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The Ghost of Dame Elizabeth Hoby The Grey Lady of Bisham Abbey

Nell has been an online writer for over eight years and is fascinated by the paranormal, including omens, time slips and the supernatural.

Ghostly Bisham Abbey is said to be cursed!  (Pronounced Bis-ham) from the word bis hamlet. bis meaning 2 and ham short for hamlet or small gathering of houses.

Ghostly Bisham Abbey is said to be cursed! (Pronounced Bis-ham) from the word bis hamlet. bis meaning 2 and ham short for hamlet or small gathering of houses.

Bisham Abbey

Marlow is full of ancient history and ghosts are prevalent. Dating back to the time of William The Conquerer it has many old buildings that are a haven for ghosts and spectre's.

Just over the bridge from Marlow, is an old stone Abbey with its pointed gables facing the River Thames. This is the famous Bisham Abbey built in 1337. Previously it was known as Bisham Priory where the Monks resided. It is said that when King Henry VIII disolved the Monasteries, the Monks were so annoyed they cursed anyone who bought the Abbey. Steeped in history, it is a spooky place with an eerie atmosphere. It's not surprising that it is said to be haunted. it has known Anne of Cleves, Oliver Cromwell and Elizabeth I. Ancient flags adorn the walls, and a portrait of Dame Elizabeth Hoby hangs in the great hall. Take a look at her picture. This is the famous ghost of Bisham Abbey, known locally as the Grey Lady.

Over the years there have been many sightings of the Grey Lady ghost. I remember a story that my mother told me about the Second World War. She was a Sergeant in the W.A.A.Fs, and worked mainly as a telephone operator. She was a practical woman who had no time for ghostly tales. Being given what she called the Graveyard Shift, she walked through the Abbey to get to her station. The windows didn't have curtains at the time, and from where she was positioned, she could see out over the grounds, and in the distance the river glowed faintly in the moonlight. One night as she took her seat, she noticed out of the corner of her eye, a mist coming in over the grounds.

She took no notice and carried on with her work. Suddenly she heard an intake of breath and looked towards the other girl who was sharing the shift. The girl was pointing towards the window. Outside the mist had taken on a shape. The form slowly glided by the large window, and to my mother's eye she saw a woman take shape, her hands out in front of her. The ghostly woman drifted away across the fields and disappeared.

In the last few months of the War, my mother had been priviledged to see the ghost of the grey lady. When I asked her what happened, she had a far away look in her eye and said, ' We saw something that night and it made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. I don't believe in ghosts, but at that moment I wanted to walk out of the door, and get a strong drink'.

Of course being in the Airforce you can't just walk away when you get to see a ghost! So they carried on working, and never mentioned it to anybody, not even each other.

Video by drsam70 with permission

Dame Elizabeth Hoby

Dame Elizabeth Hoby

Dame Elizabeth Hoby

Elizabeth Hoby was born in 1528 and died in 1609. She was a highly respected member of Queen Elizabeth's court. Known for her poetry and musical talent. On the 27th June 1558, she was married to Thomas Hoby of Bisham Abbey in the county of Berkshire England.

Thomas was a noted translater and in 1566 he was Knighted and became the English ambassador to France. The couple moved to Paris, but sadly Thomas died shortly after.

Elizabeth had four children, two girls who died in childhood, Edward and another boy who was born after her husbands death, who she named Thomas in memory of her husband.

Later, she married for the second time. Her husband was Lord John Russell. She had two more daughters named Elizabeth and Anne.

This is where it starts to become confused. Its said that Elizabeth had another son, William. Wanting all her children to become successful, Elizabeth became angry because William was a disappointment to his mother. He couldn't read or write to her standard, and in a fit of anger she is said to have hit him so violently that she killed him. Strangely, there is no record of him in genealogy records. But that doesn't mean he did not exist. Records back then were very patchy, especially if he died before records about the family were written.

Another explanation could be that as Elizabeth's family were so influential at the time, somehow they managed to cover up the secret. Whatever the reason, Elizabeth is said to be so full of grief and remorse, she continues to search for her son. And that's why she haunts the Abbey. Her ghost appears, weeping and wailing, desperately washing out the blood from her hands in a bowl of water that eerily appears in front of her.

How the ghost of Dame Elizabeth would look. public domain

How the ghost of Dame Elizabeth would look. public domain

The Effigy of Lady Hoby in Bisham Parish church.

The Effigy of Lady Hoby in Bisham Parish church.

Ghostly Sightings of the Grey Lady

Of course you could dismiss the whole story as legend or fake but for one thing that happened later. In 1840 new evidence came to light, showing that the stories may be true. Part of the Abbey's dining room floor was taken up during alterations, and among the rubble they found old papers. What's more exciting was the fact that these paper's contained Elizabeth's Copy books.The books contained lots of writing by the Hoby family. In fact a lot of it were corrections by the ghostly Dame Hoby herself!

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Mrs East who was renting the house at the time decided in her wisdom to leave the books alone until she could get them verified by the Abbey's owner.

Once again a strange thing occurred. Soon after the discovery, the paper's went missing. Evidently the builders decided that they could make a pretty penny out of them and stole the lot!

The Ghostly sightings are still very much a part of Bisham Abbey and throughout the last few hundred years there are been many sightings of the Grey Lady.

One of the most chilling accounts comes from late 19th Century.

Admiral Edward Vansittart, a sailor, came face to face with the famous ghost. Playing chess with his brother late one night in the panelled room where the Dame's portrait hung, he had finished the game, and his brother decided to retire to bed. Edward stood in the room with his back to the portrait mulling over his day.

He soon became aware of a presence behind him, and turning, he saw Dame Elizabeth standing there! He looked across at the painting, and to his horror there was nothing on the canvas. Terrified, he ran from the room.

Another account concerned two boys on their way back from a fishing trip at dusk. They were scared half to death when they saw a boat by the bank of the river. In it was an old woman, huddled in her black cloak. The boys didn't wait to see if it was Dame Hoby!

Every summer There is a Regatta at nearby Henley, usually two weeks after the Marlow event. On one of these occasions, Bisham Abbey was crowded with visitors getting ready for the Regatta. So one young man stayed in the library and got ready to go to sleep. During the night, he felt someone touching his hair, and waking up abruptly he saw to his horror the spectre of Dame Hoby. Softly she spoke these words to the terrified boy:

'Young man, if I touch thee, thou will be bald'!

With the light of dawn approaching, the young man fled Bisham Abbey, and in a bizarre twist he soon became a clergyman. How's that for a convertion to the faith!

In another strange case, a young girl was staying at the Abbey and after going to bed to read, she noticed that her dog started to get agitated. His hackles were rising and he leapt of the bed with a yelp and ran from the room.

To the girl's astonishment, she suddenly noticed that her watch that had been placed on the bed, started to rise in the air! Then it shot across the room, as if thrown by a ghostly hand!

Then sheet music was thrown about, and her Toilet Set, or vanity case was knocked over. But that wasn't all. The curtains of the bed were wrenched open and standing there in front of her, was a woman wearing what appeared to be an old fashioned nightgown. In a state of shock, the girl ran from the room and downstairs, where after she told her story, she was shown the portrait of Dame Elizabeth. The girl recognised her from the sighting.

One of the strangest things about the ghostly sightings, is that she sometimes seems to appear in the negative. For example her headdress, ruff and frilled sleeves are always black, and her gown is white.

All Saints Church Bisham

All Saints Church Bisham

All Saints Church Bisham

Seven corner alley.

Seven corner alley.

Personal Experience of the Ghostly Dame

Living in the area all my life, I have heard this ghostly tale many times over the years. In fact Elizabeth's hauntings are said to be a lot farther afield than just Bisham Abbey. There is an alley in Marlow called Seven Corner Alley. I think it must have had a proper name at one stage, but all the locals know it as the above.

It's a spooky alley I can tell you, and not one for walking alone in the dark. The reason why its called Seven Corner alley is because, well, its got seven corners! And that's what makes it so darn spooky. As you walk through it seems to get narrower and narrower, and right in the middle, with a tall wall to one side and a building to the other, there is a particular spot that is said to show, in certain conditions, a large hand print fused in the wall. As children we would always look for it, but I could never see it. Then one night, walking through with my friends, one of them yelled:

'I just saw the hand print, there!' And he pointed to the wall. And for just a second I thought I could see a shadow. A shadow of a hand dripping water.

The Grey Lady, the Ghost of Bisham Abbey. Dame Elizabeth Hoby.

We ran and never looked back.

Jennifer Tapies Hobbie and Family. The descendants of Dame Elizabeth Hoby of Bisham Abbey

Jennifer Tapies Hobbie and Family. The descendants of Dame Elizabeth Hoby of Bisham Abbey

The Modern Connection.

In a strange twist of fate, I recently received an email from a lady called Jennifer Tapies. To my surprise she told me she was the descendant of Dame Elizabeth Hoby.

She went on to say that she and her family were coming to England to visit Bisham Abbey and would I like to meet up? As you can imagine I was amazed and delighted. They were American, but were residing in Austria.

Jennifer arranged to meet me in my local pub. I was nervous but couldn't wait to meet her and the family. Imagine writing an article then being contacted by the descendants! It doesn't get better than that!

On the day in question we met and I had a wonderful time. Jennifer, her husband and three great children told me all about how they discovered their family history, and over lunch we had a lovely chat.
I really enjoyed myself and I hope they did too. It really made my day.

It just goes to show that sometimes our path in life can cross in the most mysterious ways.

Thanks to Jennifer and family for a great day.

Local Folklore and Places to Visit

© 2012 Nell Rose


Nell Rose (author) from England on June 24, 2020:

Thank you Shawindi!

Shawindi Silva from Sri lanka on June 22, 2020:

So interesting!!

Nell Rose (author) from England on May 26, 2018:

Hi Isaac, that is amazing! Did you read the fact that I met some of her other relatives? Great to meet them, but had to dive back to work, shame.

Isaac on May 25, 2018:

I recently discovered that Lady Hoby is my 13th great grandmother from my maternal grandfathers side! It’s very interesting to learn about her and I could only hope that I will have the opportunity to travel to Great Britain to visit the Bisham Abbey as well as other places my ancestors resided

Nell Rose (author) from England on June 28, 2015:

Thanks for reading and commenting Goroba, glad you liked it.

Goroba on June 27, 2015:

I love dame elizabeth story

Nell Rose (author) from England on March 10, 2013:

Hi Jennifer, that sounds fascinating, if you want to email me about it, click on my small photo above and it will take you to my profile page. look down the right hand side and you will see the words fan mail, if you click there it will say do you want to email me? okay? I look forward to hearing from you, thanks! nell

Jennifer Hobbie on March 10, 2013:

Nell, I enjoyed reading your post. We are descendants of Lady Hoby and are planning s visit to Bisham in early April 2013. I would like to ask you a few questions offline. Please let me know how to contact you.

Thank you.


Nell Rose (author) from England on February 27, 2013:

Hi Emily that's amazing! pity you didn't see the ghost! thanks so much for reading, nell

Emily-Lightfoot on February 27, 2013:

i acctually live here !!i slept in the abby once too... pretty scary but i didn't see the ghost ! great story really scared me too, i don't think im sleeping in there ever again now ;)

Nell Rose (author) from England on December 03, 2012:

Hi moonlake, lol! yes she does sound like a scary ghost, but the bisham abbey is lovely, thanks for reading, nell

moonlake from America on December 02, 2012:

Very interesting story and so spooky. I don't think I would want to run into her she would give me a heart attack but would love to see the abbey.

Voted up and more.

Nell Rose (author) from England on September 30, 2012:

Hi jenny, Wow that's amazing that John Russell is your brothers name! lol! spooky eh? you would be very welcome too, we have some lovely little haunted places over here! lol! thanks so much, nell

jennyjenny from Somewhere in Michigan on September 29, 2012:

Hi Nell, you gave me shivers! What a great share. You know I couldn't believe it, John Russell is my brothers name, I had to read that bit twice. She sounds like a very commanding soul, and it seems like she does have a mission she would like to finish. Now, I really want to come and visit your corner of the world. Thank you for sharing! :)

Nell Rose (author) from England on September 29, 2012:

Hi prettynutjob, yes I think she still has issues! lol! thanks so much, nell

Nell Rose (author) from England on September 29, 2012:

Hi bac, my pc is really playing up tonight, so sorry it took so long to answer, thanks so much, yes she is spooky isn't she? lol!

Anne from United Kingdom on September 29, 2012:

Hi Nell.

Really enjoyed this hub. I liked the way you set the tone by giving your mum´s account of seeing the grey lady. This made it even more real and believable, even to one who believes in such things. Thanks Nell for a great read.

Mary from From the land of Chocolate Chips,and all other things sweet. on September 28, 2012:

Very interesting hub, I love reading hubs about ghostly haunts very well written. Dame Elizabeth sounded like she might have had quite a bit of anger in her, voted up, awesome and shared.

Nell Rose (author) from England on June 02, 2012:

Hi Jackie, lol! yes I know what you mean! Are you watching the Queens Diamond Jubilee over there? I think you will like it, thanks as always, nell

Hi Jama, yes isn't it strange that if things had been different we would have had a completely different set of royals! weird eh? thanks again, nell

Joanna McKenna from Central Oklahoma on June 02, 2012:

I'm not officially a Brit (only by blood) and I've often thought what a stroke of luck it was that Harry is the Second Son and not the first! What a disaster that would be!

Too bad Elizabeth's father wasn't the firstborn. ;D

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on June 02, 2012:

I watched William and Harry being interviewed by one of our news ladies last week and it was so nice. Especially having William say he was so sorry his mother couldn't be at the wedding and that she couldn't know Kate. Sounds so much like real love and a hint they will be starting a family soon. I love those boys. Isn't it so good William was born first though, can you imagine the opposite?

Nell Rose (author) from England on May 23, 2012:

Hi Seeker, I never thought about that, the head being bald because of the touch of a ghost. maybe its some sort of electrical thing happening, good point. if there is such things as ghosts and they can touch, then anything is possible, thanks so much for reading, and I am so glad you liked it, nell

Helen Murphy Howell from Fife, Scotland on May 23, 2012:

Now this is what I call 'paranormal' for real!! Firstly, what a history the Abbey has - hardly surprising that it's haunted, and not by residual energy, but spirit! And what a record of events - this was a fascinating account!

I have to say as well, that I was fascinated by what Dame Hoby said to the young man, (not only because speech from a spirit so directly is quite rare), but because of what she said: - 'Young man, if I touch thee, thou will be bald'! There are numerous accounts of people coming into contact with the supernatural who have actually lost all their hair. Now this might be coincidence but maybe not, but two that I can think of from TV are Stuart Torvell from Most Haunted and Gale Porter the investigative journalist. I could be barking up the wrong tree entirely, but I wonder if Dame Hoby knew that she could harm the lad in some way? Most people have put the loss of hair down to fear/stress when encountering the paranormal, but now I wonder if there is maybe another cause?

Anyway, this was one fabulous and totally absorbing hub - voted up everything except funny!!

Nell Rose (author) from England on May 21, 2012:

Hi Writer, lol! thanks for reading, cheers nell

Joyce Haragsim from Southern Nevada on May 21, 2012:

Good English tale. Remind me not to stay there because I wouldn't be able to sleep a wink.

Voted up and awesome.

Nell Rose (author) from England on May 21, 2012:

Hi Sue, thanks for reading, I love my ghost stories! lol!

Sueswan on May 21, 2012:

Hi Nell,

I really enjoyed this ghostly tale.

Voted up and awesome.

Take Care

Nell Rose (author) from England on May 19, 2012:

Hi alocsin, glad you liked it, and yes my mum wasn't one for ghosts, but this certainly spooked her out! lol! thanks!

Hi CMHypno, Bisham Abbey these days is the main sporting centre for all the athletes. We get the England football team down there, and the Olympic rowers are just over the bridge, Steve Redgrave is the most famous one living around this area, so I am always tripping over sports people! lol! thanks as always, nell

Hi, Jama, Yes that's me, always on the look out for an opportunity! haha! thanks!

Joanna McKenna from Central Oklahoma on May 19, 2012:

Nell, I knew you'd catch on to the possibilities! lol!

CMHypno from Other Side of the Sun on May 19, 2012:

Well that is certainly a spooky tale Nell! It looks like a beautiful place and another to add to my 'to do' list - these ghost's know how to pick a good spot to haunt for eternity. Thanks for sharing these ghostly goings on

Aurelio Locsin from Orange County, CA on May 18, 2012:

What an exciting thing to happen to your mom. I've been to your country a couple of times and stayed in a few haunted places. Alas, no ghosts visited me. Voting this Up and Interesting.

Nell Rose (author) from England on May 18, 2012:

Hi Jama, that would be great if they were filming! maybe I can get a 'bit' part in it! and then afterwards go for a pint in the local village pub!

Joanna McKenna from Central Oklahoma on May 17, 2012:

Nell, anonymous ghosts at Highclere! How interesting! Yes, please do pop over, poke around and take pix! That is, if you can get near the place. They might be filming Season 3 of Downton Abbey. 'Course, that wouldn't stop me. I'd just get chummy with the locals in the nearest village. Bet they know ALL about who's haunting the manor house! ;D

Nell Rose (author) from England on May 17, 2012:

Hi beth, yes that alley always spooks me! I have walked through it a million times but ever since that incident I always look at that portion of the wall! lol! people behind me must think I am mad! I scoot past there so fast you would believe there was the hounds of hell on my heels! Yes you may be right, the story could have been just gossip about the son, either way she is said to be floating around, thanks as always, nell

Beth Perry from Tennesee on May 17, 2012:

Oh my Nell! You sent shivers up my arms with this Hub!

Poor ghost, she is obviously frustrated with something. In reading the autobiographical info I can't help but wonder if perhaps that tale about killing a son wasn't just something made up by her enemies? If she is grieving it could be over something as simple as that awful gossip.

Whatever the truth may be on the son, fascinating story. I bet you and your friend were terrified in that alley!

Voting up.

Nell Rose (author) from England on May 17, 2012:

Hi kitty, I think from what I read about her, that she was quite a talented lady, but it was this one thing she did that caused her to go mad, glad you liked it, and if you do get over here give me a yell and we can go look for spooks together! lol!

Kitty Fields from Summerland on May 17, 2012:

Oh, really creepy and awesome Nell! This makes me want to visit the UK so very badly! She looks sort of abismal though, doesn't she? Was she not a very good person? I assume not if she hit her son so hard it killed him...yikes. Anyway, awesome hub as usual. :)

Nell Rose (author) from England on May 17, 2012:

Hi Jama, evidently there are supposed to be ghosts but I can't find any particular ones, I think it just says 'ghosts of people who lived there' but I can't find any definite names. Highclare is approx 50 miles away from me so I will have to go and take a look, maybe get some photo's!

Joanna McKenna from Central Oklahoma on May 16, 2012:

Thanks for another (literally) hair raising tale! Very strange about the Grey Lady's papers, though. Perhaps SHE took them and hid them elsewhere? At least it was papers they found and not the bones of the murdered son!

btw, are you anywhere near Highclere Castle? If so, is it ghost-free? Just seems strange a house that big wouldn't have one (or two) floating around. I have the current Countess of Carnarvon's book about the house - "The Real Downton Abbey" - which was compiled from Highclere's archives, but there's not even a hint about any resident ghost! Just wondering if there's ever been mention of hauntings there by the locals.

Nell Rose (author) from England on May 16, 2012:

lol! that would be great wouldn't it?

Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on May 16, 2012:

Nell, I wish I could! I would be there in a heartbeat!!

Nell Rose (author) from England on May 16, 2012:

Hi avian, lol! no not yet, trying to get up the nerve! but yes I game! as long as you come with me! lol! thanks as always, nell

Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on May 16, 2012:

Did you go there to meet the Dame? With your spiritual experiences, you could certainly get the information straight from this woman...are you game?

Nell Rose (author) from England on May 16, 2012:

Hi Jools, I think it started off back in the 19th century and ever since then she has been seen loads of times. Whether some of the sightings are true or just psychological it has the same spooky effect! Yes Seven corner alley has always freaked me out! lol! I go down that way a lot, and try to follow other people through it even in daylight! thanks as always, nell

Jools Hogg from North-East UK on May 16, 2012:

Nell, great article bur you're braver than I would be going down seven corners alley! It's amazing that there have been so many sightings of her over the centuries.

Nell Rose (author) from England on May 16, 2012:

Hi Hilary, lol! I must admit I did wonder if the clergyman went bald! probably through fright more than the ghost! thanks as always, nell

Nell Rose (author) from England on May 16, 2012:

Hi christopher, that's a great compliment thank you. I love all the Irish legends they are so fascinating too, thanks as always, nell

Nell Rose (author) from England on May 16, 2012:

Hi klara, lol! yep very annoyed! I don't think I would want to come face to face with Elizabeth Hoby, especially at night floating around the building! uggghh! thanks for reading, cheers nell

Nell Rose (author) from England on May 16, 2012:

Hi Jackie, no it wouldn't we would love to hear your lovely accent, I am glad you liked the story of the ghost. I did notice one thing about the video's, the girl obviously doesn't come from around here because she called it Bisham, when really its pronounced Bis-ham, thanks as always, nell

Nell Rose (author) from England on May 16, 2012:

Hi Alicia, I know what you mean, I would be okay staying at Bisham Abbey even if the ghost was right there in front of me, but Seven corner alley has always given me the spooks! lol! thanks for reading, cheers nell

Hillary from Atlanta, GA on May 16, 2012:

You are great storyteller Nell and I especially love your mysterious tales of the occult. I do believe in ghosts but never really had an encounter. Maybe one day....

Wonder if that clergyman ever went bald?

Christopher Antony Meade from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom on May 16, 2012:

Great story Nell. Very creepy. I was brought up on ghosts and ghost stories in Ireland. They are part of the eternal backdrop there.

That was a really excellent retelling. I shall be sleeping with the lights on tonight.

klarawieck on May 15, 2012:

She sounds like one really pissed off lady! I'd run for my life, too.

This is a great article, Nell. The background info along with personal accounts, it makes it all very spooky and real. I really liked it.

I've been fortunate to have met kind spirits only. But I know that these encounters happen and can be pretty damaging to one's mental state. The fact that you're seen something that doesn't have a logical explanation is a hard pill to swallow as it is. Just imagine experiencing an encounter with a violent spirit! It's very interesting. Thanks for sharing.

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on May 15, 2012:

Such a great story and beautiful pictures. Loved the videos too and the English accents! lol My southern drawl would get me laughed right out of that country.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on May 15, 2012:

I love reading ghost stories, and this one is very interesting, Nell. I enjoy looking at photos of historic buildings and reading about the stories attached to them. It would be fascinating - and scary - to meet Elizabeth Hoby! However, I wouldn't like to walk down Seven Corner Alley on my own!

Nell Rose (author) from England on May 15, 2012:

Hi suzette, I haven't really seen a ghost as such, but my mum was convinced and she was so down to earth, I was amazed that she admitted it! lol! thanks as always, nell

Suzette Walker from Taos, NM on May 15, 2012:

What a spooky story! This is fascinating and amazing all at the same time. I love stories such as this and would love to visit the priory. I have never experienced a ghost myself, but that doesn't stop me from believing in their existence.

Nell Rose (author) from England on May 15, 2012:

Hi SilverGenes, thanks for being so quick! I am not sure, I did try to find out, but it doesn't say anymore about the papers. Seven corner alley has always given me the shudders even if I walk through it in the daylight. The trouble is, at night its so spooky it makes you want to do the olympic sprint from one end to the other, and in the day you feel as if someone is going to attack you because you are on your own in that maze of alleys! lol! at one end of the alley is a pub and a tiny little road, and at the other end is just a long road leading to the river, so not much help out there then! thanks again for reading, cheers nell

SilverGenes on May 15, 2012:

Nell, this is riveting! Did the papers from the floor ever show up again at some point? This poor lady must have died with a great weight upon her and if the stories are true, it is completely understandable. Just looking at the photo and imagining walking through that narrow alley with seven corners makes me shudder! Thanks for the great scary story this evening!