Mrs Stewart told us this morning that there were plenty of ghosts at our service belonging to Kinneil House. One in particular, Lady Lilyburn, who is often seen all in white, as a ghost should be, and with white wings, fluttering on the top of the castle, from whene she leaps into the sea-a prodigious leap of three or four hundred yards, nothing for a well-bred ghost. At other times she wears boots, and stumps up and down stairs in them, and across passages, and through bedchambers, frightening ladies’ maids and others. We have not heard her… yet.
Letter from Maria Edgeworth, staying at Kinneil House, to her sister Honora.
Kinneil is a largely forgotten village on the shore of the River Forth which has been dwarfed by its neighbour Bo’ness, but it has plenty of history on offer. It’s one of the key sites of the Antonine Wall, for example, and the restored Kinneil Estate is the site of a former Roman fortlet. More recent history is a bit more gruesome – there are rumours that Burke and Hare were among the ‘Resurrectionists’ who would plunder graves in the area, and it’s reported to be the last place in Scotland where a witch was burned at the stake. Kinneil House, a large mansion dating from the 15th century, is the centrepiece of the area, and home to the White Lady who intrigued Maria Edgeworth.
The House is currently opened occasionally for tours of the inside, but was heavily damaged by fire and was only saved from complete demolition by the local council after the discovery of walls decorated with renaissance paintings.
Lady Alice Lilbourne (sometimes her name is given as Lilyburn, but seems to be most commonly the former, so I’ll go with that too) was the wife of a General Lilbourne ordered b Oliver Cromwell to police Scotland, and who was stationed at Kinneil House from 1651. Alice hated Scotland – she was homesick, and her husband mistreated her. He had her locked in an attic room overlooking the Gil Burn, which cuts through the estate, and it was here, one night in a desperate attempt to escape, she jumped down 200ft into a ravine. At the time, the guards who saw her as she leap said she was wearing only a white nightgown.
Another version of the story involves Alice attempting to escape the House with one of the General’s officers, who she was having an affair with. After they were caught the officer was encased alive inside a hollow tree on the estate, and she threw herself from the roof.
In the 1960s Tom Robertson, Scottish ghosthunter, was called to Kinneil House after eerie and mysterious sounds from within were reported by locals. It had also garnered the attention of TV news stations, but Robertson, as noted in his book “Ghosthunter: Adventures in the Afterlife” quickly discovered the source – the echoing coos of an asthmatic pigeon.