Wednesday, March 07, 2018

The Chair's Secret

   Old, tired and worn out, that is what I am.
My legs are not straight any more and my colour is fading. I don't know how old you are but if you are close to my age and also a male, your legs are probably not beautiful either!

   Legs are strange things, don't you think so? At the start mine were very elegant, even for me not being female. But at the time I was born, men were far more elegant than today with white silk stockings decorated with ribbons; and velvet trousers and jackets. And expensive white wigs and lots of jewellery to show their wealth and status. Their shoes... very elegant with silver, sometimes even golden buckles. Of course I never wore shoes or stockings. My legs were always bare, only covered in white paint with a golden glow in the groins.
I was dressed in brocade with gold thread. Can you believe how beautiful this was? Particularly when the sun shone on it or with candlelight. The flickering flames brought the gold to live. If... only if I was on my own and not used.
Yes, people used me. I hope you are not thinking that this is the same as being
   Maybe I have to explain that I am not a human being, I am a chair. These days an elegant chair as I am might not be too useful and only to show off but back then my fellow chairs were the same.

   Being a chair is quite eventful. There are so many different.... uhm .. bottoms that made use of me. Not everyone in the very old days was tiny or slim. At least not in my castle. The older they got the bigger their bottoms. I dreaded the huge matrons trying to wriggle them selves between my arms. They pretended to be slim but they were not, still they wanted to sit on me. Can you imagine how that felt? First of all you see her coming, her perfume floating miles ahead of her (perfume was used to hide the not so fresh body odour, another challenge for a chair...). You have good hopes that she decides I am too small but no. She stops in front of you, turns around and oh my.... Do I have to go into detail?

   It was not all misery. I (still) live in a grand castle and I am told there are or were, many more of me in many rooms. And all served numerous bottoms of generations of owners and guests. Fortunately once in so many years we were reupholstered and our seats refreshed with new horse hair and singles to carry another generation.
But then came the day that changed our lives......

   I already heard rumours going round about the great financial losses of my owner.
I need to say I wasn't too surprised; so much money was spent on gambling, drinking, parties and mistresses. The rows with his bookkeeper and wife got worse and worse. I never understood anything about his business but from the furious conversations in my presence, I knew that the money that was going out was a lot more then that what came in.
   His wife was often in tears; she did not get any credit any more at her suppliers and thought she already spent her life in poverty. Which I doubted, but I could not say anything of course.
But my owner did not listen and said he was going to earn all the money back, people owed him large sums. He did not mention however, that these people were also almost bankrupt due to their gambling addiction telling their wives the same story!
   I witnessed my owner from being a wealthy man with mistresses, a wife and children, becoming a desperate poor castle owner; his life at risk due to his debts.

   One evening, during one of the numerous meetings with his bookkeeper (a very loyal man who worked for the company and family much longer than he remembered), someone knocked at the door. Not a polite or gentle knock! It was more banging, driven by a huge anger....
The butler tried to stop the visitor but by the sound of his scared voice, the visitor made his way to our room. The door flung open and there he stood; the man who lend a huge amount of money to my owner and who wanted every penny back. Right now and here. And he was furious!!
Debts do strange things to people. Either they become cool blooded monsters to get their money back or they become crying desperate pathetic little men, not being able to pay back.
   Of course you want to know who the latter was.... it was the bookkeeper of all people. And it was not even his fault!
While the other two man challenged each other's anger and power, the bookkeeper crawled backwards to a corner, one hand in front of his face, the other pushed forward with wide spread fingers as to protect himself.
When he passed me, I noticed a terrible smell and saw that he wet himself in fear. I felt so very sorry for the man but also understood his fear, I too saw the two pistols in the hands of the other men and knew it was only a matter of time before we were going to hear the first shot.

 Again the door flung open and the butler catapulted himself into the room, the brave man.
It made the other two turn to the door and then, completely unexpected, one of the guns went of. It was such a chaos that I still don't know who's gun, but I still remember who got killed....
 I promised myself and everyone, never to mention a name or gender, never! But I can tell you that it was not the butler, not the bookkeeper (who fainted when he heard the shot) and not the two other men.

 The smell of blood competed with that of gunpowder and seemed extra strong in the one minute of complete silence in which everyone tried to come round with what happened. Then there was shouting and desperate whispering about what to do next. The butler was summoned to close and lock the door and he obeyed like he had done for 40 years.
 All three men now discussed what to do with the body of that very unfortunate intruder who (and this was accidentally very fortunate) would not be missed being one of the most unpleasant creatures walking on two legs in this part of the world.
   While the discussion went on, I looked at the bookkeeper and noticed his very strange pale complexion. I wanted to attract the attention of the other three men but nobody paid any attention to me and I sighed a very deep and desperate sigh, feeling old and useless.
   The men came to an agreement; my owner walked to the door in the corner of the room, more a cupboard door then a real door because it was made just above the panelling. I knew this door led to a very small room with a secret passage to deep inside the castle and only the owner of the castle knew about it's existence.
But this was a different situation and owing the other man so much money, he showed him where they could hide the body and where it most likely, wouldn't be found for a long time, if ever.

   The next hour the men were busy moving the body, pushing it through the little door and believe me, this wasn't an easy thing to do! The deceased was not very petite!
Finally they disappeared into the small room and it did not take long before all the sounds of huffing and puffing, faded away.
   By the time they returned I worked out myself that the bookkeeper was not 'amongst us' any more and most likely died because of a heart attack. Or just pure fear. Whatever the cause was, he was dead too.
You might think that this was a real shock to my owner but I underestimated his empathy. He watched the poor dead man for a while, then sighed in relief and fell backwards on top of me. And this is when my legs cracked but he did not notice it. He leaned forwards, thinking of what he was going to do next.
   At least I have to give him credit for wanting a descent funeral for the poor man who left a wife, children and grandchildren.
Before they carried him out of the room, my owner lifted me and put me in front of the little door he carefully sealed, mentioning me of not being of any use to anyone any more.
   I watched them walking away, carrying the bookkeeper who's dangling head and arms moved in the rhythm of the footsteps of the others; the butler holding his feet.

   Within a few months time, the family left the castle. Many of their belongings were sold to pay off the debts but some uninteresting items were left to keep me company.
   The last I heard was the lock of the door; I was on my own and remained this for ages until a few years back when a group of young people entered the long abandoned castle, calling themselves 'urban explorers'.
   They managed to open the door and entered the room, surprised to find the odd things but disappointed that it was not hiding any secrets.
And why moving an old chair with crooked legs when it was not in the way of the door to another room? They passed me on their tour through the rest of the castle, leaving me with that terrible secret I never learned to live with.

Photo: @marshallubx (Instagram)
   A secret like a monstrous lump, growing and growing in my memory and body. When it is going to burst? I don't know. Maybe you will find me one day, asking yourself why I look if I exploded.
   But even then you will not know it was that secret that finally came out. You will not stand still to listen to the name of the dead person, whispered by the horse hair sticking out of the large hole in my seat.....

Word of thanks: the photo of @marshallubx (Instagram)) inspired me to write this story and I was given permission to use the photo as an illustration for which I am very grateful. Thank you Marshall!

Links: please visit the beautiful Instagram account of @marshallubx

Note: the story is pure fiction! A figment of my imagination!


Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Mountfield House.... walls dó speak!!

   My name is Mountfield and I appreciate you to call me so. No first name, just Mountfield. Although I have a very posh background I prefer to be modest as I found out that beauty is corruptible; soon I might not be here any more.

   Of course I have been very proud of my looks! I was respected and loved, kept warm and comfortable with large fires in the hearths of all my rooms. My first owner had a great eye for detail without overdoing. My bay windows at each side of my majestic front door, my ceilings, staircase..... I can go on and on.
Still, I have not been a very happy home, people did not stay for long and the one who did in the end, suddenly disappeared......

   Real lives are lived within my many walls and how often do people say: “if walls could speak...”? But walls dó speak! If you ever visited me, you might have been too busy wondering about my current state instead of listening to me.
   I hope you don't mind me telling a bit more about myself and my occupants over the almost 200 years of my existence. Yes, I am that old, so old that I have forgotten in which year I was built. I remember it took some time before my first owners the Robinson's, moved in but I do remember the first new life within my walls when their first son baby John William was born. This was in January 1833, only two weeks before one of the wettest Winter months in history when the rain was gurgling through the gutters and flooding down the hills, flooding the muddy streets of Musbury. Horses walked slowly to avoid the mud spreading on the cloths of the poor servants that were sent out to buy food. The carriages of the delivery services were covered in mud and cleaned each day again after already a very long day for the men that drove them.

   When William was still a baby, Mrs. Robinson decided that she did not want to raise her child in this ancient but beautiful village and even before the Summer could change her mind, they put the house up for sale.
Another young family, the Cobham's bought it. The couple just married and hoped to raise a large family and I was with 13 rooms and definitely status, excellent for this. Thomas Cobham was addressed in all the letters to him as Esquire, a polite title appended to a man's name when no other title is used
. Yes, you will learn some history from me!
   And again new life screamed his lungs out right after birth: their first son in March 1834 and their second in May 1835. It left Mrs. Cobham with a weaker constitution and she talked about renting out the house to move to more comfortable and warmer places. Thomas Cobham agreed but not before he and his wife accompanied the Duke of Somerset to the a large party on November the 7th where all influential people were going to meet each other. You would call it 'networking' in this modern world.

   But it was not until November 19 – 1836 that I was advertised to rent out. I can assure you that the time between the party and the renting out, wasn't a happy one. The couple quarrelled. Thomas suddenly had more and more duties to fulfil outside his residence. I felt so sorry for his wife, but what could I do?

   The family left before a new tenant was found and I stood empty and cold on top of the ancient hill, overlooking the village of Musbury where the columns of smoke stood straight in the cold icy blue sky. People wrapped in their warmest cloths, walked by and only a very few stood still to look up to me and to feel sorry. The poor people in the village said it was a waste of money. The built of me had cost so much and had not been without danger; one builder fell of the roof and never received a compensation which left him and his family in great poverty. Another builder, nobody knew where he came from in the first place, disappeared completely. The story was that he left because he was not paid but rumours told something totally different......

   The Cobham's never returned and I was sold to a new owner in May 1837 who rented me out for a longer period, every time another tenant. No one stayed long enough and I felt cheated and lonely. I can assure you that at this early point in my life, I started to dislike people. Alas, maybe it was my dislike that chased them away again, who will tell after all those years...

   In 1851 I was sold to Mr. Mad Mrs. William Trelawney. Mrs. Trelawney gave birth to a son in 1855. Why is it that only sons are born between my walls? But they too sold the house to a very wealthy man called John Loveridge who also had a house in London where he stayed during the Winter. His elderly bones could not stand the cold in Musbury when the wind was hitting the house, chasing the snowflakes around the corner and making the journey down the hill dangerous, despite the servants cleaning the path.
   I have to admit that John (please forgive me for calling him by his first name) was someone I liked very much. During the months he left me alone, there were always people to warm me by keeping one or two fires burning. In return I gave John his much needed peaceful rest when he grew older.
Unfortunately, a few days after he arrived from London in March 1864, he died and I grieved for a long period. Nobody wanted the house or his furniture and everything was put up for sale in September that very same year.

   And again a young family moved in: Captain and Mrs. John Fryer Still and in November 1869 they got a son who unfortunately had a bad health I could not do anything about. After his premature death in January 1871, they rented out a part of the house to Mr. and Mrs. Walter Bourne. Their son was born May 1872. You might think that Mrs. Still would be jealous because her son died and now there was this healthy baby in their home. But this was not the case, she adored the baby and for the very first time there was true love in the house where both couples lived.
When Mrs. Still got badly injured due to an accident in September 1873, Mrs. Bourne helped her where ever she could during the recovery. Both women became very dear friends for the rest of their lives.

   Captain Still, who was a keen gardener like his lovely wife, was fully integrated in Musbury's society and was chosen board member of the local school in 1875. He took this very seriously; I witnessed many meetings where his wife was an excellent hostess.
   They managed to overcome the loss of their son and were socially very active in and around the village. Captain Bourne decided in august 1875 to look for an all round gardener and put an advertisement in the newspaper.

   My happiness with these two couples and all their joyful and busy life came to an end when the house was sold again. My new owner felt like an old friend, he was related to the previous Thomas Cobham and also called Thomas.
   And in 1879, for the very first time between my walls, a daughter was born on January 11, what a wonderful start of the new year! Born during one of the coldest Winters in history with temperatures far below zero.
Fortunately Thomas Cobham did not only inherit the name but also a fortune and managed to keep everyone warm and comfortable inside the house plus the poor people in the village. He and his wife helped where ever they could and were much loved.

   In 1885 they granted him to add the cricket field – locally called the 'Dipping-pan' - to his property but only when 10 acres were made free for local recreation and so it happened.
   But things do not always go according plan and financial problems caused the sale by auction of the complete livestock in March 1888. Used to selling livestock for a living turned out to be different than selling it all. To say goodbye to a part of your life and income was devastating. Everything changed and the house got up for sale again which I hated. Every time I had years of happiness, it came all to an end and I started to wonder if it was me who caused this. Was it the big secret I carried between my walls? The secret all other people managed to keep silent about until they passed away? Did they ever think about me as a witness who sooner or later was going to reveal what happened that dark and rainy night?
   For how much longer will I keep silent? The older I get and the more souls are moving in and out the house, the more difficult it is to find my own peace. My anger about the neglect of my feelings is building up and I am thinking of a plan to become well known in the end. Even after my final end, people will talk about me for years and years.....

  It was not until the end of the 19
th century that it was quiet in the house again. Like in the days of John Loveridge, again an elderly man lived between my walls: Major Lock. A man with an excellent military background and an honest heart that recognized true braveness. It was due to his efforts that a local villager received the Queen Victoria Medal. A party was planned but both military men were too humble to let that happen. They had done their duty and a party was out of place.
   Major Lock was much loved by everyone including me and his somewhat sudden death at the age of 70, just after he finished his breakfast on April 5 - 1909, was a shock to everyone.

   The years that followed were confusing and where my plan to become famous one day was put to a hold, it started to take shape again when all the furniture and outdoors effects were sold by auction. Again I was an empty shell, left alone with that gruesome secret.....

   I continue with my owners in 1921 when Mr. and Mrs. William McKinnel – true Conservatives – looked for 4 housemaids. Imagine, 4 housemaids in a household of 2 people! They lived a very social life and the house was very seldom empty. Meetings were held between my walls and I learned everything about the Conservative Party. Mr. McKinnel was chosen District Counsellor in February 1923 and had so much input that he managed to have the famous Sir (Arthur) Clive Morrison-Bell, 1
st Baronet, a British soldier and Conservative Party parliamentarian, to speak about Socialists Trenchant Criticisms. No, this was not a party! Let me explain: Criticism of socialism refers to any critique of socialist models of economic organization and their feasibility; as well as the political and social implications of adopting such a system. I told you before, I teach you some history!
   I liked Sir Arthur who was very intelligent though modest. His high forehead was the visible witness of his intelligence. The evening of his speaking he was 54 year of age. And although his red hair and light green eyes, he did not have the temper you expected. Either he learned to control it or was wise enough not to give in to it. I never found out.
   Not everyone in the village was happy with his presence and I have seen some dark figures wandering around my outer walls. I needed all my power to scare them off and I succeeded. Of course I knew about my power but got aware of the real strength that very night.

   William McKinnel died at the blessed age (for those day) of 81 on January the 5th 1934. He was dearly missed by his wife, their marriage had always been very good. Mrs. McKinnel and I had a good relationship too. She looked well after me. She also looked after her staff but the financial world was very unstable.
   Her cook and housekeeper both left in 1939, the dark and uncertain year of the beginning of the second World War and Mrs. McKinnel had to look for a cook/housekeeper. She could not afford two separate women any more.

   Please forgive me for this next big step towards my end.
I do not want to talk about the war nor the people that lived in my house after Mrs. McKinnel passed away. I have only once again been a residence for one family; so many different people moved in and out, died between my walls or even lived in poverty. It did not do me good and the signs of wear and tear became visible. My colours and grandeur faded and it was not until 1981 that I was promoted to a Grade II listed building in good hopes this would make me survive in a time that most people could not afford my maintenance any more.

   The last owner I want to talk about lived here with her husband until his death in 1996. His death which was even for me emotional, but it changed the whole life of his wife. She felt extremely lonely and struggled maintaining me. I have seen many tears in my long life and much grief and sadness but here was grief beyond my understanding as a house. Her whole world changed, she lost touch with the safe and loving base her marriage was. And she looked for ways to fill the emptiness.....

   She converted the house into 4 apartments, she lived in one of them. Although she loved me, she lost control over my safety regulations and did not have the energy nor the will to change this to benefit her tenants and herself. She received a fine which she could not pay.

   She also began to hoard a lot of – in my believes unnecessary – belongings.
The couple already loved antiques and inherited many precious items from their ancestors but now she also bought a lot of items in the charity shops. Most of it without any value. But some were worth money she better should have used for me.
  The tenants left and my rooms, first to enjoy living, were filled with her hoarding activities. My astonishment grew by the week by seeing all those items being piled up. In a way I understood her, believe me I did. Seeing her sadness I understood her hoarding but also knew it was not going to be fulfilling and that one day it would turn against her.... and that day would come sooner or later.....
Photo: sean_explore (Instagram)
Back to you Urbexers, the people who walk through me to explore my rooms, to touch the items left by my last owner who all of a sudden disappeared.
I know you treat the house with respect although some of you laugh about it. But many of you though feel the sadness of it all. Wondering how it got so far.
You have all one emotion and many question in common: where did the owner go and how could she leave everything that shows her emotions, behind.
When did she leave and how? Was there another car than the ones in the garage and the garden? Did she take clothes she needed leaving the rest behind? Why are there still so many items that clearly belonged to her husband and her? Very personal belongings like photo's, the WW1 uniform, letters, documents?

Still, none of you ever asked me what happened. No one touched my walls to feel the energy and to interact with me. To talk to me. Maybe you are afraid to hear too many voices, of all those people that lived here? Or are you afraid of the truth? To discover the story of the builder that disappeared in the middle of the night but who in fact, is still here? Afraid to explain me to you if he was found accidentally and that is why the last owner disappeared? Why no one wants to buy me again?

I am beyond restoration; my decay goes fast and that is what I want. I want to die famous and it is only after my total demolition that you will hear the true story.

Yours faithfully,

Note from the author: the dates, and names attached to the dates, are real and found in archives, any mistakes are not my responsibility.
However... the characters, their feelings and thoughts are pure fiction, a figment of my imagination. So are the personal feelings of the last owner who has not been heard off but still might be alive. Please keep this in mind when you read my story or visit Mountfield; pay her your respect. She deserves this.

A big thank you
to my Instagram friend Sean who made a video of his exploration at Mountfield and who triggered my curiosity for it. I have been going through many files and websites and want to name the most important:
*1 births, deaths and newspaper articles
*2 information about Sir (Arthur) Clive Morrison-Bell
*3 weather in England from 1700 – 1849
Sean Explores the video 'An Urbex Dream – Hoarders Mansion'
Please also visit both Instagram Accounts of Sean: Sean Explores and his Fan Page

: if you want to use any information from my story, please contact me on forehand or refer to me in your article. Thank you :-)