Appuldurcombe: An Unexpected Story

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Appuldurcombe House is in the South of the Isle of Wight; a beautiful ruin, surrounded by fields and trees.

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The front facade is still intact and partially renovated because though most of the building is roofless and crumbling, Appuldurcombe House is a National Trust property that (for once) I didn’t have to sneak into! I was actually on the island to see a good friend get married there- I had no idea that I’d end up exploring too and it felt like a holiday for me; I was there on such a happy occasion and catching up with friends I had lost touch with was lovely, the weather was perfect, and I was able to climb about and photograph as much as I wanted without the constant worry that I’d be thrown out any second!
For a lot of urban explorers, a huge part of the allure is the secrecy and ‘conquering’ a gauntlet of security guards and barbed wire- which is badass but it’s not the main selling point for me; I’m drawn to a place by its story and not the challenge of getting in. As Appuldurcombe House is a place that you can visit without sneaking around corners at 5am I debated whether or not to do this post, but as it has a fascinating story and (apparently) several ghosts, here you go. 😉

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Before the ceremony started, some friends and I were wondering what the ruin could have been. Some of us thought a school, a manor house or some kind of religious building. It turns out it had been all three… and then some!

It was originally built around 1100 as a priory, then became the home of the Leigh family a few hundred years later. It was bequeathed in 1690 to Sir Robert Worsley who decided (for reasons unknown) to rebuild the whole thing. He did exactly that, proudly claiming he had not left a stone standing from the original building, but died before the new building was finished. (Strangely, despite this unfinished business, he is not thought to be one of the ghosts that haunt the ruin.)

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In 1770, Robert’s great-nephew Sir Richard Worsley added some major extensions to the house (which we assume he inherited) and brought his new wife Seymour Dorothy Fleming (!!) to live there with him. Richard married the 17 year-old ‘for love and £80,000’ and she was, apparently, scandalous.
Rumour says that she had 27 lovers and though she had two children while married to Richard, only one was legitimate. While he claimed the other in order to avoid open scandal, Seymour eventually ran off with a close friend of his, George Bisset, who Richard tried to sue for adultery… but failed when Seymour (helped by her battalion of lovers) revealed some shocking rumours of her own, including a claim that Richard had shown her off to Bisset while naked at a Maidstone bathhouse. The jury awarded Richard a shilling (about £5) in damages.

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Richard got the best revenge he could, by seeking separation rather than divorce. This meant that by law, Seymour could not remarry until after he died. At that time, upper class women did not work and could not earn their own money. Unable to earn her own keep, Seymour ended up destitute. Being resourceful and demonstrably excellent in bed, she became a “demimondaine”- a classy term for a high-class escort or professional mistress. She lived off donations from rich men who visited her in a house for a group of women in her position, called “The New Female Coterie”.

She never returned to Appuldurcombe House but escaped to Paris to avoid debts, started dating a French man, brought him back to England where Richard took her back to court and ordered her to spend four years in exile in France… where she ended up staying for over a decade almost certainly imprisoned through the Reign of Terror and French Revolution.
Seymour finally returned to England, got terribly sick for two months (likely due to an STI) and eventually moved into her old estate, which she couldn’t legally own as women were not allowed to own property back then… >:(

Richard finally died in 1805 and Seymour, now aged 47, inherited £70,000 (now equivalent to £5,210,000), married a 26 year old, took back her maiden name of Fleming… which her husband also took (go him!) and in 1814 the wealthy couple moved to a villa in Passy, France, where Seymour later died after what I hope was a fantastic few years loving life as a fabulous older lady surrounded by cats!

I feel this woman deserves a film. Or a monument. Or a museum. Or something!

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I bet she also laughed while struggling to sit in a ladylike position in alcoves all around the house! (Yes I am wearing a dress. Try not to faint- it’s a wedding.)

Richard left Appuldurcombe House (and all his debts) to his niece, Henrietta Anna Maria Charlotte, who married the founder of the Royal Yacht Squadron, who made some more changes to the house and kept it as it was near enough to the sea to be a convenient (and impressive) base for his sailing. Eventually the whole estate- house and 11 acres of land- was sold, run as a hotel, failed as a hotel and became a finishing school called “Dr Pound’s Academy For Young Gentlemen” before being taken over by……. a hundred exiled monks.

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Seriously. Exiled Benedictine monks. They had lived at Solesmes Abbey in France, which the French Government had dissolved four times (not including the French Revolution when religious vows were prohibited), each time forcibly ejecting the monks from the premises. As the monks were more popular than the government, they were usually hosted by the local community before re-entering the abbey but they were forced into exile in 1901 and fled to England where they lived in Appuldurcombe House for about a decade until they finished building an abbey in the Isle of Wight (Quarr Abbey). Monks seem fond of haunting places and some visitors claim they’ve seen shadows walking in a line, flickering candles and chanting.

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And yet there was MORE! Appuldurcombe House hosted troops in both World Wars- being completely taken over as a military base for World War II- and that was what turned the house into a ruin. A Nazi plane dropped a mine, which blew a hole in the roof and damaged parts of the wall. After the war, the house was taken apart and sold in pieces.

While a small part of the building has been restored (complete with pillars and bare stone) and is used for weddings, the rest stays ruined. The way I like it. 😉 
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***

I’ve had a strange few days- I lost my mojo a bit and the excitement I felt in my exploring was numbed for some reason. Self-doubt truly sucks but inspiration really does come in the weirdest forms. I’m watching a Netflix series called Chef’s Table, where different chefs from around the world talk about how they create the food they make. This isn’t a ‘how to cook’ show- it’s a gourmet crazy-flavours 50-courses tiny-plates food-as-art experimental insight and it’s been fascinating me. During one of the episodes, a chef talked about how he’d get flashbacks of certain moods and times in his life, and challenge himself to create them on a plate so other people could experience them. So you ended up with dishes inspired by ‘putting a baby son to bed’, ‘nearly being swept out to sea’ and ‘playing in the dirt on a fruit farm’.
I realised that while I now appreciate the thought and design in that kind of food artistry, it is completely beyond my capability. I also cannot sing- my voice will make people cry in the really BAD way. And though I can paint, I am not an ‘artist’; my style is technical rather than creative- I cannot capture a mood and make you feel things by painting. But there is something I can do: I can fucking write.

And that was it- I found my mojo watching a fluffy candyfloss cloud get placed extra carefully on some dulce de leche swirls and here I am again, writing away. And if one day I no longer have the words, I’ll take inspiration from Appuldurcombe House and move to the middle of nowhere to become a beautiful ruin surrounded by fields and trees. There are worse things to be. 😉

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