Sitting in over 70 acres of beautiful parkland and stunning gardens, hidden in the beautiful South Yorkshire village of Cawthorne, just north of Barnsley, is Cannon Hall. For generations it was home to the Spencer and later the Spencer-Stanhope family, however it is now home collections of fine furniture, paintings, ceramics and glassware. Its present owners, Barnsely Council, have opened it as a museum, and it is a popular choice for weddings and other events. It also houses the Regimental Museum of the 13th/18th Royal Hussars (Queen Mary`s Own) and the Light Dragoons. Part of the estate is still a working farm and this is now a popular family visitor attraction enjoyed by many alongside the Hall itself.
The History of Cannon Hall
The earliest records show there was a house on the site in 1086, however little is known about it. Cannon Hall got its current name from the 13th century inhabitant Gilbert Canun. During the late 14th Century it was owned by the Bosville family of Ardsley, and it was during this time that the most violent event in its traceable history occurred.
The Bosvilles had let the Hall to a family (whose name has been lost), the daughter of whom was romantically linked with a man named Lockwood. Lockwood himself had been involved in the murder of Sir John Eland, the Sheriff of the County. The tenant, frightened of the position in which he could find himself accommodating a fugitive, sent word to Bosville. Bosville`s men turned up shortly after at Cannon Hall, where upon Lockwood was slain in a cruel and violent manner.
Cannon Hall`s history settled down however after this nasty incident. In 1660 the estate was purchased by John Spencer, a Welsh hay-rake maker. The Spencer family had come to Yorkshire from Montgomeryshire in the Welsh borders, where they hoped it was a safer place than Wales for those with Royalist sympathies such as those of the Spencers (John Spencer even managed to get a pardon from Charles II himself when John was held in York prison on manslaughter charges, he had been friends with the King for many years, before, during and after his exile). The Spencer family rapidly became very active in the local iron and coal industry, eventually building up a huge empire, which amongst other things funded the rebuilding of Cannon Hall.
The core of the present Cannon Hall, a plain stone building erected in 1710, was built at the beginning of the 18th century for John Spencer, possibly by John Etty of York, more surely with interior joinery by William Thornton, another well-known local craftsman. It was extended in 1764-1768 by the much sought after and respected architect John Carr of York, whom John Spencer commissioned to add wings to and modernise the interior of the Hall. He also engaged the landscape gardener Richard Woods of Chertsey, to improve the grounds over a period of time, beginning in 1761. To the present day the Victorian pleasure grounds, incorporating a deer shed, privvy, lake, secret follies,waterfalls and beautiful gardens (including a Georgian walled garden which houses pear trees dating back to the 1600`s) are enjoyed by everyone, old and young alike.
In the late 1700`s – early 1800`s, his heir and nephew heightened the wings, giving the rather high-blocked house typical of its period and area that is seen today. His descendant, Sir Walter Spencer-Stanhope added a ballroom in 1890-1891.The family continued to use it as their family home until the last member of the family, Elizabeth, removed the contents and sold the house to Barnsley Council in 1951. Cannon Hall Museum was then opened to the public in 1957.
The Ghosts of Cannon Hall
Although wonderfully atmospheric, Cannon Hall does not have the usual foreboding or oppressive air of the typical `haunted house`. However it does have a history of spooky, and sometimes frightening happenings. The present staff, motivated by visitors always asking : Is Cannon Hall haunted?, have compiled a series of true reports of some of these strange events, the majority being experienced in daylight, and some being witnessed by more than one person.
The figure of a young maid has been seen by several staff in the Victorian Kitchen, and they often report feelings of being watched when they are alone in the room. Other strange occurrences in the kitchen include a coffee machine turning itself on, a locked door unlocking itself,a poker from the fire range flying across the room and hitting a member of staff on the leg, and a stoneware jar being seen by several people at once to suddenly fly from a shelf and smash on the floor.
The Green Bedroom is reputed to be haunted by a lady, who people believe to have died there in childbirth. A museum attendant once, when closing the shutters in the Victorian bedroom turned and saw the figure of a small woman, with long dark hair and wearing a long dark dress glide into the Green Bedroom. On immediate checking the room was empty, and there was no other way for her to have left unnoticed.
A small boy has been seen by a few people, only to disappear when looked for, and the incidents where doors have been slammed and have been difficult to unlock have been put down to children at the Hall, along with the smell of liquorice which is frequently and unexplainedly experienced.
In the Library fresh pipe tobacco is smelt often, and a member of staff reported feeling her hair being stroked when she was on duty in there.
Along the upstairs bedroom corridor muffled voices have been heard, and furniture has been moved in the last room off this corridor, which is locked not accessible to the public. A visitor once reported seeing a `hazy presence` on here, and a staff member once saw a woman walk along there. So `real` was this woman that the member of staff struck up a conversation with her, only to discover she was talking to `thin air`. There was no one near her at the it, and her colleagues confirmed there could not have been anyone else in that part of the building at the time.
Toys have moved by themselves in front of several people in the Butlers Pantry craft shop, and in the disabled toilet just outside there the toilet has been known to flush itself whilst the lights suddenly go out…..much to the consternation and `screams` of the guests using the toilet at the time! No cause for this has been found to date despite investigation.
In the summer of 2005 the South Terrace door slammed shut for no obvious reason in front of 2 members of staff and a family visiting. Another time an attendant was opening the door to the dining room, which usually opens easily, only to find it wouldn’t move more than a few inches, as though someone was holding it shut from the other side. It suddenly yielded, and the adjacent room was empty and on checking no one had been in that room, or part of the building at the time other then the person opening the door. Another time as an attendant was locking this door from the Terrace room the second door shut unexplainably behind her, and as she was trapped between the 2 doors she pushed the door open in a panic and fled the area, refusing to lock those doors by herself ever again! A couple visiting with a small boy recently reported these doors closing suddenly behind them for no reason, hard enough to push the boy on his back back.
On the 30th August 2007 several staff watched in fascination as the crystal chandelier in the dining room moved as a single entity (despite consisting of hundreds of separate elements which usually rattle and move independently of each other when pushed/touched), rotating in a slow clockwise direction silently for 4 hours.The supporting chain did not move or rotate. The staff monitored and `investigated` possible causes for this throughout the whole period of it and after, including trying to `replicate` it. No cause has been found for this to date. Earlier in the same day, a visitor to the musem told an attendant that something was `not right` in that room.
In the Spencer room, which is above the old stables and now used for meetings and conferences etc in October 2006 , 2 female volunteers helping out with an event there were startled to see a metal teaspoon `jump` out of a cup and land quite a distance away on the counter. Both ladies, who have not before encountered anything they would describe as paranormal before said they saw the spoon `rise up from the cup as though lifted by an unseen hand`. A few weeks later at the Christmas fair in the same area a stall holder reported wax having been dripped on her dust sheet, which was clean when brought at the start of the day, and no candles were anywhere near the stall at any time during the day, let alone lit.
In the Victorian Ballroom a female member of staff has reported a `playful tug` to her cheek whilst alone in there, then within half an hour of that she experienced resistance to the second double door whilst unlocking it, only to check the other side and find no possible cause of resistance. Another time in the ballroom a separate female attendant was injured in 2 separate incidents which she could find no obvious cause for.
One night whilst waiting for visitors to leave a member of staff saw a lady move behind one of the columns in the entrance hall heading towards the stairs. As it was closing time the staff member followed the woman to remind her they were locking up, however when she got up the stairs the attendant at the top said no one had come up there. Presuming that she had imagined the lady she thought nothing more of it…until later whilst on her way home, when she is sure she saw the same lady on the Halls drive. After now having seen photographs she is convinced that the lady she saw was Elizabeth Spencer-Stanhope, the last of the family to own Cannon Hall.
The most well known ghost story associated with the Hall is actually not in the Hall itself , but is outside in the park at the Deer Shed, a few moments stroll from the Hall. Apparently in late Victorian times the ghostly image of a tall frock coated figure was seen materialising under a tree near the Deer shed. There are accounts which show that in 1881 the vicar of Cawthorne, The Reverend Charles Tiplady Pratt, conducted an exorcism near the Deer shed. Apparently it was successful, as there were no further sightings after!
There are a few possible historical candidates for some of Cannon Halls ghosts, however none have ever come forward and introduced themselves as such… yet…