A new housing estate is located near where a grand manor house once stood, once known to be “England’s most haunted”.
Nestled between Cheriton and Sandgate in Folkestone is a pretty parish with a friendly community made up of old and new houses.
But not everyone is familiar with the haunted building and the tragic suicide stories that cast a dark shadow over the area.
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The gruesome tales center on the ancient Underhill House, which was built on the plain of St Martin in 1840.
According to Kent County Council Library records, the premises were on 1.46 acres of land and included four bedrooms.
The tragedy began with a man named Alured Denne, who was an occupant of the building during his early years.
He reportedly noticed an “evil presence” within his four walls shortly after the death of his newborn baby – and he began to suffer from depression.
In 1887, his mental state deteriorated and he subsequently committed suicide.
Years later the vacant house became the camp sergeant’s house at Shorncliffe camp and was then known as the sergeant’s house.
But a new start for the house did not prevent other suicides from taking place there.
Three officers of different ranks committed suicide at the residence over the following years – the incidents of each were unrelated.
They all had entirely different circumstances.
A police officer reportedly decided to kill himself because of a gambling addiction.
Another officer, an army chaplain, convinced that the house was possessed by an evil spirit, attempted to perform an exorcism.
Reports say he was later found dead.
The body of another officer was reportedly found in a stable next to the property.
The murder of the maid in 1934
But it was in 1934 that a grisly murder rocked the area and was reported at the time by our sister newspaper, the Folkestone Herald.
It was a maid, Mary Hiett, 37, who had served the house, who was found dead in one of the bedrooms.
An investigation in May of that year concluded that she had been strangled by Brigadier Charles Jay’s valet, who was also discovered dying from multiple gunshot wounds.
A transcript of the investigation revealed that Charles set out to murder the maid after seeing her with another man. The couple are believed to have had some sort of relationship while they both worked at home.
Once Charles killed his lover, he turned the gun on him.
The news article said he acted in a “fit of rage” after she shrugged him somewhat when she “did not seem keen” to accompany Charles for the evening.
He had obtained permission from the sergeant to bring out the maid for his birthday.
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A cook, according to The Heritage Room records at Folkestone Library, claimed the housekeeper said she had “friendly jangles” with Charles, and nothing else.
Charles had made it clear that he wanted to marry her, but Mary hadn’t been keen on the idea and “didn’t like his character.”
He is believed to have had a drink at the Britannia Pub on Horn Street, which still stands today, and also ransacked his boss’s booze supply, before seeking to kill the maid.
Witnesses who saw him in the pub said he appeared “agitated” and was quick to drink and go, a Herald report added.
The cook reportedly said the door to the house had been locked when she returned that same evening, with no keys being forgotten, which has been described as unusual.
Charles was also notorious for going to bed early, but had also been spotted by the sergeant later that night writing a letter in the kitchen.
The next morning, when Charles hadn’t woken up his boss, it turned out he had killed Mary – with both bodies found in the house.
Decades later, the military sold the mansion.
Although its many uses are not detailed, records indicate that it was used as an inn for some time.
But anyone who dared to stay inside reported missing items or goods moved into locked rooms.
Strange voices were heard in the empty kitchen and the ghost of a vacant army officer in a large cloak was often seen.
It was in 1978 that the building met its own tragic fate and burned to the ground in a fire.
Military sources have reportedly blamed an electrical fault for the blaze – although there was some skepticism as to whether the neglected building had any power supply.
The formal cause of the fire remains a mystery.
For decades later, all that remained of the premises was an old stable.
And despite the passing of time and the adaptation of the landscape to modern life, the community has often seen frightening events.
About 13 years ago, in 2008, the sighting of a man with a horse in the vicinity raised concerns that the ghosts of the old Underhill House were still more present.
Information from the Kent County Council Library Archives.