Having first been built in 1767, Bell House has a rich history, a long list of previous inhabitants - and its fair share of ghost stories. Over the years Bell House has been home to prominent families including the Wrights, Hardings, Widdowsons and MacAndrews, as well as serving as a junior boarding house for Dulwich College from 1947. Many have died in Bell House including Thomas Wright in 1798, Ann Wright in 1809, William Peter MacAndrew in 1871 and his son just one year later. This Halloween, we take a look back at some of these true stories and the haunting reminders of them that can still be seen lingering around the house and gardens today…
The Garden Ghost of Thomas Wright
Thomas Wright, who commissioned the building of Bell House over 250 years ago, died suddenly in the garden of Bell House on the 8thApril 1798 aged 76. He had suffered an epileptic fit and medical attention did not reach him in time. A printer and paper merchant who became Lord Mayor of London, he was described after his death as ‘a truly humble and pious Christian…and a worthy and benevolent member of society’. Residents of Bell House claim to have seen his ghostly figure strolling around the walled gardens at night. Since he was a community-minded man, he passes the twilight hours admiring the hard work of our garden volunteers, leaving the residents mostly undisturbed as they sleep peacefully.
Founder of the first modern department store, Anthony Harding remained unmarried after his wife, Frances, died in 1801. A man who liked to drink in the evenings, Harding had a special chair constructed so that when he lost use of his legs after consuming multiple bottles of wine, the footmen could simply carry him upstairs to bed. After he passed away in Bell House on 5thAugust 1851, aged 90, his coffin stood against the wall behind his chair in the dining room until his burial, clearly suggesting a reluctance to leave his home. Visitors who have recently attended a violin and harpsichord recital in Bell House are certain that they heard the knock-knock-knock of the footmen carrying Harding and his chair up the staircase of the Georgian house.
Games with a Glass Eye
After the Second World War, Bell House was used as a junior boarding house for 30-35 boys from Dulwich College. One of the boarders had lost an eye when he was a baby and so had a glass replacement. He enjoyed using it for pranks to scare his fellow schoolmates and especially the Matron. The glass eye would be dropped out when others least expected it and rolled across desks to disrupt lessons. His favourite trick was to take the glass eye out, shine a torch through it and slowly move it around above his bed to eerily ‘watch’ the Matron as she did her rounds late at night. Over the past two years, renovators Ric, Andrew and Merlin have been hard at work restoring and insulating Bell House. More than once, they have spotted a small, ping-pong ball shaped item rolling across the floor only for it to disappear before they can pick it up…
So spare a thought this Halloween for the residents of Bell House and the sleepless night that inevitably lies before them. Next time you are in Bell House as a volunteer or attendee of one of our events, perhaps you too may spot one of these haunting presences.