Hanbury Hall, the National Trust property near Droitwich, was once the scene of a scandal worthy of an ITV period drama.

The William & Mary house was the seat of the Vernon family for three centuries and in the 1770s it was passed to young Emma Vernon, and the search began for a worthy husband.

The renowned beauty wed Henry Cecil, heir to Burghley House (as seen in Middlemarch, Pride And Prejudice, The Da Vinci Code and The Crown) and the title of the Earl of Exeter.

However, it was never a match made in heaven and the marriage was further strained when their children died in infancy and they accrued large debts when remodelling Hanbury Hall.

Eight years into the marriage Emma began an affair… with none other than the village curate, William Sneyd. The relationship continued for five years before she finally confessed all to a forgiving Henry.

Later that same year, 1789, Emma and William – now back in his home town of Lichfield – hatched a plan to elope. While Emma and Henry were in Birmingham on business, Emma sneaked off to meet William at an inn. 

A crestfallen Henry could not bear to stay at Hanbury Hall and retreated to a farmhouse in Shropshire, adopting the nom de plume John Jones. In 1791 he divorced Emma and married the farmer’s daughter.

This left Emma free to marry William, which she did the following year, but with his tuberculosis growing steadily worse, the couple set off for Portugal in search of healthy Mediterranean air.

However, William soon succumbed to his illness and a heartbroken Emma travelled back to England, though not to Hanbury Hall, as Henry had sold off its contents and locked it up.

After Henry’s death in 1804 Emma was finally able to return to her childhood home, this time with her third husband, John Philips, and she remained at the estate until her passing in 1818. 

Emma had made it clear she did not want to be interred in the Vernon family vault at Hanbury Church. Instead, she asked to be buried in the churchyard, and in a sheet that had once covered William’s body.

The emotional impact of those long ago events has, apparently, lingered on at Hanbury Hall and there have been a number of sightings of Emma’s ghost, dressed in black, around the grounds.

There have been many sightings of her ghost, dressed all in black, drifting serenely along the route between the house and the church that her living self used to take to enjoy trysts with her lover.

This route is now a public right of way, so you can go ghost hunting yourself!

Click here for a 2-minute film exploring Hanbury Hall and its grounds.