Weird Suffolk: The ghosts of Christchurch Mansion

Have you seen the ghosts of Christchurch Mansion? Picture: ANDY ABBOTT

Have you seen the ghosts of Christchurch Mansion? Picture: ANDY ABBOTT - Credit: Archant

Christchurch Mansion boasts several impressive collections, notably paintings by Constable and Gainsborough, but it also has a hauntingly phantastic collection of ghosts.

Long thought of as one of Ipswich’s most haunted houses, the mansion was originally called Withipoll House after the man who purchased the land upon which it was built, Paul Withypoll, a merchant tailor and merchant adventurer who benefited from Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries and bought real estate where the Priory of the Holy Trinity had once stood.

After his death in 1547, his son and heir Edmund built the red-brick Tudor mansion which was completed in around 1550 and the ground floor masonry of which remains, including a Latin inscription, frugalitatem sic servas, ut dissipationem non incurras, which in loose translation means ‘always behave with frugality and don’t be a spendthrift’.

Edmund’s granddaughter Elizabeth married Leicester Devereux, 6th Viscount Hereford, and the mansion passed to his family who rebuilt the upper floors after a fire in around 1670 – sold to Claude Fonnereau in 1734, the house was passed down through the family and in 1848, Fonnereau Road was developed as a superior residential area.

In 1894, the mansion was bought by businessman and philanthropist Felix Cobbold who saved it from demolition and gave it to the Ipswich Corporation in order for a museum and art gallery to be established. Additionally, Cobbold offered the equivalent of more than £2 million to purchase art.

Redeveloped as a gallery, the art collection housed in Christchurch Mansion includes hugely important works by Thomas Gainsborough, John Constable and George Frost, all of which are enjoyed by visitors during open hours, some of whom have reported seeing other exhibits which most definitely weren’t purchased with Cobbold cash.

Sightings include those of a young woman who appears to be between her late 20s and early 30s who appears to be wearing Edwardian dress and is seen dancing and laughing with two children in the area of the upstairs art gallery – believed to be a maid who lived and worked in the mansion with her two children, her hair is piled on top of her head and she is seen twirling with the youngsters as if playing ring of roses.

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Others speak of a Victorian lady wearing a grey gown who rushes past visitors and then disappears while a young servant girl has also been seen wandering through the grand hallways, a restless spirit said to be roaming between worlds to find peace after her untimely and violent demise in the house.

Author Pete Jennings, who wrote Haunted Ipswich, says that seeing the Edwardian lady in the gallery is a particular treat: “I have heard reports from three independent sources and each informant has emphasised how charming this particular apparition is,” he says, “although no sound is heard, she is leaning backwards and clearly laughing. One old gent who saw the scene told me he wishes he was an artist, commenting ‘If I could capture that scene I would sell a thousand copies!’”

An assistant at the museum, Steve Parkes, witnessed a painting rising from the ground and flying six feet across the room while in 1995, there were reports of paintings turning themselves round on the wall and a Victorian woman seen moving through glass doors.

Investigations continue at the house, with mediums and ghost hunters keen to track down the source of the stories for themselves – believers suggest that visitors head for the stairs to the gallery and then the gallery itself. Prepare to be charmed by the tour guide from the afterlife.