Wycoller Hall is a gorgeous old ruin in Lancashire. Built to replace an old manor that dated from the reign of Henry VII (1485-1509), it was owned for much of its history by the Cunliffe family. Encumbered by massive debt, the Cunliffes lost the Hall in the first half of the nineteenth century, and by the 1890s it stood largely as it stands today, save for some few restorations made in the 1950s.
The Hall was already abandoned, apparently, when an eccentric family of ramblers from a little village across the Yorkshire border came up on it in their walks. The Bronte sisters—Emily and Charlotte in particular—were great walkers, and probably saw the hall, a mere six and a half miles from their village of Haworth, many times. Charlotte may have based Mr. Rochester’s home, Fearndean Manor, on the Hall; moreover, a Cunliffe daughter who married into an old North of England family may have given Charlotte’s eponymous heroine her name—Jane Eyre.
A ruinous house, almost by definition, must have ghost legends attached to it, and Wycoller Hall adheres to the tradition. It’s said to have at least three ghosts.
Two of the ghosts of the Hall have their origins in a single incident, dating to the reign of Charles II (1660-1685). At the time, the legends say, the squire of Wycoller Hall was one Simon Cunliffe, a married man whose greatest pleasure was in the sport of fox hunting. On days when no local hunt was scheduled, he would mount his horse, take his own pack of hounds, and hunt alone. One day, during a rainstorm, the terrified fox he was chasing somehow got into the Hall and raced up a staircase, the hounds following, and rushed into his sickly wife’s bedroom, where she lay resting. As if that were not enough, Simon urged his horse in through the massive front door and rode it up the stairs in pursuit, finding the fox under the bed, the hounds trying to crawl under after it, and his wife in a understandable fit of hysteria.
Simon Cunliffe was not an understanding man. Outraged by what he thought was his wife’s cowardice, he raised his quirt as if to strike her—at which the poor woman fell back onto her pillows and died of shock.
Neither Simon Cunliffe nor his wife ever left the Hall. Once a year, on a stormy day, a phantom horseman is heard clattering across a nearby bridge and up to the hall’s great door, then up what remains of the stairs, after which a woman is heard screaming in terror. The sounds of the horseman come back down and out the way they came in—not to be heard again for another year.
Cunliffe’s wife is said to have made an actual spectral appearance to a pair of young lovers who were taking advantage of the Hall’s abandoned state for some precious private time. The woman, dressed in a black silk dress, told the startled couple that the time was coming when the Cunliffes of Wycoller would die out—then vanished. Strangely enough, the last Cunliffe of Wycoller died not very many years thereafter.
The third ghost of the Hall died elsewhere, but showed up looking for revenge. One of the Cunliffes—probably in the eighteenth century—was said to have married an heiress in the West Indies. While they were returning to England by ship, he apparently changed his mind about his bride. His solution was surreptitiously to push her overboard; she drowned, whereupon he played the bereaved husband until he arrived home. Very shortly after his arrival, the ghost of his murdered wife made her first appearance, and she stayed on, in the home she never occupied, long after her murderous husband’s death.
Historians say that there never was a squire of Wycoller named Simon Cunliffe; nor is there any convincing evidence of a drowned bride.
Give me the legends anytime.
I first read the legend of the fox hunter of Wycoller Hall in Terence Whitaker’s 1987 book HAUNTED ENGLAND: ROYAL SPIRITS, CASTLE GHOSTS, PHANTOM COACHES & WAILING GHOULS. As for the legend of the drowned bride, I’d never heard it until I read up on Wycoller Hall at Wiki.