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Richmondís Deadly Duchess

Richmond-upon-Thames, Surrey
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Ham House in Richmond , Surrey, is a remarkable survival of Stuart times. It was built in 1610, and during the rest of the Stuart and Commonwealth eras was improved and added to, with particularly magnificent English gardens very different from many other houses remaining from the period that were altered beyond recognition by the likes of Humphrey Repton and Capability Brown . The interior too is little changed from the 17th century, as so much was spent on it that the descendents of the owners at that time inherited insufficient money to put their own stamp on the place.
The greatest influence on the decoration and improvement of Ham House is also supposed to be its resident ghost. Elizabeth Murray inherited it in 1655 from her father, a great friend of Charles I . A very ambitious woman she married the wealthy Sir Lionel Tollemache, and is widely rumoured to have had him killed so that she could marry John Maitland, later Duke of Lauderdale, whose mistress she had been for some time.
Elizabeth was of the royalist cause, involved in espionage on Charles II ís behalf, but she was also thought to have been Oliver Cromwell ís mistress Ė he was a regular visitor to the house. And a very useful protector the Lord Protector would have been.
Unexplained footprints have been left on the stairs and in various rooms, when nobody had been about to make them. And the mysterious tapping of a cane is frequently reported when likewise nobody so equipped can be found Ė Elizabeth Duchess of Lauderdale in her later years walked with a cane. But most interestingly of all in the second half of the 19th century the young daughter of a butler there had a terrifying experience, a ghostly wizened old lady staring at the child from the foot of her bed after being observed scratching at a wall. Later investigation of the wall is said to have uncovered documents showing she had killed her first husband.
Those visitors who believe in such things would say it is not surprising that such a powerful woman, having devoted her life to building a great house, and been involved there in affairs of state in more senses than one, should be reluctant to leave it even in death. Others can simply enjoy this fabulous Stuart time-capsule.

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