The Grey Lady of Allerton Tower

Part of the ruins of Allerton Tower, off Menlove Avenue

The Grey Lady of Allerton Tower

by Tom Slemen

One autumnal afternoon several years ago, whilst writing and researching a volume of Haunted Liverpool, I decided to take a much-needed break. I went for a walk which took me down Menlove Avenue and into a park, where I dwelt upon the gothic splendour of Allerton Tower’s ruins. I strolled through the vestiges of the palatial home of the illustrious Earle family; the remnants of a legendary grandiose residence now sadly left to the mercy of the English weather, idiotic vandals and mindless graffiti ‘artists’.

As I lingered near the shell of an outbuilding on the long-lost 78-acre estate of Allerton Tower, something glimpsed out the corner of my eye flitted past me. I half-turned reflexively, but the flitting ‘thing’ had gone, leaving a sweet scent in its wake. I wondered if the Grey Lady of the ruins had just walked past. I had not imagined that entity and it had not been a trick of the light. Some ghosts are quite shy, and manifest themselves so briefly, they come and go in the blinking of an eye. The Grey Lady of the ruins has been seen many times over the years, and many years ago I was told the tragic story behind the haunting of Allerton Tower.

Sir Hardman Earle

In the 1850s, Sir Hardman Earle lived at Allerton Tower, along with his five daughters, Elizabeth, Mary, Harriet, Emily, Georgina, and his three troublesome sons, 35-year-old Thomas, 22-year-old Arthur, and 17-year-old William. Sir Hardman Earle, a super-rich highly-influential director of the Liverpool to Manchester Railway, and the person Earlestown, Newton-le-Willows, was named after, had many dark secrets and skeletons in his cupboard, and some in the upper echelons of Lancashire society believed there were many controversial questions marks hanging over the source of Hardman’s vast wealth.
One summer evening, the three Earle sons left Allerton Tower, and without their father’s knowledge, they visited a local tavern in Woolton, and three local girls became besotted by the wealthy trio. Thomas Earle had a wife at home, but periodically had a craving for the local maidens. Upon this humid summer night, the three brothers went too far with their lustful desires, and in the fields of Allerton, each of them ended up making love to the girls they had befriended at the tavern. Thomas and Arthur Earle were soon bidding their conquests goodnight after they’d had their fun, but young intoxicated William, upon losing his virginity, declared he would bring his lowly-born lover Mary home with him to meet father. The older brothers seized William and dragged him home to Allerton Tower. After dark, William often sneaked from his father’s sprawling mansion to see his beloved Mary, an Irish girl with beautiful blue eyes and long black hair. They planned to elope together, and when Sir Hardman Earle heard about the secret meetings with the Irish girl, he gave his son a severe beating with his belt and had him confined to his room. Sir Hardman also criticised his older sons for leading William astray. Then one day, Mary was visited by Thomas Earle, and he warned her to stay away from his teenaged brother. Mary began to cry and said she was expecting William’s child. Thomas was devastated by the news, knowing the news of the pregnancy would cause a scandal. To make matters worse, Mary had told her Uncle Desmond, and he had plans to ask Sir Hardman for some ‘hush-money’ to keep the disgraceful incident a secret. Thomas Earle returned to Allerton Tower and told no one about the news except his brother Arthur. They knew blackmailers would continue asking for more money, so the brothers decided on a drastic course of action. They would have to kill Mary and her uncle.

Brothers Arthur and Thomas Earle in old age

One stormy night, 16-year-old Mary was lured from her humble dilapidated home in Woolton Village by Thomas, the oldest of the Earle brothers. She was taken to a secluded wood off a dirt track where Menlove Avenue now runs, and she was there bludgeoned to death by Thomas and Arthur Earle, who had been laying in wait for her. Arthur sobbed when he saw what he and his brother had done to the petite pregnant girl, but Thomas slapped him across the face and told him to cease crying. The brothers then carried the body across a field and dropped it into the depths of a well.
On the following evening, Desmond, the uncle of the murdered girl, was run down by a horse ridden by a man dressed in a black cloak with a pulled-down hat-brim covering his face. Desmond died from his injuries several hours later without regaining consciousness. Then the body of Mary was hauled from the well, and most people assumed she had fallen to her death, because the well had no wall about it, whilst others suspected foul play. Gypsies were living in the area at the time, and Sir Hardman Earle thought they had something to do with the death of Mary, but one the Romany men, surnamed Wryme, said he would be able to locate and identify the murderer of the Irish girl with a divining rod. Wryme, followed by a huge crowd of curious locals, walked from the well with the dowsing rod in his hands pointing the way. The rod twitched several times, and Wryme would occasionally spit out blood as he picked up the psychic scent of the killer. The gypsy walked in a straight line across the waterlogged fields of Woolton, with the crowds of sensation seekers growing behind him as he moved northwards from the well. Wryme’s hands trembled as the rod reacted to something, and a wave of gasps coursed through the crowd as the Romany dowser approached Allerton Tower.

Allerton Tower in Victorian times

Two gardeners on the Earle estate told Wryme and the crowd that they were trespassing on private land, but the mob crushed forward, and Wryme reached the entrance to the Orangery of the colossal mansion, where he came face to face with Sir Hardman Earle. When Wryme explained what he was doing, Sir Hardman became outraged, and he went to fetch several servants and also brought out two loaded pistols. The mob slowly walked back the way they had come, and Sir Hardman fired a pistol in the air as a warning.
Weeks afterwards, the apparition of a pale-faced girl with bedraggled wet hair and soaked clothes appeared in the bedroom of Thomas Earle. The ghost looked so solid, Thomas could see water dripping off it onto the carpet. He screamed out in fear and the girl, who looked like one he had murdered, vanished. Arthur Earle also saw the dripping phantom at his bedside at four in the morning, groaning and pointing an accusing finger at him. The spectre persecuted the brothers for many years, and was said to have made an appearance before William Earle when he was a solider, in 1885, on the eve of his death in the Sudan. She had also appeared to his father, Sir Hardman Earle, as he lay on his deathbed in 1877. Since then, the ghost of the murder victim had been seen among the ruins of Allerton Tower, and is now known as the Grey Lady.

© Tom Slemen 2006.