Market Harborough, like many places, has its share of ghosts and haunted buildings. However, this post concerns a haunted building just outside Market Harborough. Papillon Hall used to stand on the way to Lubenham and was built around 1624 by David Papillon. The Papillon family originated from France. David along with his mother and two sisters (Anne and Esther) fled France in 1588 when he was seven years old. The ship was wrecked and his mother drowned. The family were Huguenots and had come to England to escape the religious persecution at the time and the family became part of the large French Huguenot community that settled mainly in London but there were smaller communities in Canterbury, Norwich, Southampton and Bristol. I will write more about Huguenot records in a future post.
David married firstly, Marie Castol, in 1611 and had two children; Thomas who died in childhood and Mary who later married Peter Fontaine. Marie died on 3 May 1614 and is buried in Blackfriars Church, London. David then married Anne Marie Calandrini on 4 July 1615 and had five children:
- Phillip Papillon born 1 January 1620; died and buried, Lubenham in 1641
- George Papillon died 6 July 1684 married Mary Nicholson ten children
- Thomas Papillon born 6 September 1623; married Jane Broadnax; son Phillip born in 1660 who was the father of David ‘Pamps’.
- Anne born 19 January 1626, London died 27 February 1684.
- Abraham born 6 May 1630 at Bosworth, Leicestershire married Katherine Billingsley. Died without issue.
Anne Marie died on November 1675 aged 84, buried in the chancel of St Catherine Coleman, London and David died on 18 March 1659, buried at Lubenham. In his youth, David was apprenticed to a master jeweller but after serving his apprenticeship he became a military engineer and architect. He was also a deacon of the French Church in London. It was his interest in defensive buildings which inspired his design of Papillon Hall. A description of Papillon Hall from Nichol’s History of Leicestershire Vol II:
‘It is very singular in its structure, and is thought to have been built with a view to defence. The shape is an octagon, and formerly it had only one entrance, and very strong work in the windows. The rooms were so curiously planned that each had a communication with the next, so that a person could go through them all without returning by the same door. The slated part of the roof is in the form of a cross, with leaded spaces in the intervals, whence there is a pleasant view of the neighbourhood as the house stands on high ground. Not long ago it was surrounded by a moat. The whole plan of the ground floor was altered by the late owner, and the windows sashed.’
So far so good; the family was distinguished, wealthy and well-connected. There was nothing untoward at the hall until it was inherited by David’s great grandson, also named David but known as ‘Pamps’. He has been described as an extremely good looking young man and it was said he had a split personality and had a hypnotic ability, terrifying the local people. There is a story of how a thief tried to steal a bag of money from him as he rode home one day. Pamps fixed the thief to the spot and leaving the bag of money at the thief’s feet rode home where he instructed his groom to go back down the lane and collect the money. When the groom got there he found the thief ‘frozen’ in place but when he picked up the bag of money, the thief was ‘released’ and ran off!
David kept a mistress at the hall before his marriage his marriage in 1717 to Mary Keyser and she is thought to have been Spanish. She was never allowed to leave the house and would take her exercise on the roof of Papillon Hall. She once owned a pair of beautiful high-heeled, green brocade shoes and pattens with red velvet and silver thread work which she cursed. There is nothing that says why she put a curse on them but perhaps the mysterious circumstances surrounding her death in 1715 had something to do with it. The shoes were always passed to the owner of the hall with the solemn injunction ‘on no account to permit them to be removed from the house or ill-fortune would assuredly befall the owner’, and if they ever left the building strange and disturbing things would happen!
In 1866 the house was sold to Lord Hopetun and it wasn’t long before he and his family were disturbed by strange knockings and sounds all over the hall. One night the entire household, including servants, were wakened by loud banging and crashing noises coming from the downstairs drawing room. Everyone gathered outside in the hall too afraid to open the door as they all stood and listened to the sounds of furniture being thrown about and the windows being slammed. A brave footman opened the door and the noises immediately stopped. Everyone looked into the room and there wasn’t a single thing out of place. Everything was as it should be. Until this point the family had ignored the local village gossip about the shoes but after this terrifying night they eventually traced them to a daughter of the former owner. As soon as the shoes were returned to the house, all the disturbances stopped. Lord Hopetun sold the hall six years later to Thomas Halford and during this time the shoes were sent to the Paris Exhibition. Once the shoes had left the hall, the crashing and banding began so much so that the family had to leave the house until the shoes could be returned. Thomas Halford then sold the hall MR CW Walker in 1884. Mr Walker was a wise man who took the legend a little more seriously than the previous owners and the shoes safely locked away in a purpose built safe in the wall above the hallway fireplace. A metal grill was placed in front and t was padlocked so the shoes could be seen but not removed from the building. In 1903 he sold the hall to a Captain Frank Belville who didn’t take the curse seriously – oh dear.
Captain Frank engaged Sir Edwin Lutyens to re-model the hall. Three hundred years previously when Pamps had been in residence at the hall he had ordered to East attic to be bricked up. Lord Hopetun had broken into the attic and found a few turned table and chair legs along with some candle ends but nothing more otherwise the room had not been touched or used. Back to Sir Edwin. He wanted to add an extra floor to the hall necessitating in the east having to be demolished and this is when a woman’s body (well, by this time it was a skeleton) was found in the wall. The builders began to experience accidents with one unfortunate man being killed when a falling brick landed on his head. Needless to say the builders refused to continue working and others from outside of the area had to be brought in. Captain Frank didn’t escape unscathed either and he was thrown out of his pony trap resulting in a fractured skull. The shoes were returned to the hall but Captain Frank still hadn’t learnt to be wary of the curse and lent the shoes out. Of course, the inevitable happened and Captain Frank had another accident, this time whilst hunting but this time he needed a metal plate in his skull. If that wasn’t enough, there was also a terrific thunderstorm and three ponies were killed and the hall was set on fire. The shoes were returned and locked safely away.
During WW2 the 82nd Airborne Division were stationed at the house and twice the shoes were taken, probably as a souvenir, and each time those who took the shoes were killed and the shoes returned to the house. After the war, the house was left and decayed with it eventually being demolished. There was one shoe and one patten in the wall safe but when the hall was being taken apart the other was found under the floorboards. One of the shoes and one of the pattens were taken to the British Museum in the 1950s and were dated to around Pamps time at Papillon Hall.
It wasn’t only the shoes that caused disquiet at the hall. Pamps had had his portrait painted around 1715. Was this painted at the hall? Was his mistress still alive at this time? We will probably never know. It seems as though the hypnotic ability of Pamps wasn’t restricted to when he was alive. His portrait somehow was left behind when the hall was sold and in 1840, when a Papillon relative visited the hall, the owner begged him to take the portrait away with him. It was described as having sinister influences and the owner could keep no servants because they say ‘he’ comes out of the frame and haunts the house so badly and brought ill luck to its inhabitants. The portrait found its way to Crowhurst Park. When this was le tout all was going well until the tenants sent a letter requesting that the portrait be removed. It began with a feeling of a strong psychic influence emanating from the portrait with some guests becoming obsessed with the portrait; a sense of being followed and also one lady saw Pamps dressed in all of his finery – red coat, yellow waistcoat and wig. Some people were so hypnotised by the portrait they had to be forcibly removed away from it.
Although there isn’t much left of the building today there are still unexplained noises so be careful if you find yourself anywhere near the site of Papillon Hall, especially late at night. Sleep well!