THE WELLSTEAD INCIDENT (c) 2017 - By Chris Halton
Having spent 30 years as a police officer, and dealing with situations that varied from serious crime such as murder, to ordinary domestic related incidents, I was well versed in all that was deemed bad or good in human character.
Indeed such was the temper and tone of my life I was perhaps entwined with the stress and the excitement that came part of that very existence which was what I perceived to be the pure essence of life and death.
And so retirement from all of this became a cut-off point from all that I knew to be normal to my life, and adopting a more sedentary life style was something for which I was ill-accustomed for and wanted.
For some months I decided to follow the same well beaten path of my colleagues in retirement by becoming a private detective, which I had hoped, would allow my well trained legal and investigative faculties to be put at least to some good use.
Despite advertisements in the back pages of local newspapers and circulars, the request for my services appeared more in the vein of following errant husbands or wives in domestic infidelity cases, or chasing debtors for unpaid debts.
In the main these offered little chance for excitement or opportunity to perform a task that well suited my detective skills for which I may be boastful to say that on three past occasions I received a Chief Constables Commendation, and two commendations from judges at court for jobs well done.
This dissatisfaction of not having any real and tangible purpose often left me lingering for the earlier life I enjoyed, and the thought of spending the remainder of my days performing these very humdrum tasks left me feeling somewhat disconsolate with my very being and future.
However, that all was to change on the day of November 10th this year, when I received a telephone call request from a Lady Fitzwilliam, the wife of a businessman of note to call at her home to deal as she briefly said, `with a most pressing and urgent matter that required the greatest discretion.`
Following her instructions, I was directed to contact her personally at her home, Wellstead Hall, near the town of Sudbury in Suffolk.
Arriving at 2.30pm that day, and on a very dull and overcast afternoon, the weather cast a deep gloom over the hall having negotiated a mile long drive to get there.
The house appeared to be a very old timber framed property of great antiquity, with part of the house constructed of a soft mellow sandstone that appeared in part to be the remains of a former monastic building for which the timbered structure had been added later.
Standing a few yards east side of the house I noted the ruins of what appeared to be a chapel of some note which gave the whole site an eerie, if not sombre presence.
Indeed if the house was observed on a more agreeable day, it would look truly magnificent imbued with the history of years long lost in time, but here I digress.
Leaving my car in the curved carriage drive in front of the building, I gathered my case and hat and made my way quickly to a large oaken front door which was from memory painted black with a large brass lions head door knocker.
Lifting the heavy door ring I tapped twice against the back plate from which resonated a loud and almost thunderous echo into the property.
Presently I heard the shuffling of feet, and a voice of a man shout, “Be with you in a moment”.
Within seconds the door creaked open, and standing in front of me was a grey haired, apron wearing gentleman, who was resplendent in a shirt, collar, and tie, and who introduced himself as `her ladyship's valet`; and appeared to be cleaning the inside of the property judging by a rather grubby duster in his rubber gloved hand.
Without further introduction from me, he ushered me into a large hall, which were framed by oil paintings and two fine mahogany hall porter chairs.
With a brief smile he beckoned me to follow into an open door from the hallway into a large heavily beamed drawing room where a slim, well dressed middle-aged woman was sat in a large winged armchair by an open hearth log fire.
She stood to her feet, and smiled and said, “My name is June Fitzwilliam, and you must be the detective I asked to see, named Mr Alshott. Oh, and no formalities here, please call me June, and your first name is?”
“Oh, I`m Derek, pleased to make your acquaintance”, as I outstretched my hand and shook hers.
Having been requested to sit down in the opposite winged chair, Lady Fitzwilliam stared directly into the flames of a rather handsome stone fireplace which was suitably fitted with a large fire dog grate piled with burning logs.
She seemed as though she was mesmerised by the flickering lights curling from the spitting, split wood , and after this momentary distraction she turned to me and said, “So pleased you got here, I`ve been at my wits end over this, let me explain”.
After having been offered and accepted the gentile comforts of an afternoon tea with June and served by her valet, she related to me the following story which I will share here in the main without the necessities of speech quotations.
Some twenty years earlier, June and her husband Sir Angus Fitzwilliam bought the rambling and run down hall from the estate of the former owner, an hereditary peer, Lord Wellstead who died without issue aged 92.
The Wellstead`s had owned the property since the dissolution of the Catholic church in the 16th century. The house was originally the property of a Cluniac order of monks who were forced off the estate in 1536, and much of the original buildings were demolished and sold for building material. By the time the Wellstead`s arrived, all that remained were the partial remains of the refectory and the adjacent ruined medieval chapel. The timber framed extension was added by the Wellstead`s.
I interjected, “A fascinating history, but how is this relevant to my being here, June?”
Looking at me rather curtly she said, “Everything, Derek, if you allow me to continue”.....
She then drew a deep breath and continued, “Do you believe in ghosts, Derek? I can understand completely if you don`t, but I really don`t know how to describe the events over the last few days.”
I replied that although I didn't personally believe, I was at least open minded to the possibility and experience of such an event.
“Well” she added, looking somewhat relieved, “Three nights ago it started. That is to say, three nights ago at 11pm I was sat in this room reading. I heard the door knocker, but as Charles had already retired for the night, I went alone to answer. Upon opening, there was no trace of anyone being there. As there was a breeze I assumed that perhaps it may have been that which caused it. But to be honest, in all the years I`ve lived there it has never happened before. But one has to be reasonable and logical about such matters, so I put it all down to that.”
Stopping briefly to sip her favourite Earl Grey tea from an elegant Minton breakfast cup and saucer, she added, “The following night, I was again here in this room at the same time when the door knocker went again. Just one loud rap. At this time Charles was in the kitchen and he went to answer the door. Again there was nobody there and no wind or breeze this time. Charles went outside with a torch and thought he saw someone walking into the church ruins next door. But again nobody was found. On both occasions I informed the police, but by the time they arrived, whoever, or whatever called at my home had obviously long gone by then. Last night was even more stranger than the last. Charles was with me again in this room in case the mystery caller arrived at the same time.
Sure enough the door knocker was rapped, and we rushed straight to the door. This time I too saw someone or something heading to the ruins, but as it was raining hard I wasn't able to see who it was. All I can say is that it looked by the size and height to be a man. Again the police were called and the grounds and ruins were searched, but nothing, nothing at all.”
She paused and then said, “And here is why it was even stranger still. When it rains, callers arriving on foot at the door leave wet footprints as the ground there is dry due to the porch. And yet there were none! And when the police called their footprints were quite self-evident in the rain after they had left.”
She then got up and took from the mantelpiece and said, “This morning in the post I received this card from my husband sent a few days ago stating that he was hopeful of returning tonight. The card was depicting Monaco in the south of the country, and I knew he would probably sail to return via Marseilles as he hates flying. But knowing the troubling weather we've been experiencing over the last few days I realise that there was no guarantee of him getting here in time. So I`ve called you in to help”.
And with a soft but hesitant smile, she continued; “Well if you could, and I will reward you handsomely for your trouble.”
“Well, I am more than happy to assist, but why not call in the police again?” I answered.
She pointed out that each time the police responded it was at least half an hour after the event, and so to resolve this, she wanted me to sit up outside in my car to catch the caller as he arrives. She added that should her husband return in time he would join me.
Having agreed a fee for my troubles, I arranged with her to return at 10pm that evening, and would remain hidden from view in my car on the driveway. Hopefully then this mystery could be explained.
Later that evening I returned as agreed and parked my car to afford a discreet view of the front of the house which was poorly illuminated as there was no outside lighting, and just the minimal light from the corners of the curtains downstairs. Fortunately though it was close to a full moon and there were no clouds in the night sky.
After calling first at the house, I returned to my car and remained partially hidden from view in the back seat.
After what seemed an eternity, (but in fact was no more than an hour), I saw a solitary figure of a man walk to the front door and knock once. I immediately opened the rear door and clambered out, but the man had gone. The best I could describe was a short stockily built man wearing a raincoat with a belt.
I went to the spot where I saw him, and looked in either direction. He was nowhere in view that I could see, and so I stood quietly still hoping that I may hear something of his presence. In the far distance and towards the old chapel ruins I heard very faintly the sound of someone walking, but saw no light of a flashlight or similar.
Certain that this was indeed the mysterious caller, I quietly, but as quickly possible, walked to where he was heading and just barely discernible in the gloom I saw him enter the main chancel of the ruined building.
I headed over to him and nervously challenged him as he stood with his back to me and said, “What are you doing here may I ask, this is private property?”
He turned around slowly and stood facing towards me by a few feet as I shone the light into his face. He raised his arms and snapped, “You can put that light away from me, I'm the owner of this property, so who the hell do you think you are?”
I could see that the man was Sir Angus Fitzwilliam , judging by the large framed photograph I had seen inside the house. I quickly apologised, and feeling more relaxed I explained why I was here.
He smiled reassuringly and said, “Oh, I perfectly understand, poor June does get rather jittery when I am away.”
He explained he had just returned from his trip abroad, and thought he had seen someone among the ruins and went to investigate.
He added that he liked to wander on his own to the ruins to appreciate the quietness and tranquility, especially after being away on a hectic business schedule. He claimed the place was haunted and asked whether I believe in ghosts.
I told him what I told his wife, that I am open minded on such matters although I personally have never seen a ghost. He laughed, and said, “Well sometimes we may meet a ghost and never know it”.
He struck me as a kindly and congenial character, and we sat down on a ruined stone wall where he spoke about his life and hopes for the future. He offered me a cigarette during our conversation from a silver cigarette case that his wife had bought him on their wedding anniversary, and told me how much comfort the case gave him when he was away from his beloved wife. He then strangely became quieter and more sullen at the mention of June, and said that he needed to be alone now for a short while, and asked that I go to the house to assure his wife that he was safe and had now returned.
Shaking hands with him, I went as requested to the house and explained to June that her husband had now returned home, and would be returning shortly after visiting the old ruins.
She was visibly quite excited and pleased that he had come back safely, and asked her valet to prepare some sandwiches for both him and myself.
We had both barely sat down when the door rapped again. She laughed and said, “Oh this time I know who that will be”, and rushed to open the door.
Instead of her husband, stood at the doorway was a rather glum looking police officer who asked that he may be permitted to come inside.
Thinking that this had everything to do with her intruder, she beckoned him into the lounge and asked that he sit down.
Still looking very serious and perhaps embarrassed, the police officer said, “I think I had better stand Lady Fitzwilliam. I have been asked at this late hour to deliver a telegram to inform you that your husband had died in France four night's ago from a heart attack following a heavy business meeti....` Before he could finish, June frantically turned to me and said, “But you told me you have just spoken to him, what`s going on here, where is Angus?”
I was momentarily in a state of shock myself upon hearing the news, and mumbled briefly and incoherently before I could spit out the sentence that confirmed unequivocally that I had indeed just spoken to him inside the church ruins. I assured all parties present that this was the case and that he had said he would return shortly.
At June's insistence we left the house with the officer and went to the ruins where I had last seen him. And indeed he was nowhere to be found. But resting on the wall where we were both earlier sat was a silver cigarette case, the very case from which Sir Angus had earlier offered me a cigarette.
I picked this up and gave it to June as she seemed visibly shocked to see it. Very nervously she fumbled to open the lid clasp which revealed within an engraving bearing the words, `To my dearest Angus, love June`.
She then burst into tears and was inconsolable with grief, but found the strength to ask the police officer, "Please tell me, what time did Angus die, does it say?"
Looking back at the telegram the officer replied, “Why, it says, 11pm”.
I realised that I had shared the late hour of the night alone in an old church ruin with what I could sanely describe as a ghost, and a ghost of a man who had desperately tried to return to his own home for four nights. And sadly perhaps for June, she never saw him again except at his funeral a few days later.
He never called again at the house, although immediately after the funeral I did share with her the conversation I had shared with him, and for that at least she was at peace again.
Even to this day, I often query with myself all of the events that happened, yet I still find it difficult to believe a person could exist in spirit and still be able to return in solid form. I guess that's why people call this the paranormal, and more importantly, the power of love.
(c) Chris Halton 2017