Sunday, 24 October 2010

Rosa Speed seen at Penrhyn?

Yesterday I went to the Conwy Feast, an annual Food Festival with my friend Elaine, a Learning Assistant at Penrhyn Castle. I spent three cold, wet and windy hours sitting behind a table in a gazebo on the old suspension bridge, next to the toll house. I was helping to man a display about food rationing in WW2 for the National Trust. We only had one visitor who refused the free seeds we were giving away because she only liked flowers and we were giving away free packets of vegetable seeds!

After dismantling the gazebo in a gale, we packed everything away and went to enjoy the Festival. We visited Aberconwy House, a Medieval Merchant's house in the town centre built in about 1418-1419, a National Trust property. It is the oldest town house in Wales. I had read about the ghosts in Aberconwy House in a NT book about ghosts by Sian Evans. We asked the room steward upstairs in the house whether she had ever seen the ghost of Mr Jones, who lived there in the 19th century. She said that she hadn't seen him but had had many supernatural experiences there. She told us that she heard someone knocking loudly on the kitchen door and when she opened it there was nobody there. This has happened several times. I explained that I was collecting ghost stories from Penrhyn Castle. She said that she had seen a ghost there a few years ago, but had never told anyone in case they thought she was mad! I said that I would be very pleased to hear all about it and took notes as she recounted her story.

Margaret said that she lives near Penrhyn Castle and often takes her dog for a walk in the grounds. One day she had been walking the dog and had parked her car near the stable block, overlooking the sea. She got into her car to eat her lunch and enjoy the spectacular view. She suddenly noticed a young girl of about 12 years of age standing about fifteen feet in front of her car. She was wearing a long dress made of fine fabric, pastel in colour and down to the floor. The girl was also looking at the view over the fields to the sea, so Margaret could not see her face. She was wearing a small bonnet. Margaret said that she was struck by the beautiful dress, with its fitted waist and long sleeves. She sensed that the girl was unhappy and that she felt very lonely. She looked at the girl for a few minutes, then glanced away for a couple of seconds. When she looked up again the girl had completely disappeared! Margaret looked along the driveway in both directions but she could not see her. She has wondered who the girl was and whether she was a member of the Douglas-Pennant family who lived in the castle. She asked me whether there is a portrait matching her description in the castle. I promised to investigate and let her know.

I wondered if the girl could be Rosa, the daughter of Walter Speed the Head Gardener at Penrhyn, who died at the age of 11 in 1878. According to her niece she came home from school as usual, sat down in a chair and died. She had not complained of feeling ill and the doctors were completely baffled as to the cause of her death. Some subsequent events have increased the mystery, since a traveller by the name of David White recorded an entry in the Church Visitors' Book, stating that he was there to visit Rosa. This happened in August 1987, over a century after Rosa's death. David White was totally unknown to the surviving members of the family, and nobody could explain his connection. He visited the churchyard at least three times between August and October 1987, and each time he recorded a comment about Rosa in the Visitors' Book.

Penrhyn Cottage
Walter Speed and his large family of 14 children lived in a house called Penrhyn Cottage, which is just a short walk from the place where Margaret saw the young girl.

After hearing this story Elaine and I walked up to one of the Food Festival areas near the castle. We saw Geoff an Education Officer from Penrhyn, who we had been working with that morning. He was with his family, including his daughter Joanne. I related the story of the ghostly girl in the bonnet to them and Geoff was sceptical as usual, as he says that he does not believe in ghosts. His daughter Joanne said that she had had a ghostly experience at Penrhyn last Easter. She was standing in the Bell Corridor near the Servants' Hall looking up at the rows of bells. A man came up behind her and stood by her right shoulder. She assumed that it was her father Geoff and turned to speak to him. When she turned around there was nobody there. She had not told her Dad because she did not think that he would believe her. Several people have had similar experiences in the area around the Bell Corridor so I assume that there is a ghost there who likes to be sensed but not seen!

I am going to an end of season meeting next week at Penrhyn Castle, so I will hopefully be able to talk to a lot of room stewards, staff and volunteers. I hope to gather some more stories. Watch this space.......!


Justin said...

Wow I'm amazed how many stories there are. It is fascinating, thanks!

Diane said...

I just came across this story when searching for information on Walter Speed - he was my great-great grandfather, and I'm descended from him through another daughter, Violet. How fascinating! If you have any more tales I'd love to hear them!