13 abandoned stately homes hiding incredible secrets


The most palatial properties of their day, time hasn’t been kind to these eerie estates. Left to wrack and ruin, Mother Nature has reclaimed their once-grand hallways and their ornate façades are crumbling away in the wind. While they may be shadows of their former selves, these forlorn homes have fascinating pasts just waiting to be uncovered. There’s a treasure trove of secrets lying in the ruins if you know where to look. Click or scroll for more…



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While the origins of the home are somewhat unclear, it’s thought that the estate may have been designed by John Hampton White for his wife, Jane Surget White, sometime between 1816 and 1821. Other sources think Jane herself or indeed her father, Pierre Surget, a French immigrant, could be behind the classic design. However it came to be, the property served as the marital home of John and Jane, though not for long.



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In 1819, around the year of the estate’s supposed completion, John Hampton White tragically died in a yellow fever epidemic. Despite her heartbreak, Jane continued to live in the property, decking it out with opulent furnishings. It’s hard to imagine the grandeur that would’ve greeted visitors in the entrance hall, though the exquisite arched window above the doorway gives something of a hint as to its former glory.



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Thought to have been taken sometime around the 1970s, some of Jane’s handiwork, preserved by later owners, can be glimpsed in this historic image. Embossed wallpaper and gilded artwork line the walls, while a spectacular chandelier hangs above the door. Jane passed away in 1825 and the property passed through numerous hands before being snapped up by Annie and Hubert Barnum in the early 1900s.



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An affluent matriarch who moved in the upper echelons of society, the house was a lavish country estate under Annie Barnham, a far cry from its derelict condition today. However, tragedy descended on Arlington once more when Mrs Barnham’s one-year-old grandchild, Gwin, died in a tragic accident in the property. The grand property eventually passed to Annie’s daughter, Anne, before being handed down to her son, Thomas Vaughan, in the 1990s.



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In September 2002, disaster was to strike the house once more, when a devastating blaze destroyed much of the property’s roof and second floor. Without insurance, the once-grand home was left to languish and decay. Currently, the City of Natchez has begun legal proceedings to take control of the estate and restore it to its former glory, so there could be a happy ending to this tragic tale yet…



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In 1985, the Irish tannery industry collapsed. No longer the HQ for the industry, Mayfield House was used as office space until the early 1990s. The building was finally vacated in 1994 and effectively left to rot.



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In the mid-1990s, the roof of the building was still intact and the interiors, though shabby and in need of a revamp, were in a reasonable state of repair. Sadly, this didn’t last very long and the abandoned building rapidly deteriorated not long after.



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By the turn of the millennium, Mayfield House had become a decrepit roofless shell. Many of its original features were brutally stripped for architectural salvage. These days, all that is left of the grand mansion is its walls.



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Luckily, there’s a chance Mayfield House could be saved. The National Trust for Ireland is seeking conservation proposals for the building and, if a deep-pocketed buyer can be found, the house could very well be restored to its former glory.



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Afghanistan’s grandest abandoned building is located around 10 miles from the capital, Kabul. The sprawling palace was built in the 1920s for King Amanullah Khan as part of a project to modernise the country.



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King Amanullah had an ambitious vision to create a new capital city centred around the neo-classical palace and planned to construct a narrow-gauge railway to connect the building with the old capital.



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Designed by French and German architects, the palace was earmarked to be Afghanistan’s future parliament building. But it wasn’t meant to be. In 1929, religious conservatives forced King Amanullah Khan into exile and the monarch’s modernisation project was ditched.



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During the early and mid-20th century, the building housed the Kabul University School of Medicine and served as offices for various Afghan ministries. The palace was even used as a warehouse at one point.



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In 1969, a fire destroyed much of the building. The gutted palace was promptly restored and served as the HQ for Afghanistan’s Ministry of Defence in the 1970s, but was damaged by fire once again during the Communist Coup of 1978.



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Yet another restoration followed, but the palace received its final blow during the early 1990s, when the Mujahideen shelled it into oblivion. By the mid-1990s, the ruined palace was a shadow of its former self. Since the mid-1990s, the palace has been used as a refugee camp and a base for the Afghan army. Battered and bruised, the building was attacked by the Taliban in 2012.



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Like something out of a fairytale, the heart-stoppingly romantic Château de la Mothe-Chandeniers in the Vienne region of France dates back to the 13th century when it was the seat of the aristocratic Bauçay family.



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The moated château was captured twice by English forces during the Medieval period, who used the building as a grand banqueting venue. The château reverted to French ownership during the Renaissance period, but was devastated following the French Revolution of 1789.



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Severely damaged, the château was acquired by affluent merchant François Hennecart in 1809, who attempted an extensive renovation project to restore the stunning building and preserve it for posterity, adding a vineyard to the property.



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The château was the home of the Lejeune family until one fateful day in 1932 when Baron Edgar Lejeune attempted to install a central heating system. A devastating fire broke out, destroying many of the interiors.



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Forced to abandon the property, the castle descended into rack and ruin. The ownership of the castle passed to a French bank, which sold it to a local teacher called Marc Demeyer in 1981. Demeyer’s efforts to restore the château failed and the building deteriorated further.



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Considered the Caribbean Palace of Versailles, the Sans-Souci Palace (meaning ‘without worry’) in Haiti was once the most ostentatious building in the West Indies. It was completed in 1813 for the autocratic King Henri I of Haiti, a former slave. Many workers are known to have perished during the palace’s construction.



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A showcase for Haiti, the palace was built to demonstrate to foreign powers, some of which were still engaged in slavery, the sophistication of the local Haitian elite, who defeated the French following a slave revolt and established the independent country in 1804.



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During the reign of King Henri I, the palace hosted glittering banquets and balls that attracted the great and the good from far and wide. The palace’s gardens were particularly renowned and boasted elaborate water features.



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The palace was abandoned following the murder and left to the mercy of the elements. In 1842, a major earthquake destroyed much of what remained of Sans-Souci, and today only the ruins of the palace survive.



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Sans-Souci was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982 and since then efforts have been made to preserve what is left of the crumbling ruins, which enabled the structure to withstand the earthquake of 2010.



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Today, the ruins are a source of much pride for Haitians but remain largely unknown to people overseas. Years of political instability have put foreigners off visiting the palace and tourists are still few and far between at the site.



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The first Palladian villa built in Scotland, Mavisbank House near Loanhead in Midlothian was designed by renowned architect William Adam and completed in 1727. The elegant country pile was commissioned by Sir John Clerk of Penicuik, 2nd Baronet, who collaborated with Adam on the design.



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Regarded as one of Scotland’s most important country houses, the mansion remained in the Clerk family until 1815, when it was sold to the highest bidder. Mavisbank changed hands at least four times during the early to mid-19th century and various additions were made to the structure.



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In 1876, Mavisbank was converted into a lunatic asylum and renamed New Saughton Hall. Additional wings were added in the 1920s, further altering the historic character of the property, and the building began to fall into decline.



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Sadly, Harrowes’ ambitious restoration plans never came to fruition and Mavisbank passed to local car dealer Archie Stevenson in the 1950s. By this time, the house had fallen into a terrible state of disrepair and the forecourt was being used by Stevenson as a scrap metal yard and car park.



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The final nail in the coffin came in 1973 when the house was ravaged by fire, which destroyed much of what was left of the building. Stevenson was evicted from the property in 1986 and, with its ownership uncertain, Mavisbank was effectively left to rot.



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Pictured here in a postcard from 1907, the imposing neo-Gothic Château Miranda in Celles, Belgium, was built in 1866 by English architect Edward Milner for the aristocratic Liedekerke-Beaufort family. They lost their original seat, the Château de Vêves, during the French Revolution.



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The eerie-looking château was used as a vacation centre for kids until the late 1970s and sold on by Belgium’s National Railway Company. During the 1980s, the crumbling mansion served as a school and movie location. But by 1991, it had been totally abandoned.



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The château remained empty from the early 1990s. Plagued by neglect and vandalism, the building was severely damaged by a fire in 1995. In 2006, a freak storm destroyed much of what was left of the roof.



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Despite numerous offers from the municipality of Celles to purchase and restore the structure, for years the owners steadfastly refused to sell it, allowing the historic château to literally crumble away.



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At long last, the owners agreed to sell the château to a realtor in 2016, who had ambitious plans to dismantle the structure and rebuild it in Marbella, Spain. Workers began disassembling the building in October 2017.



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Tragically, the realtor was diagnosed with terminal cancer and subsequently pulled out of the purchase. Demolition firm Castignetti put out an appeal for donations to save the half-dismantled building but weren’t able to generate the necessary funds. In 2017, the château was completely demolished.



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The property passed to Wyckoff’s son and remained in the family until the Great Depression, which destroyed the family fortune. Desperate for money, the Wyckoffs sold the house to General Electric in the 1930s.



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Following the war, Wyckoff Villa was largely abandoned by General Electric. Structurally unsafe, the deathtrap tower has been demolished as a safety precaution and the rest of the property has been encircled in barbed wire.



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One of the most splendid ruins in our round-up, Witley Court in Worcestershire in the UK was built in the 17th century for the Foley family. It was reconstructed in 1805 by John Nash, the architect behind Buckingham Palace and Brighton’s Royal Pavilion.



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Drowning in debt, the Foleys sold Witley Court in 1837 to William Ward, 11th Baron Ward, and the property remained in the Ward family until 1920, when it was acquired by carpetmaker Sir Herbert Smith. In 1937, a major fire broke out in the basement, destroying part of the house.



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Smith’s insurers refused to cough up the cash for the rebuild. Unable to afford the restoration bill, the carpet manufacturer sold off the estate in lots. Scrap dealers moved in and stripped Witley Court of everything of value and the building was left a sorry shell.



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Luckily, English Heritage came to the rescue in 1972 and bought the house and gardens, preventing further decay. The conservation charity has shored up the building’s foundations and stabilised the structure, and the ruin is now open to the public.



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While English Heritage is keen to preserve Witley Court as a spectacular ruin rather than restore the house in its entirety, the south and east parterres of the gardens have been recreated and explode with colour every spring and summer.



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Restoration of the gardens continues in earnest at Witley Court and English Heritage recently completed its revamp of the stunning Perseus and Andromeda fountain, which adorns the scenic south parterre.



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Valuation-wise, it’s almost impossible to put a price on Witley Court but if the property were to be completely rebuilt and sympathetically restored, it would likely be worth in the hundreds of millions of pounds.



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The medieval-inspired castle was commissioned by wealthy New Yorker Ralph Wurts-Dundas in the late 1910s, but he died in 1921 before its scheduled completion. A year later, his widow Josephine was committed to an asylum and the half-finished property passed to the couple’s daughter, Muriel.



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Dundas reportedly left a fortune of £31 million ($40m), but his daughter Muriel is said to have been duped out of the bulk of her inheritance by the castle caretakers. Construction ceased in 1924, leaving the castle in an unfinished state.



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Muriel got married in 1930 and moved to England, never having lived in her parents’ castle. Her mental health deteriorating, she was committed to a psychiatric hospital not long after arriving in the UK. In the meantime, Dundas Castle lay empty and unfinished.



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The estate of Muriel Wurts-Dundas eventually sold the property in 1949. It was snapped up by the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of the Masonic Order and used as a masonic retreat and vacation camp until the 1970s, when it was largely abandoned.



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The castle has been empty ever since. Considered an important heritage building, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2001. Today, the castle is out of bounds for the general public and a caretaker guards the property 24/7.



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A melancholy place, Dundas Castle is said to be haunted by the ghost of Josephine Wurts-Dundas and, according to local legend, the water in the ponds on the estate turns into blood when the moon is full.



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The Dracula-worthy castle stayed in the Koniecpolski family until 1682 when it passed to aristocrat Jakub Ludwik Sobieski. In 1725, the grand country pile was acquired by Great Crown Hetman Stanislaw Rzewuski and remained in his family until the late 19th century.



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Priceless antique furnishings, paintings and fixtures and fittings, including many of the castle’s exquisite marble fireplaces, were looted and the interiors ransacked. This painting by Aleksander Gryglewski depicts the castle’s Crimson Room in 1871.



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Pidhirtsi was ransacked again during the Polish-Soviet War of 1919-1921. In a very poor state of disrepair by this point, the castle was owned by Prince Roman Sanguszko of Poland during the interwar years.



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In 1956, a catastrophic fire devastated the castle and the property was abandoned. After lying empty for decades, it was bought in 1997 by the Lviv Gallery of Arts and converted into a museum. While the castle is still in pretty bad shape, the gallery is working to restore Pidhirtsi to its former glory.



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This fantastical Tuscan palazzo was the brainchild of nobleman Ferdinando Panciatichi Ximenes d’Aragona. He converted the 17th-century building he inherited from his father into a Moorish Revival masterpiece between 1853 and 1859.



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A kaleidoscope of vivid colour, Sammezzano Castle has the wow factor and then some. The palazzo boasts a total of 365 rooms, all of which feature unique décor and the most incredible carvings and tiling.



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The castle was a magnet for Italy’s high society and hosted none other than King Umberto I in 1878. Sammezzano passed out of the Ximenes d’Aragona family in the mid-20th century and the property was turned into a luxury hotel.



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Not long after, Sammezano was abandoned in the 1990s. It was purchased in the late 1990s by Italo-British company Sammezzano Castle Srl, which intended to re-open the castle once more as a five-star luxury hotel.



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A conversation group called Save Sammezzano was set up in 2012 to help fund the restoration of the castle. By this time, the property was suffering from years of neglect, with many of the rooms in dire need of an overhaul.



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Thankfully, this story does have a happy ending. Saved at last, Sammezzano was bought in 2017 by a Dubai investor for £13 million ($17m), with the proviso the company sympathetically restores the castle.



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Languishing on the Briarcliff Campus of Emory University in Georgia, this boarded-up Georgian Revival mansion was built between 1920 and 1922 for eccentric Coca-Cola heir Asa Griggs ‘Buddy’ Candler Jr.



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During the 1920s and 1930s, Briarcliff was brimming with sumptuous furnishings and pricey paintings. The main Tudor-style hall seriously impressed with its vaulted ceiling, panelled walls and huge limestone fireplace.



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Candler and his family lived in the property until 1948 when it was sold to the General Services Administration. In 1953, Briarcliff was repurposed as an alcohol addiction treatment centre, and the mansion served as a psychiatric hospital from 1965 to 1997.



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The mansion was purchased by Emory Unversity in 1998 and though Briarcliff was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988, the university failed to renovate the property and it was left to decay.



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A hive of paranormal activity – if the local legends are to be believed – after dark, ghosts are said to walk the corridors and haunt the many rooms of the former country house.



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92/92 SLIDES

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