Mary Ricketts was then twenty-eight, an educated young lady who had been brought up in
the sophisticated society of Georgian London-the London of Dr. Johnson, Addison and Steele,
Burke and Fielding. She had never been a country-girl, and she had the Londoner's contempt for
countryfolk, their ways and their superstitious beliefs. In London she had mixed in an elegant,
informed and reasoning society, which considered that it knew practically the sum total of
knowledge about life and all that lay beyond-for was not Sir William Herschel already mapping
the very shape of the Universe? Mary Ricketts was a product of this sophisticated and unhurried
age. She scorned the very idea of ghosts, 'knowing,' as she put it, 'how exploded such opinions
Not even after her devastating experience would she admit the supernatural. To her it was
This is the great value of her testimony. Her one concern at all times was to tell the truth.
Even before these events she had a widely recognized reputation for veracity.
The documentation of this story consists of letters from Mary Ricketts to her husband, to
the Rector of Hinton Ampner and letters from her brother, John Jervis, to her husband in Jamaica,
and also a 'Narration' she wrote for posterity.
But as so often happens in such cases, posterity did not get it until a hundred years later.
There were two copies of the 'Narration' and they were jealously kept away from the public by
the family until a garbled version appeared in 1870 in the biography of Richard Harris Barham,
author of The Ingoldsby Legends. Mrs. Ricketts's descendants then gave the complete
'Narration' to The Gentleman's Magazine which published it in 1872.
It is the 'Narration' which is the main source of this account.
When the Ricketts family took possession of Hinton Ampner Manor in January, 1765,
Thomas Parfait, Lord Stawell's old coachman, was lying dead in his bed. It was not the best of
omens. People these days, not even the eccentric aristocracy, are scarcely in the habit of letting
furnished houses with dead bodies lying in the beds.
But the Ricketts were undeterred. The first thing they did was to get the old man buried
and to pension off his widow Sarah, and also Elizabeth Banks, the ancient retainers who had lived
in the manor all their lives and considered it their home, as was the custom of the times in such
Shortly after their arrival at Hinton, Mary and her husband both heard noises in the night,
particularly that of doors being slammed. This happened frequently and the master of the house
got out of bed and searched, imagining robbers had broken in, or that irregularities were taking
place in the servants' quarters. But he found no sign of intruders, and the servants were all in bed,
and in their proper rooms.
When the noises continued Mary believed that some of the villagers had somehow
acquired keys to the house and were coming in to make mischief, perhaps some sort of revenge
for the importation of 'foreign' servants. So they had all the locks in the house changed. But the
strange noises continued nevertheless. They had to get used to them.
In the summer of 1765 the ghost of Lord Stawell again made its appearance in his old
haunts of alleged incestuousness and infanticide.
He was seen first by Elizabeth Brelsford, the nurse to the Ricketts's eight-month-old son
Henry. She was sitting by his cot in the nursery, the open door of which faced the yellow
bedchamber used by the mistress of the house. It was a bright summer's evening and she plainly
saw a man in 'a drab colored suit of clothes' go into the yellow room.
The nurse was not really surprised, imagining there was some strange visitor in the house,
but when she and a fellow servant who assured her there was no stranger in the house, searched
the yellow room immediately after the apparition had gone into it, they found no trace of the man
in the drab-colored suit.
A few months later George Turner, a groom, encountered the ghost while crossing the
great hall to go to bed. He mistook his drab clothes for those worn by the butler while off duty,
and thought indeed it was the butler. But when Turner got upstairs he found all the man servants,
including the butler, were in their beds.
In the July of 1767 several of the servants were sitting in the kitchen when they heard a
woman's footsteps come down the stairs towards the kitchen. It could not be one of the servants
because they all heard the rustling of clothes which must have been made of the stiffest silk.
They looked to the door and all of them plainly saw a strange woman pass by. She was
tall and she wore dark clothes. She went in the direction of the yard and the street. Almost
immediately afterwards a man came through the door from the yard and could not have avoided
seeing her, if she had been a live person. But he declared that he had seen no one.
The servants heard other eerie noises-dismal groans and strange rustlings at night around
When they recounted these experiences to their mistress, Mary Ricketts treated the whole
thing with ridicule. Ignorant, lower-class people were full of these stupid fears and superstitions.
In 1769 her husband went to Jamaica on one of his protracted business trips, and she
remained alone at Hinton with her three young children and eight servants, all of whom were
trusted and reliable, and none of whom came from the neighborhood. Mary makes a great point
of establishing the trustworthiness of her servants, as she long suspected that she was being made
the victim of some kind of trickery, in which case her servants would be the first to be suspected.
Mary herself now began to hear the spectral noises in a way which throughly disturbed
her. She heard people walking about in rooms which were subsequently found to be empty, and
the rustling of those silken clothes was so pronounced ands so loud that it often awakened her
from sleep. As so many other people have found, locked and bolted doors could not keep out
intruders of this nature.
During the winter of 1769-70 an old man came from the poor-house at West Meon,
knocked upon the door of Hinton Ampner Manor and desired to speak to the lady of the house
upon a matter of importance touching upon the mysterious happenings at Hinton which had been
the talk and the wonder of the countryside for miles around.
Mary, herself disturbed, through still suspecting she was the victim of some kind of
conspiracy, condescended to see the old man, who then told her that he could not rest in his mind
until he had acquainted her with something his late wife had once told him.
In her younger days, the old man said, his wife had known a carpenter who told her that
Sir Huge Stewkeley-the father of Honoria, whose ghost the servants in the kitchen had seen-had
employed him to take up some floorboards in the dining room, and that Sir Huge had concealed
something underneath, after which the carpenter had been ordered to replace the floorboards.