From Abbeys, Castles and Ancient Halls of England and Wales, Their Legendary Lore and Popular History, by John Timbs, Volume II, re-edited, revised, and enlarged by Alexander Gunn; Frederick Warne and Co.; London; pp. 24-28.
This ancient mansion, situated a few miles to the north-east of Chippenham, derived its distinguishing appellation of Draycot-Cerne from a family to whom it belonged as early as the thirteenth 25 century. Henry de Cerne, Knight, Lord of Draicot, was witness to an ancient deed preserved by Aubrey, relative to the gift of land at Langelegh to the Abbey of Glastonbury. From the Cernes Draycot passed by marriage to the family of Wayte; and in the reign of Henry VII., Sir Thomas Long of Wraxhall became proprietor in right of his mother, Margaret, heiress of the family of Wayte. He married Margery, daughter of Sir George Darell of Littlecote, by whom he had three sons. Of these Henry, the eldest, greatly distinguished himself at the battle of Therouenne, and was knighted for his gallantry by Henry VIII., who likewise granted him a new crest — “A lion’s head erased, crowned, with a man’s hand in the mouth.” His grandson, Walter Long, had two wives — the second of whom was Catherine, daughter of Sir John Thynne, of Longleat.
The manor of Draycot is a large irregular building, with a park of considerable extent, and pleasure grounds attached to it. The house contains many objects of interest, as paintings, Sevres china, curious fire-dogs and candelabra presented to the Longs by Charles II. after the restoration. The park, richly studded with ancient oaks, crowns a hill commanding an extensive prospect, and is esteemed one of the most beautiful in Wiltshire.
The following legend of Draycot, one of the most singular in the whole range of English legends, is abridged from Sir J. Bernard Burke’s “Anecdotes of the Aristocracy, and Episodes in Ancestral Story.” Sir Bernard introduces his story with a few words to the effect that the marvels of real life are more startling than those of the pages of fiction, and this reflection “may serve,” he says, “to qualify the disbelief of our readers, should any happen to suppose that we have drawn upon our imagination for the facts, as well as the colouring, of this episode in domestic history — a supposition that, we can assure them, would be altogether erroneous. And singular as this story may seem,” continues Burke, “no small portion of it is upon record as a thing not to be questioned; and it is not necessary to believe in supernatural agency to give all parties credit for having faithfully narrated their impressions.” We have already said that Walter Long of Draycot had two wives — the second being Catherine, daughter of Sir John Thynne, of Longleat. Six weeks after their marriage the happy couple returned for the first time to the halls of Draycot. The day of their return was a great occasion for the villagers. Revelry after the approved old English fashion prevailed, and all were happy — save one. This sole exceptional 26 person was no other than John, the heir of the houses of Draycot and Wraxhall, son of the man who was that day a happy bridegroom — if of somewhat mature years — and of that lady now in her grave, and whose place a girl and a stranger had come to fill. John Long, though himself of that disposition which joins in festivities with even reckless enthusiasm, was silent, sad and solitary on the morning of the “Welcome Home” of his father and his step-mother.
John Long was simple and candid in disposition, while at the same time his affections were warm and generous. He never suspected man or woman. He never took the trouble to consider the motives of others, or to estimate the weight that interest might represent in an action apparently spontaneous and cordial. Lady Catherine, his father’s wife, and her brother, whom Sir J. B. Burke names Sir Egremont, had thought it worth while to study the character of the simple and confiding young Master of Draycot with some attention. They had the same object in so doing, and results too important almost to be estimated hung upon the success with which they did understand the youth. They had hardly been upon the scene at Draycot for more than a few days when, from servants and others, they were informed that the Master was never far off when there was a cheerful party over the wine bottle, or a freely-spend-freely-win group around the dice-box. The knowledge ascertained, their course of conduct was already arrived at. Young Long, the heir of all his father’s property — the obstruction in the way of whatever children might come by the second marriage — must be ruined, or, at least, so disgraced as to provoke his father to disinherit him.
The means of arriving at this end readily presented themselves. John’s father, Sir Walter, a man of grave and unrelenting character, who had already frequently had occasion to visit his son’s pecadilloes heavily upon his head, was, neither from principle nor from interest, at all given to lavish pocket-money upon the young squire. His parsimony was his son’s enemies’ opportunity. They stuffed young Long’s pockets with gold, encouraged him to take life easily and freely, merely smiled when in his presence they heard of his excesses, but took good care that all these excesses were magnified into heinous crimes by themselves, and so brought under the notice of the lad’s father. This old gentleman, influenced on the one hand by the wiles of his charming wife, on the other, by the deeper wiles of his brother-in-law, agreed to make out a will, disinheriting his son 27 by his first wife, and settling all his possession on his second wife and her relations.
Meantime Sir Walter Long had declined in health, was, in fact, on the brink of death. Without any genuine sympathy with his son at any part of his career, he had now been alienated from him in all things for a considerable time. He deemed it a sin to make any provision for one who would spend all his possessions in drinking and gambling. It was then with alacrity that, when Sir Egremont Thynne, of Longleat, drew up a draft will and set it before him, he approved of it and ordered it to be copied. It was accordingly given to a clerk to engross fairly.
The work of engrossing demands a clear, bright light. Any shadow intervening between the light and the parchment would be sure to interrupt operations. Such an interruption the clerk was suddenly subjected to, when, on looking up, he beheld a white hand — a lady’s delicate white hand — so placed between the light and the deed as to obscure the spot upon which he was engaged. The unaccountable hand, however, was gone almost as soon as noticed. The clerk paused for a moment and pondered; but concluding that he had been deceived by some delusion of his own brain, prepared to go on with the work as before.
He had now come to the worst clause in the whole deed — the clause which disinherited poor John Long, and which was rendered yet more atrocious by the slanders which it pleaded in its own justification — and was rapidly travelling over this black indictment, when again the same visionary hand was thrust forth between the light and the parchment!
Uttering a yell of horror, the clerk rushed from the room, woke up Sir Egremont from his midnight slumbers, and told him his story, adding that the spectre hand was no other than the late Lady Long’s, who leaving for a moment her avocations in the other world, had visited this one to put a stop to those machinations that were to result in the ruin of her son.
The deed was engrossed by another clerk, however, and duly signed and sealed. The son was with all due form disinherited, and Sir William dying soon afterwards, left his great fortune to the alien and the stranger.
Yet the miraculous interference of the white hand was not without its results. The clerk’s ghostly tale soon got abroad, and his story becoming a matter of universal conversation, a number of friends rose up to aid the disinherited heir, who might otherwise 28 have forgotten him. The trustees of the late Lady Long arrested the old knight’s corpse at the church door; her nearest relations commenced a suit against the intended heir; and the result was a compromise between the parties — John Long taking possession of Wraxhall, while his half-brother was allowed to retain Draycot. Hence the division of the two estates, which we find at the present day.
John Long, the disinherited son, married subsequently Anne, daughter of Sir William Eyre, of Chaldfield, and left issue, which is now extinct in the male line. His half-brother, to whom Draycot fell, became Sir Walter Long, knight, and represented Wiltshire in Parliament. From him directly descended the late Sir James Tylney Long, of Wraxhall and Draycot, the last known male representative of the Longs of Wraxhall and Draycot. He died in early youth, 14th of September, 1805, when his extensive estates devolved on his sister Catherine, wife of the Hon. William Wellesley Pole. This lady’s fortune, at the time of her marriage, is said to have exceeded 80,000l. a year!