Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Bolsover Castle

The noted Bolsover Castle, which Bess also built, though her son finished it after her death, stands in a magnificent position on a high plateau not far from Chesterfield, overlooking a wide expanse of Derbyshire.

The present castle replaced an ancient structure that had fallen into ruin, and was supposed to have been built by "Peveril of the Peak;" it was fortified during King John's time, and traces of the fortifications still remain; it was repeatedly besieged and taken by assault. The present building is a square and lofty mansion of castellated appearance, with towers at the corners built of brown stone; in it the Earl of Newcastle, who subsequently inherited it, spent on one occasion $75,000 in entertaining King Charles I., the entire country round being invited to come and attend the king: Ben Jonson performed a play for his amusement. Lord Clarendon speaks of the occasion as "such an excess of feasting as had scarce ever been known in England before."

It now belongs to the Duke of Portland, and has fallen into partial decay, with trees growing in some of the deserted apartments and ivy creeping along the walls. Visitors describe it as a ghostly house, with long vaulted passages, subterranean chambers, dungeon-like holes in the towers, and mysterious spaces beneath the vaults whence come weird noises.

When Mr. Jennings visited Bolsover recently he described it as like a haunted house, and after examining the apartments, in which most things seemed going to decay, he went down stairs, guided by an old woman, to the cellars and passages that are said to be the remains of the original Norman castle. A chamber with a high vaulted roof was used as a kitchen, and an ancient stone passage connected it with a crypt; beneath this, she told him, there was a church, never opened since the days of Peveril. Their voices had a hollow sound, and their footsteps awakened echoes as if from a large empty space beneath: the servants, she said, were afraid to come down where they were, excepting by twos and threes, and she added: "Many people have seen things here besides me: something bad has been done here, sir, and when they open that church below they'll find it out. Just where you stand by that door I have several times seen a lady and gentleman—only for a moment or two, for they come like a flash; when I have been sitting in the kitchen, not thinking of any such thing, they stood there—the gentleman with ruffles on, the lady with a scarf round her waist; I never believed in ghosts, but I have seen them. I am used to it now, and don't mind it, but we do not like the noises, because they disturb us. Not long ago my husband, who comes here at night, and I could not sleep at all, and we thought at last that somebody had got shut up in the castle, for some children had been here that day; so we lit a candle and went all over it, but there was nothing, only the noises following us, and keeping on worse than ever after we left the rooms, though they stopped while we were in them."

The old woman's tale shows the atmosphere there is about this sombre and ghostly castle of Bolsover.

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