8 spooky secrets and stories of Sudeley Castle
PUBLISHED: 11:24 31 October 2019 | UPDATED: 11:24 31 October 2019
From witch marks to ancient graffiti, Lucy King explores some of Sudeley Castle’s lesser known mysteries
1. The mysterious old woman
In the library stands a large stone fireplace - the oldest internal fitting on public view anywhere in Sudeley Castle. Built in 1572, it is quite befitting of a large stately home, but for one unusual detail - the intricate carving of a gap-toothed old woman who features prominently alongside five much grander-looking faces. Who this peasant-like woman is, or why she features so prominently on such a significant feature, might never be known.
2. The secret painting
Sudeley Castle is home to many intricate, beautiful and significant paintings, but one in particular has more to it than first meets the eye. Hanging in the library, in an ornate gold frame, is a painting of two cherubs. But on closer inspection it becomes clear that the frame is not what it seems - it has a key hole and door hinges. Sadly the key to open the door of this painting has been lost to history, so no one will ever know what hides behind the locked door. One suggestion is that it hides a far more provocative painting, reserved for the delectation of the gentlemen once the ladies had retired from the dining room. Perhaps one day the painting's secrets might be revealed.
3. The secret window
When Thomas Seymour took control of Sudeley Castle in 1547 with his new wife, Katherine Parr, he had a covered gallery built between Katherine Parr's living quarters and a private chapel to the side of St Mary's Church. A small, angled viewing window, known as a squint, allowed the family to view the altar and the service, without being seen by the rest of the congregation. The restored squint at St Mary's Church is now filled with fragments of stained glass.
4. Witches' symbols
In the private quarters of Sudeley Castle is an ancient wooden door, under the north tower. To the side of this door can be seen a circular symbol carved into the stone and roughly the size of a saucer. Weathered by the passing of hundreds of years, but still clearly visible, the carving is believed to be a 'witch's mark', made to keep witches out of buildings. Such marks have been found on buildings across the country and similar carvings can also be seen on the outside walls of nearby St Peter's Church in Winchcombe.
5. The unknown lady of Sudeley
Little is known about this decorative figure. Known as a dummy board, they were popular in the 18th century - some suggest they may have been used as a fire guard, or as a deterrent to people looking in by giving the illusion that the house was occupied, or simply as a decorative figure. Its purpose is in itself somewhat of a mystery. The identity of the lady on the dummy board in the library at Sudeley Castle has so far remained unknown. It is thought that she is a Dutch lady from around 1600 - she appears to be quite important and possibly wealthy, as suggested by the decorative chatelaines she carries, and the pendant of pearls around her neck. Her distinctive rings and gold-embroidered gloves also suggest her high position in society. Sadly she is half her original size now due to being kept on a cold, damp floor in her previous existence.
6. Ancient graffiti
Inside the stairwell of Sudeley's historic octagon tower is a host of historic graffiti carved into the walls of the building over hundreds of years. The carvings, some of which are very elaborate and done with much care, go back up to 300 years. Inscriptions include 'T.W 1757', 'WG 1758', and even 'J Mince Pie'. A number of names appear repeatedly, including 'E Moobe, 1815' and 'T.Boodle, March 1826'. Now closed to the public for safety reasons, the tower lies largely undisturbed, quietly holding the secrets of its elaborate historic carvings, so we might never know the stories behind those who left their names carved on the walls over hundreds of years.
7. The mysterious stone
This unusual-looking stone in St Mary's Church is in fact an ancient and extremely rare 'cresset stone' - one of just a handful that remain in historic locations across the country. The holes within the stone were filled with tallow and a wick which were burned to produce light. It is believed they were used from at least the 1300s when monks needed light to guide them to late services.
8. The metal 'shelf' in front of the Beckett window
Many visitors to Sudeley Castle have asked why there is a metal pole running horizontally across the Becket window in St Mary's Church. Some have speculated as to whether it was used at some point to hang meat. However, the 'shelf' was in fact built to support a water pipe that operated an old, water-powered organ. Sadly the organ was lost from Sudeley in 1910.
Sudeley Castle and Gardens are open daily until December 22, 2019, offering visitors the chance to enjoy the most magical time of year at one of the country's most spectacular castle settings.
For more information about Sudeley Castle and its winter events visit sudeleycastle.co.uk or phone 01242 602 308.