Littlecote is one of Wiltshire's most historic stately homes. It has had many owners, among them
people distinguished by wealth or birth-or by sheer iniquity. The wicked and the famous have
left their ghostly mark in those old rooms, corridors and staircases. Replete with legend, with
whispers of satanic deeds and secret murders, Littlecote sits in its woodland splendor, oblivious to the passing years, haunted, they say, to the end of time by the wickedness of those who have lived there.
For two centuries or more Littlecote, which is near Hungerford, was owned by the Darrell
family, and it was they who finally beghosted not only the house but also the neighborhood-even
as far as the Hungerford to Salisbury road.
Wild Will Darrell, an Elizabethan rake, is the villain of Littlecote. The Darrell family had
acquired Littlecote early in the sixteenth century. Through Wild Will's crimes they lost it, and
the local legend has it that had it not been for him the Darrells would be living at Littlecote to this day. Latterly Littlecote was owned by the Wills family, Sir Ernest Wills dying there in 1958.
The Wills family were troubled by the ghost. When Major George Wills was staying
there his dog began to bark in the middle of the night, awaking not only the Major, but the whole
household. In vain the Major tried to pacify the dog. The animal stood in front of the closed
bedroom door, its hair standing on end, quivering in terror.
The Major opened the door and saw the Littlecote phantom pass by-a woman in a shift,
wringing her hands, appearing to be looking for someone.
The woman's spectral search had its quite horrible origin one night four hundred years
previously. It began with a thunderous knocking upon the door of the cottage of a Mrs. Barnes in
the little Berkshire village of Great Shefford.
Now Mrs. Barnes was known as the village gamp-a midwife of few scruples and even
fewer qualifications. She was not unused to being aroused in the middle of the night to perform
her doubtful services for the unwise as well as the under-privileged.
She opened her door to be confronted by two arrogant young men, warmly as well as
expensively cloaked, while behind them a pair of furiously-driven horses steamed in the cold
night air as they pawed the ground, straining at their carriage traces.
Mrs. Barnes did not like the look of her visitors. Moreover their request aroused Mrs.
Barnes's suspicions. She was required immediately to attend professionally upon a lady who
lived not far from Great Shefford. But she must be taken there blindfolded. When she asked who
the lady might be, she was informed that it was Lady Knyvett.
Now it is not likely that Mrs. Barnes believed this. She knew of lady Knyvett, the wife of
Sir Harry Knyvett, Bart., of Charlton. It was highly improbable that such a lady would call upon
What finally made Mrs. Barnes agree to the proposition was her natural cupidity. When
gold was thrust into her hands, she agrees to attend upon the lady, whoever she might be, in the
manner demanded of her.
A bandage was placed over her eyes and she was led to the carriage which was promptly
driven off at a furious pace. She was unable to tell in which direction she was being taken. When
the carriage finally stopped, she found herself being conducted into what was obviously a great
mansion. She was led through rooms, through galleries and corridors, and up a staircase.
Carefully the curious Mrs. Barnes, now convinced that she was not at Lady Knyvett's, counted
Of all the great houses in the district, only Littlecote contained a staircase of thirty-one
steps. Mrs. Barnes did not know this at the time. Nor did she know the masked young lady lying
in the four-poster in the bedroom where her bandage was finally removed.
Mrs. Barnes only knew that the lady was unmarried, for no legitimate birth in a great
house would take place in this manner.
She became aware that a man was awaiting in an ante-room, in the hearth of which a
fierce fire was burning. Every now and then the impatient father-for who else could it be?-piled
more fuel upon the roaring fire.
Quickly and unhygienically Mrs. Barnes delivered the masked woman of her child. No
sooner had this been done than the man strode in from the ante-room and seized the infant
roughly from the midwife's hands.
He took it straight to the ante-room, placed the little body on the fire and crushed it into
the burning coals with his foot. In a few moments the briefly-lived life was extinct, and in a little
while more the small body was consumed by flames.
Mrs. Barnes was not a woman of great conscience or reputation, which was why she had
been chosen, but she was not inhuman. She was outraged at this act of barbarity.
She screamed and to her screams were added those of the distracted and terrified mother.
Their screams rang through stricken Littlecote, the inhabitants of which listened in fear, knowing
that the master of the house was up to some fresh devilry.
Mrs. Barnes did not know Wild Will Darrell. She described him as being tall and slender
with a dark and angry face. This was a fair description and helped to confirm the tale she later
told. Mrs. Barnes did not even know she was at Littlecote, though she must have had her
suspicions, for tales of what went on in that house were the talk of the countryside. She was
certain only that she was not at Lady Knyvett's.