As beautiful as a 19th century British manor house is, it can be eerie at night… especially if you’re there completely alone. And I was. Completely alone.
I moved in two days before the cooking, cleaning, maintenance, and office staff arrived back from Christmas break. The professors and students were long from arriving. My boss and the other intern were on the property with me, but both of their rooms are in The Carriage House, which is not connected to the main building.
The security guard was the only other breathing person in the building and he didn’t waver much from the reception desk, which is a pretty far walk from me—over 200 steps, actually. Besides him, I spent two nights completely alone in a nearly 200-year-old manor house in England—a house that is loaded with secrets, hidden passages, creaky floors, and literally hundreds of dark nooks and crannies.
However, as ridiculous as it sounds, you’ll have a hard time convincing me that I was actually alone.
It was mostly the sounds that got me. From my room, I could hear the floor creak in rhythms as if someone were walking on it. I legitimately heard a door open and close a couple of times. And one night, a sound coming from the room below me woke me up. It sounded like something hitting a wall. Again, there was no one around me.
It’s more than things that go bump in the night.
I live in the 400 Corridor, which connects to the Blue Corridor. There’s a strip of hallway within them where I constantly feel like someone is walking behind me. After having that feeling for days, I heard that those two corridors are supposedly the most-haunted spots in the building (according to my boss and several friends who have studied at Harlaxton).
In the faculty lounge, there is a motion-detected trash can. You wave your arm over it and the lid pops open. However, every now and then, it rises on its own. Completely. With no one standing in that entire part of the room. I witnessed it myself.
While my boss was showing me the music room, which was part of the servants’ quarters back in the day, we entered and immediately smelled a freshly-smoked cigar. First off, that room was locked, and no one had been in it for days (if not, weeks due to school being out of session). Second, it’s literally impossible to smoke inside Harlaxton Manor. The fire detectors are both smoke and heat detective; they are so sensitive that there are a few evacuations every semester as the result of flatiron heat or propping open a shower room door. There’s no way someone smoked a cigar, but we smelled one.
As chilling as Harlaxton can be, it has a very mysterious past as well. Gregory Gregory built it in the 1830’s. Little to nothing is known about Gregory, but we know he was a bit of a show-off. There are enclosed G’s carved, painted, and welded throughout the manor. His name rests in seven-foot letters around the building’s clock tower. So he sounds like he was pretty full of himself. For someone who liked to show off so much, it’s peculiar that the only supposed likeness of him in existence is a profile carved into one of the manor’s incredible ceilings. Art students used the profile to create an interpretation of Gregory in portrait-form. It now hangs above one of the staircases near the front entrance and glares at all who enter his home.
Violet Van der Elst bought Harlaxton Manor in the 1930’s and kept it from being demolished. Van der Elst was quite a character. She made her fortune from cosmetics and developed the world’s first brushless shaving cream. Being such a prominent business leader was uncommon for a woman at that time, but what was even more uncommon was for a woman to have such a voice. She often made the news for protesting the death penalty. She also published a collection of 13 ghost stories, (stories that some say living in her outrageous manor house inspired her to write). Violet’s favorite room was what is now the faculty lounge; it’s named after her. The faculty lounge also happens to be the room where that trash can lid likes to open and close by itself.
To give the place even more of a spin, the Royal Air Force requisitioned the property during WWII. It became home to officers while they were training pilots around the open fields of Grantham. It was a thrill for soldiers to live at Harlaxton. Some say there are a few who still remain there.
Allow me to make matters even more interesting by adding religious ties. Jesuits purchased Harlaxton after it was used in the war. They used it as a novitiate. If you’re not too polished in your Catholic history, that’s basically a training facility for novice monks. Rumor has it that there are still religious artifacts that sit beneath the building’s structure.
I’ve heard many a story from people who have stayed here. Stories of people randomly getting locked in or out of rooms. Objects moving around while no one is looking. A stomp here. A voice there. One guy even told me that he saw a woman in a black dress standing at the top of one of the staircases. He says she disappeared in the short time it took him to look down at his phone—but the door at the top of the staircase never moved.
Look, I’m not telling you to believe in ghosts. As I said, I didn’t really know how I felt about them until I lived here alone at night. But among the love and happiness that fills Harlaxton Manor, there is a mysterious past, and—especially if you’re alone—an ongoing sense of enigma. Creepy things happen here. Things we cannot explain.
However, I, and many other Harlaxton residents, usually ignore those things. This is a really great place that is full of positivity and exploration. There’s no room for anything dark. Besides, I’ve been told that the ghosts are friendly. Mostly.