Radiant Boys are a particular kind of ghost. They are the spirits of children murdered by their
mothers, and their usual function is to warn those to whom they appear that a violent end
threatens to overtake them.
Through far more numerous in German spirit-lore-where they are described as
Kindermorderinn-English spirit-lore does contain a number of outstanding examples. It has been
suggested that their presence in England has its origins in the Scandianian and North-European
settlers who came here in the ninth and tenth centuries, bring their folk-lore with them.
This explanation can certainly be acceptable for one of the most famous of all English
Radiant Boys, the one which, until the early years of the last century, haunted Corby Castle,
which stands above the densely wooded banks of the River Eden, in Cumberland.
The Howard family have for many years been the owners of Corby. Nowadays the castle
has the appearance of being the typical eighteenth-century country mansion that it chiefly is; but
the site on which it stands has been the site of numerous ancient buildings, whose remains have
been incorporated in successive ones. The first of these ancient buildings was a tower built by the
Romans as part of their defensive system against marauding Picts and Scots. This tower was
extended in Norman times into a castle, but when the Norman extensions fell into decay it remained
and, with its massive walls, from eight to ten feet thick, and its spiral stone staircase, still
forms part of the present so-called castle.
The room frequented by the Radiant Boy of Corby was in the older part of the castle
adjoining the Roman tower. Its windows looked out on the inner courtyard. It was, therefore,
neither remote nor solitary, but surrounded on all sides by rooms which were in constant use.
Reached by a passage cut through an eight-foot-thick wall, it measured twenty-one feet by
eighteen. At the beginning of the nineteenth century it was used as a bedroom, but later as a
study. When it took over the latter function, the current owner removed the bed and replaced
some of the more ancient heavy dark furniture with modern pieces. Apart from this, however, the
room remained as it had been for many years.
One wall of the room was hung with tapestry, the others with old family pictures and some
pieces of embroidery thought to have been worked by nuns. Over a press, which had doors of
Venetian glass, was a wooden carving of an ancient figure, with a battle-axe in his hand. This
figure had been one of a number which the burgesses of Carlisle had placed on the walls of their
city to give the impression to would-be invaders that the border-town was well guarded.
The owner had hoped that by taking away the bed and replacing some of the furniture he
would remove 'a certain air of gloom which I thought might have given rise to the unaccountable
reports of apparitions and extraordinary noises which were constantly reaching us. But I regret
that I did not succeed in banishing the nocturnal visitor.'
The last authenticated appearance of the Radiant Boy was early in September, 1803. In
this case, however, the Boy seems to have been behaving willfully, for no calamity overtook the
man who saw him. In fact, twenty years later, this man was still dining out on the strength of the
On the morning after their arrival, the guests were at breakfast with their hosts in the
dining-room when suddenly their attention was attracted by a commotion in the drive outside. A
chaise-and-four was dashing up to the door at such speed that the driver seemed to have difficulty
in controlling the horses, for the carriage knocked down part of the fence protecting the flowerbeds
from the drive.
'Who on earth can it be arriving at this early hour?' Mr. Howard remarked. 'It would
seem from the coachman's emulation of Jehu that he is the bearer of important tidings. Not ill, I
hope,' he concluded, smiling at his guests.
As he looked round the table, he noticed that the Rector of Greystoke had become very
agitated. For a moment the parson could not speak, but as the chaise drew up on the gravel
outside the windows he managed to stammer out: 'I cannot expect you to forgive me, sir, but it is
my chaise. I sent for it as soon as it was light. I fear we must leave at once. Come, my dear.'
'But, Rector!' Mr. Howard exclaimed. 'Have you had bad news? Is there anything one
might do to help you?'
'Nothing, sir,' replied the Rector. 'Except that you will not try to detain us.'
'But something must be wrong, Mr. A....' Mrs. Howard said. 'Have we offended you in
any way? If so, we are extremely sorry and will do all we can to make amends.'
'No, no,' the Rector told her with increasing embarrassment, since all the guests were
looking at him and his wife in silent bewilderment. 'No, madam, you have been more than kind.'
'Then why must you go?' asked Howard. 'We were looking forward to your company
for some days. Besides Colonel and Mrs. S.... are dining this evening especially to meet you.
Pray, change your mind, there's a good fellow, and send the chaise away.'
'I am truly sorry, sir,' the Rector replied. 'We realize that we are risking your friendship
and kindness in responding to your hospitality in this way, but I implore you not to press us
further, but to let us go.'
'How can we do that unless you tell us what is wrong, for something so clearly is?'
The Rector had already risen to his feet, and his wife, silent and weeping, followed his
'Forgive us,' the Rector said, his voice catching a little, and left the table.
Mrs. Howard, moved by Mrs. A....'s obvious distress, followed and tried to comfort her.
'If only you would tell us,' she said.
Mrs. A.... looked at her husband, but he shook his head. 'Later, perhaps,' he said, 'but