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Detail of leather wallpaper in Cleves Room.

Cleves Room

With its decorative walls and intriguing history, the Cleves Room is best known for a séance held there in the 1890s.

This small room leading off the Entrance Hall is named after Anne of Cleves, the fourth wife of Henry VIII. It’s possible that she stayed here on her way to a convent in nearby Falmer. In a further connection, a copy of a Holbein portrait of her probably hung here in the 19th century.

Seventeenth-century gilt leather panels line the walls, creating a sense of luxury and enclosure. The leather is Dutch and the decorative design features fruit and flowers, monkeys, eagles and smaller birds.

Vase and other decorative items on a shelf.

Setting for a ghostly gathering

Charles and Ellen Thomas-Stanford used this as a card room, and the polished wood furniture includes two 18th- century English card tables. But the Cleves Room is best known for the séance held here on 11 November 1896, which reinforces Preston Manor’s reputation as a haunted house.

After a number of unexplained phenomena, including mysterious figures seen on the staircase, a medium named Ada Goodrich Freer was invited to the house. As family members gathered around a ouija board Ada claimed to make contact with Sister Agnes, a nun who had been wrongly excommunicated from the Church and buried in unconsecrated ground. A message came through that if she received a Christian burial, the hauntings would cease.

A skeleton uncovered

A year later, the skeleton of a woman was discovered under the terrace outside the Macquoid room. According to some reports, the body was secretly reburied in the graveyard.

Ada Freer was later revealed as a fraud and it’s also possible that the skeleton was not authentic. These events highlight not just the Victorian and Edwardian fascination with ghosts and the afterlife, but also many other accounts of paranormal activity at Preston Manor, before and since.

Vase and other decorative items on a shelf.