what is the ghost of H G Wells’ mother doing in Uppark Country House?

3 09 2010

On our second day of holiday in the wonderful West Sussex countryside we decided to utilise our National Trust membership once more and found the nearest tantalising place to visit, the late 17th century Uppark House and Gardens – home of the Fetherstonhaugh’s (yes, we stuttered over their family name too!)  The amazing thing about this very handsome House is that it had been restored from the ceilings of the ground floor upwards after a catastrophic fire in 1989, apparently started accidentally by a workman who left a blowtorch on the roof and went on his lunchbreak!  Locals rushed in to remove as many family treasures and works of art as they could before they were totally ruined and fire engines came from several counties around due to the remoteness of the House – situated on the South Downs with magnificent views towards the Solent.

The first spirit who flew into my radar was accompanied by the 1967 song ‘I am the walrus’ …by  The Beatles, and seemed a little ‘off his rocker’, not really appreciating what was happening to him as I scooped him up with the aid of my dowser and deposited him safely on the other side.  I glimpsed a handsome but bedraggled young man in a dinner jacket, his white collar turned up.  Quite appropriately, The Beatles used this song in their television film and album of the same year….Magical Mystery Tour (about to start!) and was the B side to their number one hit Hello, Goodbye!

Following closely on his tail was a ‘young whippersnapper’ who I saw struggling to climb a tree in an effort to escape the ‘shot that was peppered at him’.  Apparently recorded as ‘a mere accident as he had been hiding in the tree unbeknown to the shooters’ – although he was described as a ‘troublemaker’.

In amongst some interesting case studies there are always some particularly graphic images and a feeling of terrible pain and suffering. Next came someone who had died an extremely violent death (I saw the moment he was blasted in the belly with a shotgun) – poor man.  Then there was a ‘Fenella Fielding lookalike’ (although I have no idea what this British actress looks like, I was just told she had a husky voice) dressed in jodpurs, slim and blonde and working in the stables on the Estate. She had died from an ectopic pregnancy.

As we entered the first room to the left of the entrance hall the phantom of a man stood there facing me, arms hanging loosely from his dark, long-sleeved jacket, dirty cuffs covering large dangling hands.  He had long greasy hair with a straggly fringe and pointed long beard, and his dark eyes widened, suddenly amazed when he realised I had come to rescue him:  “She has come with her dynamo! (dowser) I am FREE!” (I caught the name Ebineezer!)  Another phantom came from my right and called me ‘a rose by any other name’ and was off to join him (another Edward?)

The rest of the meander around the fine house allowed me to immerse myself in the genial surrounds, feeling the happiness and family atmosphere once held within those gentrified walls.  It was not until we entered – through long underground tunnels – the  enormous downstairs kitchens of the House that I stumbled across another ghostly apparition or two.  A woman of commanding stature bustled about telling a couple of others off:  “‘gossip gossip gossip” she complained, clapping her hands for them to get on with their work ,saying  to another woman “roll your sleeves up Maud!”  The names of the  three souls who moved over hand in hand – rather like a vision of the three fairy godmothers in Cinderella! – were Hattie, Sarah and Maud.

Then there was a poor soul who was involved in an accident with a vice in the workshop.. .And while we were in the Butler’s Pantry I placed my hands on the back of an old chair that faced a beaureau and felt ‘overlapped’ by the ghost of a very polite gentleman….but frustratingly could only hear part of his name: “Good morning; I am Arthur Edward (sounded like ‘Snowstorm’ could it have been Fetherstonhaugh?) who said he had ‘travelled round the globe’…then there was Eugene, an ‘understairs maid’  (By way of an explanation for her death I saw a bleeding finger and heard ‘no antibiotics, cut with a cook’s knife’).. Then there was Paulo (Pow-lo), described as a ‘cabin boy’ who was a little black child, carrying lightweight canvas bags.  (Michael suggested he may have been involved with the family on the Grand Tour).  He was quickly joined by Cosmosa fellow traveller who had died of smallpox.  Eugene’s friend Daisy now floated towards me for help – she was very thin and had died of ‘consumption’.   Finally, an overweight lady named Constance (sounded like ‘ship’s cook’) came puffing and panting into the light.  That was below stairs checked. 

Once back at the B & B after a brilliant day out (walking and meeting newly found friends for an evening meal) I lay back on my bed and used my dowser to check the House for any lost souls I may have missed.  The understairs level was completely at peace again but as I moved up to the ground floor  my dowser leapt in the air as another Fetherstonhaugh – a William or Cedric or both – galloped over yelling ‘once more unto the breach dear friends!’ as he/they pointed upwards with their swords!

In one of the rooms a weird painting had drawn my attention as it was different in style from the other handsome portraits.  As soon as it drew my gaze my face had crackled with spirit recognition (I therefore knew he was still earthbound).  Dated around 1580-1600 this was a painting of a very pale faced man with a large rimmed hat and neck ruffles.  A French man shot across, muttering something about ‘pullet’ (chickens?)  At the time I had been curious enough to check with the room guide to paintings but there was no clue as to the identity of this sitter – and too many people around to play with my dowser!

Finally, and perhaps a little bizarrely, a racehorse named Nottingham (??) galloped home to his stables in the sky and I was delighted to hear, later on, that ‘Sir Harry (of this house) owned a horse of this name in the late 18th century – and now called back: “Thanks old bean!”    And telling me ‘tally-ho!’ (being a Hunting?) repeated their encouragement “once more unto the breach dear girl!” (Henry V Act 3 Scene 1 speech by William Shakespeare…’once more…or close them all up with our English dead…Follow your spirit…England and St George!’)

This made a total of 15 spirits trapped within the fabric of the building and grounds of Uppark House – but the story doesn’t end there.  When we returned to Nottingham I needed to check the location of Uppark and came across some blurb about the history of the house, reading that ‘Uppark’s main claim to fame lies not with the rich aristocrats who lived here, but with a housekeeper named Sarah Wells. Sarah was mother of writer H G Wells  who worked as an Uppark housekeeper from 1880 until 1893.’    I tuned in to the spirit world and ascertained that this famous writer of science fiction rested in peace, but was not prepared for what came next:  “You helped my mother,” he said.  Sarah had been the lady “in her supervisory role of housekeeper” …She had been one of those three ‘fairy godmothers’ to float out of the servants quarters. I am tempted to say ‘All’s Wells that ends Wells’, but I won’t be so corny…

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