Lewtrenchard Manor������ Chris Allen

The Story of Old Madam

Ross Tibbles
Ross Tibbles

On 10th April, 1795, a farmhand, busy at work in the fields of Lewtrenchard Manor, was disturbed by a loud crash from the direction of the house. Concerned, he left his work and ran to the house to investigate. On his way, he noticed his mistress, Madam Gould, standing under a tree.

Upon reaching the house, he was told that Madam Gould had passed away and at the moment of her death, every window shutter had flown open of its own accord, crashing against the stonework of the building. The stunned farmhand realised that he had not seen his mistress by the tree, but her apparition.

Devon has some fascinating ghost stories and many, as you might expect, are linked to our grand houses. Lewtrenchard’s ghost, Old Madam, has been seen on numerous occasions, appearing over the centuries as both a kindly, benevolent spectre and in a more cautionary context.

In life, Old Madam was formidable. Widowed in 1766, she had turned her considerable energy to recovering and managing the Lewtrenchard estate after her son David squandered most of his inheritance.

After her death, people began to see the figure of a woman in white.

Interestingly, Old Madam was seen in various locations on her extensive property, rather than sightings being focused in one particular place. She was first seen by her estranged son-in-law a week after her funeral, which he had not attended. It was night and he was riding home, when he suddenly noticed Old Madam, sitting on a plough in one of the fields she owned. She was dressed in white, a diamond ring on one finger. He bade her good evening and she acknowledged him. On arriving home, he expressed surprised at seeing her sitting on a plough, and was amazed when he learned that she had passed away the previous week.

This began a long series of appearances. Old Madam was invariably dressed in white, and was, for the most part, a friendly and harmless apparition. However, this was not always the case. According to a young girl who fell foul of her whilst stealing apples from one of Old Madam’s orchards, the apparition stood before her and pointed at her accusingly until she had emptied every single apple from her bulging pockets. Similarly, 37 years after her death, Madam Gould is reputed to have chased off a man who decided to take a look in the vault where she and her husband were buried.

In Lewtrenchard Manor itself, Old Madam’s footsteps were often heard in the Long Gallery, even when it was empty and locked. Her descendent, Sabine Baring-Gould, had personal experience of the apparition when a mysterious woman in a lace dress was spotted amongst the dancers at a ball he held for his daughter. He believed it to be Old Madam.

A houseguest staying with the Baring-Goulds at Lewtrenchard once encountered two other guests sitting opposite each other in the drawing room. One was a lady in a white gown, the other a gentleman in a powdered wig. On enquiring of his host who they were, he learned that it was likely to have been Old Madam and the ghost of Parson Elford, who, as two of the three people in the parish able to read, spent Saturday and Sunday evenings together talking about the service and what they would be reading. This particular incident is all the more notable for containing not only the apparition of Old Madam herself, but also that of the local parson.

One of the last recorded sightings of Old Madam was in 1918, when two nurses, charged with the care of Baring-Gould’s visiting granddaughters, both gave notice after seeing a strange woman bending over the girls’ beds.

Lewtrenchard Manor is now a hotel, and although Old Madam’s story lives on, it seems that she herself may finally have found peace. If you ever find yourself staying there, take a moment to imagine Madam Gould walking those corridors. If you are very quiet, will you catch the whisper of a silk gown rustling across the carpet…?