The Chesil Rectory
Constructed between 1425 and 1450, the Chesil Rectory is soaked with history. It has witnessed Winchester throughout the ages, lived through wars, plague and flood, and has passed hands from merchants, to the church, to Kings and Queens. If buildings could talk, this one would have a tale or two…
Welcome to Weird Winchester, a story-tour of some of Winchester’s most haunted buildings, brought to you by Enigmatic Studios and the University of Winchester’s Creative Writing Department!
by Madeleine E. Vaughan
I remember you. You’ve been here before. A long, long time ago, but I recognise you.
I can still feel the light tread of footsteps on my aching stairway; my floorboards cracking under your weight, like aged bones. It was a cold night, I recall, the day you came. The frost gathered at my windows, smothering my vision of the outside world.
As you came in, the first fragile drifts of snow followed you. I felt them gather in wet clumps on the stone tiles around your feet. It left a cold and uncomfortable itch. I don’t suppose you believe me—that a building can have an itch. I have many—unreachable and insatiable. You can look forward to that, when you’re as old as me.
I remember the way you unfastened your coat, clenching the fingertips of your gloves between your teeth and pulling them off with an almost savage turn of your head, anxious to get in. Tiny water-droplets clung to your eyelashes. You came and stood by my fire, hands outstretched and I banished the cold from you. You never thanked me for that, you know. But then, you were too preoccupied by the girl in the ivory dress. I’ll never forget the smile she gave you, timid, small, wildly hopeful. I’ve kept your secret all these years; the quiet words you exchanged in my corner, the way you grasped one another by the arm. I thought you would be back sooner. She waited.
But then, perhaps I’m mistaken. There are cobwebs in my rafters even your technology cannot reach, and memories as old as the bones buried beneath us.
Was it you who galloped up and down my corridors on all fours like a horse? That was before my roof began to sag and my walls trembled under their own weight. It is a dreadful thing to be betrayed by your own foundations—old age comes to us all. But I remember—oh yes. I remember you with the shoe-maker’s son. He was such a lonely boy, sickly and pale, but no less a child, no less keen for adventure. You would play together for hours on end—I only saw him smile when he was with you.
You were there when he slipped and lost his first tooth. It hung, unseemly, from his mouth, blood pooling over his lip, and he howled. And so you got onto all fours, placed him on your back, and cantered up and down. ‘Fair knight,’ you called him, and he stopped crying.
You weren’t there the day he tripped on the top stair and fell. You had a cold, they said, and so you stayed away to preserve the young boy’s health. He lay tangled and dead at the bottom of the stairs for three hours before anyone found him. I can still feel the press of his little face against my floor.
You don’t remember. Then maybe I am mistaken again. You are even older.
You came to see the holy man who rested here one night. You had a forbidden bible tucked in your pocket; English, not Latin. I remember the way you sat together, knee to knee, heads tucked in conspiratorially as you whispered prayers in your own words. Yes, that was before the city owned me, the down-payment of a Catholic Queen who would have executed you on the spot. I never understood why those old words were so important to you, that you would risk breathing them under her roof. You got away, of course. The holy man was taken quietly in the night by soldiers.
Do you still not recognise yourself in these stories? But I know you, I’m sure of it. Let me go back, let me search further in the archive of my memory. These stones have so much to tell.
Perhaps it was you who was born here, when my walls and ceilings were black with smoke, and my windows were barred, no glass in sight, but shuttered instead. Your mother laboured for hours and sobbed when they put you in her arms.
The rain and wind heaved against my bowers as she tucked you up to her breast and kept you warm. And as your feeble wails died down, she sang to you in a hushed voice, sweet and strained.
Blow northerne wynd,
Send thou me my suetyng
Blow northern wynd,
Blow, blow blow.
I remember how you settled in her arms with such love, fingers curled around her thumb, the soft skin of your head pressed against her. It is unfair that I should have this memory and you do not. You were asleep, but I was with her when exhaustion won over her body and she sank, cold, into the pillow.
You still do not know who you are. I have mistaken you. The faces begin blur. Perhaps they remember? The girl in the ivory dress, who still waits by the fireplace. Or the shoemaker’s son, sat on the top-stair, a gap missing in his teeth when he smiles. Or maybe the holy-man knows, upstairs, pouring over his forbidden book with shaking fingers. Or the mother, frail and burning with love. Her song drifts out over the room on quiet nights, if you listen closely enough.
Can you see them, friend; my ghosts? Soaked and captured like living paintings in my walls. I have many memories. Too many. In this old place, haunted by time, what difference is there between the living and the dead?
‘I Remember’ written and performed by Madeleine E. Vaughan.
Madeleine E. Vaughan is the author of the best-selling Harmatia Cycle series. A lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Winchester, she is also the head-writer at Enigmatic Studios. A keen lover of myths, folk-tales and ghost-stories, Madeleine can often be found hanging around haunted ruins and faerie-rings, scribbling in a note-book and sticking her nose into things that are best-left alone!
Look out for more Weird Winchester stories in different locations across the city! Next, why don’t you try the Theatre Royal?
This Story-Tour has been brought to you by Enigmatic Studios and The University of Winchester. Tell us about your experiences using the #WeirdWinch hashtag!