The Lovell Bride of Titchmarsh Castle

Thomas Haynes Bayly’s song/poem The Mistletoe Bough, penned in the 1830s, purports to tell the story of a tragedy that took place at a Christmas wedding. During a post-wedding game of hide and seek the bride, who hid in a trunk in a forgotten attic, found herself locked in, was never discovered, died and was only found, eventually, many years later as a wedding dress-clad skeleton.

The story has caught popular imagination for many years – so much so that it was apparently sung in every house at Christmas in the mid-nineteenth century. This despite it being such a horror story! Several great country houses, some now gone, laid claim to be the location, some of them reckoning that they still possessed the actual trunk!

[“Jonathan Briggs’ mistletoe diary”:]

Titchmarsh castle is one of the locations associated with the story, mainly because during the 14th century it was the home of the Lovell family, who are often claimed to be the protagonists of the events.

In her book “Titchmarsh Past and Present” – now available online! – Helen Belgion refers to a poem by George Harrison – no, not the Beatle – an artist from Kettering, contained in his book “Poems and Sketches” published in 1928:

Old records speak of one who came

To Titchmarsh manor for his bride

And for a festive Christmas game

She in an old oak chest doth hide

The rusty hinges hold her fast

And no-one hears her plaintive cries

Until the fleeting hours have passed

And she a bride unsuccoured dies.

So it was Harrison who associated the story with Titchmarsh castle at the start of the 20th century, but it is also associated with Minster Lovell in Oxfordshire, Marwell Hall, Hampshire, Bramshill House, also in Hampshire, Tiverton Castle in Devon, and Exton Hall, Rutland … and the list goes on…

There are numerous versions of the story of the Christmas Bride, many claiming it to be a true event that happened in a real place, and that real place could have been Titchmarsh. It’s a fascinating research project to find out where the story actually came from, or if indeed it is an urban myth, or a rural myth in this case.

For my part, I’ve written a folk song about the story, which one day might even end up being attributed to that famous writer of folk songs, anon. I’m off to the Edinburgh Free Fringe Festival this weekend, where I will be performing it as guest of my friends Bil & Cyn []. I’ll be associating it with Titchmarsh, to give more weight to Harrison’s assertion. Below are the lyrics; I hope you like it.

The Lovell Bride of Titchmarsh Castle

Johnny it’s dark, why don’t you come and find me?

I’m so aching for you, I can barely breathe.

The party was wild, food abounding wine it did pour;

Lovell’s beautiful bride had the guests in awe.

Her father so proud, her husband ecstatically poised

to get her alone, far from all the noise.

Dinner over, she said “Let’s all play hide and go seek –

Johnny find me”, away she did sneak

to a dusty old trunk, in the castle turret so high.

She lifted the lid and then slipped inside.

Johnny it’s dark, why don’t you come and find me?

I’m so aching for you, I can barely breathe.

They sought her low, they sought her high, to and fro,

They went everywhere they could think to go.

As the hours ticked by, they searched so far and so wide,

But not a sign of Lovell’s lovely bride.

They looked all night and then all through the next day;

The desperate man cried “she’s been stole away”.

She lay there unheard in a room where nobody passed.

In that tomb sealed fast she breathed her last.

Johnny it’s dark, why don’t you come and find me?

I’m so aching for you, I can barely breathe.

The months turned to years, as her fond memory waned,

Lord Lovell alone in his grief and pain.

A maidservant one day chanced to open the turret door;

In the middle of the room an old trunk she saw.

She prised open the lid, what she found concealed there inside

in a tattered silk gown, was the Lovell bride,

a jewelled circlet of gold around her dainty young skull.

Her tragic nuptial game the marriage did annul.

Johnny I’m free, you didn’t come and find me.

I’m still aching for you, but no longer breathe

Les Ray