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History and mystery of Combermere Abbey

Combermere Abbey

With over nine hundred years of history, Combermere Abbey in the south of Cheshire is a very haunted property with stunning heritage to match.

As a Sauvignac Abbey starting out in 1133 as part of the ongoing French cultural imposition following the Norman Conquest in 1066, in became a Cistercian Abbey in 1147. Having gained a reputation in the 16th century for not being everything an ecclesiastical ought to be (and lot of thing it ought not to be), it ceased being an Abbey in the 1530s, and became the possession of one of Henry VIII’s supporters. Some gothic reworking around the Tudor building pretty much defines what is seen of the house today.

Not wishing to give everything away, the most famous reason for Combermere Abbey’s haunted reputation is a ghost picture of what is thought to be the second Lord Combermere seated in the library in 1891. Taken on the 5th December, late in the winter afternoon sunshine with the light of the westering sun blazing through the windows, a spectral figure can be made out in the chair on the left hand side.

Some believe the figure to be Lord Combermere himself - but his funeral was taking place at the same time several miles away in Wrenbury Parish Church. Only a few staff remained behind at the house during the time and none were as senior looking as the gentleman appearing in the image. While it is not conclusively an image of the deceased peer the shortage of other likely candidates suggests it could be. Enough so that it continues to be one of the most famous paranormal images.

The photograph was not developed until late in the following year and its paranormal content not put into the public domain until three years later when it was discussed in the proceedings of The Society for Psychical Research. A homage to that image is above, taken in the same spot under similar conditions with modern photographic equipment and editing.

There have been other strange ghostly encounters within the house. Some just unusual, some terrifying. However, there is folklore surrounding the large lake which hugs the land around the west side of the house. It has a number of variations.

Following the dissolution of the monasteries under King Henry VIIIth in the 1530s, a bell taken from the fabric of the abbey was being transported by boat across the lake to find a new home at Wrenbury church. This would have saved a more lengthy trip around the area by road transport alone (horse and cart).

Within the thinking of the folklore, the body of water must have been under the influence of some enchantment which forbade the use of curses and oaths when upon it - unsuitable language. One of the men in the boat had reason to utter one of these triggering words when getting out across the lake. By one of three possible means the man and the bell ended up at the bottom of the lake; either the boat and bell over balanced, a sudden squall took them, or a watery creature reached up from the depths to mete out punishment.

This creature could have been the likes of a being called Jenny Greenteeth or Nellie Longarms, depending on where one comes from. A water being with a love of snatching children into dangerous bodies of water, weeds and slime covering her hair and body and manky, decaying green teeth with a breath of rotting vegetation. She gives every reason to keep away from where dwells, or to avoid the triggers which animate her raison d’etre.

The lake is the oldest feature within the landscape of the Combermere Estate. Originally two bodies of water, dug into one much larger lake, the origins are back at the end of the last Ice Age. Vast lumps of ice remaining from the mile thick ice sheet settled and melted in a number of locations through Cheshire and Shropshire. From the large glacial remnant lakes like Rostherne in north Cheshire, to the meres of Ellesmere, the mosses like Wybunbury and a host of much smaller waters, perhaps a memory to a time before humans walked and changed the land resides within these places. Maybe sometimes it finds a will and interacts with the transient world of people who cross its sensibilities.

Should you wish to see Combermere Abbey and hear much more of its history and mystery there are tours happening this week before Christmas and further dates in January and February 2013. They are taken by Tim Prevett. Details for booking the tours are on the Combermere Abbey website here.

Text and image copyright Tim Prevett www.historyandmystery.co.uk