The site on which Fulham Palace stands has been owned by the church for over 1300 years. In the year 704 Bishop Waldhere purchased the Manor of Fulham from the Bishop of Hereford. Originally built as a Manor House parts of the present Palace date back to 1495.
During the Reformation of the 16th Century Fulham Palace became a focal point of torture and imprisonment. During the reign of Queen Mary, the Catholic Bishop Edmund Bonner persecuted Protestants on the site. He carried out examinations in the Great Hall and the Medieval Chapel. Allegedly, below stairs near an old kitchen and servant’s hall stood a coal cellar which was used a dungeon.
Tales of the ghost of Bishop Bonner have existed for over 200 years. So it is not surprising that when I started work at Fulham Palace in May 1992 stories of ghosts abounded.
Rather than repeat these old legends I thought that I would list some incidents that I personally experienced, or that were reported to me over the last 23 years until I retired last spring. Also I thought that I would only list incidents that took place in areas usually accessible to the public during normal opening hours (see the Fulham Palace website for details).
The first incident occurred not long after I had started work. Late one night a security staff supervisor was expected at the Palace. When he did not arrive one of the security guards went to the front entrance door to look for him. He saw a dark shape on the ground and on investigation it turned out to be the supervisor. Apparently, on arrival at the Tudor courtyard he had seen a black ghostly figure and fainted.
A volunteer guide walking along the corridor towards the Victorian chapel heard footsteps above her. The volunteer was wearing soft soled shoes and each step she took was matched precisely by the footsteps above. She stopped at the bend of the corridor but the footsteps carried on. On another day I unlocked and opened the chapel door to its full extent. As I turned to walk away the door slammed shut behind me.
Before becoming the café, Bishop Howley’s Drawing Room was the main function room of the Palace. Very late one night, after a function had finished and all the caterers and guests had left only two Palace Officers remained to lock up. Although the Drawing room shutters had been secured one of the officers decided to go back to check all the lights were off. He got half way along the corridor when the atmosphere went icy cold. He was so frightened he would not walk any further along the corridor.
A waitress working in the café on a quiet day was standing behind the counter in the Drawing Room. She saw someone enter from the garden and go into the small Breakfast Room. When she went to take their order no one was there.
One evening when locking the large wooden door in the Great Hall I felt the door push back on me. Thinking there was someone trying to get in I opened the door but no one was there. On another occasion I entered the locked Great Hall from the fire exit door. I immediately smelt tobacco smoke and went straight to the front door and unlocked it. There was no one smoking in the vicinity and another member of staff confirmed he had seen no one in the area, let alone smoking. When I returned to the Great Hall the smell had gone.
One evening when locking up two members of staff witnessed the double corridor doors near the reception area open on their own. One of the staff actually told me that they appeared to be pulled open rather than just blown open. As the entire Palace was secure and all the internal doors shut she said the probability of a draught was highly unlikely. On checking the building she said that the garden door near the Chapel was rattling as if someone was trying to get in.
On another evening at around 8 p.m. the Palace burglar alarm went off. A member of staff working late in the Education Centre by the car park went to investigate. She found the same double corridor doors wide open but found no reason for the alarm to activate. She wondered if the doors opening could trigger the alarm but on checking she found that the swing of the doors could not be picked up by the nearby sensors. So something unidentified set off the alarm.
Over many years members of staff and volunteers have smelt tobacco smoke in the centre of the main museum room. On one occasion a volunteer and I were the only ones on the premises when we smelt smoke. We searched inside and out but no one could be seen.
One member of the education staff was walking up the servant’s staircase outside Bishop Sherlock’s room. She sensed another member of staff walking up behind her. At the top of the stairs she held the door open but no one was there. Two visitors, who said they were psychic, said they felt very cold by this staircase. One claimed to have been pushed when she tried to stand on the stairs.
In Bishop Sherlock’s room one volunteer reported seeing faces at the window looking in at her but no one was outside. Several volunteers over many years, before and after restoration of this room, have reported smelling candle smoke. And one morning, before the room was open to the public, a volunteer working alone sensed someone walk through the room but saw and heard nothing.
One day in the Porteus Library I was retelling the story of the sudden death of Bishop Lowth’s daughter Frances to a visitor. I walked around the desk to show the visitor the book in the display case, which described her death. In front of the shop counter we both walked through a cold spot and reacted simultaneously; each saying to the other ‘Did you feel that?’
Going back to the first year of my employment, late one night when the grounds were locked to the public, a security guard saw a young lady in a long flowing dress. As he approached her he shouted ‘Hey what are you doing here’ she replied ‘I live here’ and promptly disappeared before his eyes. He returned to the Palace and locked himself in for the rest of the night. Did he see Bishop Lowth’s daughter Frances?
In the time I worked at Fulham Palace I, or any of my colleagues, actually saw a ghost. But like me many of the staff and volunteers experienced incidents that could not easily be explained.
Peter Trott, Retired Museum Steward, Fulham Palace