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Hagley Park


AGLEY is one of the most beautiful of the "stately homes" of England, remarkable for the glorious beauty of the scenery surrounding it, and for the treasures of art it contains. It has also a very remarkable supernatural story attached to it.

It was a favourite haunt of Thomson, Shenstone and Pope, and the former of the celebrated triad has left us a sketch of Hagley which does it almost, but not quite, justice. "The park," he writes, "where we pass a great part of our time, is thoroughly delightful, quite enchanting. It consists of several little hills, finely tufted with wood, and rising softly one above another, from which are seen a great variety of at once beautiful and grand extensive prospects; but I am most charmed with its sweet embowered retirements, and particularly with a winding dale that runs through the middle of it. This dale is overhung with deep woods, and enlivened by a stream that now gushing from mossy rocks, now falling in cascades, and now spreading into a calm length of water, forms the most natural and pleasing scene imaginable."

Horace Walpole is equally transported with Hagley, and has left us a more animated description of it.

"I cannot," he says, "describe the enchanting beauty of the park. It is a hill of three miles, but broken into all manner of beauty; such lawns - such woods - hills, cascades, and a thickness of verdure quite to the summit of the hill, and commanding such a view of towns and meadows and woods, extending quite to the Black Mountains in Wales Here is a ruined castle built by Millar; has the true rust of the barons' wars, . . . a small lake with cascades falling down such a Parnassus, with a circular temple on the distant eminence, a fairy dale with cascades gushing out of the rocks, a pretty well under a wood, like the Samaritan woman's in a picture of Nicolo Poussin."


The shrubberies and waterfalls of Hagley have been considerably altered since Walpole's time, but the grounds are still unsurpassed in beauty. The chief architectural ornaments of the park are the model of the porch of the temple of Theseus, the beautiful proportions of which are thrown out admirably by a dark background of Scottish firs; the octagon temple erected by George, Lord Lyttelton, to the memory of his friend the poet Thomson; the Ionic rotunda, a dome enclosed in an amphitheatre of wonderfully large and magnificent trees; the Doric temple, with the inscription, "Quieti et musis," standing near a lawn; the hermitage, a sequestered spot built chiefly of roots and moss, and containing only a bench, with lines from "Il Penseroso," of Milton, above it; the ruined tower, an excellent imitation of one; the ornamented urns in memory of Pope and Shenstone, and the column bearing the statue of Frederick, Prince of Wales.

The mansion itself stands on a rising ground, surrounded by lawns on the southwest and east; on the north are the offices and kitchen garden, bordered by the shrubbery, evergreens, and lines of limes and other trees. The house is quadrangular with a square tower at each angle. A handsome double flight of steps leads to the hall, which is thirty feet square. It has a splendid white marble chimney-piece supported by two figures of Hercules. In it also are, "The Courtship of Diana by Pan," in relievo, by Vasari; busts of Rubens and Vandyck, by Rysbrach; and casts of Venus, Bacchus, and Mercury.

The library is a very fine one, and be sides its valuable collection of books has busts of Shakspeare, Milton, Spenser, and Dryden, the gift of Pope, from the studies of Scheemakers. There is also here a portrait of Pope with his dog Bounce. In the gallery, which is 85 feet long by 22 feet broad, is a fine collection of pictures.

The drawing-room is hung with Gobelins tapestry, and has a number of portraits by Ramsay.

The church is a very fine building, and has been thoroughly repaired and restored from Street's designs by a fund raised in the county, in order to show the people's appreciation of Lord Lyttelton as Lord Lieutenant.

The parish register of Hagley is the oldest in England. It dates from December 1st, 1538, being the year in which registers were ordered to be kept in all parishes. In the chancel are two very fine monuments erected by George, Lord Lyttelton, to the memory of his first wife, and to his father and mother.

"Hagley was held at the time of the Great Survey as one of the fourteen lordships which William Fitzsculph held in Worcestershire as a member of his barony of Dudley. This wealthy lord died without issue, and the property came successively into the hands of the Paganels and Somerys, barons of Dudley, and in the reign of Henry 11. William de Haggaley held the manor of Gervase Paganel. The Lordship paramount of the manor fell, about the close of the reign of Edward III., to John de Botetourt, knight. The property was recovered by Henry de Haggaley, who was High Sheriff of Worcestershire in 1398, and subsequently it passed by sale to Thomas Walwyn, Esq., who alienated it to Jane Beauchamp, Lady Bergavenny, who devised it to her grandson, James Boteler. This gentleman, son and heir to the Earl of Ormond, came into possession in 1445." 1 He fought on the Lancastrian side in the Wars of the Roses, was taken prisoner at Towton, and beheaded at Newcastle, his lands reverting to the Crown. Edward IV. bestowed Hagley on his wife, Elizabeth Woodville; but it soon passed into the possession of Thomas Boteler, or Butler, the younger son of the James Boteler who was beheaded. His daughter bequeathed the estate to her grandson, who in 1564 sold it to Sir John Lyttelton of Frankley, Worcestershire.

The Lytteltons were a very old family. They had property at South Lyttelton and in the Vale of Evesham at the beginning of the thirteenth century.

The most celebrated of the early Lytteltons was Thomas, who in 1464 was one of the judges in the Court of Common Pleas. His famous work, the "Treatise on Tenures," was said by Lord Coke to be "the ornament of the common law and the most perfect and absolute work that ever was v rote in any human science."

His grandson, John Lyttelton, married Elizabeth, greatgreat-grand-daughter of John of Gaunt, son of Edward III., in right of which alliance the Lytteltons quarter the arms of France and England within a bordure gobony.

Sir John Lyttelton, the eldest son of this marriage, was knighted by Queen Elizabeth at Kenilworth Castle, in 1556.

His grandson, M.P. for Worcestershire, was both a brave and witty man. He was a Roman Catholic, and took some slight part in Essex's conspiracy. He was in consequence tried, condemned to death, and his estate forfeited, in 1600. At the intercession of Sir Walter Raleigh his life was spared, but the queen (Elizabeth) had done her best to get him condemned, that she might take his estates. He was imprisoned, and died in prison 1600 - 1.

When James I. two years afterwards succeeded to the throne, the widow of the unfortunate captive, Muriel, daughter of the Lord Chancellor Bromley, met the king at Doncaster, threw herself at his feet, and obtained a reversal of the attainder, and a grant by letters patent of the whole of his estates

Thomas, her eldest son, was member for Worcestershire and Sheriff of the county in 1613. During the civil war he was a devoted adherent to the royal cause. He offered to raise a regiment of foot and a troop of horse in 1642. He suffered for his loyalty in the end, being imprisoned in the Tower, and dying in 1649 - 50. He was succeeded by his eldest son Sir Henry, also a faithful Royalist, who was consequently imprisoned in the Tower for nearly two years by Cromwell. He died childless in 1703, when the title devolved on his brother, Sir Charles, whose grandson, Sir George, laid out the grounds of Hagley Park, and was the friend of the poets Thomson, Shenstone, etc.

Sir George entered Parliament in 1730, and in 1755 became Chancellor and Under-Treasurer of the Exchequer. He was created a baron in 1757 by the title of Lord Lyttelton.

He had considerable reputation as an author. His works were "On the Conversion and Apostleship of St. Paul" (1747), "Dialogues of the Dead" (1760), and "History of Henry II." (1764).

"A singularly beautiful letter," says Mr. Timbs, "was written by his father to the first Lord Lyttelton on the publication of his treatise on the conversion of St. Paul."

"I have read your religious treatise," writes the author's father, "with infinite pleasure and satisfaction. The style is fine and clear; the argument close, cogent, and irresistible May the King of kings, whose glorious cause you have so well defended, reward your pious labours, and grant that I may be found worthy, through the merits of Jesus Christ, to be an eye-witness of that happiness which I don't doubt He will bountifully bestow on you. In the meantime I shall never cease glorifying God for having endowed you with such talents and given me so good a son."

The second Lord Lyttelton, the son of this beloved and admired nobleman, was a wild, profligate young man. He died at the early age of thirty-five without issue, and the peerage became extinct; the baronetcy reverting to his uncle. It is to this Lord Lyttelton that the singular ghost story belongs.

He had given his father great cause for displeasure bit his wild conduct; but dissipation was the fashion of the age, and many young men were much more dissipated than he was. In his childhood he must have received religious impressions, and these probably awoke remorse at times in his mind at his waste of time. He had a great dislike to be alone, and a constitutionial melancholy that drove him into society.

He held an office under Government in Ireland, and on his return from it, suffered from suffocating fits, proceeding either from indigestion or heart disease.

Finding himself ill on the evening of Nov. 24th, he retired early to bed. His servant gave him the medicine ordered for these attacks, and left him.

He had not been gone long when Lord Lyttelton, who believed himself to have been awake, heard a gentle fluttering of wings in his room; and while he listened to it with some surprise, he heard footsteps approaching the bed. Curious to know what caused these sounds, he sat up in bed, and was astonished to see a lovely female form all in white, with a small bird perched on her hand, standing by his bed. He was speechless from surprise, and she spoke to him. She bade him prepare himself, for that he would shortly die. Lyttelton inquired at: once how long he had to live. The vision answered, "Not three days, and you will depart at the hour of twelve."

When he arose in the morning, he felt so uneasy that he could not help telling his dream or vision at the breakfast-table to his assembled guests. But he tried to convince himself that it was only a common dream. He said he had had some trouble to catch a robin in the greenhouse at Pitt Place a few days before, meaning to set it free - that might account for the bird; but every one saw that he was uneasy and gloomy, and that his thoughts dwelt upon the subject.

He grew more composed during the day; attended the House of Lords, and delivered two brilliant and witty speeches.

The second day passed much in the same manner. The third day at dinner, Lord Lyttelton rallied wonderfully, and exclaimed as the cloth was removed, "Richard's himself again." Admiral Wolseley and his other guests have stated that his spirits were high, and that his conversation was remarkable for wit and brilliancy. But as the evening wore on, his mood changed to restlessness and despondency. To prevent his becoming the victim of a mere imagination, they had all put on their watches half an hour, and had, with the connivance of his valet and steward, altered all the clocks and his own watch, putting them on half an hour, so that when Lord Lyttelton believed it to be half-past eleven, it was in reality only eleven o'clock. About this time he complained of feeling very tired, and retired to bed; when there he showed great uneasiness; looked often at his watch and consulted that of his valet. At a few minutes to twelve he held both watches to his ear; was pleased to find they were going; and that it was a quarter-past twelve. "This mysterious lady is not a true prophetess, I find," he said; "give me my medicine. I will wait no longer."

The valet went into the next room to get it, but thinking he heard his lord breathing unusually hard, he hurried back to the room He found Lord Lyttelton dying. He called for help, and Lord Fortescue, the Miss Amphlets, cousins of the dying man, and their companion, Mrs. Hood, hastened into the room; they were only in time to see him die - exactly at twelve o'clock.

At the very hour he expired a Mr. Andrews, one of his most intimate friends, imagined that he saw Lord Lyttelton standing by his bedside, and thinking it was some joke on his part, reproached him for coming to Dartford Mills without notice, and jumped oat of bed to ring and order a room to be prepared for his unexpected guest. But when he looked round his strange visitor was gone. The servant answered the bell, and Mr. Andrews asked if he had met Lord Lyttelton. Of course the answer was in the negative. Mr. Andrews, still suspecting a practical joke, dressed himself, and searched everywhere for his friend. He was still suspecting a hoax, when at four o'clock next day, an express arrived telling him that Lord Lyttelton was dead.

We confess that this second ghost is much more puzzling than the first, which may have proceeded wholly from a melancholy imagination, feeling the approach of death.

Yet the whole subject is full of mystery; and incredible to us nineteenth-century people; though for our own part we believe with Shakspeare that there are "more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy."

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1. Timbs.

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Picturesque England - Matthew Spong 2004