Having performed her duty, Mrs. Barnes was then seized at Wild Will's command to be
blindfolded once more. She was now terrified as well as angry. For all she knew, she might well
be put to death herself as the witness of this outrage. Nevertheless she vowed that this child
slayer should not go unpunished if it should ever be within her power to help bring him to justice.
There was little indeed that she could do. If she had an idea that she was at Littlecote she
had no means of proving it. She did not know the face of the murderer, or of the men who had
come for her, nor the identity of the now-stricken and appalled mother whose new-born had been
so brutally destroyed practically before her eyes.
As they seized her, Mrs. Barnes turned once more to the distracted mother, her hands
clutching desperately at the chintz curtains of the four-poster on which the woman lay. The
curtains had an unusual pattern, and with sudden inspiration Mrs. Barnes snipped a piece out of
them, surreptitiously and unobserved.
She was then blindfolded again and led back to the carriage, the piece of chintz clutched in
her hand. Once again she counted the thirty-one steps of the staircase.
Then she was driven back to her cottage in Great Shefford where she was informed in a
forcible manner of the dire consequences which would fall upon her if she spoke one word to a
living soul of what had happened that night.
Thus intimidated, Mrs. Barnes kept silent, no doubt considering herself fortunate in
escaping with her life.
But she could not forget. The infamy of that night haunted her for the rest of her days.
But it was not until she was on her deathbed, at last out of reach of Wild Will, that she told the
story to a magistrate named Bridges, who recorded it on paper.
Now Bridges was Wild Will Darrell's cousin, and in view of this family connection it is
not likely that he would have officially recorded Mrs. Barnes's story had he not thought that there
might be some truth in it. Her remembrance of a staircase of thirty-one steps, and the piece of the
chintz curtain-found to fit exactly a hole in the curtains of a certain four-poster at Littlecote-bore
out the sinister stories which had long been rumored about Wild Will Darrell.
The Knyvetts now came into the story. Sir Harry Knyvett and Darrell were bad friends.
Sir Harry had long complained about Darrell's wild behavior at Littlecote.
There must have been great bitterness between the two families, which explains why
Darrell slandered lady Knyvett by trying to persuade the midwife that she was the masked lady
who had been so inconveniently with child.
Sir Harry Knyvett wrote a letter to Sir John Thynne of Lomgleat, whose family took the
title of the Marquess of Bath in 1789, and later became the Dukes of Bedford. This letter was
found at Longleat in the 1870s and was written in 1578 about the time of the Barnes's deathbed
confession. Its subject was the suspected crimes and wicked behavior of Will Darrell which had
scandalized the counties of Wiltshire and Berkshire.
In Sir John Thynne's household at Longleat was a man named Bonham, whose sister had
become Darrell's mistress. The girl's treatment at Littlecote and the death of at least one
illegitimate child she had borne was widely known.
Was it not me, wrote Sir Harry Knyvett, that Mr. Bonham should be urged to do
something about his sister's 'usage at Will Darrell's, the birth of her children, how many there
were, and what became of them, for that the report of murder of one of them was increasing foully
and would touch Will Darrell to the quick.'
This letter seemed to substantiate the deathbed story of the Great Shefford gamp. Wild
Will Darrell was brought to trial. But the evidence against him was pretty slender. The tragically
used Miss Bonham was unwilling to give evidence against him, or had died, her restless spirit,
they said, already haunting Littlecote in search of her murdered child.
Darrell escaped justice, mainly, it was thought, through bribery and corruption. Returning
to Littlecote, he continued his wild and reckless life.
But he did not live for long, and was thrown from his horse while riding in Littlecote Park
and killed instantly. It was said that his horse had seen the ghost of his victim and reared up in
terror, throwing Darrell to his death.
Littlecote then passed out of the hands of the Darrel family, but Wild Will's phantom has
never left the place of his crimes, orgies and misdeeds. He is said to haunt the ante-chamber
where he burnt his unwanted child, and the infant's bloodstains have been reported to appear in
some mysterious fashion every now and then upon the floor before the fireplace, shedding blood
that was apparently never shed in life.
Wild Will has also been seen haunting the place where his horse threw him to his death at
the sight of the infant its rider had murdered.
And in the long gallery of Littlecote walks the ghost of the inconsolable Miss Bonham in
search of her child. The screams of mother and midwife on that terrible night have echoed
through the rooms and galleries of Littlecote for centuries, and are heard to this day, if we are to
believe numbers of persons over the intervening years who said they have heard them.
Littlecote has exercised a strange supernatural fear over people who never see its ghosts.
Its domestic staff have always been affected by the hauntings and have refused to go into certain
It is always difficult to keep staff in haunted houses, and there was once an order at
Littlecote that on every sunny day each of its three hundred and sixty-five windows should be
opened, and closed by nightfall. Only one maid could be persuaded to perform this duty as none
of them would dare to go into the haunted rooms when it was getting dark. This particular maid
confessed that these rooms filled her with an unaccountable fear.
In 1914 Princess Marie Louise had a strange experience at Littlecote which she told in her
book, My Memories of Six Reigns (Evans Brothers).
Her lady-in-waiting, Mrs. Evelyn Adams, was the cousin of Sir Ernest Wills, then the
owner of Littlecote. The Princess had never been to the house, nor had she ever seen a drawing or a picture of it. Sir Ernest invited her to lunch.