Visitors to Castringham Hall in Suffolk will find it almost
unchanged from the days when our story took place. They can
still see the beautiful old house with its gardens and lake.
However, the one thing missing is the ash-tree, which used so
stand, proud and tall, in front of the house, its branches almost
touching the walls.
This story begins in 1690 with a strange, lonely old woman.
Mrs Mothersole, who was found guilty of being a witch. Sir
Matthew Fell, the owner of Castringham Hall at that time,
described how she used to climb into the ash-tree outside his
bedroom every time there was a full moon. He said that she
usually carried a strange knife to cut off parts of the tree and that
she talked to herself. Once he followed her home, but she
disappeared and when he knocked on the door of her house, she
came downstairs in her night clothes looking sleepy. He and the
villagers agreed that it was certain she did these things by magic
and so she was hanged. Before she died, she fought and shouted,
and her last strange words were:'There will be guests at the Hall.'
After the hanging, Sir Matthew felt uncomfortable and guilt)',
and he told his friend the vicar about his worries. 'You did the
right thing. Sir Matthew,' were the wise words of the vicar. 'I'm
sure she was a dangerous woman.' Sir Matthew felt happier.
That evening, Sir Matthew and the vicar went for a walk in
the gardens of Castringham Hall. It was the night of the full
moon. As they were returning to the house, Sir Matthew pointed
to the ash-tree in great surprise. 'What kind of animal is that
running down the ash-tree? It looks very strange.'
The vicar only saw the moving animal for a moment, but he
thought that it had more than four legs. He shook his head. 'I
must be tired,' he thought to himself. 'After all, what animal has
more than four legs?' He said nothing to Sir Matthew, but just
wished him good night.
The next morning, Sir Matthew's servants were surprised not
to find him downstairs at his usual time of six o'clock. When
seven o'clock and then eight o'clock passed, they began to suspect
that something was terribly wrong and they went up to his
bedroom. The door was locked. After knocking several times and
still getting no answer from inside, they broke down the door and
entered, to find that thei fears were right. Sir Matthew's body lay
on the bed, dead and completely black. There were no wounds or
other marks on him and everything in the room looked as usual,
except that the window was wide open. His servants at first
suspected poison but the doctor who was called found no such
thing and could offer no real explanation for Sir Matthew's death.
When he heard the news, the vicar rushed to Castringham
Hall, and, while he was waiting to hear the doctor's opinion, he
looked at Sir Matthew's Bible, which was lying on a table by the
dead mans bedside. He opened the book and the first words he
read were from the book of Luke, chapter 8: 'Cut it down' were
the words he read.
The servants locked Sir Matthew's room that day and it stayed
locked up for the next forty years. By that time, Sir Richard Fell,
Sir Matthews grandson, was living at Castringham Hall. He
enjoyed spending money, especially on rebuilding parts of the
Hall. He also decided to make the local church bigger so that his
family could have a fine new seat in the new part of the church.
In order to complete this building work, some of the graves in the
graveyard had to be moved. One of the graves was that of Mrs