Illustrated Ghost Stories: The Severed Arm of Overwater

A curious and grisly ghostly tale in which to this day I still can’t decide whether Overwater Hall and it’s neighbouring tarn are haunted by one ghost or two. This one’s not for the squeamish that’s for sure!

The Seeds of a Scandal

In the Lake District in 1814 Joseph Gillbanks procured the Whitfield estate and the estates that surrounded it. Where once stood Whitfield House Gillbanks decided to build what is now known as Overwater Hall, presumably named for the tarn that it neighboured. Gillbanks had made his fortune by sailing to Jamaica at the age of 20 in the pursuit of riches. Whilst there he found love and married Mary Jackson, the niece of the Chief Justice of Jamaica at the time. Armed with vast sums of cash and a new bride, Gillbanks returned to the UK to build his new home and become the firs tof the halls many characterful occupants.

The tale goes that when Joseph and Mary set course for Cumbria they were unknowingly being pursued. It is said that Joseph had taken a mistress whilst in Jamaica and that this mistress had given birth to an illegitimate child. Not content to see Joseph flee his responsibilities the mistress too set course for England. Upon tracking Gillbanks down she revealed to him that they had conceived a child. This was deemed to be a huge scandal that Gilbanks would do anything to avoid, and so he began to scheme. Joseph took his mistress out onto the lake by boat where he preceded to attempt to drown the poor woman who had mothered his child. When she tried to clamber back aboard it is said that Joseph severed her arms so that she no longer had the agency to save herself from the terrible fate of drowning. The coward Gillbanks left his armless victim in the lake to die a grisly and cruel death. 

Now Joseph was never charged for the murder but it is said that the story was well known around the locality and it was no secret of the terrible deed that Gillbanks had done. That Gillbanks never faced justice for his crime which is perhaps how the stories of the ghost of Overwater Hall began.

A Restless Spirit

It is said that within the walls of a hall the ghost of a woman can be seen. She is described as being a black woman with no arms. One famous account of the ghost is that by one of the Hall’s subsequent owners Charles Norman De Courcy Parry, an eccentric ex-chief constable who was famous in his own right for aprehending and killing the infamous war time criminal Percy Toplis, and who claimed to have purchased the hall when drunk. De Courcy Parry wrote about his time in the hall for the magazine ‘Horse and Hound’ in 1934*

“I (Parry) was assured that the old house was haunted by the ghost of a black woman, who had met her sad ending by being drowned in the lake at the bottom of the garden (Over Water).

It was her husband who did the horrid deed, and when she came to the surface and clutched the side of the boat, then the brute up with a chopper and cut off her hands and down went she to the pike and weeds, bubble, bubble, bubble, goodbye!

A nasty tale without a doubt, and no wonder the black lady walks the house and has terrified a great many people. Apparently, it is the lack of her hands that gives them the willies. No maids would sleep here and so cottages were bulit at the end of the back drive for them to sleep in peace.

Naturally, I was a little curious to see this unhappy phenomenon, and I was very surprised indeed on a Friday in August at twenty-past twelve of the clock… to see her pass noiselessly up the stairs and go into our best bedroom without opening the door. Right through the panels she went, whoosh!

She could not have opened the door, it sticks with age, and apart from that she had no hands to turn the knob!” 

From this account we can see that alongside the haunting’s origin being that of a grisly one, our ghost herself is quite frightening to behold. Silently traversing the hall with missing arms, ready to surprise anyone who should live within, visit or work in the home.

However our tale doesnt end here and and our haunting becomes evermore peculiar. Whilst our poor spirit wanders the hall incomplete legend goes that her arms haunt another part of the grounds, the lake where they were severed. The belief that is held in folklore is that the tarn never freezes because when ice begins to form on it’s surface the severed arm appears, balls it’s fist and punches it’s way through the freezing formation.

Today Overwater Hall is open to the public operating as a hotel. Would you dare to spend the night and risk to see the apparition? Or would you settle to walk by the tarn on a frosty winter day, wondering perhaps why the ice does not form upon it’s top…

*Cited from

Illustrated Christmas Ghost Story: The Mistletoe Bride

For this year’s first festive tale we visited Bramshill House in Hampshire for the tale of the Mistletoe Bride. The house is rumoured to be the most haunted in Britain, with a whopping 14 resident ghosts! These include a Green Man, a Knight in Armour, a Tennis Player and a Ghostly child. If you check out the video I cover all fourteen of them!

The focus of our story today, however, is on The White Woman. This ghost is said to haunt the Fleur de Lys room and harbours a particularly tragic tale. One set at, and often recited during, Christmas time. Read on for a festive fright to get you in the Christmas spirit for, well, Christmas spirits!

Ghost Stories at Christmas 

The tradition of telling ghost stories on Christmas Eve was a hugely popular one during the 18th century. A newly formed middle class with extra time on their hands would need a way to pass dark, cold nights. Nights where anything could be imagined to lurk in the corners of fire lit rooms. Nights where all the family are gathered around the fireplace for warmth. Dicken’s ‘The Christmas Carol’ is clearly the most popular of these festive tales. Another author of note is M. R. James whose tradition of Christmas Eve storytelling at Kings College is a famous one. As are his tales, such as “Whistle and I’ll Come to you My Lad”. 

The Misteltoe Bough

This tale begins in Christmas 1727. Anne Cope has just married Hugh Bethell of Yorkshire. Anne is the eldest daughter of John Cope of the aforementioned Bramshill House. After celebrations drew to a close, and before retiring, Anne proposes a game of Hide and Seek. Her guests permit her a five minute head start after which they will hunt for the new bride in her hiding place. Minutes pass and the bride is deemed to be quite the champion. Hours passed and the guests grow concerned. There is neither head nor hair of the bride to be found. Hours turn to days, days to years. Rumours spread that the bride regretted her marriage to Hugh immediately. That she ran away rather than face a life with him. Hugh, however, never gave up on the search for his bride.

We now fast forward to fifty years since the mystery of the vanishing bride on Christmas Day. Hugh is searching the house, as he often did, for clues to her disappearance. He finds himself in the attic. Hugh taps an oak panel that revels a previously unseen door. Through the secret entrance lies a chest. Within the chest, the answer to the mystery. A grisly sight! A skeleton, wearing a wedding dress and clutching a bouquet of mistletoe. Inside the lid, the scratch marks of a poor soul attempting to escape her claustrophobic tomb.

It is said today that Anne’s ghost walks the Fleur de Lys room of Bramshill House at night. Hugh is believed to be responsible for another spirit. That of a man, glimpsed staring at the chest where his bride had remained so close to him all those years.

Points of Contest

There are a few debated points within the story’s claim to authenticity. Beyond the obvious as to whether or not ghosts exist, that is! The story is associated with a number of stately homes in the UK although Bramshill House is the one deemed to be most credible. Although it is said that the chest that stands in the hall today is not the one from the story, the original best having been removed by an earlier owner of the house. 

It is also said that the tragic tale did not actually happen to Anne Cope or within the house at all. In fact, it is said that the ghost arrived to the house with the chest itself. The story of an entombed bride true but having already happened. The theory is that the tale pertains to Genevre Orsini, an Italian woman from a well to do family. Genevre too married her beloved in 1727, as Anne and Hugh did.  It is said that after Genevre died encased within the chest the chest was sold to an English man and brought to Bramshill. The ghost of The White Woman in this case is thought to be that of Genevre herself.

Remember to like the video if you enjoyed it, and subscribe to my YouTube channel to be updated about future Illustrated Ghost Story releases.

Illustrated Ghost Stories 2. The Screaming Skull of Burton Agnes Hall

For my second video I covered the bizarre phenomenon of Screaming Skulls. A distinctly English folklore, there are tales of human skulls the owners of which have requested them to remain in the places they inhabited in life. It’s believed to be linked to Celtic beliefs about the importance of the head. Some believed the skulls to be a good luck heirloom to be passed down for generations to ensure the fortune of the family. In this video we looked at three tales of screaming skulls.

Anne Griffith, The Screaming Skull of Burton Agnes Hall 

Katherine ‘Anne’ Griffith was the youngest of three sisters living at Burton Agnes Hall, East Riding of Yorkshire. Daughters of Sir Henry Griffith, Anne was besotted with the building her father had erected. She believed it to be the most beautiful house ever built. One day, not long after the completion of the work, Anne fell victim of a violent mugging, less than a mile from their home. Anne was brought home to the hall suffering from a blow to the head sustained during the attack. She asked her sisters to promise her that once she died they would remove her head from her body and keep it within the walls of the home she loved so much. Days after the attack, poor Anne died of her injuries. However, the sisters broke their promise and Anne’s body was buried whole in the churchyard. 

A week after Anne’s funeral the first strange occurrence was reported. A loud crash was heard in the hall, like that of a large piece of furniture falling over. On investigation no source of the noise could be found. A week later doors were heard banging violently throughout the home but immediately ceased upon investigation. After this many strange sounds were heard at the hall. Footsteps hurrying up and down the corridors. An unseen figure ascending and descending the stairs quickly. The inhabitants of the hall had become greatly unnerved by the occurrences.

A Grisly Sight

The sisters remembered their sister’s dying promise that they had broken and hastened to make good their word. Anne’s casket was exhumed and within lay a grisly sight. Her head had inexplicably removed itself completely from her body. Her body remained preserved and yet her head was withered and almost completely skull like. This strange sight convinced the sisters that Anne was the source of the strange goings on at the hall. They returned her body to the home and fulfilled their sisters dying wish.

From this day on whenever the skull was removed from the hall, more bizarre experiences were recorded. One tale accounts a maid throwing the skull from a window where it landed on a manure load below. To the shock of the maid and the waggoner, the horses pulling the load refused to move (despite all efforts) until the skull was removed. On one occasion some time later the skull was removed and buried in the garden by the hall’s current occupiers. A terrible wailing and screaming was heard throughout the property until the skull was brought back indoors. It is said that Anne’s skull remains at Burton Agnes Hall, hidden within a wall so as not to scare visitors. 

As always you can find the Illustrated Ghost Story Videos on my Youtube channel and can support the project through my Patreon page.

Illustrated Ghost Story 1: The Gray Man

I thought it might be nice to start adding the stories that I’ve been covering on the blog so you guys can revisit them in the written format if it takes your fancy.

The first video tells the tale of The Gray Man of Bellister Castle. It is said that the ghost of the Gray Man wanders the grounds of Bellister Castle in Northumberland at twilight. An elderly man in tattered robes with a gruesome gash from forehead to chin and a bloody beard. A vision feared by all that has been suggested to sometimes be an omen of death.

The Tale of the Gray Man

The tale of the Gray Man begins on a stormy night at the castle. The Blenkinsops occupied the castle for some centuries. On this night an old minstrel arrived seeking refuge from the storm outside. He was granted refuge, but as the night wore on Lord Blenkinsop grew paranoid. He suspected that his unannounced visitor was a spy for his enemies. After entertaining his hosts the minstrel noted the change in the Lord’s demeanour towards him. He sensed that his welcome had taken an icy turn. The monsters decided that the cold of the storm outside was preferable to the frozen welcome of his host and fled the castle during the night.

A Grisly Demise 

Unfortunately for our poor minstrel, the Lord took his flight as an admission of guilt. Where the minstrel sensed danger and fled the Lord only saw a guilty conscience returning to the ones who had sent him. Enraged, the Lord set the dogs and his men on the poor elderly man. Accounts differ as to whether the minstrel was savagely torn to pieces by the Lord’s dogs, or that the dogs merely halted the man’s escape following which the Lord’s men captured him and hanged him from a nearby tree.

It has been some decades since a sighting of the Gray Man has been reported, and perhaps the Minstrel has found peace at last.As always you can find the Illustrated Ghost Story Videos on my Youtube channel and can support the project through my Patreon page.