One classic Dorset ghost story for Christmas is taken from the Rev. W. S. Swayne’s, 1889 publication “History and Antiquities of Stalbridge”.
“The old manor house in the park at Stalbridge was pulled down in 1822. It was of the Jacobean style, and contained a beautiful staircase with figures of the twelve apostles about a yard high, placed at intervals between the balusters.
In connection with the old mansion, a curious story is told. It is said that for some years before the house was pulled down it was left empty in the charge only of an old housekeeper.
On arriving at the house the lady and her family were met by the housekeeper, who requested all of them to make a point of not being in the hall of the house at five o’clock of an evening. This request was agreed to, and for some time observed; but on one occasion the lady had had some children in to play during the afternoon with her own children, and having said goodbye to them, was standing in the hall of the house just on stroke of five. Hardly had the hour passed when her notice was attracted by a figure issuing from the door of one of the bedrooms on the first floor, which could be seen from the hall. The figure was that of a woman enveloped in flames, who repeated to herself in an agonized voice: ‘I have done it. I have done it.’ The figure disappeared almost immediately into the door of another room:
The lady ascended the stairs, and found that the doors both of the room from which the figure had emerged and that into which it had entered were locked.
Startled by so strange an occurrence, she determined to be in the hall on another evening at the same hour. Once more, she witnessed the same strange events. Now thoroughly convinced that it was something more than a mere freak of her imagination she returned at once with her children to London, and took an early opportunity of calling upon the owner. She mentioned what she had seen, and begged to know what was the meaning of it.
The following story was then related to her.
Some years ago the house was inhabited by a widowed mother and her only son, who was not yet of age. One day the boy came to his mother and told her that he had fallen in love with the gamekeeper’s daughter. The mother reproved him for his indiscretion, and forbade him to mention the subject again. Not long after the boy returned to the subject and announced his intention of marrying the girl. Once more, his mother refused to listen to him.
Some weeks afterwards the son once more spoke to his mother on the same subject and told her that it would be far better for her to make up her mind to accept the inevitable as the girl had now been his wife for some months. The mother was so indignant that she turned her son out of the house and forbade him ever to enter it again. Some months passed away, and the mother apparently repented of her harshness, for she went to her son and told him that she would receive both him and his wife and condone his disobedience. They returned to Stalbridge House, and at first all went well, for the girl was beautiful and amiable and did her best to please her mother-in-law.
One day, however, the young man returned late in the evening after a long day’s hunting, and was met by the sad news that his young wife had been burnt to death. The accident had occurred in this way. His wife had entered her mother-in-law’s dressing room about five o’clock in the evening, ready dressed for dinner. The mother-in-law was sitting in a distant part of the room before her looking glass, and the girl stood before the fire. Suddenly the elder lady heard a scream, and turning, saw her daughter-in-law enveloped in flames, having accidentally caught her dress on fire from the hearth. This story was accepted without question; and it was not until the wretched woman lay on her deathbed that she confessed to her son that she had murdered his young wife, having pushed her into the fire. After the death of the murderess the old house was haunted by her figure enveloped in flames, and exclaiming at her own crime.”