A trunk was recently discovered, buried in one of the cellars in Aston Hall.
We do not know who buried it, or why.
In it, we found documents, letters, newspaper cuttings, and images.
Together, its contents tell the terrible tale of the first owner of Aston Hall, Thomas Holte ... his daughter, Elizabeth Mary, and her love for a poor servant boy ...
and the tragedy that ensued.
This is the story, as we have pieced it together from the various documents.
All the events and characters in this story have been made up.
The rest, of course, is true.
THIS EXHIBITION HAS BEEN CREATED BY OUR TEAM OF EXPERT ARCHIVISTS
AT ARK ACADEMY VICTORIA
Elizabeth Mary was the daughter of Sir Thomas Holte. Perhaps this is a self-portrait - or perhaps it was done by her young love, Francis. It seems likely that the dress belonged to her. It is said that her ghost haunts Aston Hall - perhaps this is the green dress which her ghost has been seen wearing?
These are evidently some letters which passed between the two lovers.
Francis writes: "I pray to God and the heavens that one day you can truly be mine."
But Mary reveals some devastating news: "I have suspicion that father knows about our affections towards one another."
Francis tells her his plan: "Dear my love, we shall run away, far away, where they won't find us. We shall be together without any judgement, for ever."
Mary confides her thoughts to her diary. She writes: "I know under no circumstances will my father allow me to marry a third-class servant boy. Alas, all he cares about is his money." She fears her father will stop at nothing - even murder - to get his way. We learn that he has chosen a man for her to marry - but she despises this man, who is "vile and cruel and pathetic". She fears she has "little time left," now her father has become her "mortal enemy."
In what looks like a hastily written and distraught note, Francis reveals that he is going to be executed for his relationship to Mary - and he accuses Thomas Holte of being a murderer.
A sad note from Mary reads: "He is gone. May his soul rest in peace. They have warned me before. Now he is dead. As I will soon be too."
There is a letter or diary entry from Thomas Holte himself, who writes: "People are speculating that I am a murderer. It was a mere servant, what value did his life have anyway? He woke up every day just to serve me. I merely put him out of his misery."
An article "from an unknown source" in the Aston Gazette reports that both Mary and Francis have disappeared. According to this account, Francis wasn't executed - he committed suicide. We may never know the truth.
The report goes on to say that Mary was locked in a room by her father; but she escaped, and fell down some stairs to her death.
The article concludes: "Holte's temper is of legend, but this is only one of many tragic ends of innocent lives. You may be wondering how can he be getting away with this? Well, he has the king's protection, and people are not lying when they say wealth can get you anything."
What happened to Thomas Holte? Was he prosecuted for his actions?
The trunk contains a diary entry dated 1636 - three years later - where he talks about his pleasure in hunting on his estates with his dog Henry.
It seems that he continued to enjoy his freedom - and felt no guilt for the death of his own daughter, and her lover.
The trunk also contained other invaluable historical documents including a 17th century plan of Aston Hall; and a bracelet - perhaps a hand-made gift from Francis to Mary, and so treasured by her more than if it was some costly piece of jewellery.
And what about Mary?
It is said her ghost haunts Aston Hall.
Perhaps this photo - taken recently - shows her haunting the rooms, still lamenting the loss of her great love...
Aston Hall is said to be one of the most haunted buildings in the UK. You can find out more about the real history of the Hall, here: https://www.birminghammuseums.org.uk/aston