The only thing I like better than an old house is a haunted old house.
In the Maldon, Essex area this beautiful home, Beeleigh Abbey, has quite the history. Constructed in 1180 it was originally a monastery (hence the name.)
The heart of St. Roger Niger of Beeleigh was buried at the site and it became a pilgrimage site that was even visited by King Edward I and Queen Eleanor in 1289.
After the dissolution of the monasteries, Beeleigh Abbey had a variety of uses. Many of the buildings were torn down and King Henry VIII granted the land to Sir John Gates, a descendant of ancient Essex gentry and member of his Privy Chamber.
In the 18th century, this beautiful, historic property was used as a public house and by the late 19th century, it was reportedly in terrible shape.
It’s also allegedly home to a few ghosts, including one very specific haunting. Multiple stories indicate that the door to the former servants’ entrance is haunted by a maid who lived and worked at the property in years past. Essex Ghost Hunters also report that the ghost of a hooded man has been witnessed in the James room. Perhaps he was a former monk, or Sir John Gates, who fell from favour after trying to establish Lady Jane Grey, the Nine Days’ Queen, to the throne and was executed for his efforts in 1553.
Poltergeist activity has also been reported at Beeleigh Abbey, including beds shaking violently, a trap door opening on its own and a cross necklace being pulled off a man leading a ghost walk in the area by an unseen force. (Side note: I’m incredibly curious about the trap door!)
When I first learned about Beeleigh I was fascinated by its history and reported hauntings, and thrilled to discover it was purchased by William Foyle, owner of the legendary Foyles Books, in 1943. Can you imagine what the Abbey’s library must be like?
In recent years, the owners have sought reconnection with the monastic order who originally called it home. Father Hugh Allan, Prior of Chelmsford, was promoted to Abbot in 2011 and, in agreement with the Foyle family was titled the Titular Abbot of Beeleigh, the first of that title since 1536!
Over the last 20 years, the Foyle family have carefully restored the Abbey and gardens, to the beautiful standard seen here. They also arranged for archaeological excavations on the grounds. The Foyles have received several prestigious awards for their efforts, including the best restored historical building in the UK. Well deserved!
We walked past the Abbey often when I lived near Maldon, as one of our favourite strolls was by Beeleigh Lock and Beeleigh Falls, up to Hoe Mill Lock. As it’s a private residence, I never got to see inside, though I dream of doing so!
The family does open the grounds to the public for a limited number of days each summer, though my strict work schedule when I lived nearby meant I never got to visit and see the house up close. The next time we’ll be back home for a visit is at Christmas, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I can go back again next summer in time for an opening.
In my romantic, fanciful opinion, Beeleigh Abbey has it all. It’s a beautiful, Grade I Listed Building, set in manicured gardens amidst the beautiful Essex countryside; it’s bursting with historical significance and spooky incidents and it’s even owned by a notable family of booksellers. To my imagination the house could be filled with first editions, historical heirlooms and hidden spots to curl up with tea and read; perhaps even with your very own ghost to keep you company!