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The Blue Lady

The Isle of Wight has its fair share of haunted houses and ghostly visitors, but none stranger than the story of The Blue Lady who haunts the old house known as The Priory here at St Helens.

The Priory belonged to a branch of my grandmother’s family, from the Grose-Smith’s (on my father’s side) in the early 1700s until the last member of the family to live there (my father’s cousin Laura Spencer-Edwards) died in the 1920s. The Priory then, alas, passed out of our hands forever.

I have never lived at The Priory but used to visit, with my parents, as a small girl and loved every stick and stone of the place. It had everything an old house ought, tales of secret rooms, secret passages, buried treasure, smugglers and, of course, the ghost!

She, indeed, was the main attraction at The Priory for me: her portrait, full length and almost life-size, hung in the dining room. It depicted a girl of about fourteen or fifteen years old with a little pointed, heart shaped face, seated in a garden, a small canary fastened to one finger by a narrow satin ribbon and a King Charles Spaniel playing at her feet.

Whether or not my cousin knew her real name, I never found out. I never pressed the matter, sensing somehow that that was how she herself preferred it and being perfectly happy myself always to think of her as The Blue Lady.

As for being afraid of her, that was quite impossible for I adored her and would stand transfixed before her portrait gazing up at the little smiling face feeling a strange affinity with her, longing to know more about her and hoping against hope that one day I might see her.

Cousin Laura said she was usually seen tripping down the main staircase or crossing the hall; at other times she was seen flitting about the gardens and quite often on especially frosty starlit nights, gliding soundlessly along the road and across the fields in the direction of the house where I now live, which was once part of The Priory Estate.

It is now over half a century since I stayed at The Priory and in those days lamps and candles were the order of the day, or rather, the night. Every evening the maids placed rows of silver candlesticks with candle snuffers (chamber-sticks I believe is the right word and they are worth a small fortune today) on a chest in the hall right below a stuffed dog in a glass case by the main staircase!

When bedtime came, I would collect my candlestick and light the candle with trembling fingers, trying desperately not to look up and catch the baleful eye of the dog. But, as I went up the stairs, I always found my gaze directed to him and as the candlestick shaking in my hand caused the flame to flicker, it made the dog look as though he were moving. At this point I would race up the remaining stairs as fast as I could to the safety of my room!

We used to wonder sometimes if this dog could really be the original dog belonging to The Blue Lady: he certainly looked a bit worn in parts, but could he really have survived the centuries – certainly two, but possibly three – and still be in one piece? I have no doubts now.

Now comes the really strange part of the story and this, oddly enough, did not arise until after cousin Laura’s death and The Priory was no longer ours. After her death in 1927, The Priory was sold and a very wealthy and charming American lady whom I will simply call Mrs S bought it. One day, we received an invitation to take tea with her, so my grandmother, my mother and I set off to walk through the fields on a lovely summer day. The door was opened to us by a butler who led us into what had been the dining room – where the portrait of The Blue Lady had hung – but which Mrs S had now turned into her drawing room adding to it extensively and putting in some hideous new eight-sided windows that put my teeth on edge. But she herself was charming.

She welcomed us from her wheelchair, behind which stood her Secretary, and beside which stood her magnificent Great Dane, Shadow. It was during tea that she suddenly leant across the table and said, “Is this place haunted?”

I replied that it was. “Don’t tell me by what,” she said quickly, “hear my story first.”

She then proceeded to tell the following incredible tale: it appears that after settling into The Priory, her servants began to give notice. This was not very alarming in those days as there was still plenty of domestic help available. They were replaced as they left and nothing thought of it, except that they probably found life on the Island too dull after London.

It was when her butler, who had been with her for many years, handed in his notice that she realised that there must be something seriously wrong and instantly sent for him to find out his reasons for wishing to leave.

“Do you find it too quiet over here, too cut-off from your friends and family?” she asked. But it was not that.

“It is the noises, Madam,” he told her. “Every night, in the early hours of the morning we hear a child running through the passages crying and sobbing for her dog.” He went on to tell her that as they opened their bedroom doors and gone out into the passages, the footsteps had actually passed them and the sobbing had been heart-rending.
“We clearly hear the words, my dog, my dog, what have you done with my dog,” he went on, “and it was more than flesh and blood could stand.” It was obvious that the place was haunted.

Now Mrs S was an intelligent, level-headed businesswoman and she made up her mind, there and then, to get to the bottom of this story. She made enquiries all around the village and found that it was common knowledge that The Priory was haunted. But most people only spoke of a Grey Lady and were very vague as to what she was supposed to do.

In the end, she suddenly switched her researching to the dog. Did anyone know anything about a dog connected with the place - any dog – anything to do with a dog, if so, please let her know?
Many people remembered that cousin Laura had had an Airedale, but this was dismissed as having nothing to do with the haunting at all and she was nowhere near a solution to the problem until suddenly, Mr C who was head gardener at The Priory and had been gardener’s boy there at the age of thirteen, remembered that there had been a stuffed dog in a glass case hanging over the stairs!

This was what she had been waiting for. Instantly Mrs S went into action. The distant cousin who had inherited The Priory was contacted and asked if he had taken the dog.

He remembered it and thought it must have been sold at auction with all the other things not wanted by the family.

There followed an advertisement in the local papers, which ended in the dog being traced back to an antique shop in Newport. It was then bought back to The Priory and replaced in its old place over the stairs and from that moment all noises ceased.

“So,” said Mrs S, “tell me who – or what – haunts this place?” We then told her the story of The Blue Lady who had died when still a child and the stuffed dog, said to be hers, which certainly bore a resemblance to the dog in the portrait.
Taken from an article written by Sheila White.