Thursday, September 8, 2011

Littlecote’s “Burning Babe” Ghost

In Wilshire, England there is a stately home called Littlecote House. This house is the site of a violent murder of an infant that has become known as the “Burning Babe.” This crime took place in 1575; the owner of Littlecote was William Darrell whose family had owned the home since 1415. Darrell was known as “Wild Darrell” because of his depraved and outrageous behavior.

It is said that Darrell sent for a midwife from another village, he had her blindfolded and brought to Littlecote. This midwife was guided upstairs to a room were a woman was in labor—she was instructed to help deliver the baby. As soon as the child was born, it is said Darrell ripped the baby from the midwife’s arms and threw it into the fire. The midwife was given a purse full of money and then was escorted home still blindfolded.

The midwife however had the presence of mind to snip a piece of the curtain before she left. She also counted the number of steps on the staircase on her way out. The next day she reported what had happened to the local magistrate. Littlecote was immediately suspected. An investigation was conducted and it was found the number of steps matched the midwife’s count and that her piece of fabric matched a hole in the bed curtains in one room.

In another even more gruesome version of this story the midwife is too scared to talk so she doesn’t confess what she had experienced until she is on her deathbed. This version states the midwife was promised a large sum of money to keep quiet. She remembers that the baby was handed to her and that she was instructed to throw it in the fire but she refused. Then Darrell snatched the baby from her arms and threw it in the fire himself. She cried as she confessed he held it down with his boot until the body burned.

In various versions of the story the mother of the murdered baby was his wife, maid or sister.

Regardless of the version told, Darrell was arrested. He was tried and acquitted of the crime—it is said that he bribed Sir John Popham who was the judge, which caused a scandal. Darrell died fourteen years later in 1589. He was thrown from his horse while hunting and broke his neck. It was said that Darrell’s horse reared up at the sight of the ghost of the murdered baby. Sir Popham brought the property after his death.

Littlecote is believed to be haunted because of this terrible crime. It is said that the “Burning Babe”, appears at Darrell’s Stile, which is where Darrell was thrown from his horse. This area is also haunted by Darrell himself, he is accompanied by phantom hunting hounds. Horses still get spooked at this spot.

Sometimes when Darrell’s ghost appears he is a death harbinger --when seen at Littlecote, with his phantom coach, and horses it means the heir to the estate will die.

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