The Haunting of the Cannonball House
Location: Maiden Street and St. Edmund Street, Weymouth
Grace Pearce in her publication 'Down Wessex Way', published around 1930s. Gives an account of a haunting that lead to a macabre discovery found at the Jacobean house, known locally as the 'Cannonball House', on the corner of Maiden Street and St. Edmund Street.
"Old Dr. Ellis in his "History of Weymouth," published a hundred years ago, says: "There are not wanting in our town, houses, which report says, are frequented by nocturnal wanderers who are compelled to return to the place which misfortune rendered familiar to them."
The house on the corner of
It is the story of one of these houses that I am about to relate. I may say the account of these strange happenings has been handed down in our family for many years, various relatives having known well the people mentioned. An old aunt of ours when a child went to school with the Rudge children, and had actually seen fragments of the documents referred to in the story.
The house with the cannon ball embedded in the gable end, which stands at the corner of Maiden Street and St. Edmund Street, is well known to every person in Weymouth, being now the head-quarters of the local Fire Brigade.
About the year 179_ it was occupied by a much respected tradesman called Rudge, who had a butcher's shop on the ground floor, the other inmates of the house being his wife, three little girls, and an old servant called Margery.
One day, soon after the family had come to live at the corner house, old Margery came to Butcher Rudge (as he was usually called) with a worried look on her face. "Master," she said, "who is the old woman with the red shawl that I see every now and then on the stairs, or in the best bedroom?"
Butcher Rudge looked at her curiously, and replied, "What do you mean? I don't know of any old woman here, what is she like?"
"Well," said Margery, "she is just like that picture that hangs in the parlour, she is old, with piercing dark eyes, and she wears a large white cap, and a red shawl over her shoulders. I see her now and again, when I am coming down the stairs in the early morning before it is quite light, and again sometimes when I am upstairs just as it is getting dark. I have spoken to her once or twice, but she did not answer."
|The famous cannonball that is lodged over the first floor window of the house. It is thought to date from the Civil War period.|
"Ah well." said Butcher Rudge, "that picture is the portrait of my great grandmother who used to live here, but she died years and years ago. Poor soul, I've heard say she had a troublous life. She was living in this house during the siege of Weymouth, when the cannon ball struck it. You can see it in the wall now, but as to your seeing her, why that must be your fancy, Margery ; in the dim candle light you thought the picture had come to life, but, remember, not a word of this to your mistress. You know she is not very strong just now, and must not be worried with idle tales and fancies."
"Very well, master," said Margery shortly, "I'll say nothing about it to mistress, but I know it is not my fancy, and I have seen the old lady!"
As the months went on, Margery got quite used to meeting every now and then a shadowy figure on the stairs or in the spacious kitchen, but most often of all in the large front bedroom facing St. Edmund Street. Sometimes when Margery was on one side of the big four-post bedstead, with its carved pillars, and heavy damask hangings, she would see the little old woman with her white cap and red shawl on the other side ; but when Margery went round, the figure always seemed to melt away and disappear.
One day at the beginning of December there was great rejoicing at the corner house, for a long-wished-for little son had been born. A fortnight later, just at dusk, Mrs. Rudge was lying half asleep and half awake on the big four-post bedstead, with the heavy curtains drawn closely round her for fear of draughts.
At the foot of the bed the nurse had left them slightly open before she went downstairs to prepare what she called lt a posset," and Mrs. Rudge, opening her eyes, saw a little old woman standing there with a red shawl over her shoulders.
She fixed her dark eyes on Mrs Rudge, then slowly raising her arm, pointed to the wall opposite the bed and disappeared.
When the nurse came back with the posset, Mrs. Rudge asked who the old woman was whom she had seen in her room, but the nurse stoutly declared that nobody had been upstairs, and assured her mistress that she must have been dreaming.
|The House as it appears today|
Mrs. Rudge accepted this explanation, but a few days later, the same thing occurred, the old woman stood at the foot of the bed, looked earnestly at Mrs. Rudge (who was alone at the time) and again pointed to the opposite wall, and vanished out of sight.
This time Mrs. Rudge told her husband about it, and begged him to examine the wall. The worthy butcher laughed at what he called his wife's a "fancies" and said, "there is nothing here, good dame, but the oaken wainscot and some bricks and plaster, you surely don't want me to pull the wall down to see what is behind it." "Well, I don't know, said his wife, "if I see that vision, or whatever it was, again, I think I should like the wall taken down, for I believe there is something there which we know nothing about, and the old woman was sent to tell me.
A week went by, and one night Mrs. Rudge suddenly awoke. Her little son was sleeping peacefully at her side, as also was the nurse at the other end of the room.
Two of the old-fashioned rush-lights (which were the usual illumination at that time of a sick chamber) gave a moderate amount of light, and Mrs. Rudge, now broad awake, saw again, but more plainly than before, the little old woman standing at the foot of her bed. She was dressed as usual, the white cap and red shawl being plainly visible in the faint light.
She stood for a moment gazing solemnly at Mrs. Rudge, then raising her hand, pointed as before to the opposite wall and disappeared.
This time Mrs. Rudge was convinced that what she had seen was no dream, and she felt sure that behind the wall of her room there was something hitherto unknown and undiscovered.
She said nothing more to her husband, but when she was quite well and downstairs again, she sent for her uncle who was a builder by trade, and was looked up to as a wise and clever man.
Mrs. Rudge told him the whole story, and finished by saying, "I want you, uncle, carefully to examine the wall on the east side of my bedroom, and see if it is in any way different to the other walls of the chamber."
Mr. Strong, which was her uncle's name, had listened carefully to the story and replied, "Truly, niece, you have had a strange experience, your wishes shall be complied with." He accordingly went upstairs, and after trying each of the four walls of the large bedroom, announced that the east wall gave out a hollow sound.
Butcher Rudge, although only half convinced, gave permission for a part of the wall to be removed, and one morning, Mr. Strong arrived with his tools and a trusty workman, whilst Mrs. Rudge, downstairs, anxiously awaited the result of their investigation. Presently, the knocking and hammering to which she had listened, ceased, and her husband came downstairs with a serious look on his good-tempered face. "Well, good wife," he said, "you were right, there was something behind that wall; Uncle Strong found a doorway that had been, so he says, apparently hastily blocked up, and concealed with plaster ' till you could not tell it was there, and when we got through, we found ourselves in a small room" "Was there anything in it?" interposed Mrs. Rudge quickly.
"Well, there was a wooden stool on which lay an old felt hat, not like anything you see now-a-days, which directly we touched, fell to pieces, but the strange thing is, that the floor is covered with papers thrown about everywhere. Of course, they are all thick with dust, and we cannot tell yet what they are, but some seem to be old letters, and some look like parchment deeds, however, I don't suppose they are of any consequence, they must be over a hundred years old"
"Was that all?” asked Mrs. Rudge, looking at her husband searchingly, "was there nothing in the room besides the papers and the hat?” “Well, there was something else, good wife," said her husband slowly, " but - but I hardly like to tell you." "Ah," said Mrs. Rudge, "go on, I must hear all."
"Well," continued Butcher Rudge, "there was a long box in one corner, and when I saw it, I said to Uncle Strong, "I shouldn't wonder if that box held the old silver plate which my grandmother used to tell us belonged to our family, and was lost during the war, ' so I went over and soon got off the lid, but no silver plate was there, instead was " - he hesitated a moment - " a fearsome sight - all that was left of some poor fellow who must have fallen in the siege. He still wore his armour, but his helmet had dropped off, and you could see that his skull had been battered in, and he must have had other ghastly wounds, but we covered him up again, and Uncle Strong and I have decided he shall have Christian burial in Radipole Churchyard, directly we can make arrangements for it with old Parson Grove and the sexton."
"That is only right," said Mrs. Rudge solemnly, "and I think it is best to say nothing about it to our neighbours. I cannot understand, though, why the body was brought to this house, instead of to any other in the town."
|St. Ann's Church, Radipole|
"Well, dame," replied her husband, “I believe this was his own house, and the skeleton that we found was what was left of my great grandfather. He fought for King Charles in the Civil War, and was never seen after the town was taken by the Roundheads. It was thought that his body got thrown into the harbour, and was washed out to sea, but I believe, instead of that it was brought here by some of his friends, who perhaps intended to bury him when everything was quiet, but were prevented by some means or other. However, after all, he shall have a resting place in the old Churchyard at Radipole, where others of our family are buried"
Mrs. Rudge was satisfied, and she felt sure that the old woman with the red shawl was satisfied also.
The interment of the Royalist soldier took place early one morning before it was quite light, and the secret was carefully kept for many years.
The hidden room was openly talked about, and the discovery of it naturally aroused great interest in the neighbourhood. Butcher Rudge had it cleaned and put in order, and a window made in it, and it was used as a dressing-room, adjoining the large bedroom facing St. Edmund Street.
The papers and documents were looked through, but as they referred to bygone days and times were, alas! judged of no value, and were destroyed. Mrs. Rudge, being a careful housewife, used some of the parchment deeds to cover her pickles and preserves, whilst the children were given pieces to take to school, on which to wind the wool and silks they used for their needlework.
At the time that the secret room was discovered, a tale was whispered amongst the neighbours that the old hat which was found in it, was filled with gold pieces. This statement, however, was not confirmed by either Butcher Rudge or Builder Strong.
The neighbours, however, always declared that from this time the Rudge family seemed to have plenty of money, and in a few years Butcher Rudge was considered a wealthy man. The old woman with the white cap and red shawl, having apparently fulfilled her mission, was never afterwards seen by anybody living at the corner house."
"The Ghost of the Corner House - a local story"
was taken from 'Down Wessex Way'
by Sarah & Grace Pearce
- See also the The Crabchurch Conspiracy