I couldn’t tell you if Itchells Manor, the former home of the Bathurst family in Hampshire in England, still stands. It was, however, back in the early nineteenth century, a notoriously haunted place—a haunting that centered around a massive fireplace in an upstairs bedroom. Here’s the story:
In the early years of the eighteenth century, the squire of Itchells was Alexander Bathurst, a rich man who became a panicky miser following the collapse of a great money-making opportunity of the year 1720 that’s remembered as the South Sea Bubble—comparable, you might say, to our contemporary dot-com collapse. Squire Bathurst had invested money in the South Sea Company, made a bundle, sold his South Sea stock at peak price, reinvested in the much more stable East India Company, and thanks to dividends from that company become a phenomenally wealthy man. When the South Sea Bubble collapsed, he realized how near his escape from total financial disaster had been, and lost his nerve. He withdrew his funds from the East India company, converted them to gold coins, and returned to his ancestral home. There, he got rid of all the servants save his valet, sold off his fine horses—keeping only one—and shut off all but three rooms of the manor.
His valet, Giuseppe Mancini, was in a miserable situation. Squire Bathurst refused to buy adequate food supplies, and was slowly deteriorating both mentally and physically. The one thing he still took any pleasure in was counting his money. On many a night Giuseppe would hear him murmuring away in his locked bedroom, counting the coins he kept locked in a great trunk. Giuseppe, near starvation himself, came up with a plan to do away with Squire Bathurst, take his money, and return to his native Italy a rich man.
He first found a place to hide the squire’s body—not a hard task; the man was so emaciated he could have been hidden under a couple of floorboards–, taking some of the bricks out of a certain fireplace in an upper room and making a sort of niche. Then, one night when all was dark and silent, he slipped into the squire’s room, intending to smother him with a pillow. That plan went awry when the squire woke up, and Giuseppe ended up cutting his throat with a straight razor instead.
Giuseppe wrapped the body in a sheet, carried it upstairs, placed it in its fireplace tomb, and replaced the bricks, being careful to use fresh mortar to seal Squire Bathurst in. He was just about to walk out forever when he was stopped in his tracks by a frantic knocking—coming from behind the bricks he had just mortared in place—and the sound of Squire Bathurst’s unmistakeable voice shouting, “Let me out! LET ME OUT!”
Giuseppe raced downstairs and dragged the trunkful of coins out to the stable, where he placed it in the one carriage Squire Bathurst had kept, hitched up the one ill-fed horse still left of an excellent stable, and tried to drive away from the house. Within a couple of miles, the horse dropped dead in the traces, the effort too much for its starved body, and the carriage collapsed under the weight of the trunkful of gold. Giuseppe, still in a panic, filled his pockets with coins and ran for the nearest seaport. Unfortunately, the money was found, the squire’s squalid house searched, and a “Hue and Cry” raised for the missing valet. He was arrested, convicted, and hanged for his crime.
Itchells Manor was inherited by Alexander Bathurst’s nephew. Within a century, however, the Bathurst line died out when the only male heir was killed at Waterloo, and the house was sold to a family called Lefroy.
Oddly, none of the Bathursts were ever disturbed by the squire’s spirit. The Lefroys weren’t so lucky. At Easter, in 1823, they threw a house party, and the murdered Squire chose then to make his presence known. On the first night of the party, one of the Lefroy servant girls was upstairs in a certain bedroom, making up the fire in a certain massive fireplace, when she was scared into flight by knockings from the chimney piece—hard enough knocks to make the bricks tremble when she touched them—and a voice roaring, “LET ME OUT!! LET ME OUT!!!”
Casting caution and her mistress’s orders to the wind, the girl raced down the great main staircase, almost losing her footing when an invisible body shoved her aside. She, and others summoned by her shriek of terror, distinctly heard a heavily-accented voice—a different voice from the dreadful one upstairs—wail, “Oh, my God! Oh, my God!” as the invisible being swept past. Steps raced across to the heavy front door, which swung open, letting in a blast of icy night wind, and all heard the sounds of a carriage rumbling off down the gravel drive—but there was no carriage to be seen.
Not to mention that the door, which slammed itself shut as abruptly as it had opened, proved to have been locked all along.
The guests were placated, somewhat, with the lame explanation that the girl had been frightened by a giant rat. The lady who occupied that room stayed elsewhere that night, and left the next day, and the room with the noises was shut up and remained so. Squire Bathurst, however, continued to scare the servants with odd knockings in various parts of the house, making it all but impossible for the Lefroys to keep staff.
He and the spirit of Giuseppe, still trapped in the house like his murdered master, put on another full-scale performance in 1840, at which time the phenomena were observed by a Lefroy son who had been away at school in 1823, and a friend of the family, both of whom left written accounts.
There have been no reports of the hauntings for many years since. Perhaps, in whatever afterlife they’re in, Squire Bathurst and Giuseppe have made their peace with each other.
We can hope.
I first read about the Squire of Itchells Manor in an article by Ronald Seth, published in John Canning’s 1971 anthology FIFTY GREAT GHOST STORIES.