Friday, June 30, 2017

HGB Ep. 209 - Tilty Abbey

Moment in Oddity - Murder Bottles

The Victorian Era was fraught with dangers as we have covered before when talking about Victorian dresses that caught fire easily. Isabella Beeton wrote a book titled "Mrs. Beeton's Household Management" in 1861, which doled out advice to the ladies on how to run a proper household from cooking to child rearing. One bit of advice in that book, combined with a modern day marvel of the time, led to the deaths of hundreds of babies. Breast feeding in the Victorian era was challenging because of those dangerous Victorian dresses just mentioned. Even nursing corsets did not help alleviate the challenge. So the banjo bottle was created with a nifty rubber tube and nipple. Now baby could feed him or herself with ease. This freed up mother to tend to the hiring of staff and such. Many of these bottles carried names like "Mummies Darling." Mrs. Beeton encouraged the use of these bottles and even advised moms that they only needed to wash the nipple and tubing occasionally. And even when the mothers did clean the bottle apparatus, it was very difficult. As you already have probably surmised, these bottles were the perfect incubators for deadly bacteria. And the infrequent cleaning only added to the problem. Doctors soon condemned the bottles, but people continued to buy them. At that time, only two out of ten infants lived to their second birthday and these bottles certainly helped add to that statistic. This earned the bottles the nickname “Murder Bottles.” The fact that parents would continue to use these bottles with a name like that and follow the advise of a woman who thought washing these things only needed to be done every couple of weeks, certainly is odd!

This Month in History - Mildred "Babe" Didrikson Born

In the month of June, on the 26th in 1914, champion athlete Mildred "Babe" Didrikson was born in Port Arthur, Texas. Mildred got her nickname "Babe" from baseball legend Babe Ruth. She played a variety of sports and excelled at allof them, which was unheard of for a female in her day. She won two gold medals at the 1932 Olympics and set world records while earning those medals in the javelin throw and high hurdle. She switched to golf after that and won the 1946 U.S. Women's Amateur Tournament. In 1947, she won 17 straight golf championships and became the first American winner of the British Ladies' Amateur Tournament. She turned pro and won the U.S. Women's Open in 1950 and 1954. Other sports she conquered were softball, baseball, swimming, figure skating, billiards, and she even played some football. The Associated Press named her 'woman athlete of the first half of the 20th century' in 1950. And despite her athletic way of life and healthy living, cancer found its way to her and took her life in 1952. She was on 42 years old.

Tilty Abbey (Suggested by listener Bob Sherfield)

The village of Tilty is in the county of Essex in England. The county is known for its Mediaeval Gothic architecture using various stones, wood and bricks in the construction of buildings that have thus endured for centuries. Some of these structures have not fared well though and one of these is Tilty Abbey. All that really remains of the abbey are some crumbling stone walls in the field and a chapel outside the gates built for worshippers who were not monks. The abbey was built in the 12th century and was a religious and social center. Some may say that a religious location is a source for the supernatural and it would seem that Tilty Abbey remains such a source today with rumors of strange creatures, headless monks wandering around, curses and other strange occurrences. Join us as we explore the history and hauntings of Tilty Abbey and her village!

The abbey at Tilty was established in 1153 by Maurice FitzGeoffrey. He was the vassal of the Earl of Derby at the time and thus the Earl helped with the founding. Seven Cistercian monks came from Warden Abbey in Bedfordshire to reside at the abbey, which initially started as a wooden makeshift dwelling. The monks spent their days clearing the land and establishing self-sufficient agriculture. They built several buildings in the Cistercian style, which included a refectory, cloisters, living quarters and the main church. The church was large and measured over 170 feet long and 90 feet wide. It is believed that the dedication of the abbey probably took place on September 22nd, known as St Maurice's feast day. People were welcome to worship at the abbey, but not in the church itself. A “capella ante portas” was constructed. This basically was a smaller chapel outside the gates and this particular one was dedicated to St Thomas Becket.

The monks and the abbey were not above getting involved in politics and they stood in opposition to King John who was ruling in 1215. On Christmas Day of that year, the King sacked the abbey. Soldiers broke into the church and several chests and stole anything of value. The church was desecrated and several monks were killed. Two of their tombstones can be seen in the church on the north wall of the sanctuary. The church was rebuilt and consecrated in 1221. The power and wealth of the monastic community continued to grow with the acquirement of more land and the church was enlarged. The monks began raising sheep and developed a wool trade that produced the finest white wool in the country. Political influence for the abbey continued under King Edward I and the king summoned the abbot to one of his parliaments. The gate church was enlarged in the 14th century, right before the Black Death hit England in 1348. The Plague stopped any further expansion of the church.

Things would change drastically with the Reformation and when King Henry VIII came to power. Landowners were jealous of the wealth of the monasteries as well and they began to dissolve. Two abbots at Tilty were deposed and pensioned off between 1530 and 1535. King Henry VIII finally dissolved Tilty Abbey in 1535. The guesthouse was leased to the Marchioness of Dorset for her son, George Medley at that time. There are discrepancies as to what happened to the buildings of the abbey. Some claim that all but the gate chapel were blown up by gunpowder, while others claim that the monastic buildings were remodeled as private dwellings and then later became farm buildings. Today, there are only small sections of the stone wall left near the gate chapel. Further along a path, near the church, is the former site of the monk’s watermill that was later remodeled into a Victorian mill that no longer works.

The church is beautiful and a testament to its long history. The abbey features a large window on its east side that is an example of curvilinear 14th century tracery. The design is elaborate, incorporating five lancets leading to an intricate tracery wheel. The exterior walls are plastered in pale pink and the church is topped with a Georgian cupola atop a small bell chamber. The interior design features Norman influences with a font that has a 17th century cover, painted in foliage patterns. The roof still features original beams dating back to the 12th century. There is a beautifully carved wooden chair at the entrance of the sanctuary. The figure of a woman praying and the words 'My Lord and God. John Wesley. 1776' are carved into that chair. Unique items in the church are memorial brasses and Diane stumbled across an article in the newspaper about brass rubbing when trying to find a news story about a skeleton found on the property. (Share the article.)

One of the memorial brasses is near the altar and features the wife of the Duke of Inverary, who was named Margaret. She died in 1590. The brass has her flanked by her 3 daughters, 3 sons, and 3 children who died in infancy, shown wrapped in swaddling clothes. Another brass has a knight in full armor standing with his wife. A third brass also has a knight, but this one has him resting his head on a helmet. The pulpit is made from a Georgian sounding board that has the figure of a bird in flight painted on it. On the south side of the sanctuary is a three seat sedilia and a piscina, all set beneath nicely carved niches with open-work tracery. The walls are decorated with medieval carvings and wall paintings, one of which is a repeating pattern of colored triangles. The pews are painted pale greyish-green and at the west end of the nave is an organ painted a darker green.

The abbey is the center of most of the supernatural activity in the village of Tilty, but there are several locations here that have paranormal lore and hauntings connected to them. There is a nearby village named Thaxted and it was connected to Tilty by a coach road. This old road has reports of the disembodied sound of horses and coaches driving along. This is unnerving enough, but actually seeing the coach can be utterly terrifying as legend claims that glimpsing the coach means that you will die soon. We’re not sure if this is simply a death omen or a curse because the individual saw the coach.

A cottage in the village was built sometime in the early 1600s and is known as Deer’s Leap Cottage. A man named Malcolm Pearce moved into it and that is when reports of a ghostly presence started. The lights in the cottage have a habit of turning off and whenever Malcolm gets up to check why the light has gone out, it will pop back on. Several electricians have checked the wiring over the years, but nothing has ever been found wrong with the wiring of the house. Objects move around and pictures come off the walls. Malcolm says these occurrences can be startling, but he has never felt threatened by the presence that he has come to believe is an old woman. He has never seen the spirit, but one day a cleaning woman turned in her notice and when he asked why she was leaving, she informed him that she had seen a grey-haired woman in period clothing smiling her, who then abruptly vanished.

The Old Mill that the monks had built were modified into apartments at one time. Tunnels used to branch out from Tilty Abbey to various locations to serve as protection during the time that the monks were persecuted. One of those tunnels led to the mill, which was accessed through the cellar door. Today, it is bricked up, but when it was still open a man named Bob Hitchings went out to the mill with a young woman who lived there. She complained to him that the cellar door would not stay locked. Bob figured that there had to be some kind of explanation. Probably that she was not locking the door securely. He locked the door and put the keys on a hook. In the morning, he was shocked to find that the door was open and the keys were where he had left them. There was no one else at the mill at the time.

The woman’s father had a terrifying experience that has been shared by several people in the area. This is a story of a bizarre creature. The father had been walking up the lane from the village to the mill he noticed that a dark figure had been following along with him, darting in and out of the bushes. He immediately thought that the figure belonged to a cat, but when he saw it again, it was too large to be a cat. He figured it was a badger or even more likely, a fox. The shadowy creature continued to follow behind him as if stalking him and as it did, it grew in size. The father burst through the kitchen door in a state of terror and told Hitchings, who was visiting, what he had seen. The man was truly scared and this was reflected even more noticeably when his hair turned completely white within a few weeks of the encounter.

Another man witnessed this same creature in 1994 when he was driving to Duton Hill by way of Tilty Road. He told his wife that a large creature had passed before his headlights. He estimated that it was around six feet tall and seemed to lope like an animal, but what chilled him to the bone was that the headlights did not illuminate the shadow. He said, “It was there, but it wasn’t there. I could see it, but the headlights didn’t shine on it.” Villagers have come to call the creature “The Black Cat.” What makes the connection to Hitchings story about the father whose hair turned white weird is that this story occurred twenty-five years after that story.

A dark figure was seen in February of 1996 by a local history who was taking a walk through the Abbey fields with a friend. They were surveying the fields to assess if they were suitable for re-enactments of Civil War battles. The figure appeared in the tree line wearing dark clothing. It was dusk, so the figure was hard to make out. It was approaching them and the man looked away for a moment, but when it was near to them and passing by, he glanced at the figure only to see that there was no one there. He startled and his companion asked what was the matter. The man was confused because his friend had no concern that a dark figure had been near them. When he asked his friend if he had seen the figure passing them, his friend responded, “Nobody’s passed us. What are you talking about?”

There seems to be a curse connected to the property. Reverend G.E. Symonds wrote "Tilty Parish and Abbey" in 1889 and an excerpt from that work reads, "It was said that if anyone ordered some of the remaining buildings to be demolished, he would die within a month. A steward did so in the early part of the 19th century, and died within a month; his successor of the same family some years after ordered a further removal, and he died within a month, and now only a part, apparently, of the cloister is left." So was there really a curse for those who destroyed the Abbey?

The Three Horseshoes is a pub in the village that has had its share of paranormal activity. Gill Connell is the landlady and she has reported that in 1993, when she was moving in, something odd happened. She said, "On August 4, 1993, the day we moved in, I put he kettle on to make tea for Derek, myself and the two moving men. I then went to watch the men unloading the last things from the lorry. After a while, I remembered the tea. Going back into the kitchen, I found that the kettle was hot from having boiled, but it was switched off at the wall and the kettle flex had been coiled up and laid on the work surface. Nobody had entered the house while I was outside." He mother-in-law also had experiences with hearing people coming in the door and there would be nobody there and she once caught a mince pie sliding itself off the table. An employee reportedly has seen smoke rings being formed by an invisible smoker and a glass has moved itself across the bar and smashed onto the floor. Someone sitting at the bar once felt a strong poke while sitting on a stool at the bar. 

A woman was driving in a storm on her way to Duton Hill along B184 near Titly when she was startled by a darkfigure sitting in her back seat. She looked down and when she looked back at the mirror, she saw that he was no longer there. Then she noticed that he was outside the car, riding on a motorbike. He kept pace with her for awhile and then he moved in front of her car and slowed down. He finally forced her to stop. Then he took off across a field and disappeared. She started her car up and continued down the road after she calmed herself. She came around a bend and saw a huge tree in the road. She felt that the ghost protected her from being hit y the tree. Interestingly, a John Marajohn was killed on a motorbike on the stretch of road.

Across from the pub is a large Tudor style house that belonged to the Willoughby Family. The family has reported objects moving in the house on their own, disembodied footsteps and a feeling of being watched. Loud knocks on the back door have been heard when nobody is at the door. The most terrifying incidents at the home revolve around a hooded figure. A previous owner had been a Belgian heiress. One evening, she went out to retrieve some dustbins that strong winds had blown around. As she walked past an out building, she was startled by a hooded figure. It raised its hand. She stopped in her tracks and the outbuilding collapsed. She was left unhurt and saw the figure as a protector, although some might claim it caused the collapse. Gill Willoughby's mother was once awakened by a hooded figure that beckoned for her to follow it. When it reached the bedroom door, it disappeared. Gill's son awoke one night with a pressure on his chest as if someone was pressing down on him. He watched as a grey mist gathered above him. He shouted and kicked his feet and the mist disappeared.

The most famous apparition here is the ghost of the headless monk. Though no reports have been made for many years, the headless monk story is said to date back to 1215, when a monk was beheaded by men of King John. An archaeological dig on the site of the abbey in 1942 recovered two stone monk's tombs with skeletons inside of them. One of the skeletons was missing its head.

There seems to be some strange things happening in the village of Tilty. Is the village haunted? Is Tilty Abbey haunted? That is for you to decide!


  1. Hey girls! I absolutely heard a growl on the recording! Spooky...

    1. You hear about this stuff on the TV shows, but it doesn't usually happen to us. Very chilling! So glad we had no idea we had caught that until we were safely home!

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