Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 5/A "medium" in 1772

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A “MEDIUM” IN 1772:

Beingan authentic, candid, and circumstantial narrative of the astonishing transactions at stockwell, in the county of surrey, on the 6th and 7th days of january, 1772, containing a series of the most surprising and unaccountable events that ever happened; which continued, from first to last, upwards of twenty hours, and at different places. published with the consent of the family, and other parties concerned.[1]

Does any one remember the “Stockwell Ghost?” The world was less scientific and more gullible, perhaps, ninety years ago, than it is at present; but yet certain “surprising and unaccountable events” which it records in these days seem so suggestive of Stockwell redivivus that I have hunted up the story; from pages damp, good reader, not with the delightful dampness of your uncut serial, but with the damp of years,—all covered with yellow blotches.

The “astonishing transactions” were as follows:

On Twelfth-Day, 1772, a certain Mrs. Golding was in the parlour of her house at Stockwell when she heard a noise of falling glass and china in the kitchen, and her maid, who had been in her service but a few days, came to tell her that the stone plates were falling from the shelf.

Mrs. Golding went out, and immediately noises began to be heard all over the house; a clock fell down and was shattered, a lantern tumbled from the staircase and smashed itself, and an earthen pan started in pieces, and its contents were scattered about the floor. The noise attracted several persons to the spot, one of whom, a carpenter, gave in his opinion that the foundations of the house were giving way. Mrs. Golding ran into a neighbour’s house and fainted. When she came to herself, being still weak and faint, a surgeon was desired to bleed her, which he did—rather a questionable remedy for weakness—and the blood, in a congealed state, sprang from the basin to the floor, the basin breaking to pieces. A bottle of rum, at the same time, made shipwreck of itself. In the mean time the bystanders, for fear of the catastrophe foretold by the carpenter, were busily engaged in removing Mrs. Golding’s effects to the house in which she herself had taken refuge. It soon became evident, however, that some agent, more mysterious and horrible than a yielding foundation, was at work. A pier-glass wrenched itself from the arms of the man who carried it and fell, smashing itself. It was pushed under a sideboard, and immediately a scene of destruction began above it. Glasses, jars, cups, and bottles danced over each other and into each other in a furious manner, many of them springing to the ground in fragments. Some one being asked to take a glass of wine or spirits, both the indicated bottles flew in pieces before they could be touched. Mrs. Golding’s surprise and fear became intolerable. Seeing that wherever she and her maid went, these strange, destructive circumstances followed them, it could not be expected that the neighbours would receive such certain loss into their houses; and what was to become of her? It is to be remarked that though the servant of the unhappy lady was the only person who expressed no terror, yet she was constantly walking about, and could not be persuaded to sit still.

Mrs. Golding next took refuge in the house of her niece, a Mrs. Pain, sending her own servant back to see what went on at the house which was not falling. During the absence of the servant—Ann Robinson—all was quiet, but soon after her return to her mistress a fresh scene began. First a whole row of pewter plates fell from a shelf to the floor, rolled about a little while, then settled, and as soon as they were quiet, turned over. Being replaced, they repeated the performance, after which a second row perpetrated the same feat. An egg, which stood on one of the shelves, flew off across the kitchen, struck a cat on its head, and then broke to pieces. A pestle and mortar next jumped from the high chimney-piece, followed by the candlesticks and all the “brasses,” till nothing remained on the shelf. Mrs. Pain and her servant then put the glasses and china on the floor, thinking to save something; but the spirits laughed at such a precaution, and a tumbler immediately jumped up about two feet, and was broken. Another followed the example; then a china bowl, and a tumbler, with rum and water in it, jumped about ten feet, and was shattered. Next, a mustard pot flew out of a closet in pieces, and a single cup that had been left on the table jumped up, flew across the kitchen, ringing like a bell, and dashed itself to pieces against the dresser. Then the table itself began to dance. It did not use its claws after the fashion of quadrupeds, as some tables do in these days to climb upon sofas, &c.—perhaps it had no claws—but it put itself into sundry unnatural positions before it could be induced to lie quiet. A ham then raised itself from its hook, and fell to the ground. Some time afterwards another one performed the same feat, and a flitch of bacon brought up the rear.

Several of Mrs. Pain’s family were reduced to such a state of terror that they could not stay in the house; but Mrs. Golding’s servant, Ann Robinson, was perfectly composed, and continued walking backwards and forwards in a ghostly manner, entreating her mistress not to be alarmed, as these things could not be helped. This curious way of viewing the matter, added to the fact that whenever Ann Robinson was absent the manifestations ceased, caused her to be looked upon with mingled dread and suspicion; but, since she was never seen near any of the falling objects, it was evident that if she had anything to do with the transactions, her power must be supernatural.

The noises and destruction, however, continued at intervals during the night, till there was not more than a cup and saucer or two remaining to the unfortunate Mrs. Pain. About five o’clock in the morning, Mrs. Golding declared that she could remain in that house no longer, and went over, desiring her maid to follow, to the house of a Mr. Fowler.

As usual, nothing happened there until the appearance of Ann Robinson, on which, however, the unaccountable disturbances began again; and the maid, going privately to Mr. Fowler, warned him not to let her mistress remain there, as wherever she was, the same things would follow. Mr. Fowler then, fearing greater loss, requested Mrs. Golding to leave his house; first begging her to consider whether she had not been guilty of some atrocious crime, for which Providence was determined to pursue her on this side the grave.

Mrs. Golding replied that her conscience was clear, and she would not stay in his, or any other person’s house any longer, but would go back to her own. Mr. Pain went with her, Ann Robinson, of course, being of the party. As soon as they arrived, a pail of water began to boil, like a pot on the fire; a box of candles fell down from a shelf, and a table began to move, and fell down. Mr. Pain then sent Ann Robinson for his wife; during her absence nothing happened, and on her return she was immediately discharged. And there ended the disturbances. Some few, pertinacious and disagreeable persons, ventured to suggest that Ann Robinson might be able to explain the affair in a natural manner, but they were hissed down. If she had anything at all to do with it, then she must have had means at her command of which ordinary mortals know nothing. It was decided that the animation of inanimate crockery, furniture, &c., could not possibly have been effected by human means.

For the satisfaction of such, for instance, as the narrative probably and sneeringly alludes to as being “so ready to discover natural causes for everything,” it may be added that some years after the astonishing transactions, and when the Stockwell Ghost had begun to fade and be no more heard of, this same Ann Robinson made a private confession to a gentleman capable of enjoying a practical joke even when it bordered—as this certainly did—on downright wickedness. She put long horsehairs to some of the crockery, and wires under others; on pulling or touching these of course the moveables fell. When she saw the effect of her first feats she was tempted to exercise her dexterity beyond the original purpose for mere amusement. She loosened the hams and bacon, attaching them by the skins, which soon gave way; and she threw a chemical powder into the pail of water as she passed, after which it bubbled. She managed to throw down several articles with her own hands, and when the victims turned and saw them broken or in motion, they attributed it to unseen agency. In short, the only magic was the dexterity of the supposed witch, and—a very large feature in the case—the alarm of the spectators, whose terror at the time, and their conversations afterwards, magnified many of the circumstances and invented others, and who were too full of their own dread of supernatural agency to be capable of examining anything, or even of a moderate degree of observation.

Louis Sand

  1. Title of an octavo tract, “printed for J. Marks, bookseller, in St. Martin’s Lane, 1772.”