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Hampton Court's Ghostly Tale

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Hampton Court's Ghostly Tale


by Tom Sykes


As the lights flickered in the Haunted Gallery at Hampton Court last night, it was easy to see why even some of the security guards are loathe to make their rounds. After all, with almost 500 years of history, much of it steeped in violence, Hampton Court has many a tale to tell.


But of all the scenes of despair and anguish played out within these ancient walls, none is perhaps more vivid - or famous - than the desperate attempt of Henry's fifth wife, Catherine Howard, to beg her pitiless husband for her life. Catherine, a noted beauty, had been imprisoned in the palace while Henry decided her fate after discovering she had been having an affair with a handsome young courtier, Thomas Culpepper.


One day, while guards were leading her to her rooms, she broke free and ran the length of a 40-foot corridor to hammer on the door of the king's private prayer room and beg for her life. The guards dragged her screaming and kicking back to her chamber. Unmoved, Henry sent her to the Tower a few days later. She died on the block on 13 February 1542.


It is said that her unquiet spirit still haunts that corridor, now known as the Haunted Gallery, eternally seeking to avoid her dreadful fate. The ghost, dressed in white and screaming, has been seen, and more frequently heard, by many residents and visitors. Four female visitors have fainted in recent years outside the door to the chapel and palace authorities are now so concerned, not to mention fascinated by the tale, that they have commissioned an expert in the paranormal to study the corridor over four nights this summer. Dr Richard Wiseman, who runs a research centre in Hertfordshire investigating the paranormal and co-presented the TV series Out Of This World with Carol Vorderman, will be using video, pressure gauges, humidity monitors, electro-magnetic sensors and a £50,000 thermal imaging camera to establish the truth.


I decided to run our own tests with slightly more basic hardware: a thermometer (to register those sudden drops in temperature), a barometer (for pressure) and a compass which would pick up on any magnetic disturbances. It is no good hunting for ghosts on an empty stomach, so I also took the precaution of packing some cold chicken, a salad, and a decent half bottle of red. And, having recently seen The Blair Witch Project, I also took that other essential pre-requisite: a woolly hat.


Although the temperature maintained a fairly constant 66 degrees fahrenheit, it was still with a sense of horror that I heard a creaky old door easing open, and the gentle tread of footsteps on the stairs. I checked the barometer. It read "Fair". Around the corner emerged no more phantasmic a figure than Dennis McGuinness, director of the palace.


I was reassured - but not for long. Mr McGuinness, a thoroughly down to earth man and former detective chief inspector with the Metropolitan Police had his own tales to chill my blood.


Sitting in his private apartments one evening, he turned and glimpsed a figure in blue standing in the doorway. As he looked at it, it turned away and hurried down the corridor: "I chased after it and shouted, 'Stop! Come back! Speak to me!'" Mr McGuinness told me. The temperature seemed to fall. I checked the thermometer. It hadn't.


Left alone again to continue my observation, I cracked open the bottle of wine and sat quietly on an old wooden bench in the King's chapel. For me, the witching hour came and went without incident. No screaming queens, no evil laughter. But suddenly I heard a mysterious, almost ghostly clanking. At last! A ghost! A security guard jangling a bunch of keys stuck his head around the door. "You ready to go then?" he asked.



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