Sister Agnes: a buried secret at Preston Manor?

On 28 January, we’ll be opening up the cold case of a body found at Preston Manor over a century ago. In this post, Paula Wrightson, Venue Officer at Preston Manor, introduces the mystery of ‘Sister Agnes’.

Postcard showing Preston Manor
Preston Manor, early 1900s

On Friday 29 January 1897, workmen repairing the drains at Preston Manor made a grisly find: the hastily buried skeletal remains of a person identified as a middle-aged woman.

This event followed an unsettling autumn. Six weeks prior to Christmas a séance had been held at Preston Manor presided over by two of the UK’s most accomplished psychical researchers: spiritualistic medium Ada Goodrich Freer and Douglas Murray, member of the famous Ghost Club. The pair had been invited to deal with another family predicament, the hauntings by ghosts.

The Christmas of 1896 had been an unfortunate one in the house, then a private family home. Bad smells wafted about the rooms and corridors, alarming the residents so much that they moved out temporarily, leaving only the servants, and orders for the workmen to investigate possible causes of the stench.

Photo of skeleton in ground.
Child burial at Rocky Clump, an example of an archaeological human remains discovery in Brighton. Courtesy of Brighton & Hove Archaeological Society.

Today the law requires you call the police immediately if you unearth human bones in your garden. The CID (Criminal Investigations Department) will then make an assessment. Experts will be bought in to calculate the age of the bones. Bones ‘of antiquity’ will not form part of a criminal investigation and will fall under the remit of the County Archaeologist. The Burial Act of 1857 dictates that persons exhuming human bones must have the correct licence to do so. All human remains must be reported to the Coroner’s Office.

There is no evidence the inhabitants of Preston Manor adhered to the letter of the law and thereby hangs an unsolved mystery. Freer and Murray persuaded the family the bones were those of Sister Agnes, the excommunicated nun that was said to haunt Preston Manor. But was this a fabrication masking the truth?

Join us on Saturday 28 January 2017 for the Mysterious Case of the Preston Manor Skeleton when house historians and members of the Brighton Archaeological Society will discuss the case. Known historical evidence will be examined alongside newly researched material that has never been presented. Find out if it is possible to solve a mystery, the trail of which has gone cold for 120 years….

Paula Wrightson, Preston Manor Venue Officer

Booking information

£7.50 plus Preston Manor admission (includes free sherry & biscuits on arrival), book in advance.
You can buy tickets by telephoning the Events Booking line on 03000 290902 (Mon-Fri) or in person at any of our venues. You can also email visitor.services@brighton-hove.gov.uk if you have any queries. A £1.50 booking fee may apply to some events. Tickets cannot be reserved without payment. Please book early as an event may be cancelled if too few tickets have been sold.

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