The origins of Halloween are in the Celtic pagan festival Samhain, when the boundary between the two worlds thinned – the here and now and the afterlife. That’s why it’s supposed to be a bit s-s-s-poooky. It marks the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter or the darker half of the year.
So it was quite the perfect choice to use the old shooting lodge as the destination for the haunted Halloween trail – celebrating the past lives of those ancestors that left their mark on the Ashridge estate.
Halloween allows us to enter into the dark, disquieting and mysterious
Staff and volunteers alike enthused in the ghostly story tale telling of times past, remembering and honouring the departed – the Celtic settlers on the Beacon, the Roman family living in the nearby villa, the aristocratic Bridgewaters with their servants at the Mansion and the American GI’s tented in Thunderdell Wood.
Never been lived in and boarded up for decades this unused artefact was refurbished in the 1980’s after the wooden structure was partially destroyed by fire. For Halloween the single room with fireplace was candle-lit for the occasion and the table laid for feasting. This log cabin on Duncombe Terrace was erected at the time of Adelbert the 3rd Earl Brownlow in the 1880’s, next to a holloway giving access to the valley below, and provided with a veranda for the Gentry to overlook the open hillside in the summer time – no trees in those days.
A hundred years ago it would not be uncommon for volunteers to meet up with royalty and the great and the good, as part of a shooting party. Ashridge shooting parties were famous, drawing prominent guests over the years including King Edward VII and King George V, and most of the royal dukes, though in their later years both Lord and Lady Brownlow came to regard such parties as social obligations rather than pleasures. About fifty keepers, most wearing a green livery with silver buttons bearing the earl’s crest, were employed on the various parts of the estate in Little Gaddesden, Ringshall, Aldbury, Dagnall and Studham, under a head keeper and a deputy. The beaters were mostly workers on the Estate, dressed in white smock coats and red caps. A glance at the earl’s game book for 1912 shows that over a three-day shoot it was not uncommon for a party to claim up to one thousand five hundred pheasants alone.
The game birds were reared on the Estate under the watchful eye of the game-keepers. The huge backdrop of nearby laurel bushes seen today provided a perfect dense cover for roosting, while snowberry bushes were also a feature and still survive! This long lived suckering shrub from N America introduced in 1817 will survive on poor soils under a dense tree canopy giving low level cover for young pheasants – bracken is a no-no for shooting parties. All is spookily quiet these days in the woods, with precious few pheasants!