Sunday, April 15, 2012

Papillon Hall

One of the oddest ghost stories I've ever heard concerns a pair of haunted shoes and there relationship with Papillon Hall. Legend has it that a wicked lord of the manor back in the eighteenth century kept a Spanish mistress prisoner in the house and that with her dying breath she cursed the house. If ever her shoes left terrible things would happen. Over the years the shoes left a few times, apparently every time they did things went bump in the night until they were returned. It was bad enough to ensure that the shoes were eventually kept behind an iron grill above the hall fireplace (for more details see here). 

In 1903 Lutyens was called in to renovate the hall (his workmen soon came to believe in the curse) he turned the existing octagonal building into a butterfly plan and fortunately it was reasonably well documented in Country Life (here I would dearly like to pinch these images but suspect Country Life would take a dim view, do take a good look at the lilly pond picture) because in 1950 the house was demolished. The floor plan for Papillon appears in a few text books so I was familiar with it both from an architectural perspective and from the ghost stories and have wanted to see it for an age. I got my chance today thanks to the Scottish one exercising his academic credentials and hitching along with The Leicestershire and Rutland Gardens Trust. 

I knew the house was gone,(the sight is on a farmyard and access is dependant on the good will of the farmer, he's lovely but this is not a public sight) but had assumed there would be visible foundations, perhaps a course or two of bricks. There isn't. The lilly pond is still there and at first glance that's it. Careful prodding around revealed bits of stonework and tile, possibly the dining room fireplace, and the end of the billiard room gable. There was a bit of brickwork on the ground identifiable from one of the Country Life pictures which was very exciting and a few other tantalising clues, but for the first time I really understood how much of our architectural heritage we lost in the aftermath of the second world war when unaffordable country houses were knocked down wholesale. There are scraps of documentation left, (Country Life again and a few memoires from people who had the foresight to realise there was something worth recording) but so much has gone forever and 60 years or more after its destruction it's slipping out of our collective memory that these places ever even stood. It makes me wonder what else was out there. 



8 comments:

  1. You didn't say where (ish) this is! It is definately an intreguing period for such buildings. An old landlady and employer of mine told me about the manor house that she grew up in which was levelled just after the war, leaving no signs in it's location. But, the family took an entire cirular tower with them and incorporated into the new town house they built, this has also been demolished, but some bits of the tower still exist in the farmhouse I was scrubbing clean at the time. I'm guessing this wasn't so unusual, I wonder which bits the shoes were associated with though!

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  2. It's just outside Market Harborough. How nice to take a tower with you... I understand that hundreds of houses went but find the whole shoe thing hard to swallow. Still it's a well documented case so you never know - maybe it's all true.

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  3. Hi - Lutyen's country houses have been more fortunate than many, mainly because they were mostly built with an understanding that the world was changing and houses needed to be more efficient. This does make Papillon's loss more disappointing, especially as it was such an architecturally interesting design, little imitated.

    My research has identified a total of just over 1,800 country houses lost since 1800, particularly, as you say, in the post-war period - a comprehensive list for England is available here: http://www.lostheritage.org.uk/lh_complete_list.html

    Matthew

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  4. Matthew - thanks for commenting, I've had a quick look and will go back when I've got more time to have a proper explore, really pleased to have been directed there.

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  5. If it's of any interest to anyone I have almost completed a computer generated reconstruction of the hall, including the version before Lutyens made his changes. I aim to create an animated tour. Keep an eye on You Tube!

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  6. Thanks for your comment, that sounds like a fascinating project - where on You Tube do I look for it?

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  7. I stumbled across this blog because we were discussing ghost stories on another forum, and I was looking sure that someone, somewhere, would have written about the Papillon Hall ghost. The house belonged to Frank Bellville, my father's step-father, and my father was brought up there before WW2. I can add to your story ...

    During WW2 the house was taken over by the American Red Cross, for whom my grandmother acted as a sort of chaparone/house-mother to the young nurses. Naturally, they were fascinated by the story of the shoes and, inevitably perhaps, by the end of the war the shoes had disappeared from their safe. After the shoes vanished and the Americans left, my father said that ivy began to grow through the walls and the condition of the house quickly deteriorated.

    As a young child, my father hated the house. In addition to the story of the 'spooky shoes', as he called them, he was convinced that the room he slept in was haunted. It was known as the 'Jug Room', as it contained a display of ornamental jugs. Apparently things often went bump in the night and, even in later life, my father would shiver at the memory. Whatever the truth of the stories, there must have been something terribly amiss for the family to simply abandon such a beautiful house ...

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  8. I have equally stumbled onto this - my mother remembers your father hating 'the jug room' and she has always been convinced about the house being haunted. Just before it was demolished, she and my father and your father had a last look round. It was completely empty and as they looked round they started to hear the doors slaming shut - she says it started at the top of the house and every door slammed one after the other until it reached the ground floor - they waited no longer, convinced the house was chucking them out, and fled.

    She tells me that dreadful things happened when the slippers were removed while the hall was being altered by Lutyens - within the household a baby was born and died, several of Frank's hunters were killed when a bolt of lightening struck the tree they were sheltering under and there was an accident at the bottom of the drive which severly injured someone (the postman or delivery boy?). She also tells me that none of the local builders would carry out the work and then the builders who did get asked to do it, heard the stories and refused to do the work too. Builders were finally brought from much further afield.

    She remembers the house fondly - probably because she enjoyed riding and Frank Belville was a keen horseman. There was a huge indoor riding school and my mother was taught to ride by the head groom, who she again remembers fondly but says he was very strict. The summer house was apparently regarded as our grandmother's domain and our parents played with Mr Smallman's children. My mother remembers he was the head gardener and had two or three under-gardeners working with him - hence the beautiful gardens. It was a different world to today.

    The house passed to Frank's children by his first marriage and although she doesn't know exactly why it was demilished, she thinks it was probably due to death duties and the extorionate cost and difficulty of keepin up such a house in the 50s.

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