I have a story to tell…
I used to work in a conference centre/hotel in a quiet little market town in Hertfordshire, England. This town has a lot of history attached to it.
Now, this building that I worked in has been in existence sine the 13th century and started off as a monastery. Henry VIII decided that this was one of the targeted monasteries during the dissolution period. The monks were given 48 hours to get their belongings together and depart. It went through many changes after that, it was redesigned and had various extensions put on in order to make it a prestigious mansion for a very wealthy family. It then became a school and then went back to a family home, then a training centre and finally ending up as a conference centre and four star luxury hotel. I might add that there are some 9 acres of beautiful grounds behind the place. So, as outlined, lots of history and inhabitants throughout the ages.
My role here was as a part-time evening receptionist as I was pregnant at the time. I used to start at 3pm and finish at 9.30-10pm depending on how busy and whether the night porter showed up on time to take over the shift. During the day, with conferences going on and the like, the place was a veritable hub of activity, but come 5-6pm when everyone was dissipating after the days events and retiring to their rooms, strange occurrences used to start up.
To outline the set-up of the building in a nut shell isn’t easy. It had a complex layout. As you entered through the doorway built into one of the monastery cloisters, you meet reception on your left. Straight ahead through more cloisters (all original I might add) was a large meeting and greeting room (the Atrium) with a glass roof that sat nestled between the four walls of what used to be the monastery courtyard. Leading out of the opposite side of the room is a rather impressive stone staircase consisting of about ten steps with solid iron banisters leading up each side. Along the corridor at the top of these stairs is a door leading down into the cellar which had been redone into a bar which has a large wooden door at the bottom of the stairs, held open by a very powerful magnet. Opposite this door is a wooden staircase and a small wooden landing leading to the bedrooms. This whole area is decked out in dark Tudor wood panelled walls and wood floors and is called Monk’s Walk. Opposite reception is a corridor (all this area has the original stone cobbled flooring) which leads round the outside of the courtyard and round a corner (not visible from reception) to a small set of stone steps (4 in all) and a large, heavy wooden door with an old fashioned iron latch. This door makes a very distinctive noise when opened. Please be patient, this is all relevant.
So, I’m happily seated at reception as always. On some evenings, there would be no one other than myself and the duty manager pottering around. On nights like this, it was always more economical to lock up and close the place instead of keeping it open for the odd straggler who may wonder through the doors looking for a room. This lock up was the duty of myself and the DM. When I first started, I loved the place but it always had a strange vibe to me that is quite indescribable. However, I found it quite odd on my first night of locking up that instead of the DM going to shut of lights and lock doors at one end of the building and me going the other way to save time, he wanted me to go with him. I soon began to understand why. There were numerous hauntings and unusual happenings in this magnificent place…
There was a meeting room that always had a fair amount of dead flies in it. Pest control had been called in more than once and were baffled as to where they were coming from. They put down their treatments anyway but to no avail. In the end, this room was declared out of use and the dead flies remained, no matter how many times they were cleared they would only reappear.
There was another meeting room called the Music Room (also used for weddings) which, even when locked, music from long ago could be heard emanating from. There were rooms that when opened in the morning, the furniture had been rearranged by some unseen force and these were no light objects.
The cellar bar seemed to be a dark place. When it was being renovated, several hidden passage ways were found that led out of it to various places, local pub and houses known to be the residences of ladies of ill repute shall we say! Naughty monks…Several human skeletal remains were found in these passage ways. It always felt foreboding down there. One of my dear friends who worked there with me had an experience down there as did I. He, a big, burly, bold, red- faced Frenchman who wasn’t scared of anything, came flying up the stairs from the bar one night, pale as a sheet. He told me he had gone down there to get some stocks and as he entered, he saw a figure out the corner of his eye. When he looked, he momentarily glimpsed a monk shrouded in his cape, with his face hidden in the shadow of his hood. He exited sharpish.
I had been down there, clearing up after a Christmas party at about 2am, the place was empty. There was only me and the duty manager around at that time. Suddenly, the wooden door (remember it’s held open with a huge magnet) slammed shut leaving me closed in, followed by a sharp, cold breeze that flowed swiftly past me. For somebody to get to that door, they would’ve had to come down the stone steps without making a sound and there was no-one around. I rang up to my DM’s office situated three floors up, immediately after this happened, literally seconds, and he calmly answered his phone. He heard the shakiness in my voice and came down and stayed with me until I was finished.
Sometimes, late of an evening, once everyone was in their rooms or gone home, one would hear heavy footsteps across the wooden floors of Monk’s Walk. You could be standing at the bottom of the stairs and look up and see no-one but hear the footsteps. A lady in white had often been seen gliding through one of the wooden walls, by guests and staff alike.
A guest that I was showing around one day, left the building in a rather rushed manner after going into one particular bedroom. When I caught up with her, she insisted she felt cold hands round her neck and refused to set foot in the place again. Many people who stayed in that room claimed to have seen and felt mysterious things in there.
The night porter and myself had seen a white figure of a lady holding a candle walk through the solid stone steps and iron banisters in the Atrium at waist height. We were together at the time and looked at each other to verify if the other had seen the same vision. Our facial expressions said enough without the need for words. The spectral lady seemed completely oblivious to our presence.
On many nights, whilst sitting at reception, I would hear the latch of the wooden door round the corner and then the squeak of it opening, the loud thud of it closing and footsteps down the 4 stone steps. Many times, I went to see who was there to find no-one. After a while, I got used to this and stopped anticipating someone coming round the corner.
There were various figures seen in the grounds in period costume. Not to mention the legend of the headless horseman who rides through on a particular date in June or the grey lady who roams the front of the building… There is so much more to tell but where does one stop?
It was undoubtedly a wonderful place to live in times gone by, filled with memories, experiences, happiness and tragedies. So, to conclude, it is hard not to love that building with all it’s character, charm and history. You can hardly blame any of it’s less earthly residents for being reluctant to leave…