Stephen Worsley – My Personal Acquaintance With Lady Luxborough

As I sit back in my Connelly leather armchair, briar pipe and Chivas Regal in hand, shaggy dog at my side, Garfield slippers on feet and close my eyes, the passage of time recedes and I am back enjoying that hot and lazy school holiday of the summer of ’66. A veritable milestone in history, where flower power came to San Francisco and the Mamma’s and the Papa’s were born. My old and dear friend Terry Day and myself had grown bored of trying to appropriate the coins out of the local telephone kiosk using a long thin bladed buttering knife. Our attention was drawn to the distant form and silhouette of the Old Chapel up on the hill. We both decided to have a good sniff around the Chapel and see what we could find. So off we trotted up the hill.

The poor box and renovation donation box were completely empty so we wasted no further energy in that department so to speak. We found half a bottle of communion wine which we quickly polished off.

It was I who struck pay dirt as we call it in the mining game. Under the Churchwardens pew I discovered a very old leather covered trunk. On prizing the lock open we found several very peculiar and seemingly useless items. These consisted a three pronged grappling iron, a very sturdy hook and a block and tackle with several falls of rope. Jumping Joseph what a puzzle! We had young unfettered minds in those days, were sharp, imaginative and intelligent. Most certainly I was destined for Oxford or Cambridge at that point in time.

It did not take us long to solve the riddle. It was lifting tackle for a very heavy object. A flash of inspiration and Terry hit the nail on the head and concluded it was the lifting tackle to lift some sort of trap door or flagstone to access the Luxborough family vault under the Old Chapel. We then searched the floor for any signs of an access way and it was not long before we found underneath the main aisle carpet a flagstone with three equilateral triangulated holes.

The geometry and centers of these holes corresponded identically with the prongs of the grappling iron. Directly above the flagstone ran a roof support eave and with a very observant eye we saw that the oaken beam had gnaw marks and dents which had been varnished over.

It became obvious that the hook supporting the block and tackle, grappling iron and elevated flagstone had bitten into the oaken beam during the internment of generations of Luxboroughs.

This finding of ours took place at more or less the time of the Tutenkamen expedition in London and Terry and myself decided to return that night armed with a torch and do our own Lord Carnarven thing and enter the vault.

At 11pm that night I slipped out of the Vicarage, undetected by Dad, to make my rendezvous with Terry. In those days we were young and agile and it didn’t take a jiffy to shin along the eave beams to get the hook, block and tackle and grappling iron rigged and ready in position.

Rolling back the red, worn aisle carpet the prongs of the grappling iron were engaged into the flagstone lifting holes.

At first it would not budge no matter ho hard we asserted our efforts. With a pen knife we then cleaned out the accumulated dust and dirt in the joints with the adjacent stones. Sure enough with a great amount of heaving the flagstone started to move with much grinding, grating and groaning. Eventually the stone was clear and revealed the access and a flight sand-stone steps disappearing into the dark depths of the vault. At that time we had both visited the Stratford upon Avon flee pit to watch Vincent Price and Boris Karloff in “The Return of Count Dracula”. That epic film had made a very deep impression on us both and we were not going to take any chances when encountering any possible vampires rudely awoken from their slumbers. We borrowed the brass cross from the alter and proceeded down the steps chanting miscellaneous Latin words making no sense whatsoever, but like the monks do, in a further attempt to ward off and discourage any lurking vampires (sanctus deo, Magna Carter, Duodenum. Etc, etc).

Proceeding down those sand-stone steps we were immediately overwhelmed and gagged by the musty smell of the long dead and forgotten. The thick layer of undisturbed dust on the steps indicated no body had entered into the vault for a long, long time possibly more than a century.

Reaching the bottom of the steps we had the chance to survey the vault in its entirety.

The four walls were equipped with stone shelves supported on stone plinths. On the shelves were placed and interned the coffins of many generations of the Luxborough family. From the tone, texture and even construction of the coffins it was possible to determine chronologically when the coffins had been originally interned. The oldest coffins were molded lead caskets and the newer ones crafted from oak.

Of interest was that two or three of the coffins were adorned with regimental standards and swords. It left one pondering in which famous battle had the current occupant been killed and fallen. Was it on the battle field of Ballaclava or Wellington? Was it in protecting Mafakeng under siege or fighting in the bloody trenches of Ypres? Alas, I will never know.

Our particular fascination lay with Lady Luxborough herself. We had spent many fruitless hours in pursuit of her ghost and a small consolation would be to see her last resting place. Each coffin bore a small brass inscription plate. Although thick with dust and heavy verdigris we were soon able to locate the good Lady herself.

Over the passage of time and alternation of many, many wet and dry sessions the oak coffin lid had warped slightly on the hinges. Aided with our Hardy Boys patented torch with its special focal facility we managed to squint into the coffin and observe the skeletal and earthly remains of Lady Luxborough.

Her emaciated skull and sunken, long toothed grin will remain indelibly etched in my memory until I die. She grinned at us contemptuously over the passage of time and as if she had willed it the batteries from our torch started to falter and the light began to dim and fade. At that moment in time we both froze rigidly with fear as we both listened trembling in the darkness to the church bell in the distance village tolling in the bewitching hour.

This time we had gone too far!