Old Park - Where the woods meet the sea

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One of the Best Child Friendly Hotels in Southern England

By Margo Williams & Nicholas Hammond (1999)

Hauntings at the Old Park Hotel

The Old Park hotel in Saint Lawrence, Undercliff, is known to many as the most perfect place for a mystery. A weekends stay may well be interrupted by a scream of "Murder!" to which the gentleman in the dinner suit asks "where is the beach." And everyone starts to think.
    The Old Park hotel is renowned for its excellent Murder Mystery weekend breaks. The hotel is a small palace set in surroundings of exquisite wild most scenic of all the Islands variety. Sparkling chines cut through towering cliffs to tumble through sweet meadow and wooded glens then down to the deep blue sea. Indeed visitors are convinced they have entered some Mediterranean land, for palm trees grow and syringe flowers the air.
     And ghosts have been known to appear. As unlikely as it may sound, in the seemingly sub-tropical paradise of the Undercliff and its famous hotel. From time to time guests and new members of staff have been known to ask one another: who was the lady in grey who glided through the walls, or the strange figure sitting in the oak chair on the staircase smoking a pipe? To which most reply: what figure? But many people have reported smelling floral tobacco smoke. On one occasion a mother entered the room in which her baby slept and watched as invisible hands gently lifted up the childs arm and pulled the covers which had come adrift. That room is haunted! said she, and everyone agreed. As to its identity, or that of the ghost in the Honeymoon suite, no-one knows for certain.
      It is said a new broom sweeps clan, and at the turn of the Millennium the Old Park became the property of John and Kathy Sharp. Aware that every house has a history, and perhaps a ghost or two they listened to Karen Wood who had long worked at the hotel and was all too familiar with the supernatural tales of Old Park hotel and therein what things go bump in the night. It so happened that Karen had a friend who spoke to ghosts, the famous psychic Margo Williams. So here for the interest of staff and guests alike are the words of Old Parks ghosts as recorded in the autumn of 1999.
     Margo is physic, has been since childhood, though it is only in the latter third of her life that the ability to tune-in to ghosts has fully developed. Sometimes she sees them, always she hears them and occasionally they ask her to recover some important object the ghost lost when alive. One of the worlds most powerful physics, Margo is regularly called in by homeowners, businesspeople and even the Government to remove troublesome supernatural presences. For the past twenty years she had dedicated her like and its gifts to helping release earthbound souls, as she refers to ghosts. Her friends call is ghost-busting. Always she carries paper and pencil, ready to record their words if they speak. At the London College of science and technology a host of scientists fascinated by the new theories of Quantum mechanics were inclined to agree with the results of her work: that our personality survives longer than mere minutes and hours after death. But that is not the most amazing revelation

The smoking man

Multiple hauntings are not uncommon, and ghosts tend to linger from different times. Staying at the Old Park hotel one can understand why someone should want to come back and check in for eternity for free. The bedrooms are plush and luxurious, the food outstanding and the scenery heavenly. There must be worse fates. The smoking man has been seen many times. He sits upon an old ornate chair three-quarters of the way up the grand staircase. One of the children came up and asked me whos that old gentleman sitting on the staircase smoking a pipe? recalls Karen. The boy said he was smiling and wore his socks on the outside of his trousers. She too had often smelled his tobacco smoke. Socks outside his trousers. They must have been gaiters or breeches. So who was the smoking man?
     The Old Park once belonged to the Islands most famous family, the Worsleys. Royal favourites of kings and queens, the Worsleys were powerful and wealthy with many important connections; their heirs and daughters married into the very best of families. There were knights and captains and constables and even would-be royal rescuers; they were military officers and members of Parliament. Sir Richard seventh baronet Worsley of Appuldurcombe was rewarded by George III, in a happy moment, with the office of Governor of the Isle of Wight. With the proposed marriage to the very lovely and wealthy Miss Seymour Fleming, doubtless Sir Richard expected to continue the families success on into the next century. Their home was fair Appuldurcombe house, some seven miles away. Its beautiful gardens crafted by Capability Brown, became the new park.
     The Old Park, think some, acquired its name being the old garden; albeit wild, sea swept and mysterious. There the park trilled to birdlife, and rustled with deer. A forest garden leading to the sheltered coves and sea. Sadly Sir Richard Worsley the third and last of his line lost everything: wife, career, reputation and the will to continue the family name. He left the house of treasure, fair Appuldurcombe and spent his final days in the Undercliff in a cottage by the sae. And there he died. The Old Park passed into the hands of his niece Lady Henrietta whose marriage to the dashing Lord Yarborough brought into that family the treasures of the Worsley Empire. His lordship rearranged the library at Appuldurcombe then sold off the lot.

Thomas Haddon, a London solicitor, bought part of the Undercliff estate in 1820 as a seaside retreat. His wife fell instantly in love with the place and let loose her fancy upon the old farm building. There arose a gothic palace with pools and ponds, and ornamental ducks and a fancy thatched Belvedere for her intimate soirees. By 1865 the new owner, General Sir John Cheape added a fine new Victorian wing. In 1883 the Old Park was bought by William Spindler, a German millionaire. Having tried nice in the south of France as a cure for his chronic condition, someone suggested he convalesce on the Isle of Wight. Spindler by his own admission suffered to such an extent from nervous prostration and weakness of the heart that he had to give up everything: writing, reading and even talking were forbidden him. Four years on the Isle of Wight and William was cured. So much so he challenged the locals to ride up and make their own town a new Bognor or Brighton.

"Excuse me madam. You have arrived at last to send me on" said the ghostly Smoking Man as Margo sat listening beside the old chair. Heaven or hell, who knows what awaits this erring soul. I stayed here with my cousin, a man of property, after my wife had passed away. How long did I stay? Six months, a year? Time is no importance when in the spirit world. Girls! I loved them. Would go for a walk in the country or by the sea, return here to spend time witting in the chair awaiting the maidservants to pull at their skirts, to reveal a shapely ankle. Had been one for the girls when young. When a widower became even worse. Smoked my pipe while sitting here. The servants were quite comely. Was not a bad-looking man but had huge clumsy hands. Frightened them sometimes. One left because of me and I looked forward to her replacement. I was so beastly towards them.
     My name is James. A gentleman, yet was I? Maybe not. Thank you for your time madam. Would that I could continue my touching and pulling at the skirts; but all women now show their ankles so there is no fun in it. I shall continue my journey towards the next world.

The ghostly smoking man was not Sir Richard nor Mr Haddon. He was not grand General Cheape. Nor poor William Spindler. It was naughty cousin James. But whose cousin James?
In the absence of empirical evidence to the contrary most medical scientists dismiss the belief that there is a ghost in the machine of the body to journey on after death or stick around to haunt someplace. But the testimonies of many people who have had near death experiences record astonishing references to leaving their physical bodies, floating up and in many cases seeing lights or a passage and hearing voices. Many believe this confirms that the personality does survive death. But this is said to be hallucinate?
As a consequence some propose instead that the mind of a person might linger on after death; and this accounts for ghostly visitations from friends, relatives and even enemies who were said to be dead at the time. Such visitations, according to this explanation, are the last transmission of an expiring consciousness. The question of exactly how long the mind might exist independent of the body has not yet been determined in terms of minutes or hours. The ghostly James mind If that is what some might choose to call his ghost, remained longer than minutes and hours. More like years.
     Some ghosts give names and dates, and by this means it is possible to identify them through Parish records, or other archives. Margos late husband Walter was a scientist and enjoyed the work of proving the ghosts once lived. Others however are less forthcoming. The ghostly James did not provide a surname, and this is often the case with ghosts. Margo has come to appreciate that some still have living relatives who might not be best pleased to learn, for example, that dear great uncle James has not completely departed. Though in his case those closer to him might have suspected something of the like. Quite how he managed to keep supplied with tobacco is a greater mystery still.

The honeymoon suite

The Undercliff orientated as it is, south east to south south east, creates an awesome sun-trap; even the angle of the rays meet sweetly the towering cliffs whose rock absorbs the heat and keeps it there through winter. Botanists and geologists have noted the regions ¦velvet herbage, its bold masses of rock and miniature dells and brakes, backed by the towering cliffs, renders it a scene replete with beauty, said the great GW Martin. Whilst, on the left, the bright foliage of its wooded glens, extending to the very strand, with the deep blue sea beyond them, form a prospect of surpassing loveliness. The Old Park is rich with wildlife and vegetation: foxglove and speedwell, primrose, iris, orchis and narcissus. Among the oaks and hazel nut nightingales sing and kingfishers swoop, deer and wild cats once stalked and chewed; and the little coves of the seashore visited by grey seal and dolphins.
     In Margos experience ghosts freedom of movement is a variable matter. Some cannot leave rooms, others the boundaries of a building. She has encountered ghosts attached to objects, forced to travel with them to whatever destination an antique dealer sends its way. If for some being a ghost is an unpleasant fate, it must be sweetened somewhat by its circumstance, the Old Park. The more so if the place of haunting is the Honeymoon suite. A sumptuous south sea-facing room and snug inside, a four-poster bed all pink and inviting:

How dare he behave like that on our first holiday together, confided the ghostly woman. We did not have a proper honeymoon. We waited until we could go to a lovely hotel like this. Then that night I retired expecting him to follow me upstairs after a brandy or two; but he did not come for about two hours. He smelt not of brandy but of cheap perfume like a servant might use. He had been unfaithful to me. I hated him, took a pair of nail scissors and stabbed him in his arm. Meant to stab his face. He bled and carried the scar to his dying day.
     I was very angry and left him after the holiday ended, which was shorter than planned. I regretted stabbing him. He never said much. It was me that suffered. I died three years later and found out, which one so often does after death, the truth. A girl had dropped her bag. He had picked it up. The stopper of the scent bottle had come loose and the perfume spilled on his suit around the cuffs. I have haunted this room. Some folk have smelt perfume. Some have seen me. I am going on now towards a light.

The landlord, the restaurant & the ghost in the attic Thousands of ordinary folk who until moving into their new home have thought ghosts were nothing more than the product of an over-active imagination, they found out different. If theres no such thing as a ghost then why have so many people reported seeing them? According to the majority of explanations independent walking, talking, door-opening, button-switching, object-moving ghosts do not exist. It is the imagination of the living which credits the dead with these abilities; but tell that to someone with a ghost in their house, or restaurant as landlord John discovered:

I loved making trouble, said the ghost of the restaurant. Came here some years ago, for a few days. Stayed about a week. They were pleased to see the back of me. I complained about the bad service, the boring food, the state of my bedroom. Dust on the bedside table, the rudeness of a waitress. The noise from the guests next door. All made up. I enjoyed getting people into trouble. Not sure whether a cleaner was asked to leave. I hoped so at the time. I now like to scare people when they come in here. Not that I can do much. I just cannot stop causing misery one way or another. Kindness was a word I could not understand. You interfere and send me on. This I do not want, yet it appears I have no option. So reluctantly will leave. Blast you! My name, you are asking. Sue if you must know. More I will not say. Damn and blast you as am going. Got to.

It can be no fun if there is a ghost in your house with attitude, a spirit with a grudge and a mean frame of mind. Some ghosts do have the ability to manipulate matter, can move objects, and can even influence by stirring up negativity and bad temper which when frayed by normal everyday problems can make things seem a million times more gloomy and depressing.
Other ghosts however, are more friendly, even though their fate once was tragic and violent. Many staff and guests alike have encountered the lady in the long grey dress with a white apron wafting around the Old Park hotel. She it was who tended the sleeping babe. Over the years legend has gathered about her and many believe it is the ghost of a maidservant, seduced by a member of the family who haunts since she hanged herself from the balcony in the Great Hall. That autumn day the grey lady was found upstairs in the attic:

Please help me. I am so sad. The children. The children. I love them as if they were their mother. I was in serious trouble though. I loved Johnny. He worked in the garden. We met several times to make love. I found I was with child. Johnny was very angry. He moved to another job in Ryde. I could not face the shame, so took my own life. Could not get through to the heaven I thought awaited me. I was in darkness, held back. I roam all over this lovely place but it is here I so often am. Please help me on. I know you can. Now see a big tunnel with a bright light at the end. Am going onward. My name is Annie. Thank you for helping me. Am going.

In truth Margo does not think it is she who actually releases these ghosts, for what does she do other than listen to and record what they have to say? Most times Margo feels more like the messenger come to tell them their wait is over. In her work she often comes across this reference of Annies or something of the like. Most refer to a passage or tunnel of light appearing and this is mentioned many times by the ghosts. It seems the passage opens shortly after the moment of death, as many who have had near death experiences will tell; but is not permanently open. If the individual does not go through for whatever reason, perhaps to stick around and spook someone before the off. Or goes through and turns back, he or she will find the passage closed and they are stuck. This is to become earthbound: the physical body is in no state to be re-animated, nor is there access to what James, the ghostly smoking man called the next world. There are many theories to explain a ghost. This is the simplest, the oldest, and Margo believes the most true. Ghosts are people who cannot get through the passage, either by choice, accident, or intention of those who wait beyond. It is also a sad fact that some of those who take their own loves end up stuck as ghosts.

Mystery murder

The Old Park hotel was for many years lost beneath the ivy and foliage of the Undercliff, and was only rediscovered by chance in 1947. You wouldnt have known there was a house there at all, said W.E Thornton. Having followed the long winding track toward the sea, Thornton stumbled upon a house or what was left of it. Trees pushed up through the hall, spreading over what once was the roof. The house had been taken back by nature and given another few years would be lost altogether. He pulled away the ivy and found the Old Park and bought it back to life; and doubtless the ghostly smoking man was much the happier with human company again.
     Old Park had been abandoned for decades. Its last owner William Spindler had long since died of finding his cure. The Undercliff had cured William and William in return had big plans for the Undercliff. He was appalled at the local peoples apathy in making the most of their natural gifts. If the inhabitants of Ventnor refuse to satisfy modern requirements, he growled in 1877. There is no doubt that another town Undercliff will spring up. Six years later he purchased Old Park and unfurled his maps and plans. This neighbourhood, and especially the Old Park Estate, presents a magnificent field, said William. Although the land near the shore at this spot partakes of the treacherous nature of the whole Undercliff, it may be easily rendered safe by erecting groynes. Taking Bournemouth as a pattern¦
     William oversaw the foundations of his new town. Each day he wandered through the woods to the shore determined to realise his dream and thus show the locals how to exploit the gift of that particularly miraculous portion of the worlds land, sea and sky. But the locals it seemed preferred the wild; and doubtless a smuggler or two or three did not much welcome a town like Bournemouth slap bang on top of all the secluded coves and bays. William moved earth and stone. An esplanade was built, and for six years more he struggled with the battering sea and the shaking heads of the local fishermen.
     By 1889 the project, and Old Park was abandoned, William was dead from the effort. Some say his ghost roams the beach and rocks upon which his dream foundered, wide-armed and challenging who knows whom about the business benefits of the mysterious Undercliff. He may be there, still; for some ghosts do choose to stay in places they love. Others are just there for punishment, especially when it involves murder. Edward, a mysterious murderer, was found on the Old Park beach:

It was a good place to lure the delightful Meg, the woman who ruled my dreams. Oh beautiful creature that thou should turn away from such a man who wooed thee with no good intentions. She came one night, her lantern shone; yet not so bright as her eyes which sparkled with desire. I took her upon this very beach. A virgin, which surprised me. How could she have remained intact until then? But no more a virgin, she was mine!
I vowed my love, my honourable intentions; yet alas they lasted only for a short while. When with tears in her eyes she begged for a golden ring to be placed on her finger in church, as her womb was full of my seed. I took the only way out for a man such as I. strangled her on this beach, a little way to thy left. Carried her limp body into the sea where the waves took her. The current was strong that night with a backwash so she was never found. I could then turn my attention to the latest object of my affection, a lady of more mature age with a large amount of money.
     Megs body was never found. I got away with it. When death laid its icy fingers upon this unworthy soul named Edward, found myself back here haunting this stretch of coast. Then thou cometh and release me with thy silver light. Thanks be to them who made it possible. No more need I wander, crying for forgiveness. I go.

Margo Williams and Nicholas Hammons. October 1999.