An Essex Ghost Story - 'Catherine Canham - a beautiful bigamist.'
As I'm about to embark on a Jane Austen linked ghost story I've been reading a delightful little book called "Ghosts of Essex" by Betty Puttick. There is a romantic one set in Thorpe-le-Soken, which is about a 15 min drive from Wivenhoe, in an old pub called The Bell. This place burnt down about 15 years ago and was rebuilt as an exact replica – I asked the landlord if the ghost was still there but he said the place was now no longer haunted.
|This is how The Bell must have looked in 1752|
Unfortunately Kitty found life as a vicar's wife boring and was a constant source of gossip in the village. And then inexplicably she vanished. There were many theories about the disappearance: she had gone to see a doctor in London and not returned, another that she had a lover in London.
Much later it was discovered the latter story was true and Kitty had met a Lord Dalmeny who asked her to marry him. Kitty didn't hesitate. The unfortunate lord was unaware of her background, and believing her to be single, he married her.In the next four years they travelled abroad enjoying a luxurious lifestyle, but Kitty were never been strong, and became ill in 1752. Realising she was about to meet her maker Kitty asked for pen and paper and managed to write "I am the wife of the Reverend Alexander Gough, the vicar at Thorpe-le-Soken in Essex. My maiden name was Catherine Canham. My last request is to be buried there."
Her young "husband" loved her so much that he forgave her and promised to fulfil her last wishes. Her body was embalmed and encased in an elaborate coffin with large silver plates. This was then put in a plain wooden chest, her clothes and jewellery were packed up and her grieving husband left Italy for France. There, using the pseudonym Mr Williams, he set sail for Dover, where he then borded another ship bound for Harwich. However there was rough weather and the boat was driven into the mouth of the River Colne and customs officers boarded it and suspected the chest was contraband.
Customs men opened the coffin and found the body but now believed there had been foul play. Dalmeny admitted he was not in fact Williams of Hamburg, but a person of quality taking his English wife home for burial.
|Thorpe church yard.|
Both husbands, united in grief, in deep mourning, followed the magnificent hearse hand-in-hand to her burial in the church yard. Lord Dalmeny died three years later aged only 31, but Gough survive for another 22 years.
The Bell overlooks the graveyard at the back and was a natural place for Kitty to haunt.
The shadowy female figure has been seen to glide through a closed door, for example, and wardrobes have been moved and bedclothes disarranged. It was happening in one room which is affectionately known as "Kitty's room". Items have been known to move across the floor, and things vanish. TA landlord at the pub had two guard dogs, but they would never go into the room.
The barmaid recorded seeing a quiche, left on the kitchen table to cool, shoot across and land on the floor when there was no one else there.
Catherine Canham must have been a remarkable woman for two men to have loved her so completely. She reminds me of Lydia Bennet - this was the sort of thing she might have done.
Fenella J Miller