against a third-floor window.

The house is beset with ghost stories: From the weeping Duchess kneeling at the chapel where the body of her husband lay for ten days, to a wheelchair moving around the property at night and a King Charles spaniel whose bones were found in the garden appearing in doorways.

The 17th century property is said to be haunted by the ghost of its former owner Elizabeth Murray, Duchess of Lauderdale and Countess of Dysart. Pictured: Closing up the dining room

In the morning the camera failed to work despite bedrooms being illuminated. This photo, taken in the Duchess’s bedroom, only managed to capture her mirror despite light streaming in from the open window behind the camera. Right is after the brightness was turned up

Another ghostly photo taken in the Duchess’s room also only managed to capture her mirror despite her bed, table and chair all also being in the same position as in the photo above. Right is after the brightness was turned up

This disabled chair, owned by a 20th century owner of the mansion, is also said to move around the house late at night. It is now kept on the ground floor and did not move the night MailOnline’s reporter was there. In the morning it refused to be photographed despite light streaming in through the window. Right is after the brightness was turned up

This was meant to be a photo of the dog bones. They were illuminated with electric light. right is after the brightness was turned up

A visitor turned pearl white when she realised she had been pushed by the Duchess just this year.

‘We always say don’t put your foot on the third step’, said housekeeper Hannah Mawdsley, who has lived and worked at the property for six months.

‘This lady did and she felt a push. She went away and thought nothing of it but, after coming on one of our ghost tour’s, she realised what had happened.’

The step is said to be where the Duchess decided to poison her second husband.

Since she died in 1698 alone after her society friends abandoned her, the eldest of five daughters is said to be heard walking up and down the stairs, pacing in the landing and appearing in her silver mirror.

She is even rumoured to have left dress marks and a small handprint in the plaster of the chapel in 1992 while it was undergoing renovation work, claimed the National Trust’s guidebook to Ham House Hauntings.

Her spirit is said to be joined by a white dog with brown patches – that scampers across the first floor landing. 

This former family pet, that is even said to jump up at guests before disappearing around the side of doors, has been the subject of complaints.

‘The spaniel was the subject recently of a complaint from a lady who was appalled that the National Trust allowed dogs inside the house!’, claimed their guidebook.

The house is also said to be haunted by the ghost of a King Charles spaniel, pictured, whose bones were found in a basket in the kitchen garden. It is seen running across the first floor landing and its tail is seen disappearing behind doorways by visitors. In the painting, it is held by the mother of the wife of Elizabeth’s eldest son, who inherited the house after she died

Elizabeth pictured with her second husband John Maitland. After he died she was confined to the house for the last 17 years of her life and abandoned by her society friends. For the final ten years she was bedridden due to gout, before dying at the property

The curator, sitting calmly at her desk, told me she had felt the dog, but only once.

‘It brushed against me when I was locking up’, she said, ‘I definitely felt something’.

Hannah also said: ‘We often get reports of people seeing a dogs tail round the side of doors. One person even complained that we were allowing animals into the house’.

They are joined by the ghost of heartbroken 17-year-old, John Macfarlane, who is said to have thrown himself from a second floor window after a ladies’ maid rejected his offer of marriage.

The ghost is said to push visitors that stand on the third step of the staircase (marked by a feather). During their ghost tour in the past six months a woman went deathly pale when she was told the story and said she had been pushed

Her mourning ghost is also said to have appeared in the chapel, pictured, where the body of her husband lay for ten days before it was buried

A 19th century ghost story from Ham House is that every Christmas Day the sound of a walking stick on the cobbles is heard in this part of the house before a knock on the door of the cottage, pictured. It is claimed to be the 20th century owner returning to his servants house to give him and his family presents

Elizabeth invested heavily in the house to turn it into a jewel of Stuart architecture. Charles II is also said to have come to eat in the dining room (The balustrade surrounds the sides of what’s left of the floor of the dining room, before it was removed to make a grand entrance hall)

Who was Elizabeth Murray, Duchess of Lauderdale? 

Elizabeth Murray, Duchess of Lauderdale and Countess of Dysart, was the eldest of five daughters and a socialite.

She was born in 1626 and raised at Ham House in Richmond, London, by her mother Katherine Bruce.

Her father, William Murray, received the property after he worked as King Charles I whipping boy – meaning he took a beating whenever the king misbehaved. 

Elizabeth Murray in the painting hanging above the fireplace in her bedchamber at Ham House in Richmond, London

She inherited the home in 1655 after her father died while he was banished to the continent. 

Living through a period of great turbulence, due to the English civil war, the shrewd and calculating landlord made friends with both Oliver Cromwell and Charles II.

When the new government collapsed this meant Elizabeth kept her home on the Thames and was even able to have Charles II there for dinner.

She married twice. With her first husband, Sir Lionel Tollemache, she had eleven children.

However, after he fell ill and later died she married John Maitland, who it was rumoured she had been having an affair with before he died.

A lover of finery, she set about transforming Ham House into a jewel of Stuart architecture – and a prime place for dinners and parties.

The house was at the epicentre of fancy life until her husband was suddenly thrown out of the king’s circle.

Her life then took a sharp turn.

Elizabeth’s society friends abandoned her, shortly before the death of her husband.

She wept at the chapel in the house, where his body lay for ten days.

The socialite then spent the last ten years of her life mostly alone in the house – except for servants.

For the final ten she was gout-ridden and confined to her bed, before passing away in 1698. 


Just before he etched his name and the date 1780 into the glass with a diamond-ring.

It is still there, although off-limits to visitors as it is in a private part of the house, but his ghost and a woman crying on a bench are still said to be seen in the background.

The morning after sleeping in the house, I walked around taking some last photos with Hannah.

How do you stay here at night knowing about the ghost?, I ask.

‘I just shut my eyes and think it won’t come to me’, said Hannah. She has only experienced one creepy disturbance while here. While in the office on a day shift she heard a shattering bang sound from upstairs. Rushing upstairs with a colleague to see what happened, they didn’t find anything.

After a tour through the darkening corridors the night before, during which we made a stop to hear about a woman that had been spotted walking into a bathroom within the last six months, I was beginning to wonder what I had let myself in for.

When I first rung the National Trust it had seemed like a good idea.

Following discussion they had sorted out a fold-out bed for me on the second floor (Ham House doesn’t invite overnight guests) next to the warden’s flat.

I came to settle down at 7pm, microwaveable Tesco’s curry in hand, and was shown into my room. 

The house fell into the Duchess’s hands in 1655 as inheritance from her father, who was given it by Charles I after he worked for the heir as his ‘whipping boy’ – meaning he would get hit whenever the future king did something wrong.

Tactful and cunning, Elizabeth formed a close friendship with both Oliver Cromwell and Charles II while he was in exile.

She clung onto it during the aftermath of the English civil war and, at great expense, transformed it into a jewel of the Stuart age to be used for hosting banquets and lavish parties – making her a Dame Margaret Greville of her age.

The mother had eleven children with her first husband Sir Lionel Tollemache, who were all raised at Helmington Hall in Suffolk.

Disabled in later life, Sir Tollemache appears to have been dominated by the Duchess. In a letter of caution to his son, he wrote: ‘If shee (your wife) getts the reignes in her own hands, away shee will runn with it, you scare ever will stopp her in the whole course of her life.’

After he died in 1669, she married John Maitland three years later and carried on with the extravagance.

But, after John was thrown out of court for his involvement in a scandal, Elizabeth’s society friends melted away.

The house then passed through various family members, and minor alterations were made, before it was passed to the Trust in 1948.

However, legends of a ghost in the house didn’t appear until the 1900s.

When paranormal investigators were allowed into the property, by kind permission of the National Trust, they noted that the first guide to the UK’s hauntings, ‘The Night Side of Nature’ published in 1848, does not mention Ham House.

Visitors have also reported seeing a dogs tail as the ghost runs behind doorways. One woman even complained to the National Trust for allowing dogs into the house. Pictured is one of the grand rooms that is currently undergoing conservation work

Another ghost is said to have walked through this room to the servants door in the wall before disappearing. A steward tried to stop them

There’s no record of hauntings at Ham House, pictured, until Augustus Hare, 1834 to 1903. He wrote that a six-year-old girl saw a crone scratching a wall in the servants’ quarters at night

The first story comes from Augustus Hare, 1834 to 1903, who wrote that a six-year-old girl was woken by a crone crouched and scratching her finger against a wall.

But, this story has been dismantled by experts – as a young girl could not have been living in the servants quarters at that time they claim.

Ham House allowed one paranormal investigation in 2004, run by the ghost club, but has been put off after ghost hunters broke into the grounds.

Police were called to see off the uninvited intruders.

Tucked into my sleeping bag with all the lights blazing, I listened for the faintest sound.

A phone rung at 22.05, and an alarm briefly sounded at 22.35. I could have sworn I heard a handle turn after midnight, but no footsteps.

During the night floorboards were heard creaking in the old house. Pictured is the library, which is off-limits to visitors while it undergoes restoration

In the morning, thinking I’d survived the evening unscathed, I walked around the house taking some final photos.

The shutters were thrown open in the Duchess’s bedroom and next to the disabled chair, which hadn’t moved, for photos. And a light was shone onto the dog’s bones so I could take a picture. I photographed the staircase too, after the lights were turned on, and the central hall.

On the train home I turned on my camera to check the photos. They were all jet black. 

Ham House is open 10am to 4pm every day, with the house itself open from 12am to 4pm. The property is not open Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Adults pay £12.50 to enter, and children pay £6.25.

Ham House does not offer sleepovers. Femail would like to take this opportunity to thank the National Trust for offering the experience to one of its employees.

The history of Ham House

Built by the river Thames in 1608, Ham House was initially started as a retirement home for naval captain Thomas Vavasour.

In 1626 it was acquired by Scotsman and Charles I ‘whipping boy’ William Murray. He remained close to the king, despite having to take a beating whenever he misbehaved.

A modernisation programme of Ham House was launched in 1637 – 9, to put it into the style of the French court. A grand ceremonial staircase was added, along with state rooms leading into the Great Dining Room, North Drawing Room, Long Gallery and Green Closet.

Ham House, pictured from behind, was given to Elizabeth’s father by Charles I. He knew the king as he served as the royal’s whipping boy, meaning he was hit every time the monarch-to-be did something wrong during his childhood

Upon the outbreak of the English civil war in 1642, Stuart England was thrown into turmoil.

William supported the royalist cause but, after Charles I was beheaded in Horse Guards’ Parade, London, he was exiled to Holland.

His wife Katherine Bruce stayed at Ham House looking after her five daughters. After she died in 1649, the running of the house fell to her eldest daughter Elizabeth. William remained in exile until his death in 1653.

She had married Sir Lionel Tollemache in 1648, a year before her mother’s death. They had eleven children together who grew up at Helmington Hall in Suffolk.

When he died in 1669 Elizabeth married a second time to John Maitland, second Earl of Lauderdale, in 1672, the same year he was made a duke. The couple set about transforming their home to one that would match his status – and at great expense.

Illness, however, forced the Duke’s resignation from government in 1689 and two years later he was dead. Elizabeth lived alone in the home for a further 17 years before she died and it was passed to her eldest son from her first marriage, Lionel Tollemache.

He looked after the home and cut out the floor of the dining room where Charles II once dined to create a grand entrance hall before passing on the property to his grandson when he died in 1727.

The fourth Earl, after commissioning a survey, set about rebuilding and replacing windows in the house, as well as spending large sums on new silver.

It then passed to the fifth Earl in 1770, who kept visitors at bay and refused entry to George III.

After Elizabeth lived in the house it passed to her son from her first marriage. Pictured above is the dining room

When he died without children in 1779, the house then went to his younger brother, the sixth Earl. He also set about re-decorating the house by cleaning floors and buying 17th century replica chairs.

Also dying without issue, the house was bequeathed to his elderly sister Lady Louisa Manners in 1821.

The eighth Earl, who succeeded in 1840, preferred to live in his London home meaning the house was made available for his son William, Lord Huntingtower, who died in 1872.

A group of cousins then looked after the house for twelve years before it was passed to the ninth Earl in 1884, who had watercolours commissioned to record the state of the house before it was repaired.

Vital structural work was carried out on the house while heating and electrics were also installed.

This Earl also died childless in 1935, meaning the house then went to his second cousin Sir Lyonel Tollemache.

It survived the wartime London bombing, which destroyed neighbouring Holland house, and was given to the National Trust in 1948.

The government bought its contents, which then leased them to the Victoria & Albert museum, before they were given back to the house in 2002. 

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