To celebrate the 20th anniversary of 'Most Haunted', we visited Athelhampton House in Dorset, the location of the show's very first episode.
On the evening of Saturday, May 25, 2002 Living TV broadcast a brand new paranormal
show hosted by Yvette Fielding. The first episode saw the cast and crew of the show spend their first night at a haunted house as 'Most Haunted' tackled their first nightlong vigil at Athelehempton Hall.
Twenty years on, we went back to the manor house near Dorchester to follow in the footsteps of Yvette and the team and see how much has changed at this historic haunted location in two decades.
"Hello and welcome to 'Most Haunted'," said Yvette as she introduced the show for the first time from the house's beautiful, award-winning gardens.
She told viewers, "we're about to embark on one of television's most extensive investigations into the paranormal. We guarantee no tricks, no camera illusions, and no practical jokes. If we find nothing, then you'll see nothing, but if we do manage to catch anything at all, we will share it with you honestly and leave it up to you to make up your own mind."
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For more from Yvette and the gang, check out our 'Most Haunted' hub, where you will find up to date news on the show, highlights and evidence from the latest investigations, and a complete 'Most Haunted' episode guide.
When Yvette and the team visited the house, it had been owned for the last 45 years by the Cooke family. In 2019 the house was closed to the public and its contents were auctioned off. In the same year, the house was bought by Giles Keating, who reopened the house and gardens to the public and has began renovating the historic property.
This meant that when I visited in 2022 some areas of the house that the 'Most Haunted
' team visited weren't open to the public, it also meant that all the furniture seen in the show were no longer in the house.
In the episode, Yvette told us a little about the history of the Dorset home, the oldest parts of which date back to middle ages. The house was once home to William Martyn and his family, he was a trader and it's said that he obtained an ape that was imported by ship to England in the 1500s.
The Martyns kept the ape as a pet, until it was accidentally locked inside a secret room behind the panelling of the walls. The ape starved, however in death he was able to escape and to this very day his ghost is seen walking about the house, causing mischief and disappearing into the walls. Some even claim to have heard scratching coming from within the walls.
The Great Hall
The first room I went into was the Great Hall, the oldest room in the house. In the 2002 episode, Yvette told viewers that this room has had many uses over the years. She said, "it used to be used as the living room, the dining room and the bedroom by every member of the household."
Yvette tells us that this room is where the spirits of two Civil War swordsmen have been seen duelling, before sitting down and enjoying a meal together. It's believed one of the men could be a descendent of the Martyn family who died in battle. Perhaps the story has been distorted over time, or witness statements have been re-examined, because the ghostly duel is now cited as taking place in the Great Chamber in the newer west wing.
The Great Hall is where the show's resident psychic
medium, Derek Acorah, was seemingly taken over by the spirit of the ape, the first of many of Derek's alleged spirit walk-ins during his three years on the show.
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The tiny chapel in the house was seen a fair bit in the episode, perhaps because as Yvette told us, the chapel has been described as the epicentre of paranormal activity in the building. Yvette went as far as saying, "one theory is it's the gateway from this world to the next."
Unfortunately, when I visited the house in early 2022, the chapel was one of the areas that was undergoing renovation and was therefore closed to the public.
I continued my walk around the house, climbing the winding stairs from the great hall I found myself in a wood-panelled bedroom. The room has a large four-poster bed and a small wooden crib. In the 'Most Haunted' episode the team witnessed a cot rocking by itself.
Unfortunately, the bedroom I was in wasn't the one seen in the show, again due to renovations. The crib was also different, probably because the house's contents has been auctioned off since the filming of the episode. However, the room was in the same part of the house to the one seen in the episode, where Yvette told us a grey lady had been spotted.
The host said, "the most reported ghost here is that of a grey lady who walks through the passageways and comes into this bedroom. A housemaid once mistook her for a member of the public and when she asked the grey lady to leave, she obligingly stood up and disappeared through the wall."
The house's library is a warm and inviting room with lots of character. It didn't feature heavily in the 'Most Haunted' episode, perhaps because it doesn't seem to have any ghost stories specifically attached to it. However, Yvette and Derek did explore a secret door in the library which leads to a hidden spiral staircase to the Great Chamber below.
In the episode, Derek correctly picked up on what he called "the essence" of the trapped ape in the stairway. The medium confirmed that he felt the ape haunts the building, however he was insistent that the animal was never trapped in the secret passageway. Derek said he felt the ape was able to moved up and down the hidden stairway at will.
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Having now visited the house, this makes sense. The secret passageway isn't massively hidden, it has a small window to the outside on the ground floor. The family would have known it existed, so it seems impossible that any animal could have been trapped inside long enough to starve to death.
Derek said in the episode, "it seems this monkey was used to be being cared for, looked after, he had a master and there was one daughter who apparently tried to befriend it. The reason that the monkey roams to this day is because he's not linked up with his master again."
The Great Chamber
The next stop on my tour of the house was the Great Chamber, which was a very homely room with comfortable furnishing and a large fireplace. This room didn't feature heavily in the 2002 episode, but we did see Yvette sat in a comfy chair during the episode's introduction.
This is the room that the secret staircase from the library led to, hidden behind another secret door in the wood-panelled wall beside the fireplace. The secret door and the small room behind it was built as a priest hole by the Martyn family at a time when Catholics were persecuted by law. The dark figure of a hooded priest has often been seen walking around the house and gardens, including in the Great Hall.
The Wine Cellar
The final stop on my visit was the wine cellar, which is actually a small room tucked away behind the Great Hall on the ground floor, although it did have the feel of a cellar about it due to its stone floor, low ceilings and very little natural light.
In this room Derek picked up on the spirit named Jack who was a cooper, someone who is trained to make wooden barrels. People claim that they hear a tapping sound coming from this very room, something that Derek picked up on. The sound is known as "the Cooper" and is believed to be the result of the lingering echoes of the barrels being made.
Other spooks that are said the haunt Athelhampton include a soldier seen in the gardens, perhaps linked to the fact that troops were stationed at the house in the run up to D Day, and a bride was described as wearing an old-fashioned dress.
Poltergeist activity has also been reported in the north wing. It was most prevalent in the 1990s when doors would slam or lock on their own, lights would switch themselves off, furniture would move and beds would be stripped of their covers. However, this mischievous spook has since been moved on and the activity has died down.
If you want to follow in the footsteps of Yvette yourself, Athelhampton House is currently open to the public from 10am Sunday to Friday. You can find out more and plan your visit at athelhampton.com
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