Bruce Castle (and a Ghost)

Bruce Castle is a misnomer; it is a manor house in Tottenham in London. But living up to a grand name, it has a history and a resident ghost, as well as quite a few open questions that still need to be worked out. 

If you were expecting Bruce Castle to be in Scotland, by making a connection to Robert the Bruce, then you are right about the link, but not about the location. At the time Robert the Bruce seized the throne of Scotland to become King Robert I, part of the manor of Tottenham belonged to him. He forfeited all claims to English lands and titles with taking the Scottish crown, and they reverted to the king of England, Edward I.

Archaeological excavations were done in 2006 by the Museum of London showing that a medieval manor house had stood in the grounds of today’s Bruce Castle Park. But it is very doubtful that this structure would have had any connection with the Bruce family. The manor house was named Lordship House until the 17th century, when the name Bruce Castle was adopted by its owner Henry Hare, Baron Coleraine.

The earliest visible part of the building is the Tudor Tower which is completely detached from the building. The 2006 excavations showed that it continues quite some way into the ground. The tower was probably a dovecote. For the importance of dovecotes to a building, please refer to Lauren Axelrod’s What’s Dovecote to Do With It.

The house itself, as it can be seen today, is a hodgepodge of styles, as every consecutive owner has remodelled it, and usually extensively so. What appears as the main house today was probably only part of a courted manor house once. In the 17th century two wings were added, one of which was demolished in the 19th century. The facades were remodelled several times moving the main entrance from one to the other over time.

The present house is commonly believed to have been built in the time of Henry VIII, as it is mentioned as the meeting place between the king and his sister, Margaret Queen of Scots. Over time the house kept changing owners at an astonishing rate. In the 17th century it belonged to the Earl of Dorset and was leased to the husband of his mistress, but due to his gambling habits it had to be sold to Hugh Hare who had inherited large amounts of money from his great-uncle.

Hugh’s mother as a widow got remarried to the Earl of Manchester, and Hugh married one of the Manchester daughters from the Earl’s first marriage. With these connections made, he was ready to enter court and acquire the title of Baron Coleraine. His connections at court support of the king put him on the wrong side during the Civil War, as his house at Totteridge and Longford Castle were seized by Parliamentary troops. They were returned after the Restoration. Hugh became world famous for choking on a turkey bone while laughing. It is apocryphal that his laughter was caused by the news of the restoration of the monarchy, as he died at Totteridge in 1667.

His son Henry married Constantia Lucy after having first been engaged to Sarah Alston who went on to marry the Duke of Somerset instead. Rumour goes that the connection between Henry and Sarah remained very close. They remained so close in fact, that Constantia committed suicide and haunts the house to these days. Upon her death, Henry married Sarah who meanwhile had become a widow.

In the 19th century the house became a school under the headmaster Sir Rowland Hill. Hill later became head of the General Post Office where he introduced the world’s first postage stamp. The school was highly progressive in several ways. It propagated a radical new curriculum teaching foreign languages, sciences, and engineering. It also held to the principle that the teacher should not just impart information, but instil a desire to learn in the pupil. This principle is still too advanced for British schools these days. Upon the closing of the school at the end of the 19th century, the council acquired the house and in 1906 it was opened as a museum.

Further reading
Stirling Castle With Music in The Ceiling
Mystery in Scotland
Marquess of Bath Biography