It’s coming up to Halloween and Whitehall has been putting on several events to celebrate the occasion. Our fun Halloween trail takes you on an adventure around Whitehall and includes kids crafts! This blog post will discuss a quick history of the occasion itself, including its origins and how it evolved overtime, followed by a rather spooky history of Whitehall itself.
The Haunted History of Halloween
The origins of Halloween come from the Celtic festival of Samhain, and had Pagan beliefs associated with it. Back then, the 31st October was New Year’s Eve and the day after was the start of the new year. During this time, Celts believed that the boundaries between the living and the dead would open up and spirits would enter our world. Some spirits were evil and did things like destroy the crops, but some made it easier for the Celts’ Druids to predict the future. People would wear costumes and light bonfires in order to ward off evil spirits, and would also tell each other’s fortunes.
In the 8th century, Pope Gregory III decided to make the 1st November All Saint’s Day and the 1st January became the start of the New Year instead. Halloween and Hallow’s Day, as they were referred to at this point, became a commemoration of the Christian saints and martyrs. This was a common practice of the Church when it came to combining Pagan and Roman festivals with their own beliefs, such as how they made the winter celebrations of Saturnalia and Yule into Christmas to celebrate the birth of Jesus, and the spring festival of Eostre into Easter in order to celebrate Jesus’ return from the dead.
However, unlike other holidays that were originally Pagan, Halloween has largely kept its Pagan roots. It is still mainly celebrated as a time of spooky happenings and evil spirits, with the celebration of saints solely being celebrated on All Saint’s Day instead. Part of the reason for this could be to do with when the celebration was taken to America, where people would tell ghost stories and make mischief. “Play parties” were also held in order to celebrate the Autumnal harvest. They even told each others’ fortunes like the Celts originally did.
Though Halloween wasn’t originally celebrated much in America due to Puritanical beliefs at the time, it became massively popular there after Irish settlers came to escape from the potato famine back in their own country. It seems that America may have influenced their own traditions too – originally, faces used to be carved on turnips, but upon the move to America, this changed to pumpkins, a tradition that has stuck today. Trick-or-treating also became more defined during this period. Back in the Middle Ages, it was originally about performing antics for food and water, but has now become about exchanging sweets in place of not being pranked.
There was originally a move in late 19th century America to take the scariness factor out of Halloween and make it more about community, but vandalism-based incidents in the 20th century caused it to become a kid-centric event. However, an increasing leniency in allowing spooky things to be shown as well as famous horror movies such as Halloween may have played a role in the celebration going back to its original roots of celebrating the scary, with plenty of spooky costumes and props being sold in party shops today. Even adults enjoy taking part in trick-and-treating, something that was originally seen as a kid’s activity.
The Haunted History of Whitehall
Given that Halloween is the perfect time for ghost sightings and spooky stories, now is time to tell one ourselves – about Whitehall itself. There have been several ghost sightings allegedly made by visitors visiting the historical house, though whether they have truly happened is up for debate.
Whitehall is not the only place in Cheam rumoured to be haunted. In fact, Cheam itself is apparently a hot spot for ghost sightings. There are tales of a tall man with a “thin face” and dressed in a dark coloured hat and black overcoat, who is said to haunt the gates of Nonsuch Park. On Station Way, there are rumours of a workman who died in suspicious circumstances in the old cinema auditorium there, and apparently haunts the new site today. The Old Rectory is said to house several spirits, including the legless Bishop Launcelot Andrews and even a bottom-pinching ghost!
Though Whitehall appears not to be listed on websites that discuss ghost haunting, it is still seen by ghost hunters as an ideal place to investigate. Rumour has it that the ghost, or ghosts, reside in the attic. One visitor said that she sensed ghostly activity in a corner of the attic, and another family that visited mentioned that they felt the attic was haunted.
If this ghost exists, who could it be? It is most likely to be somebody who lived in the place and died there. Could it be one of the Killicks, who famously resided here from the middle of the 17th century to the middle of the 20th century. Could it be an older resident who lived here during the Tudor times?
In 2020, Sutton Mencap produced An Alternative Guide to Whitehall Historic House, which features a ghost story written by its members. It features a very interesting twist with regard to the identity of the ghost! The booklet is on our book tray in the activity room at Whitehall, but a dramatic retelling can also be listened to in the attic of the house and in this video.
So is Whitehall truly haunted, or is it all a myth? You can come to Whitehall and find out for yourself, or take part in our many Halloween activities taking place this October.
Written by Imogen Easton, Whitehall Historic House volunteer.
Pepper, James. “Ghosthunters get spooked in Cheam.” Sutton & Croydon Guardian, 6 Nov. 2011, https://www.yourlocalguardian.co.uk/news/9343387.ghosthunters-get-spooked-in-cheam/
“Cheam, Greater London.” Great British Ghost Tour, http://www.greatbritishghosttour.co.uk/Pages/England/Greater%20London/Sutton/Cheam.html
“Halloween 2022”. History. 3 Oct. 2022, https://www.history.com/topics/halloween/history-of-halloween