Aston Hall is an old Jacobean mansion that was built between 1618- 1635. It is located in the inner city of Birmingham and is an interesting place to visit. It belonged to a local squire of Warwickshire Thomas Holte, a wealthy, vain, ambitious and influential man, who was knighted by King James I in 1603. In 1611, he bought for himself the title of Baronet.
The palatial mansion and property was sold by his descendants in 1868, to the Corporation of Birmingham, as it was too expensive to maintain. It is now under the administration of the Birmingham Museum Trust, and is open to the public during summer months.
Aston Hall is surrounded by well maintained parkland and extensive gardens. A guided tour through the mansion with its stunning interior, acquaints us with the magnificent history of the building and its original owners. But what makes our hair stand on end is the tragic story of Mary Holte, the daughter of Thomas Holte, an arrogant and heartless man. He was known to have disinherited his first son Edward because he married a girl of lower social status.
After we have seen enough of the magnificent interior, the opulence of the furniture and the large portraits of the early owners, our guide promises us some excitement. As we negotiate our way through narrow tortuous steps leading to the servants’ quarters, he points to a dark, windowless box like room where Mary Holte was held in solitary confinement for sixteen long years, because she fell in love with a servant and tried to elope with him. This cell is smaller than the ones which the Nazis used for solitary confinement of prisoners in their concentration camps. The spooky tales that follow makes one break out in cold sweat. Some say she died of malnutrition; others thought she escaped from her prison, ran down those narrow treacherous steps and broke her neck. Still others say that she ran out of the mansion and flung herself into a pond on the property which was filled with fish.
Ever since, Aston Hall is supposed to be haunted by the grey ghost of Mary Holte. She does not confine herself to the servants’ quarters but has the run of the entire mansion. She is in good company as there are two other resident ghosts in Aston Hall. One is of a house keeper who worked there in 1645. This ghost is always seen in a green dress and has her favourite reclining chair in the kitchen. The other is of a house boy who hung himself in the servants’ quarters because he was accused of stealing.
Every two years, a Christmas celebration called “Aston Hall by Candlelight” is held. Actors dress in period costumes and re enact 17th century festivities. Mary Holte is the uninvited guest at these celebrations. She moves among the actors in her grey faintly odorous gown. Her hurried footsteps and mournful voice may be lost in the noise of the festivities. But there are always a few of the actors who swear that their cheeks have been pinched.