Home » Horla Explorer – Newton House by Matthew G. Rees

ARTICLE (April 2019)

 

HORLA EXPLORER

NEWTON HOUSE

by Matthew G. Rees

Horla’s editor calls at a mansion reputed to be one of Britain’s most haunted

 

I WAS following a winding path through a vaporous mist with only the vaguest knowledge as to where it might lead.

Suddenly, from the murk, a walker appeared at my shoulder.

Did I know Newton House? he asked.

I had heard of it, I said, and knew it to be out this way somewhere, albeit that I was following the path more in hope than expectation.

It would be worth me calling there, he said… if I had the time. How was I travelling? he enquired.

On foot, obviously, for this part, I responded, and then homeward, later, by train or bus.

The house would be a good place to stop, he said – and, if I wanted them, I would find refreshments there.

He began guiding me through woodland of the tangled kind, the two of us keeping a watchful eye on our footing as we trod a moist, earthen path. Our way led inward, so it seemed.

Eventually my companion set me on a track, advising that if I climbed it I would meet the long drive to the mansion. He then made off into the wet trees.

After walking alone for a while – beside a bank overhung by roots – I reached an empty, metalled road.

Beyond it lay a great acreage of open parkland in which small copses clustered on ridges and mounds. Mist shrouded the land that lay further, fingering its way into the park – attractive, I can believe, on a fine summer’s day, but now dank and rather desolate, to my eyes at least.

The light, if anything, was more leaden than when I had entered the wood, and, now that I was out in the open, a steady drizzle received me.

Standing on the road, I realised I didn’t know whether to turn right or left. I chose left, thinking it, for some reason, the way that would carry me deeper, away from the rest of Wales.

After a short while of walking Newton House came into sight.

It’s a curious-looking property. Centuries of tampering have left it with a boxy, symmetrical appearance. Ugly would be too harsh a word, but it is, I think, not pretty (in terms of what pretty usually means).

I walked on, at times passing the carcass-like forms of large trees whose fleshy, orange-hued wood stood exposed after various accidents or acts of surgery; branches and trunks contorted in strange twists and spears.

Senses

Under a heavy, stone porch, I pushed open Newton’s wooden door and let myself in.

The first thing that struck me was the dimness – the reception hall (and those rooms that lay off it) enfolded in that gloaming-like light that seems the hallmark of all truly ancient houses – though allowance must be made for the genuine drabness of that day; also, perhaps, the excessive way in which so many locations nowadays are lit – supermarkets, classrooms, filling stations, shopping malls, even some libraries – all scrambling our sense of what is natural (in the way that songbirds sing by streetlamps at night).

Newton House is nothing if not ancient. Neolithic and Roman remains have been found in its park. Nearby stand the ruins of Dinefwr Castle, once home of the powerful Lord Rhys.

Choking

The castle and house were once occupied by a succession of notable Welsh families. The parkland – laid out by Capability Brown – is home to a herd of rare White Park cattle, a breed associated with several legends. According to one, a Welsh noblewoman abused by her husband led her herd away from him and into the waters of a lake.

Hauntings in a place of such antiquity seem entirely logical. The present guardians of the property – the National Trust – make some ‘play’ of its phantoms. These allegedly include a butler – signalled by the aroma of his pipe tobacco – who is said to haunt the servants’ basement (on Sundays). Meanwhile, the tragedy of Lady Eleanor Cavendish, strangled by a jealous lover, is said to be the source of other paranormal activity. A sensation of choking is said to have been reported by some visitors while climbing a staircase.

Less sensationally, one can certainly imagine other past occupants of the house still going about their business: maids cleaning fireplaces… valets placing suits on hangers.

Newton was once a hospital for war-wounded servicemen – an upstairs room contains two grey-blanketed beds. To see soldiers still rising from them would, I think, be perfectly natural.

(Cont. next column)

In truth, I saw no apparitions, felt no cold spots, heard no whispers or steps behind me.

And yet there was, I believe, something.

In my case, I’d describe it as a faint unease experienced fleetingly in certain corridors.

Some, in compensation for a lack of natural light, are hung with bulbs – at times bare – that offer a rather wan glow.

And there was a sense in these walkways, particularly in their occasional windowless reaches, of somehow being confined – in part, I suspect, because they’re narrower than in a grander house or palace (of the stately home kind).

I wondered about the many doors off these labyrinthine routes – who or what might lie behind them, especially those marked ‘Private’.

Tension

A passage with no visible end, hooking left or right to another (as is the case with some at Newton) can disconcert – through the mystery of who, or what, might be approaching (hidden from gaze).

To my mind, the most frightening aspect of Stanley Kubrick’s film of Stephen King’s The Shining comes in those sequences that involve shots of the hallways of the Overlook Hotel.

A similar tension is delivered by Henry James in his story ‘The Jolly Corner’, in which a man, perhaps regretting lost years, returns to a house he knew when younger, where he becomes fearful of finding his youthful self (in a room he dares not enter).

Aura

One upper passage I took at Newton had views over a rather bleak inner yard off which were gates made from vertical iron bars of the kind used for cells. Fading daylight meanwhile lent an unsettling aura to the dummy of a woman in a display near the window of an upstairs room.

Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder. And some will doubtless view Newton as a Venetian Gothic gem and in no way troubling at all.

Yet I wonder if there isn’t an argument to be made about old buildings and ‘ancestral seats’ in general.

Few great estates have their roots in kindness, one suspects. Think, perhaps, of some of those who prospered in, say, the great eras of coal and steel… and the conditions of many of the workers who created those fortunes.

Could it be that, regardless of later philanthropy, an earlier spirit… a founding spirit – of tyranny perhaps? – must somehow ‘out’? One thinks here – very loosely – of Poe’s House of Usher and also the picture of Dorian Gray.

Might that explain the mutation over time of a once pretty house to something darker and castellated? (I stress that this is a general question, not one that is aimed at Newton in particular.)

As closing time approached, I was keen to leave Newton House punctually and not get locked in.

By this stage the place was quiet and I may have been the last wanderer.

When I once again found it, the door through which I’d entered was now only fractionally ajar, a crack of grey light at its edge.

I pulled at it, but it wouldn’t come.

Mere stiffness, antiquity, or… something else?

I pulled again… this time harder. And now the door – which had been stuck somehow – came free.

Newton House, so it seemed, was releasing me.

I stepped from its gloom into the gloom of the park and began the walk back to the town of Llandeilo, and its prettily-painted houses and shops. Behind me, drizzle and mist claimed Newton House.

Horla editor Matthew G. Rees (right) is the author of a new story collection Keyhole – a volume of 18 supernatural stories now available from Three Impostors press.  He will be signing advance copies at Llandeilo Literary Festival, Carmarthenshire, on a night of candle-lit readings and discussion at Horeb Chapel, Llandeilo, on Friday April 26 at 8 pm. For a preview of this event click here

He will also be at Dylan Thomas’s birthplace – 5 Cwmdonkin Drive, Swansea – for an evening of readings, interviews and discussion on Thursday May 2 (7 pm) where signed copies of Keyhole will also be available. Further details of this event will be announced shortly.

Keyhole is due for general release shortly, 269 pages, price £10. Information will be posted here at Horla. Buyers outside the UK will be able to purchase direct from the publisher. Details will be posted here at Horla