Alexander Bathurst's assets now passed to his two sisters. Since both had married well
and had households established in their husbands' family homes, an arrangement was reached
whereby it was agreed that when the second son of Chlo Bathurst, Lady Foxendean, came of
age, he should take over Itchells, live in the manor and manage the estate. This involved some
complicated apportioning of the late squire's possessions, so that the sisters should receive a fair
division after the arrangement had been taken into consideration, but all was down amicably and
caused not the slightest dissension.
As Martin Foxendean was still a young boy, the house at Itchells was left unoccupied for
several years. However, a couple were installed as caretakers, whose duty it was to keep all in
order. A bailiff was put in to oversee the management of the estate, and after several years of
hard work Itchells at last reverted to its original good shape.
The choice of Martin Foxendean as lord of Itchells Manor proved a wise one. From the
time that he took occupation of the estate in 1735, for the next eighty years or so, he and his
descendants gave it the attention which former generations of Bathursts had lavished upon it.
There was one great difference, however; the endowment of the estate with a portion of Squire
Alexander's South Sea hoard obviated the intermittent financial difficulties which had bedeviled
the Bathurst squires.
There can be but little doubt that the Foxendeans would have continued as lords of Itchells
Manor had not misfortune overtaken them in the early years of the nineteenth century. The then
owner, Charles Foxendean, like his seventeenth-century forebear, fathered only one son among a
bevy of daughters. This caused the family no anxiety, for the boy was strong and healthy and had
every prospect of reaching maturity and marrying. At nineteen he was a robust and lively young
man, restless, for ever seeking some diversion with which to satisfy his passion for physical
activity. He was quickly absorbing the intricacies of estate management, but Itchells was too
small to accomdate two strong-charactered Foxendeans, and hoping that thereby to provide him
with an interest for a year or two until maturity calmed his son down a little, Charles Foxendean
proposed that he should embark upon the Grand Tour. To this the young man agreed, and in the
spring of 1814 he crossed to the Continent.
The following year Richard Foxendean was in Austria when the news arrived of Napoleon
Bonaparte's escape from Elba, and his arrival in France. Immediately young Foxendean set out
for Belgium and there applied for, and was granted, a commission in the Duke of Wellington's
army. On 18 June, 1815, he went into action at Waterloo, and shortly before six o'clock in the
evening was killed defending the farm-house at La Haye Sainte.
Charles Foxendean never recovered from the shock of his son's death, and in the spring of
1818 he died. His widow, having no inclination to be burdened with the management of the
estate, decided to dispose of it, and it was acquired by a family called Lefroy. For some reason or
other which the records do not disclose, the Lefroys left the manor-house in the charge of
caretakers for five years, and did not enter into occupation themselves until 1823.
They were the first 'outsiders' to occupy Itchells for nearly three hundred years, and
perhaps the fact that they were not of Bathurst stock has some bearing on their experiences
throughout the greater part of the century. For until they acquired the place there is no record of
the haunting of the house, which began within a month or two of their moving in.
Among their domestic staff was a young housemaid called Margaret Smilie. Meg's
parents lived in the village, and her father and brothers were employed on the estate, as previous
Smilies had been for several generations. She was a happy-natured, level-headed girl of eighteen,
physically sturdy and bright mentally. As Mrs. Lefroy later said of her, 'Meg Smilie had both
feet firmly planted on the ground, and was the last person to succumb to imaginings.'
Proud of their new possession, the Lefroys were naturally anxious to show it off to friends
and relatives, so about Eastertide, 1823, they arranged a house-party for a dozen guests. This
number meant that every bedroom in the house would be occupied.
Though the spring had come with bright sunshine and dry days that year, by evening the
temperature dropped and there were several nights of sharp frost. the house, having been empty
for so long, had not yet warmed itself, so to prevent her guests from suffering discomfort Mrs
Lefroy had given orders for fires to be lit in all rooms from four o'clock.
It was the duty of the housemaids to bank up the fires for the night shortly before the
guests retired, and they began their rounds for this purpose between half-past ten and quarter to
eleven. So it was that Meg Smilie came into one of the bedrooms allotted to her shortly before
The fire had burned rather low, and she realized that if she made it up with dust in the
condition it was in she would stand a good chance of putting it out altogether. So kneeling down
before the hearth, she put on a log and began to blow some life into the embers with a pair of
bellows. She was tired and would be glad to get to bed; nevertheless, as she blew on the fire, she
hummed a tune to herself.
Presently her efforts were rewarded; the log burst into flame and was soon burning
merrily. Carefully she arranged round it some smallish pieces of coal, and on these blew also,
until they had caught.
It was as she was gingerly covering the whole conflagration with coal-dust that the
banging began. At first she thought it must be Jess Richards making up the fire in the room
below, but when the knocks continued in groups of three or four, now slow and measured, now
quick and imperious, that she realized it could not be Jess, for no one in their right mind would
treat a fire so. Besides, the sounds now seemed to be coming from too nearby for them to
Puzzled, she surveyed the massive chimney-piece. (Only one other room in the house had
a similar 'piece,' and that was the room above.) As she did so, another series of knockings
began, and there could be no doubt that they were coming from the left-hand side of the fireplace,
just above her head.