A footman who allegedly killed himself at Highclere Castle – the home of Downton Abbey – once haunted its corridors, its owner has claimed.
Lady Fiona Carnarvon, who currently lives at the Castle, recalled a time she spotted a man wearing a neck tie or cravat and dark clothes while a photographer took pictures for one of her books in the basement with her then three-year-old son Edward who was driving a toy car.
“I turned and saw a man coming towards us out of the gloom,” she told RadioTimes.com. “He seemed slightly undefined.
“I told [Edward] to go faster, but he went at his own pace. I simply pushed him along and burst through the swing doors. The figure paused at the doors and I just hurried along.”
The figure was never seen again after Lady Carnarvon decided to take action.
Calling up Fr Peter, an Anglican monk based at Westminster, she asked him if he’d visit Highclere Castle and bless it.
“You can never be too careful,” she said, before adding she tried to find out more about the eerie figure and what they could want.
One story she found took place in the 19th century when a nursery nurse had an affair with a footman. When she stepped away from the nursery the Countess’s baby had died.
The footman is said to have killed himself not far from the spot Lady Carnarvon saw the figure.
She has a few theories but thinks the figure knew she was a mother of a young child and, instead of chasing her, was, in fact, trying to hurry her along to safety.
House blessings are usually carried out on Epiphany, the Feast of the Three Kings, when Christians celebrate the wise men bringing gifts to baby Jesus.
Lady Carnarvon wasn’t willing to wait that long so ensured Fr Peter returned equipped with his prayer book and Holy Water as quickly as possible “just to be sure”. No one has seen the figure since.
“I assume it worked,” she said. “But I don’t think the area is necessarily wholly without ghosts.”
In such an old house it’s almost inevitable that people have claimed to see other spirits and ghostly figures. In fact, more ghost stories are documented in her latest book, Christmas at Highclere.
Lady Carnarvon’s father reported seeing a “well-dressed lady” who he greeted with a simple “good evening,” and another ghost in the 19th century was reportedly banished to a yew tree in the Castle grounds when six bishops visited.
Despite these apparitions, Lady Carnarvon is unfazed. “It’s an old house so there are the inevitable groans and stories,” she said. “Above all Highclere Castle is home.”
Lady Carnarvon’s latest guidebook Christmas at Highclere: Recipes, Traditions from the Real Downton Abbey is on sale now. You can buy the book here.
The guidebook includes the Countess’s favourite festive recipes, anecdotes from Christmasses gone by and traditions in the lead up to Christmas from Highclere Castle, where Downton Abbey was filmed.