Prestbury means “Priest's fortified place” from the Anglo Saxon words priest meaning priest and burh meaning a fortified manor. It is also mentioned in the Doomsday Book. Prestbury was a popular place with tourists and later on, those attending the racing at Cheltenham Racecourse.
Prestbury in Gloucestershire is said to be the most haunted village in the UK, with several different types of ghosts and hauntings. Some of the areas can be historically researched and for those, I will also write about the history, which may, or may not, bring some credibility to those who have witnessed paranormal events.
The first paranormal experience that I’m writing about may have been a Timeslip. This happened in the 1930’s at Prestbury House on a street called The Burgage. It was in the then private home (now a hotel) to the Capel family, who had lived on that land from 1607 to 1964. Major C Capel had put an advert in a local publication as he had a pony he wanted to sell. There was a family visiting the area. From Scotland and they wanted to view the pony to buy for their 10 year old daughter. The family of 3, father, mother and daughter, went to Prestbury House and when they arrived, the Major showed them the pony.
After the initial excitement of seeing the pony, the 10 year old daughter got bored with the adults talking so decided to walk around the rather large grounds. She found herself near the stables, which were at the edge of the property. Her interest from seeing the stabled horses, was directed towards the group of people who were dressed in ‘Jane Austen’ clothing and were partaking in drinking from fine china and chattering lots. The girl stayed and watched a little longer but ran away to find her mother.
She found her mother, who was still conversing with the Major in the garden and told her about the people who were, in her words, wearing fancy dress so wanted her mother to see them and maybe even join in, with what seemed like a fun event. It took a while to convince her mother to come with her and as they approached the stables, the group of people had become more loud and rowdy. The mother could see or hear nothing and told off her daughter for ‘making up fairy tales to gain attention’.
She took her daughter by the hand and marched her off to the garden where her father and the Major still were. No more was said about what the girl had witnessed. It must’ve had a deeply profound event on this young girl as 30 years later, she returned to Prestbury, intent on finding out the history of that land and why she saw what she saw. And this is what she found-
On that piece of land once stood some buildings, which were all a part of The Grotto. It was a tearoom for the very rich and elite of society. It was built in 1781 by John Darke. John Darke had good standing in the elite society but was to die just 2 years after it was built. There were several different buildings on the land, ranging from a Chinese temple, erected on a raised terrace, a circular rustic style of building , which was adorned with shells, fossils and stones from neighbouring hills to a stone tower, which was said to have had amazing views if you climbed the staircase to the top. There were 2 octangle rooms at the top, where people could dine. The circular building had Gothic style windows, which were ornamented with stain glass, the floor was tessellated and the walls had convex mirrors.
All of this stood in some very manicured gardens, which John Darke personally designed. These would be referred to as ‘Pleasure Gardens’. It has been rumoured that John Darke became exhausted after accomplishing the Grotto, which led to his premature death. The Grotto was then run by several different proprietors.
The tea drinking was said to have taken place in and around the Chinese temple. There were also splendid dinners served in the grounds as well. It has some famous visitors as well; King George III visited there in 1788. The visit was documented in his diary, when he was touring Cheltenham & Gloucestershire in which he wrote-
“ I do not love reasoning with women- and was glad to escape to my horse. Prestbury grotto is a romantic object and *Ulett is pretty”
Royal Recollections on a Tour to Cheltenham 1788.
There would be entertainment also. Opera singers and musicians, famous in their lifetime, would perform to the patrons. The then Duke of Gloucester would visit as well as Edward Jenner, the discoverer of vaccinations. He said this of his visit-
“I have attempted nothing like pleasure since I came here, once excepted, which was to drink tea in Prestbury, a village about 2 miles distant, whither I went on a double horse. Our party drank tea in a little garden they call the Grotto…”
From ‘Edward Jenner the Cheltenham Years’ by John B Blake .
In later years, there would also be overnight accommodation offered so clientele could come from afar and stay the night, whilst being very well looked after by the proprietor. The estate also had stables, several summer houses, skittle grows and many other outbuildings.
The Grotto would also advertise in the local newspapers- here is an example of one from Cheltenham Chronicle August 1809 -
So this young girl had witnessed one of the many gatherings that were once part of society's elite in the 1700 and 1800’s. She got the period of clothing correct for that time period, when the Grotto was a very swanky place and in full swing. But what became of the Grotto tea rooms or tea gardens (it’s referred to as both in the research I did). Surely this little girl saw the buildings on the grounds and her imagination took over? Actually, the buildings were demolished, sadly. This is all that is left of the Grotto and its Pleasure Gardens-
The left photo is a pillar, all that is left of the buildings and which is under a conservation order so cannot be knocked down or changed easily.
The photo on the right is the door which the pillar is behind, so only these 2 things remain as by 1859, the land and buildings were purchased by the then owners of Prestbury House. There is a story as to why it was purchased and here’s the story why-
The Grotto became The Grotto Inn, around 1819. It was named after the tearooms. It appears it still was bringing in elite clientele as there were adverts for opera singers and other types of more cultured entertainment. It was in 1856, when a local brewery took up residence in the grounds of The Grotto Inn, that things became more ‘unrefined’. The patrons were often very noisy, drunk and fights would break out. It also seemed to attract bad luck; one of the proprietors wife’s had a stillborn baby there, others suffered ill health and there were also deaths that took place in the accommodation quarters from people staying at the inn. It changed hands with several different landlords over the years so when it went up for auction, the owners of Prestbury House, whose property and land was next to the inn, and who had suffered from the noise and commotion over the years, purchased it.
With the changes and life events the Grotto has seen, it’s no wonder that the scene the 10 year old girl came upon was from happier times. It does make me wonder if, when she returned to the scene with her mother, it became very rowdy, the possible Timeslip or ghosts, showed her how the Grotto ended up before being pulled down in the late 19th century?