A few hundred years ago the Dunkenhalgh was a grand old Hall, the seat of the Walmesley family and the centre of a vast estate covering thousands of acres. Now it’s a typically English hotel, a beautiful building, standing in fifteen acres of beautiful grounds.
There have been reports of a ghostly woman on the ground floor and a night porter once witnessed a heavy pair of door-curtains billowing out as if a wind was behind them – but the door was firmly closed. Another employee once saw a figure pass through a wall. Next morning she was taken into the Portrait Room for the first time and there she identified the figure she had seen as one of the Walmesley family.
Outside in the grounds, there have long been stories about the Dunkenhalgh boggart. There’s even a bridge across the river in the grounds which is known as ‘the Boggart’s Bridge’, but in this case the ‘boggart’ is a beautiful young woman.
Legend says that some time in the 18th century the incumbent family took on a French governess called Lucette to care for their children. One Christmas, Lucette fell in love with a young Officer who was staying at the house and when he proclaimed his love for her, she believed him. She became pregnant and when the time came for the Officer to go back to his regiment, he said he would return to marry her. Of course, he was lying.
The months passed, the child would soon be born, and Lucette became distraught at her abandonment. She could not stay in her employment, but neither could she return to her French home for fear of the shame she would bring upon her family. One night she was walking by the River Hyndbum, which flows through the grounds of the Dunkenhalgh and, quite at her wits end, she threw herself from the bridge into the river. Next morning they found her body caught in reeds and carried her gently back to the house.
Some versions of the story say that the officer did come back, a few weeks after Lucette killed herself, but that one of her brothers who had heard of the affair challenged him to a duel and killed him.
Lucette’s ghost is said to haunt at Christmastime, dressed in a shroud and drifting silently among the trees. When she reaches the bridge, she disappears. It is said that Lucette’s lover carved his initials and her own, within a heart, in the bark of a particular tree in the grounds. It is to this tree that Lucette is walking. Every Christmas Eve, this carved heart would ooze red blood and at the same time, the chapel bell would sound. (The chapel and the bell are, sadly, long gone).
One very old version of the story, told in 1892 by ‘Old Robin o’ Giles of Harwood Cliff’, said that Lucette gave birth to a baby boy before jumping into the river, holding the baby in her arms. The baby was cast up by the retreating waters on the doorstep of the old Mill, where the miller and his wife found him and brought him up as their own child. The child had a birthmark on his chest, in the shape of a blood-red heart.
The ‘boggart bridge’ was repaired in the middle of the 19th century and a shawl-pin was found in the masonry; the head of which was a red heart-shaped cornelian. It was, naurally, assumed to have belonged to poor Lucette.
In 1892, the Blackburn Standard reported that the ‘Dungley Boggart’ had reappeared at the Hall. This report said that the boggart, who took the form of a lady in white, had appeared in several locations inside the Hall itself. The lady had appeared to several of the servants. By now, the ghost story had taken on more of the traditional detail one would expect – it was reported to appear every seven years and not on just one date but two; the 7th and 14th of May. The servants who had witnessed the White Lady’s appearance were, naturally, terrified.
These sightings may well have been the result of young girls’ imaginations, but in 1965 another report brought the original story up to date. A young man was walking his dog late at night in the driveway. His dog growled and barked, drawing the man’s attention to a woman, who was dressed in clothes from a completely different time. He stood very still as the woman approached and when she was almost upon him, she turned slightly and vanished clean away. She left behind her nothing but a lingering perfume.