This song was written for the Living Archive Band’s radio ballad The Horse and the Tractor, but was not included when the ghost story fell victim to the editorial axe- a not inappropriate metaphor! The song intertwines two stories- the murder of Lady Grace Bennet at Calverton Manor, Buckinghamshire in 1694, and the childhood fears of Richard Fountaine who was brought to live in Calverton Manor after his family had bought the farm and the house. Not surprisingly, having heard rumours of hauntings, the boy was not happy, as he recounted much later in life:-
Richard Fountaine talking to Roger Kitchen in 2009
Grace Bennet was widowed when her husband Simon died in 1682, and thereafter she lived alone as Lady of the Manor in Calverton. She was widely disliked for her ‘mean and covetous’ ways, and being ‘a terror to the village’ she would have anyone found gathering firewood on her land severely beaten.
To ensure that her orders were being obeyed, she one day dressed in peasant’s clothes and went about the fields to gather sticks, whereupon, in a commendable response, a keeper swiftly pounced. Feigning ignorance of his victim’s identity, he then proceeded to administer a sound and thorough thrashing.
Lady Bennet would often neglect to pay her poor rates, and as a result was frequently hauled before the Justices at the Quarter Sessions. She also proved rather reticent in paying her dues for highways maintenance, and it was said that she kept all the arable land ‘in her owne hands laid downe and untilled so that the parish is almost depopulated and the fields looke like a wildernesse little being moved and that which was generally so late and kept so long till it was spoyled.’
Rumour spread locally that Lady Bennet kept a large fortune in the manor house, and this tempted a local butcher from Stony Stratford by the name of Adam Barnes to break in and relieve her of such worldly burdens. However, she suddenly stumbled across him in the servants’ quarters, and there she was brutally murdered for her interference. Barnes escaped but was eventually caught and brought to justice, convicted and sentenced to hang. His body was left to swing in irons and rot.
Both the murderer and his uncharitable victim are still said to walk their ghostly ways, and for many years in the servants’ hall could be seen a red stained stone that defied all attempts to clean it- though when the stone was eventually taken up a natural red vein was found to run right through it!
With thanks to John Taylor, The Way We Were