The eerily fascinating story behind 'One-armed Boughton', the ghost said to haunt Rugby's Brownsover Hall
Former Rugby Advertiser reporter John Phillpott goes on the trail of an infamous ghost
I was a keen angler during my boyhood years and could often be found on the banks of the River Swift, which in those days contained many species of coarse fish.
But occasionally, I would venture further afield to Cosford and Brownsover, to try my luck on the Old Arm, a feeder channel of the Oxford Canal, which it joined just south of Brownsover Hall.
The Old Arm contained some very large pike, as many Rugby fishermen will no doubt recall. Today, the adjoining countryside is a nature reserve and much of the Old Arm is silted up.
But there was another reason why this young angler was drawn to the spot. And that was because of the legend of the spirit in the bottle…
Many Rugby people will be aware of the Brownsover Hall ghost, said to be the spirit of ‘One-armed Boughton’. This is a story of the paranormal that has endured for more than 200 years.
The manor of Brownsover was constructed in 1471 by the Boughton family, later known as the Boughton Baronets. In the 18th century, Sir Theodosius Boughton was murdered by his brother-in-law, a Captain Donnellan, supposedly over a future inheritance.
The victim was slowly poisoned after being administered with laurel water. And it’s believed this murder led to the haunting of Brownsover Hall and the bizarre circumstances surrounding it.
Not long after the murder, what was believed to be his spirit began to cause quite the disturbance. Staff reported hearing the unmistakable sounds of anguished moaning throughout the house.
However, it was the appearance of a one-handed apparition, believed to be Sir Theodosius back from the grave to wreak vengeance, which prompted the family to take an extreme course in order to rid themselves of the troublesome ghost.
Twelve clergymen from the Catholic and Protestant faiths were summoned to the house to rid it of the spirit. The clergymen claimed they were able to persuade the ghost to enter a special bottle that had been blessed by the bishop.
Believing they were successful in the strange venture, they took the bottle and discarded it in a nearby lake. The family was finally rid of the spirit that plagued their house. Or so they thought.
According to legend, some fishermen discovered the bottle. Curious as to what was in it, they opened the bottle… and unwittingly unleashed the spirit of One-Handed Boughton.
And ever since that fateful day, Brownsover Hall Hotel has been haunted by his sinister presence. Tradition has it that down the years, both staff and guests of the Gothic hotel have testified that the spirit of One-Handed Boughton is very much real.
And if there is any truth to the stories, he is just as unpleasant as he was all those years ago. It’s said that the scowling apparition of a one-handed man in 18th century garb has been encountered throughout the hotel.
This spirit seems to derive a great deal of delight in scaring those unlucky enough to cross his path. Guests have reported hearing disembodied voices and a cold chill, accompanied by the sounds of swiftly moving footsteps in the halls.
Staff have also reported the uncomfortable feeling of being watched by an unseen presence as they go about their work. It’s even claimed that in the past, several employees have left their jobs because of the phantom.
But unfortunately, like so many ghost stories, certain elements don’t stack up. During my days on the Rugby Advertiser during the 1960s, I heard two conflicting stories, both featuring a man whose surname was Boughton, but whose lifetimes were two centuries apart.
The ‘one-handed’ legend is supposed to be about a man whose limb was cut off during the Elizabethan period, during the 16th century. So this can’t be Theodosius Boughton, who was poisoned 200 years later.
Agreed, we know for sure that the latter was murdered – but there is no evidence whatsoever of a predecessor, or how he lost his hand.
Being young and somewhat foolhardy during my time on the ‘Tiser, I once volunteered to spend a night at the Hall. However, this adventure never got much further than a cursory roaming of the nearby woods.
In fact, the expedition didn’t last very long at all, for my companion and I left in the early hours, not because of ghosts, but because we were
The other point I would make is that the bottle was said to have been thrown into a lake. This surely cannot be… I suspect it would instead have been the Old Arm canal, which would by then have become the haunt of anglers from nearby Rugby.
Anyway, the mystery will probably never be solved. But for a young lad watching his pike float bobbing about all those years ago, the thought of
One-Handed Boughton certainly sent a shiver down his spine that said it was time to pack up the gear… and head home into the lengthening evening shadows.
John Phillpott’s memoir of his days on the Advertiser titled Go and Make the Tea, Boy! is published by Brewin Books and available from the usual outlets.