Thursday, 9 October 2014

A Ghost in the Isle of Wight ~ Shane Leslie

Sir John Randolph Leslie, 3rd Baronet of Glaslough, Co. Monaghan, generally known as Shane Leslie (1885–1971), was educated at Eton and King's, Cambridge, during the first decade of the twentieth century. While at King’s he met Provost M. R. James, converted to Catholicism, and renounced his inheritance. His writings, like those of his friend R. H. Benson (brother of E. F. Benson), have a particularly Catholic slant. They are also the product of a lifelong interest in the supernatural; as he wrote in his Ghost Book, he 'always had a prepossession for the queer and all that raises unanswerable query.'

Leslie's novelette A Ghost in the Isle of Wight was published by Elkin Mathews & Marrot in 1929, in a limited signed edition of 530, as part of their Woburn series of books. 

The Spectator's review of the Woburn series, which appeared on the 21st of December 1929, called Leslie's book lame and boring, which didn't sound promising. But they were also less than nice about Baring-Gould's A Book of Ghosts, so what do they know! Anyway, I was spurred on by my fondness for the Isle of Wight.

The narrator of A Ghost in the Isle of Wight arranges a holiday at Killington Manor on the Isle of Wight without having seen the place beforehand. He is part of a group, which includes his friend Edward Sarsfield, Sarsfield's wife, her sister and four maidservants. Killington is an isolated place, far from villages and highways on the south west side of the island (if I read the directions right). The narrator turns up a week after the others, having been held up in London, and is told after dinner on his first night on the island that the place is haunted. Sounds had been heard - the tread of feet and the clinking of swords - two nights running, and Sarsfield's wife was almost overcome by the scent of decaying lilies. But during the fortnight following the narrator's arrival there are no further nocturnal disturbances. Eventually, the narrator is woken in the night by sounds on the stairs. The entire house is investigated, the property agent is questioned, but the matter remains unresolved. A week later, he is woken by strange sounds again, and this time senses someone leaning over him as lies with the bedcovers pulled over his head.

I read somewhere, though I can't remember where now, that the story is a true account of an actual haunting. Read as a piece of fiction, it isn't all that thrilling. It does have the feel of a story based on an actual experience - a report rather than a story. The narrator tries to piece the evidence together methodically, along with the rest of the household, to formulate an explanation for what has been seen by all of them. I can see it slotting in well in a volume of Isle of Wight hauntings. 

The book, bound in decorated grey boards with a matching dust jacket, tends to turn up for anything from twenty-five pounds (forty dollars), depending on condition; the jacket is prone to falling apart, so getting a fine copy in similar jacket will obviously cost a fair bit more. As far as I can tell, the story hasn't been published in any other edition.


  1. There is no such place as Killington on the Isle of Wight, yet I know that there is a place called Knighton, which is supposed to be the most haunted place, with only the ruin of a manor house left. As this was demolished in the early 1800's the author could not have possibly stayed there.

    So unless he changed the name of both town and house (why) I can only conclude that the whole is fiction?

    I am just about to purchase a copy, and will inform all of my thoughts once read.

  2. P.S Just discovered this, which suggest Lesley stayed at Billingham Manor:

    Is the setting behind a legend of duelling lovers. Though this one carries a mortal sting in its tail. Billingham was reputed as the most haunted house on the island when Sir Shane Leslie rented it in 1928, but strange as it may seem none of the apparitions was thought to be malevolent. According to tradition the fair lady of the Billingham was wooed and won by a gentleman of culture and refinement. Some time later appeared another suitor, rich, young and handsome, who successfully pursued the lady. A duel was arranged between the two lovers as neither would surrender to the other. And the consquence was that the younger man won, killing the older man with a thrust of his sword. But the lady and her new lover did not enjoy much happiness for he was shortly afterwards drowned while crossing to France. The beautiful widow grew wizened and ugly and no other suitors came for her hand in marriage. She lived the rest of her life in remorse and even after death could find no peace.