BURGHSTEAD LODGE, BILLERICAY
This grand Georgian residence is today nestled amongst the much more modern buildings of Billericay High Street. The scene doesn’t look threatening. It doesn’t look like the typical setting of a ghost story, but the property’s top floor is the location for one of Essex’s most chilling and well documented supernatural accounts.
In the late 18th century, the wealthy owner of Burghstead Lodge lived in central London and only occasionally had reason to stay at the residence. As such, he would allow friends and family to stay there to stop the house from falling into disrepair. In circa 1790, the owner offered a stay at the house to a frail, elderly friend, giving him a chance to escape the commotion of London and live out his limited time in peace.
When the gentleman moved in, a day nurse looked after him but as his health deteriorated and he was no longer able to leave his bedroom, a night nurse was recruited. The successful candidate was given instructions that she should regularly check on the elderly gentleman, care for him, but not disturb him or make conversation. Other than the doctor and the day nurse, no one else was expected to visit the property.
On the first night, she checked on him several times and all was well. However, into the small hours, the man’s sleep became disturbed and the nurse made her way to his bed to see if she could calm him. As she carefully approached his bed, carrying a single candle, the soft light from the flame began to light the other side of the bed, wherein a chair at the bedside sat a woman.
The nurse was baffled by what she was seeing. As far as she was aware, she and the gentleman were the only two people in the house, or had she missed someone that had called to visit? If so, she thought it strange that it should be at such an hour.
As the nurse lifted the candle to illuminate the visitor and tried to speak, the woman in the chair raised a silk gloved hand to her veiled face in a gesture for the nurse to remain silent. In her elegant emerald green frock, she remained seated at the side of the gentleman and waved her arm in a manner to tell the nurse to return to her duties. Nervous and confused, the nurse retired to her room.
When the day nurse arrived the following morning, the night nurse wasted no time in questioning her about the visitor. Providing a description of the woman’s elegant gown, silk gloves and veil, they concluded that given her attire, the visitor must have been someone of wealth and likely a family member of either the patient or the property’s owner.
Slightly reassured, the nurse returned to Burghstead Lodge for a second night. This time, she carried out a full inspection of the property before the sunset, so she knew that it was just her and the gentleman in the house. During the darkest hour of the night, the man again became agitated and when the nurse went to his side, she was met by the woman from the previous evening, wearing the same apparel. Again, she signalled for the nurse to be quiet and waved her away. Now terrified, the nurse returned to her room and locked the door.
The following morning, the nurse gave her resignation to the day nurse, explaining that the veiled woman had been at the patient’s bedside again and her nerves couldn’t take one more night in the house. Given the decline of the gentleman’s health and the fact that they wouldn’t be able to find another night nurse for that evening, she was persuaded to stay for one more night.
On the third night, at exactly the same time, the old man became restless in his sleep and the nurse went to his side. She discovers in the candlelight that the veiled lady is again at his bedside. The visitor again waved her arms, only this time, the nurse chose not to respect her wishes and she remained steadfast at the door. If the veiled lady was flesh and blood, she would have to walk past her on her way out of the room. Angered by this, the visitor rose from her seat and walked towards to nurse. As she approached the now trembling nurse, the visitor lifted her veil, and in the flickering candlelight revealed her face, which was simply a skull – the face of the Reaper.
When the day nurse arrived the next morning, she found the night nurse in the gentleman’s bedroom, shaking on the floor and hysterically. When the night nurse finally came to, she recounted the incident of the previous night to the day nurse, who in turn broke the news that the gentleman had sadly died during the night. Within three months of her patient’s passing, the night nurse joined him.