Midnight at Hatherton Hall: A Ghost Story
Updated: Jan 7, 2021
In keeping with the tradition of ghost stories for Christmas, here is a tale set on the edge of Cannnock Chase from the early Victorian age. Cut some stilton, decant yourself a drop of port and enjoy – crackling log fire optional. Hatherton Hall is a grade 2 listed mansion first built in 1817. Now largely rebuilt and occupied by self made millionaire George Homer it was previously the ancestral pile of the Hathertones – about whom this tale concerns, and this story was first collected a hundred years ago by “Pitman” and published in his “Fellowship of Cannock Chase”.
The then Baron Hatherton was entertaining a group of friends one Christmas Eve at the Hall, a raucous gathering in his “sports room” - stuffed trophies, prized guns, etc – with whisky flowing freely. It was an all male affair as the men's wives had gone out to attend a carol service, but the banter ground to a halt when one of the men held an object up to inspect. It was a human skull, fashioned into a drinking goblet.
“Hatherton, what have you here?” demanded the man. “On what occasion do you use this goblet of such a questionable form?” The host explained. The skull had belonged to his 14th century ancestor Sir Hugh de Hathertone and had been discovered during excavations at the site of an old private chapel on his land. The head was found separate from the body and Hatherton for some reason thought it appropriate to line the skull with silver and make it into a drinking vessel. He loudly proclaimed that wine never tasted as good as it did from this macabre goblet and proceeded to pour each guest in turn a draught to glug down.
Hatherton himself took the last turn himself, and raised the skull high in a toast. “Let us drink to the health of Sir Hugh, and have him know that we would gladly have him here with us tonight if only to surrender his head to him!”
At that the grandfather clock in the room struck twelve and a silence fell upon the room. The men became aware of a thumping sound in the hall, growing louder. A metallic thud thud thud, increasing in speed until suddenly – the door to the study burst open. There, paused for a moment, was the figure of a fully armoured medieval knight – headless! The shape marched on, clanking into the room as the men stood in shock. It walked straight up to the table the drinks were served on and upended it, sending glasses and decanter crashing to the floor.
As Hatherton and his guests cried out in unison, the spectral knight turned heel and marched back out, with the door slamming behind it. The men looked at each other then sprang into action, released from their shocked inertia. Wrenching the door open they ran into the hall, chasing after the strange visitor, with Lord Hatherton bellowing to his butler to intercept the intruder. At that moment a commotion broke out at the front door as the ladies returned from their evening out. Their husbands ran straight to them, shouting to beware of the armoured figure, and while everyone gathered in chaos in the hall the headless knight vanished.
As brandy and whisky was poured to calm the nerves and the tale was related to the returning ladies, the mood relaxed and all was quiet in Hatherton hall that Christmas Eve. In the morning one of the guests and his wife opened the French windows onto the gardens to hear the nearby church bells ring out for Christmas Day and they gazed out over the frost covered lawn. Suddenly they noticed something curious. A set of huge footprints led across the frozen grass from the house to the woods beyond and, calling the others to join in, they followed them. Halfway across the lawn something lay in the frost and the man picked it up. It was a roughly rolled ball of solid silver!
An old photo of Hatherton Hall
Hatherton Hall today, whitewashed and still impressive
Hatherton exclaimed that his skull goblet was missing, and then it dawned on him what had happened. His ancestor Sir Hugh had marched in at their drunken invitation and reclaimed his skull, but his chivalric code forbade him from stealing the silver around it, and so he had pulled it off, rolled it up and dropped it here. Lord Hatherton took the silver lump and kept it in the hall, and legend claims it is still there today.