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The Hauntings of Chateau Rhianfa

Hello everyone, and welcome to LukeLore. A quick deep dive into a folklore topic, where I share some of the stories from around the world that have piqued my interest. We have a very special location based episode for you today, as these are the stories I will be reading live from on location the evening of the 13th of November! I will be at Chateau Rhianfa for a wedding, and performing by the fireside as a part of the celebration. This is something of a practice run for myself, that will go on to chronicle the event. Also, it should be a lot of fun for everyone, as Chateau Rhianfa is as delightfully haunted as it is delightfully named. “Rhianfa” means “a dwelling for a lady”, Chateau being a French term that jumbles up “country house” and “castle” – often with an emphasis on vineyards and wine production. Billed as a “Unique Fairytale Hotel”, it absolutely looks the part. Currently a Grade II listed building being used as a destination spot, with its grounds and gardens also listed as Grade II heritage sites. I’m excited to get there and explore, as well as giving it a nice spooky deep dive as a folklorist. It’s an adorable little castle, and here are its hauntings. SECTION BREAK – What Lies Beneath The lovely Chateau Rhianfa began life as Plas Rhianfa, so its origins lean more into a mansion than a castle. But it was heavily inspired by a wide range of French Gothic Chateau across the Loire Valley region of France, so its name got the upgrade when it was sold to be turned into apartments, leading to its current hotel status. It’s a relatively recent addition to Wales’s collection of castles, being built across two years from 1849 to it being finished in its original form in 1851. This was not exactly the smoothest of processes, however. The coastal view of the Isle of Anglesey comes with incredible scenery, but it wasn’t necessarily the best of places to build the foundations of a castle. Not to say this was a particularly brutal build! The owners provided extensive sketches to work off of that did a great job of showcasing some fine work from across France, and a professional architect was brought in from Birkenhead to bring them to life. Yet despite that, this was the middle of the 19th century. We’re a little before OSHA workplace standards, and the land wasn’t too happy being reworked from natural scenery into scenic construction. Disaster struck in the first year of construction, during literally foundational work. Digging into the ground, almost inevitably in Wales’s signature constant soaking drizzle of rain, resulted in a landslide. The earth shifted, and swallowed up three workmen, right under where the Chateau now stands. I presume their bodies were recovered and returned to their families, but that wasn’t the last they were heard of. Apparently, if you’re on the lower levels at the right – or perhaps in this case WRONG – times, you can still hear them. Clawing against the soil, and at the foundation trapping them now forever onwards, gasping for air and panicking as they play out their terrifying smothered end. Loose, damp earth swallowed them up and then never quite let them go. Not all the way. Not if you’re walking the lower levels above where they died in the enveloping dark. Yeah… Chateau Plas Rhianfa has quite the reputation for strange and inexplicable noises. Especially among the staff who work here! The disturbing replay of a bad end isn’t the only notorious strange noises that can be encountered around here. The next tragedy to get its own echoes across time occurred when the main buildings were fully built and inhabited, and is a cautionary tale about children playing where they shouldn’t. A friend of Lady Sarah’s visited with her daughter in 1862, and this little girl was playing in the old stables. The old stables, which had open wells in them. A convenient placement for stablehands dealing with thirsty horses, but a disaster waiting to happen, which unfortunately it did that day. The little girl fell in, and no one was around to hear her struggling. She was only found later, when it was far too late, and the tiny body was long drowned when a search for her found the poor girl. The good news is the wells are long covered. The bad news is, that the old stables are now one of the women’s toilets. I think for the banquet hall? Chateau staff kindly passed over local stories, and the annotation was “BH ladies toilets”. Any guests using the toilets around Plas Rhianfa, please let me know if you hear the ghost of the little girl coming up from the plumbing so we can narrow it down. Apparently it’s possible to hear playful humming, and a little girl talking, at times. Something the staff notice when they’re working in quieter times, but also something guests have noticed… It’s quite the venue for strange noises. SECTION BREAK – The Chateau’s Ladies Britain has quite the tradition of both White Ladies and Black Ladies, shorthand references for ghosts appearing in either colour. Typically the dresses they wore in life. Rhianfa has one of each of these, giving it the full spooky set of classic ghostly women. Let’s start with the first Lady of the House, as this was originally her dowager home, and the apparition of a Lady In Black who is very likely to be her shade. Dowager homes are a bit of an older tradition, but there were no male heirs of John Hay Williams, which meant that his younger brother would be the default for everything set to be inherited after his death. So the entire construction was to provide for his wife and two daughters, although don’t rule out how much Lady Sarah had to do with the process. Lady Sarah Elizabeth Pitt was quite the artist, and it was her sketches that led to such a beautiful building, not to mention she also furnished the whole Chateau herself. Impressive décor that goes on to be preserved to this day. Should you follow the theory that strong feelings will leave an impression upon a place, Lady Sarah certainly qualifies. As he planned for, although no less tragically for his loved ones, Hay Williams died in 1859. Sarah lived on in her custom built home for a further 17 years, wearing black from the time of her husband’s funeral up to and including her own come 1876. So when staff and guests see a shadowy figure, a patch of deeper black among the darkness in the shape of a flowing dress? It’s pretty easy to make the connection. This silhouette can appear anywhere in the original building as Lady Sarah roams the home custom made for her, based on designs she loved to fill art books with. She’s apparently pretty photogenic, if you’re quick on the draw with a camera you can snap the Chateau’s Lady In Black pretty handily. But the Lady In White of Rhianfa may be even easier to catch in motion. Lady Sarah can pop up anywhere in the original building, but the unknown Lady In White has a very specific haunt. That would be the nice big banquet room, already having a rather cursed toilet thanks to the unfortunate issue with the well beneath it, the main dining area itself has a specific manifestation to watch out for. She’s even pretty prominently caught on camera from an event in 2016. A Murder Mystery night for charity had booked the dining room for an evening event, and everything proceeded as planned. There was no big moment when the Lady In White was spotted among the participants, not at the time at least. She may have been felt, however. Guests reported that the temperature rapidly dropped in the room, accompanied by the sound system for the event stalling out before restarting itself. Someone happened to take a picture around that time, and they caught the White Lady of Rhianfa on camera. This wasn’t even noticed at first, it just sat waiting to be spotted when the footage was sorted through for a next event. Right by the top table, stood there looking out over the guests for that night, was a spectral white figure. Her identity is only speculated upon. Could she be an earlier inhabitant? Does Lady Sarah have an ethereal changing room, and is pulling double duty as both classic tropes? Or is it an ill-fated bride from the more recent years of the Chateau as a popular wedding venue? We may not know the “who”, but the “where” has been known for some time, and you can find her recent photo online with a quick Internet search if you want to see her for yourself. So, we have two photogenic classically styled “Lady” apparitions. Consider it a paparazzi challenge, let’s see if anyone can get either lady on camera! SECTION BREAK – One More Famous Shade We have tragic noises from the dead in the deep, and a pair of Lady’s still present in the building, but there’s one more rather distinctive ghost to spot about the place. This comes down to World War I, and how a lot of the high society old homes about the British Isles helped the war effort. The Great War wasn’t “great” as in it was a good time, it was a devastatingly terrible time where modern mechanised warfare collided with old fashioned ideas about supposed “proper” warfare. It was an absolute disaster for the common people conscripted into it, and that led to an alarming need for hospitals and locations for convalescence. The landed gentry thankfully weren’t just the idiot generals came from to give such genius orders as: “Line up and walk towards that machine gun, how many bullets can the new-fangled doodad have anyway?” They thankfully also stepped up to help the injured in a pre-NHS nation. So a lot of places like the Chateau opened up to become hospitals for the wounded who were able to be returned from the front lines, exactly like Rhianfa as they were one of these military hospitals in 1917. Looking at the date, it was probably an active war hospital too, as World War 1 only ended the following year. The lower halls were turned over to the military, packing in a pile of wounded personnel along with the staff to care for them. Someone must have appreciated the place, because it seems they never left. Any given lower hall that was used to care for the wounded may yet be seen with a soldier wandering them. They’re stand out pretty should you encounter them, in a first World War uniform. It may even be more than one soldier, thinking about it now. There doesn’t seem to be anything gruesome about the phantom, you just may see a soldier having a wander. Maybe a member of the medical staff, possibly someone who was at some point well enough to go for a walk, they can simply be bumped into still stretching their legs in the night. A bit of living history to encounter. Well, unliving history. I’ve not seen any reports of anything too scary happening if you see the soldier, it’s just a little unexpected if it does happen. The soldier makes for the 5th distinct haunting of the idyllic hotel, which sounds like a lot but I now need to move out into wider Anglesey for some more stories. SECTION BREAK – A Haunted Isle Like most of the British Isles, Anglesey has a fair weight of history behind it for a relatively small place. Archaeologists have managed to find remains going back for at least 5,000 years, discovering history from as far back as the Neolithic period. The island has persistently been a refuge of druids and witchcraft, with famous Romans complaining about the place in their writings. It sadly didn’t survive the Romans like places in Scotland and Ireland managed to, also famously being pretty punishingly subjugated, but it’s impressive that the likes of Tacitus and even Julius Caesar had to give the island personal attention. The Romans knew the island as Mona, and were convinced it was a terrifying place filled with human sacrifice. Something which was probably just propaganda, although… Maybe don’t rule it all the way out. Especially if that human sacrifice happened to be a nosy Roman invader. As with the rest of Britain, that level of heavily layered history has left its mark. A spooky sandwich of many unexpected things to blunder into, memories of aeons past that can be tripped over by the living as they go about their business. On the opposite end of the island to the Chateau is Wylfa Head, on the other side of a section of land delightfully marked out as the ‘Anglesey Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’, which is currently the location of some impressive cliffs and a nuclear power plant. This power plant is currently the location of quite a high class ghost, in that the spirit of Rosina Buckman can still be seen there around the height of Summer. That exact area used to be an old money kind of area, a “millionaire’s row” that fell afoul of modern development. Rosina was a famous New Zealand born Opera Singer who became a prima donna during World War 1, while she died on the final day of December in 1948 the first report of her ghost was from August in 1964. This was after the older, outdated posh holiday homes were already torn down and the Wylfa Nuclear Power Station was under construction. A group of workers from Ireland were on a night shift that was trying to complete a tunnel needed for the complex, and having to explain the next day why they all ran out of there mid shift they swear they saw the ghostly apparition of a woman in a white dress drifting through the tunnel! At the time, there was an uncharitable sentiment that this was just one of the local builders scaring the superstitious Irish in a bedsheet, but if this was just a prank it coincided with a lot of ongoing sightings of the opera singer returning to Wylfa. It wasn’t long after the first sighting that six men working on the same tunnel project say they saw a woman in an evening gown walking over to the cliff edge. One said he assumed it was a girl going for a swim, as the whole group watched her walking to the drop heard her humming some sort of melody. This caused a panic when she stepped off of the cliff to vanish without a trace. Sightings went on to continue across the decades, with anyone working at nights either as power plant staff or on new builds having a chance to spot the ghost of Rosina returning to the cliffs of Wylfa. In the 1990s a worker on a road rerouted around a new building was taking a tea break, when he happened to look up out of the window he was sat beside to see a lady in a long white dress drift right on past him. When he went outside to look for her, she had vanished. Rosina just seems to be returning to where she was happiest in life. July and August, when her ghost can be seen, would have been her Summer holidays. There’s also a theory she may be looking for something from her former home, now long gone. The ashes of her mother-in-law were supposed to remain at the holiday home, but had to be removed and reinterred at Llanbadrig Church. I would have expected this to lead Emma d’Oisley herself haunting the place if so, but witnesses seem pretty sure it’s Rosina who comes back year after year. It just seems to be an enduring love of those northern cliffs. SECTION BREAK – A Cursed Jail Only three miles along the south coast of Anglesey from Rhianfa, an hour’s walk if you felt up to it, is an interesting museum with a brutal past. A 200 year old jail, Beaumaris Gaol and Court. To put it lightly, being a prisoner in the 1800s was somewhat arduous. On top of the depressingly usual beating and living in squalor, Beaumaris has the dubious honour of being one of the last working penal treadmills in the British Isles. Prisoners were set to walk in a pair of cast iron wheels, which in turn powered water pumps for the prison, and anyone who collapsed from the exertion was in for a vicious whipping. Arguably feeding the poor sods properly would have been more effective, but the cruelty was the point more than efficiency in water management. It was also a jail known for work lines breaking rocks, again with whippings on hand for anyone who passed out. It was a pretty effective gaol, too. There’s only one recorded escape from its term holding prisoners, a John Morris who managed to steal rope he had been working on to go over the walls in 1859. He didn’t get too far though, he broke his leg and was promptly recaptured, but he DID make it out of town first so technically gets to be the sole escapee of Beaumaris. It looks like only two people were executed during the building’s relatively short 48 year run as a misery factory for those who fell afoul of the law. Both are still SOMEWHERE on the grounds, as they got unmarked burials in the walls of the lime pit prisoners got put to work down. In 1830 William Griffith was hanged to death for the attempted murder of his first wife. He famously managed to barricade his room on the day of his execution, requiring a team of guards to break in to get him and he went on to need a mix of dragging and carrying to the gallows. William Griffith was a man who left this world the same way he came into it, kicking and screaming every inch of the way. The second and final execution is how the gaol got its curse, however. Richard Rowlands was put to death for the murder of his father-in-law, and for the entire time there he maintained he was innocent. Neither the atrocious conditions of the imprisonment, not the regular abuse that came with it, could get him to confess to the crime. As his final words on the gallows, he one final time insisted he was innocent, and this is where the curse comes in. Rowlands said that if he was innocent, the four faces of the Beaumaris church clock would never show the same time. The curse seems to have worked, too, because you can go and see the wonky clock faces to this day. The location seems relatively light in apparitions given what a misery factory it was for a while, but it has enough to warrant ghost hunting tours after regular museum hours. There’s supposed to be a fair bit of poltergeist activity, with original fittings knocked about the place and inexplicable slamming of doors after dark. There’s also the unsurprising moans and wails of people suffering at times. Workers in the building’s current incarnation as a museum and heritage centre have reported seeing shadowy figures moving about the place, and have heard indistinct muttered conversations coming from places that should be empty. But the most distinct presence that can be found there appears to be that of one of the former jailors. This former jailor will whistle along his old rounds, knocking on cell doors as he passes by. The main central staircase is supposed to be a good place to catch him on his travels, people have heard the distinct metallic noises of him rattling his keys along the handrails as he comes down them. This feels like a much more worrying version of Rosina’s ghost on Wylfa cliff, someone who enjoyed his time as a gaol jailor hanging around the place to this day. Beaumaris was only a jail from 1829 to 1878, although it sounds like it tried harder to be a stand out terrible place in that brief run. It went on to be used as a police station until the 1950s, was a children’s clinic for a brief period, then was turned into the tourist destination you can head over to see this day. You can go see the remains of the gallows and the cursed clock near it for yourselves, and even stay after hours to try and meet the ghost of the worryingly happy jailor if you catch one of the afterhours events. SECTION BREAK – Something From The Waters There’s some rather particular weirdness going on, just off the shorelines of Holyhead in Anglesey. Now, this actually has a mundane explanation, but is still pretty interesting to go and see. These are Holyhead’s Marine Ghouls, pictures of which have been catching the imagination online. If you head to the westernmost point of the Island around low tide, an alarming sight emerges from the waters. As the tide recedes, multiple humanlike figures emerge from the sea, standing almost still upon Newry Beach not too far from Holyhead Maritime Museum. Almost still, as there’s a gentle sway in the wind… They’re definitely set to be an alarming sight at night! But they’re not too terrifying once you know what they are. They’re remaining wooden stumps from the old lifeguard pier, now completely covered in seaweed. Having seen pictures of them online, they definitely cut an alarming figure if you don’t know what they are. While not supernatural, or at least probably not – they look pretty unnerving, and I don’t trust them not to go for a wander on some obscure night of the year – they do remain a stark reminder of a dangerous place that claimed a lot of lives. Holyhead Maritime Museum is the oldest surviving lifeboat house in Wales, and that stretch of the Irish Sea with a shipping route between Dublin and Liverpool claimed an impressive amount of lives over the years. Anglesey has its fair share of famous shipwrecks, which takes us to Moelfre, a bit north of Rhianfa on the East facing side of the island. A fascinating place for an outing, including prehistoric monuments along with the sunken remains off of its shore. Moelfre has the dubious claim to fame of being the site for one of the worst shipping disasters in the 19th century, as a freak storm in 1859 destroyed the ship called the ‘Royal Charter’. Now, East facing shore in Wales is rare, the island of Anglesey being only part of a very small patch to do this. A storm in Wales coming from the East is even rarer, being something the Irish Sea tends to throw at them from the West. The ‘Royal Charter’ should have been self and sheltered, past the worst part of the run. Most shipwrecks, and there are certainly plenty of them, will be on the West or North of Angelsey, but this perfectly terrible confluence of events hit at exactly the wrong time for the ship. Everything that could go wrong, went wrong. The once in a lifetime storm from the wrong direction was beyond intense. Sails couldn’t be used, and the engine they had as a backup was nowhere near enough for that time in this storm. Their only option was to drop anchor and wait, but this storm was so dire it snapped the chain in no time at all. The only real chance they had was to be blown out to the Irish Sea to be rescued later, but they were driven directly for Anglesey. There was a brief moment of hope when they were run aground on a sandbank, but then in a final addition to this perfect maelstrom of disaster for the ‘Royal Charter’, the tide was rising and the ship got lifted to be dashed to pieces like a toy against the far side of the Moelfre cove its journey ended at. An incredible number of lives were lost, the storming seas smashing survivors against the rocks only a few feet away from safety. 465 lives were lost. None of the survivors were women or children. This was a disaster of the century caused by the storm of the century, and became massive news. Charles Dickens came over to Anglesey to report on it, returning with horror stories of locals looting the corpses of the dead in the aftermath. One person of note who did what he could in the aftermath was Reverend Stephen Hughes, the vicar turned his tiny church into a makeshift mortuary and spent weeks trying to identify bodies to be returned to their families for burial. There wasn’t that much he could do, however. A lot of the victims were laid to rest at a nearby cemetery in Llanallgo. He died not long afterwards at only the age of 47, and was laid to rest there too. Okay, this took a turn for the terrible, but it was quite the historical moment. The actual cove were it happened is a pretty nice tourist spot now, if you should have the time to head up that way. SECTION BREAK – Do Not Pet The Giant Murderbeasts Britain has what may be one of the strangest nationwide problems that pop up at intervals, and that is the phenomenon of a Black Cat sighting. This doesn’t seem to be paranormal, neither an otherworldy creature nor a cryptid, it just seems that rich idiots will have an exotic pet that then makes a break for freedom, before lurking in the countryside a while feeding on livestock. Eating said rich idiot’s face first for their hubris being an optional step. For its size compared to the rest of Wales and wider Britain, Anglesey has had a weird amount of these sightings. There are reports, and even photographs, from October of this year. The latest footage I saw while researching weirdness across the island is a video that’s less than a month old. There’s even a sizable “Puma Watch” organisation for North Wales, so I’m not sure what to say about this particular branch of British Black Cat sightings. This most recent sighting was a couple returning to Anglesey from a night out in Llandudno, and the possible sighting was on an embankment near Britannia Bridge. Other sightings are clustered quite close together in recent years, so it may be the same minor celebrity big cat stalking the island. Wales as a whole has 123 contemporary sightings of big cats, putting it on about par with Scotland at 125 and Yorkshire at 127. Devon is the stand out Black Cat stomping ground for the British Isles though, coming in at 676 sightings across the same time period. Anglesey does have some folklore pedigree here, with mention of the Cath Palug in Arthurian Myth. A terrifying giant cat given birth to by a likewise monsterous pig, it only gets some small mentions in poetry surrounding the myth, but it was supposed to have killed 180 warriors before it was finally slain by Sir Kay. It started life as a tiny black kitten given birth by the great white sow Henwen that some git immediately threw into the sea, but the Cath Palug – or “scratching cat” – managed to make its way over to Anglesey where it become one of three great plagues to befall the island. In some stories King Arthur himself fights the Cath Palug, some of which even giving the giant cat the kill, meaning that the tale of King Arthur ultimately ends with a monster kitty mauling him to death before one of his knights avenge him. In the stories where King Arthur survives, he uses a mirrored shield in the fight, and the Cath Pulag is distracted into fighting its reflection. All I can end this segment on is relief my partner is busy in Canada for the wedding. They would spend most of their time wandering about with some open cat food trying to pet the suspected puma. No petting murderbeasts allowed! That goes for everyone thinking this may be a good idea, you all know who you are! If there should happen to be a giant black cat living its best life around North Wales, please admire it at a safe distance. Take only pictures, don’t leave any severed body parts lying about the place. SECTION BREAK So, as a very special addendum to the episode, congratulations Mariam and Ilan! It’s their wedding getting the live readings of these stories, by a fireside in the Chateau itself. Preparing this episode became something of a practice session, so fingers crossed it went well as it will already have happened by the time the podcast airs, this now becoming something of a time capsule. If there are any photos or recordings from the live readings I’ll see if I can share them online for everyone to enjoy. Additional thanks to the staff of Chateau Rhianfa for forwarding the known stories of the castle’s hauntings, which was a huge help for my research. Let’s see if the wedding party can get any first hand experiences of them now… LukeLore is a Ghost Story Guys production.

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