It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.
- Edward George Bulwer-Lytton
And with these immortal words a legend was born, a legend of notoriously bad prose - so awful in fact, the Bulwer-Lytton Awards now honour the imaginatively challenged in the world of literature. However, one must not condemn the good Lord Lytton too hastily - after all he gave us that Titan of 19th Century literature, The Last Days of Pompeii. But he also gave national exposure to a ghost haunting his estate in Knebworth - the ghost of Jenny Spinner is still talked about in the old village today and children try in vain to conjure her spirit.
As the legend tells it, Jenny Spinner was a young girl who working on the estate in the 18th Century. For reasons unknown she was imprisoned in Knebworth House's east wing (no longer standing) with nothing to do but spin cloth. The reasons for her imprisonment are unclear but it is popularly believed in the village that one of Lytton's wily forebears locked the girl up after she fell pregnant with his child1. The scandal that a love child would have caused was enough to ensure that poor Jenny Spinner was locked away. Ask a local and they'll tell you that Jenny went mad and died in her room.
The story, as with all good tales of ghouls and goblins, does not end there. Since her death, the sound of a spinning wheel can sometimes be heard throughout the halls of Knebworth House and the news the spinning portends is not good, for it is said that when spinning is heard the death of a Lytton is imminent.
Bulwer-Lytton, the author, not the nasty one who knocked poor Jenny up, was so inspired by the story of the spinner and the house that as a lad he had explored with bristling hair into the shadowy abysses of a hell hole, that he wrote a short story dedicated to the girl.
In 1999 an artist called Llewelyn created an album inspired by ghosts in the UK and honoured Jenny Spinner with a track, ensuring that the memory of this little girl from the Home Counties lives on.