Condover Hall in Shropshire was once the scene of a grisly murder. The slain owner is said to have left a bloodied handprint that simply refused to fade away, writes Amy Boucher
Shropshire is a bloodsoaked place. Its history is synonymous with warfare, conflict, murder and strife, and often this history seeps through into folklore. There are a number of spirits within the corpus of Shropshire ghostlore who are victims of murder, restlessly wandering the site of their demise, perhaps seeking answers to their untimely end.
I want to discuss one of these spirits, the ghost of Condover hall, and the bloody handprint that remained, serving as testament to the gruesome murder.
Condover Hall is a wonderful place. This grade one listed building in the village of Condover (around 4 miles from Shrewsbury) was once described as ‘the grandest manor house in Shropshire’ and can boast an extensive history. Indeed it was a royal manor during the Anglo-Saxon period, with a number of Saxon kings holding the area as part of a large and flourishing estate.
The conquest saw the estate passed into the hands of Roger De Montgomery, a member of William the Conquerer’s inner circle and trusted companion. Roger De Montgomery became the first Earl of Shrewsbury and was immensely powerful in post conquest England. It later passed into the hands of King Henry I, who used his time as lord of the manor for pleasure, hunting extensively in the Long Forest, which stretched almost the full length of south Shropshire at this time.
The manor then passed in and out of crown tenure, until the 16th century, when it was bought by Thomas Owen MP, and recorder of Shrewsbury. An important man in his own right, he was the eldest son of a leading Shropshire Merchant, and could boast an impressive legal career. He was also a member of the council in the Marches of Wales, and a Justice of the Common Pleas.
He undertook a number of renovations and building projects at Condover Hall, and he is responsible for much of the hall as we see it today. Condover Hall has a more recent history too, with it being commandeered by the war office between August 1942 to June 1945 to serve as a officer’s mess for nearby RAF Condover. By looking at its history we can begin to understand the importance of this little corner of Shropshire, and unlock some of the secrets it has left behind.
With its status, opulence and long history, its no wonder there are spirits that have lingered. Condover hall is certainly a haunted place, with multiple reports of spirits within the building. Footsteps echo through the building, doors open and close at night. further reports state that a Victorian couple strolls the grounds arm in arm, looking at ease and happy, perhaps reliving pleasant times. There are even stories of an eyeless spirit who chases unsuspecting visitors through the corridors. It is clear that something about the hall implores spirits to stay behind.
Our focus for the remainder of this article will be a much darker episode in the buildings history. It is a tale of murder, greed, curses and hauntings, which saw an innocent man put to his death. This is the story of Lord Kynvett’s murder, and the bloody handprint he left behind.
The exact date in which Lord Kynvett owned Condover Hall is unfortunately up for debate, however our story is suggested to take place in the 18th Century. Lord Kynvett is portrayed as a kind and hardworking man, generous to those in his service and unlike many of the charactatures one sees of men of his status.
Indeed it is said he was often in good humour, and bestowed many gifts to his workers, and a huge allowance to his son. Lord Kynvett was a good father, but the apple had fallen far from the tree when it came to his son. His son was cruel and self serving, ungrateful to his father, and was described as a churlish cad that was far too eager to inherit his father’s fortune. Indeed he was so eager, that he began to plot his father’s end. He believed that if he could get his father out of the way he could inherit his vast estate, and enjoy all of the trappings (and vices) of life as lord of the manor.
So he quickly began to conceive a plan to bring about his father’s downfall. It didn’t matter that his father was kind to him, his mind was hellbent on murder. Soon enough he had made up his mind, and it was time to act. Too cowardly to do it any other way, Kynvett’s son waited until his father slept to act. He ensured that his father’s faithful servant – John Viam was asleep in his quarters before sneaking through the house, into his fathers bedchamber, and stabbing him to death with a carving knife.
Poor Lord Kynvett tried to fight his son off, pleading with him to stop. He struggled to his feet and ran as fast as his battered body could carry him. His son followed, trying desperately to grab his father and finish the deed. Lord Kynvett made it as far as the front door before he collapsed on the doorstep. His injuries were to take his life, but not before he placed a bloody hand upon the stone step and uttered a curse, damning his son to torment and eternal damnation, before his life faded away.
The deed was done.
The son had successfully ended his father’s life, but he knew all to well that it had gone wrong. Due to the bloody appearance of the crime scene, he knew he would need to cast suspicion elsewhere. Who better than his father’s constant servant?
With his father’s curse still rattling around his head, he decided to leave the property and go somewhere he would be seen, perhaps the local alehouse, only to return to the property later that night. Sure enough, he returned to the Hall in the early hours of the morning, sending for the authorities. He played the role of the grief stricken son well, casting the blame on his father’s faithful servant John Viam. After all he had been the only soul still in the building- and why would a son murder such a loving father?
John Viam was grief-stricken upon seeing his master’s corpse. He was a quiet, unassuming man who had worked for Lord Kynvett for over 20 years. He vehemently denied the murder, pleading his innocence throughout the questioning and subsequent trial. He explained that he had loved the lord, and Kynvett had been kind to him throughout the years of employment. But his pleas unfortunately fell on deaf ears. John Viam was sentenced to be hanged for the murder of Lord Kynvett.
The day of the hanging was a dark, ominous one. It seemed that the very sky was mourning this miscarriage of justice. There on the gallows, John looked out at the crowd and declared
‘before heaven I am innocent, though my master’s son swears me guilty,
And as I perish an innocent man, may those who follow my murdered lord be cursed’
He was hanged soon after, whilst his last words still echoed around the crowd. This curse was a potent one, and it ensured that no heir of Condover hall could enjoy the estate peacefully, due to they were racked with issues, and this is no more apparent that in the fate of Lord Kynvett’s son.
Initially, the man had been proud of his actions. He had successfully killed his father, and avoided being blamed for it. He lived the life he’d always dreamed, however, John Viam’s last words were never far from his mind, and slowly he began to lose his grasp on reality. The folklore states that the murderous son grew quite unwell, and claimed to see his father’s face in every mirror, corridor and corner of the house. He began to grow unpredictable, relying on drink to numb the visions, alienating his friends and associates.
Driven to the brink by his own guilt, the man wandered the halls, lost in his own nightmare. It is said that Lord Kynvett’s son died in torment, alone in the hall he had once coveted enough to do the unthinkable. The scene of Lord Kynvett’s death had an indelible reminder of these terrible events. For the doorstep still contained the bloody handprint of Kynvett, no matter how many times it was scrubbed clean, it remained. Even when one thought they had overcome it, it would return, as bold and fresh as if it had just happened.
This caused great torment to Kynvett’s son, and furthered his decent into madness. Everywhere he turned, he was reminded of his sin. The bloody handprint was eventually overcome in the 20th century, when it was chiselled away!
The spirits of the three men do not rest easy. Indeed they are all said to haunt the hall. Reports of Kynvett’s bloodcurdling screams and death cries still fill the building, as well as apparitions of all three men. Perhaps they are trapped here, undone by the actions of one man.
Related: Shropshire teems with tales of phantom monks haunting local sites, including a notable spectral encounter at the historic Linley Hall.