A few days ago I received an email from Ann of North Weald, Essex. Considering I’ve lived in the area for my entire life, I have to confess to feeling a little ashamed at never having heard of Hill Hall, Epping. Especially as it happens to have its very own ghost.
Hill Hall boasts some of the earliest classical decoration on any surviving building in Britain as well as a series of late 16th century wall paintings including scenes from the story of Cupid, Psyche and the mother in law from hell, Venus.
The origins of Hill Hall date back from before the Norman Conquest when the site was owned by a Saxon chap called Godric. I’m sure Godric would be delighted to see what they’ve done with the place over the centuries. The first proper house was built on the site in the early 13th century and the mostly timber framed building was then rebuilt by Sir Thomas Smith during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. The Smiths remained in residence at Hill Hall right up until 1923.
During World War II, Hill Hall was used as a maternity home before becoming a billet for RAF officers. The stately pile was then abandoned in 1942. After a while the building was converted into the most unlikeliest of things: a women’s prison which opened for business in 1952. Things ticked on quietly at Hill Hall until one unfortunate day in 1969 when an inmate started a fire. This is where Ann’s story begins:
“When I was about seventeen, I was doing a project on Hill Hall. The building has been converted into flats now but it was a women’s prison many years ago. I was allowed special access to take photos and at the time the place was boarded up due to the fire that had taken place while it was a women’s prison, caused by one of the inmates setting light to herself in her room. I had access to the grounds only as the building was unsafe to enter. I was round the back of the house with my dad and I was looking at the back of the house when I saw a woman in a long white night dress. I watched her for about a minute as she walked along the back of the house and then turned to my dad and asked him who he thought the woman was. He hadn’t seen her. When I looked again she was gone but there was nowhere for her to go.
I know it was a ghost I saw that day and I can see the image in my mind even now, as if it happened yesterday. Hill Hall is reported to be haunted by the lady who set herself alight and caused the fire.”
English Heritage now look after Hill Hall and even though the building has been converted into some rather swanky private houses, the public are still able to view certain areas by prior arrangement. If you’re lucky, perhaps the lady in white will join you on your tour.
©Nicola Kirk and http://www.nicolakirk.wordpress.com 2010