When Springheeled Jack Wore Galoshes
Peter Rogerson

When Spring Heel Jack wore Galoshes.

Flash mobs, phantoms and Men in Black in 1920s Warrington

  • This is the full story of Spring Heeled Jack in Warrington in 1927 as told through the newspapers of the period: 

Warrington EXAMINER 

20 August 1927 
Hue and Cry in Haydock Street After Tall Figure in White
A very evil-looking man in a black suit.
A tall figure dressed all in white.
These, literally, are the principal figures in a “Dracula” like story which comes from the Haydock Streetdistrict. Strange happenings have been reported during the week, and hundreds of people have had the not altogether unpleasant thrill of the “ghost” hunt. The most serious side of the story is that many women and girls have been alarmed, and a very sensible solution, told to the investigator, is that the “ghost” is either a practical joker or the accomplice of a thief who may be endeavouring to draw people from their homes to enable his confederate to have better facilities for breaking in.
The story begins last week when it is stated “a very evil looking man” in a black suit” was seen prowling around in a very mysterious manner. This fact is authenticated by several residents of Haydock Street.
In the early hours of Sunday morning the whole neighbourhood was thrown into excitement by the news that a “ghost” had been seen. It was stated that between the hours of one and two o’clock a “tall figure dressed all in white” was seen passing along the streets adjoining Haydock Street and completely disappearing from time to time. Two women who witnessed the apparition were so overcome that they fainted and had to be revived by the crowd which soon assembled. A diligent search was afterwards made, but no trace of a supposed visitor from another world was to be found. 
Comparatively few people saw the figure on Sunday morning, but on Sunday night a crowd of some hundreds of people from all over Warrington gathered in Haydock and Furness Streets armed with pokes, bottles, shovels, brooms, carving knives and hay making implements prepared to lay the ghost. Many of them ridiculed the suggestion that anything had been seen, but they were less sceptical when, about eleven o’ clock the “ghost” made its appearance once again. Immediately the cry went up “There it is”” and the crowd set off after the apparition.
          After beckoning to various people, the ghost took to its heels and, instead of vanishing as all well-bred ghosts should, darted down a narrow entry in Furness-street. At the end of the entry is a high wall, but this did not stop the ghost in its flight, for its placed its hands on the top of the wall and sprang over like-to use one woman’s expression-“the famous Spring Heeled Jack”. From that point on all trace of it was lost. The search continued, however, until four o’clock in the morning , but nothing further was seen.
          The occurrence had such an effect on the people however that many of them could not get any sleep, and windows were bolted, extra fastenings were put on the doors, and some men even stayed up until daylight, in readiness for any other appearance that the “ghost” might make. On Monday morning however, many girls were hysterical and could not be calmed. If they moved from one room into another they had to take their father or mother with them, even when they were getting ready for work. Many of those who go early to work had to be escorted the greater part of the way. One girl said “ I was so frightened that I kept looking behind me for fear the ghost should get me.” 
Mrs Flanaghan of Furness-street and her three daughters were among the first to see the apparition. “I was standing at the door” said Mrs Flanaghan, about eleven o’clock on Sunday night and, happening to look across the road, I suddenly saw something white. I cried out “There it is” and my three daughters and a young man to whom we were talking, saw it too. The young man wanted to run after, but he was held back because we feared the “ghost” might have a knife under the white covering. The apparition was very tall, about six feet, and was covered from head to foot with something white, the only part of it visible being the eyes. When a chase was attempted it ran down the entry, taking off the white covering as it went, and we noticed that it had on a dark suit. It must of have had galoshes or something on its feet, for we heard the “pit pat” as it ran.”
Another person who had a “close up” of the figure was Mrs Ellison of Scott-street, who was walking home with her husband on Sunday night after visiting a friend. “When nearing Furness-street” said Mrs Ellison “ I saw a ghostly figure in white. I was startled and cried to my husband “Oh a ghost”. He replied there were no such things as ghosts, but when he turned and saw it he said “My God it is a ghost!”. He said he would see if it really were a ghost and grabbed my umbrella. When the ghost saw this it put its hands up in the air, just like a ghost, and then ran down the entry.”
Although another lady from Chorley-street states there are no such things as ghosts, the apparition frightened her when she came upon it suddenly on Sunday night. It was dressed all in white and was a very terrifying spectacle.
The people of the neighbourhood are doing their best to lay the “ghost” as it is causing so much annoyance in the neighbourhood and the search was continued on Monday and Tuesday nights, but the ghost kept itself to itself.
Each night through the week parties of people, mostly young, have waited until the early hours of the morning with the hope of seeing, and, as one young man said, “doing for” the apparition. One evening an “Examiner” representative spent an hour or two in the district but, until after midnight, nothing was seen or heard except for a few ghostly wails which , when investigated, were found to proceed from very human throats-those of young children who took a delight in trying to frighten the watchers. Time after time persons would shout “There it is” but their imaginations were playing them a trick, for the “ghost” did not show its face.
Manchester Evening News
Saturday 10 September 1927
Warrington has a ghost! 
Women in the Orford Lanedistrict of Warrington have been terrified during the past week by weird happenings. A remarkable series of incident began three weeks ago when hundreds of people in the Haydock-street district chased a ghost-a figure in white which disappeared by jumping over a high wall,. Shortly before the appearance of the “ghost” the residents report that a person variously described as “ a very evil looking man” and “a tall strange man” was seen in the vicinity.
Last Sunday the ghost reappeared. At about 10.15 on Sunday night Miss May Evans of 26 Neston-street was sitting in the kitchen, sewing, while her brother Bernard aged nine years, was playing with a toy engine on the floor. The back gate and the door of the shed adjoining the house were unfastened.
While sewing she heard a peculiar squealing noise in the shed, and turned the key of the door leading into the shed. Thinking no more about the matter she resumed her work, and suddenly Bernard exclaimed: “Oh look at the window”.
“I looked” said Miss Evans to our representative, “and had the fright of my life. There was a face, almost covered with something white, pressed to the window, while a hand over the bottom of the window held a big electric torch. It must have been a very powerful torch for it lit up the whole of the kitchen, thought the gas [light] was full on. I was frightened and could not move. At last I ran to the front and neighbours came out to see what was the matter. They made a search but could not find anything.”
          The only noise Miss Evans heard was the “squealing” before the apparition appeared at the window.
Neighbours state that on the Sunday night all the dogs in the neighbourhood barked and howled for hours. Another appearance occurred in the Birchall-street district on Tuesday evening. Mrs Bird of 23 Chorley-street was sitting in the house with her little boy when she heard a loud rapping on a piece of three-ply wood which had been inserted in place of a broken window pane.
“We went to bed” said Mrs Bird “and after a time we were awakened by a commotion at the back. We went down and found that the “ghost” had been visiting a house down the road”.
  • The Liverpool Express of the same date on page 5 also carried the story with even more alarming headlines:
“Women in the Orford-lane district have been during the week been terrified by weird happenings in the night and crowds of people have gathered in Neston Streetto watch for a ghost.
One man went about with a truncheon up his sleeve, and another with a blank shot pistol, but nothing supernatural or otherwise has been captured.

Excitement began three weeks ago, when the people in theHaydock Streetdistrict chased a “figure in white” which jumped over a high wall. Shortly before the appearences of the ghost, residents had reported that a person described as an “evil looking man” and a “tall strange man” had been seen in the district.”

  • The paper then went on report the story of May and Bernard Evans in almost the same language as the Manchester Evening News, adding that the little boy had to be given restoratives and that the face at the window had moved from side to side. Likewise the story of Mrs Bird. There was also the story of Mrs Bate of 44 Birchall Street. She and her family were going to bed when “one of the family went into the kitchen. There were three loud bangs on the window, and the woman ran into the kitchen and said she had seen a large fist come to the window and bang on it three times” 
  • The next Saturday the Manchester Evening News had more on the ghost to report (17 September) 
Warrington Disturbed Again
(From Our Own Correspondent.)
Warrington: Saturday
The now famous Warringtonghost has been up to his usual tricks again this week and the latest description of him which comes from the Birchall-street district is that he is “ a second spring-heeled Jack” who makes a noise similar to the howl made in “The Face at the Window”.
Mrs Garner of Birchall-street was in the front room with her husband when they heard weird noises at the back. There were tappings on the window panes and a peculiar howling noise in the air.
Although not unduly troubled about the matter, Mr Garner took the precaution of nailing up the back room window.

It was just as well for the visitor came back again to the house on Tuesday evening and this time appeared to try and get in, for finger marks were found all over the window.
Two days later Mrs Garner went into the back room and saw something at the window. A white light flashed.
At the window was a man with “a very large mouth and ugly face”. The light which flashed was, according to Mrs Garner, about six times brighter than the light from the gas mantle.
Although hundreds of people were out within three minutes after the occurrence, no sign of the man could be found.

A little later the same evening the ghost appeared to have made its way round to Algernon-street. A Mr Dunn was in the yard when he suddenly saw a man’s head and shoulders appear above the gate, which is 5ft 6inches [about 1.65m.] high.
It was an ugly face and he made a smack at it with his fist. His hand however hit the top of the gate and the ghost made off.
Mr Dunn opened the gate and ran after the “thing” but it disappeared like a shadow. It did not run but seemed to glide. It had a long white coat like a mackintosh (rain coat PR), and appeared to have no feet at all.
The ghost also made an appearance in Hamilton-street, where it tapped a young man on the shoulder, and frightened him so much that he ran into a shop and fainted.
Another unusual occurrence comes from Alder-street. A woman was in bed, and she told her husband she could heard a fizzling noise downstairs.
Her husband went down to investigate and he found a plate of fried bacon in the back kitchen. He heard a sound as of someone running down the yard, but when he made a search nothing was revealed.
  • Here is how it was presented in the two weekly newspapers in the town on Saturday 24 September 1927. First there was the more populist paper, the Liberal Warrington Examiner. That went in for the sensational approach:
Appearance Before an Armed Mob: White Robe and Folded Arms
“We think it is somebody playing pranks and, more than anything else, it is women who “have got the wind up”, is the opinion of the police with regard to remarkable happenings which have taken place in the Orford-lane and surrounding districts during the past few weeks.
This is probably a common sense view of the whole matter, but at the same time there is no doubt that the repeated appearances of some individual posing as a “ghost” have created a big sensation in that part of Warrington, and is causing a lot of discomfort and alarm amongst the more nervous women and children.
The Examiner” learns that in many cases, parents have put their clocks on at night in order to get their children to go to bed before the time when the “ghost” is supposed to appear: and that the children themselves are becoming frightened of leaving their homes in the evening.
Suring the last week-end another probable solution to the mystery was arrived at following a message shouted to some young men by the “ghost”, which was being chased. “My time’s up on Thursday” was the message, and this would make appear that the “ghost” is carrying out his queer programme for a wager.
When the ghost was reported to be in Margaret-street on Sunday night, hundreds of men, women and even children, armed with pokers, fire tongues, bottles, truncheons, “chilalahs”, [shillelaghs] and other weapons rushed in a mob to the neighbourhood with the object of “finishing it off”.
The Warrington “ghost” however is very brave and seems to care not what manner of revenge the public have planned for him, for he walked past the crowd with only a few feet separating them from him. “There he is!” shouted the people and after him they went. Down Margaret-street, which is blocked at one end by railings separating the street from the railway, he went over the rails “like greased lightning”. The crowd uprooted the rails to get on to the embankment, and there was the “ghost” in his white robes and folded arms, staring at them.
They again took up the chase and after flashing his powerful torch on a wall of corrugated iron, which is very jagged at the top and is about 10 feet high, over he went, making the peculiar howling noise which generally announces his coming. From that point he disappeared. Later however, however, he was again heard in a backyard at the other end of the street, but before the crowd could get hold of him he had once more disappeared. One man got so close to him as to almost touch him, but his hand came into contact with a wagon or something, and the “ghost” got away.
Thus matters went on until about two o’ clock, but although the people saw the light being flashed in various places, nothing came of their searching.
Earlier in the evening Mr Frangleton, of Margaret-street, was in his yard, which adjoins the railway, when he saw the “ghost” dressed all in white standing in the middle of the yard with its arms crossed, staring at him. According to Mr Frangleton’s daughter, her father called for his slippers, but the ghost disappeared from the yard as if by magic. It had an extremely ugly face, which must have been a mask, for no human could have a face so ugly, and the eyes appeared to be green and illuminated. On his chest was something that resembled an electric light switch.
Mrs Denmade and Miss Fragleton saw the “ghost” again in a wooden building on the railway.
On Monday night the people of the neighbourhood arranged a systematic search of the district around Margaret-street, but nothing unusual was seen.
The extraordinary manner in which the “ghost” moves and the way it surmounts high walls lead people to surmise that is has springs on its feet.
Another unusual occurrence, which may or may not be associated with the ghost is reported from the Alder-lane district. The report goes that a lady was in bed when she thought she head a frizzling noise downstairs. Her husband went down to investigate, and found a plate of cooked bacon in the back kitchen. He heard a sound as of somebody running down the yard, but when he made a search nothing was revealed.
  • This was essentially the story that appeared in the Liverpool Express and Manchester Evening News of September 19th. They clearly had a common source. Similar stories also appeared in the Manchester Evening Chronicle but add no further details. The rival Conservative and somewhat more upmarket Warrington Guardian was much more sober in its reportage: 
The silly pranks of some persons who have been referred to as the “Haydock Streetghost” has caused considerable disturbances in that neighbourhood. Stories have been circulated of an ugly face, weird noises and green eyes, and children and credulous people have been unnerved. It was reported early this week that the man shouted a message to some young men who chased him saying “I won’t be sorry when my time’s up on Thursday”
Mr Stanley Trantum of 45 Laira Street, called at the “Guardian” Office on Monday and stated that at 11.30 on the previous evening he was at the house of a friend inChorley Streetwhen he heard screams. Running out, he saw a crowd of people inMargaret Street, where a man was being chased. Mr Trantum followed and almost caught the man when he scaled a corrugated iron wall. He says that on the far side of the wall he fell into an iron box and then became entangled in some wire: otherwise, the man would not have escaped. The man was wearing a light fawn raincoat and was carrying an electric lamp.
Mr Trantum had not reported the matter to the police, and when a “Guardian” reporter visited Superintendent Holland with the information, he said he thought the story of the “ghost” was “all bunkum”. We think it is somebody playing pranks” he added and “more than anything else, that it is hysterical women who have “got the wind up” and imaged most of the things which are reported.  
  • That was that, with the police pronouncement the story left the presses. It was to linger in the memories of older people and in Ghost, Mysteries and Legends of Old Warrington by charity worker Wally Barnes (Owl Books 1990), where there is a wildly exaggerated account of his activities. Far from the back streets of the original reports Barnes has “Spring Heel Jack” bouncing up Horsemarket Street, (the portion of the main road leading up to Warrington Central Railway Station from the central roundabout) on shoes with springs on their soles. He is now seen bounding along in 15ft leaps along John Street and leaping as high as bedroom windows in Hardy Street and leaping along Cockhedge Lane in 20ft leaps.  
  • The areas at the centre of this story were streets of terraced housing in a working class district to the north of Central Railway Station in Warrington. They can be seen on this 1910 map in comparison with a 21st century one here:
  • Much of the housing was demolished in the 1970s, and though street names survive, the scene is quite different. There are no images of the streets at this period in the public domain (photographers concentrated on the main shopping streets and little of the working class housing was ever generated)
  • Ghosts were in the news in this period; in July a man in Towcester refused accommodation proffered because a man had committed suicide there 30 years before and it was said to be haunted (e.g. Western Daily Press 21 July 1927) 
  • The Warrington “ghost” was just one of three according to this report in the Aberdeen Journal of 23 August 1927: 
Police Baffled by Weird Apparitions. Three ghosts are stalking abroad, if the evidence received is to be accepted—one in London, one in Barry, Wales, and one in Warrington, who stalks six feet high with a menacing mien. That they were not members of the same Trade Union of Departed Spirits is very evident, for while the white-haired ghost of London gently kissed a sleeping woman on the forehead and silently stole away, he of Warrington shocked two women into a faint and leaped over a ten-foot wall like Spring-Heeled Jack, when angry husbands armed with bottles and carving knives, gave chase in the dead of night.
The ghost of Barry a mystic Peeping Tom, peering in at windows feet above the, ground, terrorising a mother and children in flat. The London ghost, whom two women and a girl say they have seen flit across the hall of an ancient mansion house within five minutes’ walk of Denmark Hill station, is declared by a spiritualistic medium to be that of George Tavener, born in 1854, and his present mission on earth he has revealed to be a quest for an old desk of his where, a secret drawer, lie papers proving that his earthly niece is entitled to his property.
The unearthly terror at Barry has been hunting a top-storey flat at 24,Dock New Road, near the docks. Mrs Christoforato declares his visits have extended over three weeks. A policeman has been keeping guard at night, but nothing happened while he was there. After he had gone a stealthy footstep was heard in the corridor, but when a woman dashed out there was no one there, the same night a child screamed with fright when a ghostly face appeared at the window and then vanished.
  • According to the Derby Telegraph of 6 September 1927 a ghost at Brampton in Derbyshire led to a drunken women ending in the police courts: 
The Brampton Ghost. 
Stories of a ghost have been, running aboutBrampton, and when a woman was chargedChesterfieldpolice court yesterday with being drunk and incapable, a policeman said that when appeared, wearing his white overalls, the woman sank on her knees, bowed head to the ground, and shouted “ Oh, theBramptonghost.” She was fined 10s[shillings].
  • The Angus Evening Telegraph of the 27th September reports a poltergeist story 
For some time past a strange thing has been going on at the gas works in -thevillageofMarkinch. There are two stokers employed at different shifts, and one of them is pelted with missiles always on his nightshift week. The other man is not interfered with. Stones, half-bricks, bolts, &c., have come flying all directions, but no serious damage has been done except the smashing of a gas lamp and mantle. The “ ghost” waits till the sma’ ‘oors ayont the twal “ before he begins, and sometimes the annoyance lasts till five or six o’clock. Fully score of men have tried to discover the culprit, but have failed, not even getting a glimpse of the “ ghost.” It must be an eerie job for the poor stoker, especially on the long dark winter nights”
  • The Dundee Evening Telegraph of 27 September 1927 reported “ghostly figures dressed in white” leading to women and children collapsing on the way to home in the north end of Dundee near Craigie Quarries. A 17 year old boy reported seeing two figures jump into the quarry, making strange noises. The next day the paper reported a flash mob on the site: 
What the Residents Think: A “ghost” hunt on a large scale took place inDundeelast night, when over 5000 people of all ages went in search of the “ spooks” which have been appearing near Craigie Quarries. The crowd gathered early in the evening, intent on laying the “ghost” or “ghosts” which have been causing such terror in the district. Nothing, however, manifested itself, and although the crowd gradually dispersed, it was steadily joined by fresh arrivals.
Throughout the evening and up to late hour the crowd scoured the environs of Dalkeith Road and the quarries, but apparently the “ game” which they were after thought better of it than put in an appearance. Further instances of what had taken place was given by several persons who had been previously alarmed by the strange happenings. When coming home from evening School one night, a youth was greatly disturbed the sight of a white pony in one of the fields, on which was mounted a ghostly figure. There are a number of ponies grazing in a field nearby.
Ratner Have the “Ghosts.”
Residents in the district have been greatly troubled by these unusual ongoings, but according to many they would rather have had the “ ghosts” than the crowd which gathered last night. A white sheet has been observed by more than one person lying on the high ground near the quarries. It possibly part of the equipment of the “ ghosts.” The sheet has been lying for several days. Armed with lamps, torches, and even a miniature searchlight, the crowd surged over all the waste ground in the vicinity, but failed to unearth anything of an unusual nature.
  • The mob was back the following day:
Big Crowd Again Visits the District 
“The Ghost of Craigie Quarry,”Dundee, evidently quite pleased with the effect of its initial appearance, and refuses to give encore to the expectant crowds who would like to see it. A crowd of between 2000 and 3000 both sexes invaded the quarry and surrounding district last night in -the hope of seeing “ spectre,” and were disappointed at its non-appearance. It is unfortunate that the “ spook “ hunters are inclined to become rather noisy in their efforts to locate their “ quarry,” and the inhabitants of the district, particularly those in the immediate vicinity of the Quarry, are becoming rather annoyed their visits.
  • The next day however only a few hundred attended. The Western Daily Press of 27 August reported on a phantom perfume haunting a Monmouthshire farm.

The Bristol Vortex, by Peter Rogerson

Peter Rogerson’s research into ghostly and Fortean happenings reported in nineteenth-century local newspapers continues with this court report of an extraordinary series of events that feature in Charles Fort’s Lo! (pages 152 – 154 of the Fortean Tomes edition)
The Bristol Mercury
13th December 1873
At the Council-house, on Tuesday, before they mayor (Mr.T. Barnes) and Messrs. G. Wiles and C. Godwin, a young man. and woman of genteel deportment and address, and who gave the name of Thomas B. Cumpston and Ann Martha Cumpston, of Virginia-road, Leeds, were brought up on a charge of being disorderly and letting off firearms in the Victoria hotel, near the Terminus. Mrs Tongue the landlady of the hotel was first called, and she deposed that the defendants arrived at her hotel about eight of clock the previous evening and engaged a room for the night, bringing luggage with them. She was away from the house when they came and they retired to rest about twelve o clock. 
About one o clock in the morning she was alarmed by a great noise in their bedroom` and found them in a very excited state, but she succeeded in pacifying them, and they returned to bed. At four. o’clock she was awoke by loud screams, and cries of. murder, and by the report of firearms, Being much terrified by the uproar she got up, and went down to see what was them matter and she heard Mrs. Cumpston exclaim, “keep that knife from me”. They both jumped from their bedroom window into the back yard, a height of about twelve feet, then made their way to the front street, and ran across the road up to the railway station. She then spoke to a .police constable Mr. Godwin They left their luggage behind them.  
Mr Thomas Hawker, who stated that he was on duty as night superintendent at the Bristol and. Exeter railway station was next called and stated that, he was in the booking-office about four o’ clock in the morning making up his report, when be heard in noise outside, and immediately the doors of the office were burst open a person rushed in. Someone tapped the window at his inner office, and screamed out “Murder”. Witness was dozing at the time, and immediately went out on the platform see what was the matter. He there saw both defendants in the act of crossing to the express platform, and he spoke to them. The lady was in a very excited state. Her hair was flowing about, and neither she nor her husband had. anything on their heads. Both of them were excited. They rushed toward him as soon as they saw him, and said. they had been in some den or other, and had been waylaid by thieves, and were trying to get out of the way. 
He (witness) could not tell what to make of them at first, and he took them into the parcels office by the fire. They appeared in a very exited condition; having succeeded in pacifying them, he put some questions as to who they were and where they had been. They told him they had been in one of the worst houses they were ever in their lives, Amongst a lot of thieves and rogues ,and they had to do the best they could to defend themselves.. He took them into the waiting-room, but scarcely anything would pacify them. They were under the, impression that someone was following them, to do them, some bodily injury, and both of them expressed themselves to that effect. The lady told him her husband had a revolver. . They made him go into the inside room and examine it, to see that there was no one there and they themselves went in and searched the room. The lady, took. up the poker to defend herself.  
Prior to this witness had sent for a. city policeman., and during, the time he got he tried to keep them as quite as possible. He understood them to say that they had come, from the Victoria, Hotel, and he told them there was nothing there to harm them and that it was a very respectable house, but nothing would pacify them until two of the city police arrived. They. searched, the gentleman and took from him a revolver and some knives. The male defendant declined to ask this witness anything – and a similar question being put to his wife, she also said she had nothing to ask him, adding, “I have to thank him for his great kindness last night.”  
Mr. Godwin (to witness)- Did the excitement appear to be from drink? 
Witness- ‘No. I thought they were labouring under insanity.  
P.C.321 sworn, said he was called to the Victoria Hotel on Bath-parade, about five minutes to five o’clock that morning, and was told by Mrs. Tongue, the landlady that some parties who had been sleeping there had jumped out of the window and escaped to the railway-station. Upon proceeding to the railway station, he found both defendants to be comfortably seated before the fire in the waiting-room. He believed it was fright that caused them to run away. The witness produced. a revolver and three knives, which he said had been found upon the gentleman. The revolver was here handed to Mr Brice (magistrates’ clerk), who examined it. It was a small. weapon, but of apparently of highly-finished workmanship.  
 Mr. Cumpston, being asked what be had to say in answer to the charge, spoke with apparent incoherencey, and his wife explained that he had an impediment in his speech. He said they came from Clifton previous day, and, has intended to proceed to Weston super Mare that morning. A porter took their luggage and they asked him at what hotel they could spend the night. He said he could take them to a very nice one and mentioned the George and the Victoria. He took them across the line and instead of taking them to the George he took them to the Victoria. They went to bed about twelve o’clock, and about one they became annoyed by a disagreeable row. He could not explain it. They were both frightened. The bed was peculiar one. It opened, and did all sorts of strange things. And the floor opened, and they heard voices, and then they jumped out of the window.  
Mrs. Cumpston was asked to give her version of the affair, She said they were very much frightened about one o’clock that morning by what they heard, but the landlady came and reassured them for a time, and they went back bed. About three or four o’clock they heard worse noises, but what they were they had no idea. The floor seemed to he giving way, and the bed also seemed to open. They heard voices, and what they said was repeated after them. Her husband wished her to get out of the way. The floor certainly seemed to open, and her husband fell down some distance, and she tried to get him up. She asked him to discharge his pistol to frighten anybody who might he near, and he fired his revolver into the ceiling. They got out of the window, but she did not know how, being so frightened; and when they got to the ground she asked him to fire off another shot, which he did. She certainly heard the repetition of their voices. Some one spoke every time they spoke. 
In reply to the magistrates, she said she did not hear the noises so plainly as her husband. 
In reply to Mr. W.K. Wait, who happened to be in court, Mrs. Cumpston gave the name of the parties with whom they were connected in Gloucester, and Mr. Wait his thereupon remarked that they were most respectable people.  
After a short delay, a gentlemanly young man, who said his name was Butt, and that be had just come from Gloucester, stepped into the witness-box. In reply to the Mayor he said the defendants were good friends of his. They were people who occupied a very good position. Mr. Cumpston was an independent gentleman.  
Mr. Brice inquired whether he had any reason to believe that the gentleman had anything the matter with his mind Mr. Butt replied that he had not known him for a long time.
Mr. Brice remarked that Mr. Cumpston seemed to show some aberration of mind, The parties were then discharged, And the weapons and other property found upon the gentleman handed over to Mr. Butt.
From inquiries we have made of the police who examined the room at the Victoria Hotel occupied by the parties, there seems nothing whatever to warrant such conduct on their part. There is little doubt that the whole was an hallucination.
* * * * * *
The man at the centre of this story was Thomas Bowser Cumpston Jnr., the son of a Leeds linen merchant, Thomas Bowser Cumpston Snr., living at the time of the 1871 census at Woodfield House Potternewton, a posh suburb of the town (several of the Duchess of Cambridge’s more affluent ancestors came from there). He was baptised on the 13 October 1847. He married Annie Martha Carter, the daughter of a surgeon, in Leeds Parish Church on April 10 1873 and died on the 9th December 1893 at his home “Rosehurst” Grosvenor Road, Headlingley, making Annie Martha the executor of his £4,153 estate.
Some further details of his life can be found here:
This site however incorrectly attributes the “paranormal episode” to his father, which would have been problematic to say the least as he died in March 1873!
The story has elements of a shared hynopompic hallucination, with elements of aware sleep paralysis and or night terrors. No doubt if it occurred today, the police would be testing the couple’s blood for not altogether legal substances.
* * * * * *

Peter Rogerson – The Manchester Ghosts of 1861

January 1861 saw two strange ghost stories from Manchester, the first is an early example of the “haunted inn”, which is now a staple of ghostlore. The mysterious ringing of bells has similarities to Bealings Bells which appears as Chapter 5 of Rupert T. Gould’s Enigmas. The second seems to be a much older roadside boggart, though if encountered today may well come to the attention of ufologists.

Manchester Times 26 January 1861, page 5


For several nights past, immense crowds have been collected in and about the Feathers Hotel, in London Road, attracted by a story so singular, and on the face of it so incredible, that the most remarkable circumstance connected with it is that so many people should instead of laughing off the matter as joke, have been, excited by real curiosity concerning it. The new sensation, which is filling the coffers of the landlord of the Feathers, and, at the same time mulcting the pockets of the ratepayers for the services of an extra force of policemen – uniform men and detectives – is a ghost which, of all places in the world, has chosen one of the busiest centres  of Manchester, immediately opposite the London Road Station, for its nocturnal appearances.

The story is that for five weeks past the inmates of the hotel have been disturbed at all hours of the night by strange and unaccountable noises. When the weary waiters have gone to sleep, their dreams have been disturbed by the unwelcome tinkle first of one, then of two and more, and sometimes of all the bells in the house-fourteen in number-clanging together. A strict watch has on several occasions been kept, and when this has been done, the watchers have seen and ‘heard nothing unusual but so surely as the lights in the inn have been extinguished and quite  has been maintained, the strange noises have re-commenced. About a week ago, bellhangers were got in the house, who rearranged the wires and muffled the bells, and by this means it was supposed that the perturbed spirit had been laid at last to rest, an idea which was confirmed by the fact that for six nights thereafter the “ghost” made no manifestation.

In the “wee short hour” between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, however, the sound of hells again broke forth with undiminished violence, and in defiance of bellhangers and special detectives. An indescribable presence is said to have made itself manifest on the stairs of the hotel, dressed in most unghostly habiliments of black, to a couple of boys and a policemen, who were so much frightened by the appearance  that they are unable to give any account of the spirit’s disappearance. Of all the inmates of the house the cook, whom one would have thought the most material and unimaginative, has been most affected by the spiritual influence, and on Wednesday resigned leer comfortable situation with all its perquisites, and we believe has taken to bed seriously ill .

Meanwhile the house  is nightly crowded by hundreds of visitors, who, excited by curiosity, thirst of knowledge, or other desire, have been exorbitant in their . demand for spirits, to the no small profit of the, landlord, to whom the presence of his singular guest lees been as lucky as angels’ visits. At the same time, hundreds of people have thronged the streets and lanes outside anxious to obtain sight or hearing of the ghost Whatever else may be thought of it, this revival of the Cock Lane spirit has been and continues most successful as a sensation in drawing crowded houses.


“A ghost in Manchester!” – nonsense,” some of our readers will exclaim. But there is no ‘nonsense’ about the fact, for a ghostly form – whatever it is – has been seen on two successive evenings, and has frightened one man nearly out of his wits, while the whole neighbourhood has been-disturbed in the dead of night by the ghost-seer’s cries. Close to Brooks’s Bar runs Moss Lane, and in selecting this neighbourhood for the honour of a visit, the ghost has certainly shown some poetic taste. It appears that a portion of Moss Lane has been undermined by the bursting of a water-pipe, and the roadway for a length of about two roods is now broken in, and in course of repair.

The roadway has, in consequence of this, been blocked up for nearly a fortnight and from dusk to daylight fires have been kept burning in tripod fire baskets to prevent accidents. The man who has been tending these fires during the last fortnight is a little active-footed, wiry framed, wizened-faced man, and has for many years pursued the dreary calling of a night watchman. On Thursday night a constable, passing down the lane, found the watch-man busily engaged shovelling coal on to the fire basket. Near by stood one of the closed handcarts, in which gas men and watermen carry their tools.

“Hallo!” he shouted, “You’re just the man I want.” At the same time the shovel was dropped, and he hastily scratched his head preparatory to a long “spell.” The constable crossed the road and stood by the side of the fire basket; while the watchman, in a voice husky with fear, proceeded to tell him of the appearance of  a ghost between three and four that morning. Of course it was dressed all in white; but, unlike other ghosts, this one kept bobbing up and down in the roadway, a short distance beyond the other fire basket, while, at the same time, it kept its eyes fixed upon the watchman. After the ghost had disappeared, the alarmed “seer” knocked up a man belonging to a brewer’s yard not far off and after telling him he had seen a ghost, the two searched the whole neighbourhood, but could find no track of His Ghostship.

The watchman’s terror had been so great that persons residing in houses a short distance from where he stood, had been aroused from sleep by a most unearthly long-drawn “oh” which had escaped him. The constable laughed at the man’s story, but told him that years ago, he had heard, a man was murdered near the spot, and his spirit never could ‘settle’. The watchman repeated the word “settle” in the greatest alarm, and taking up an old-fashioned watchman’s rattle and an oak cudgel, he said he had brought those with him that night to ” nobble” the ghost with, but he thought he wouldn’t try that on, but shut himself up in the cart. This the watchman did, and the constable went on. Between twelve and one o’clock, however, the same night, while the constable was conversing with another officer at the corner of a road some distance off, both were alarmed at the sound of the watchman’s rattle.

They immediately  ran to where he was standing, the very spot where one of the constables had seen him an hour or two previously, and where he was furiously shaking the rattle. The noise had aroused some of the inmates in the neighbouring houses, and heads were hastily thrust through open windows. The brewer’s man, also startled by the rattle had got up, and he together with the two constables, reached the spot where the watchman was standing. at the same moment. The watchman was in a state of the greatest alarm, and pointing  his finger up Moss Lane towards the Chorlton Road, kept on shouting, “ There it is! There it is!” One of the constables stopped, looked in the direction whence the man pointed, and exclaimed, “By gem, there  it is and it’s coming this way; we’d better shunt, lads.”

So saying the three made a hasty movement, calling out to the watchman as they ran to “nobble” it. But the watchman thought discretion was the better part of valour, he seized his stick, the rattle, and his breakfast can, and ran after the others as fast as his legs would carry him. he soon overtook them and was about to pass them, when they called upon him to stop. His reply was, “No, No, my names hoff,” and he was quickly out of sight. More than half a mile from this he was met, still running, by a gentleman who was returning home, who called upon him to stop, but he shouted out, “I’ve seen a ghost, and I can’t stop.” Nor did he stop until he had reached the city. In the course of yesterday he waited upon his employer, and after telling his story, he positively refused, on any consideration, to “watch” at the spot another night That evening another man was watching, and he laughed heartily as he bore testimony to the truth of our story. We have no doubt that his, predecessor saw his own form reflected in the flame from the fire basket, and this gave rise to his ghost story; nevertheless, the truth of his tale is believed in by many of the more credulous residents in the neighbourhood.


The Pill-Maker’s Poltergeist.
Peter Rogerson

The Pill Maker’s Poltergeist and Other Tales of Urban Ghosts.
Peter Rogerson
In his always fascinating ‘Ghostwatch’ column in Fortean Times 291, Alan Murdie draws our attention to the phenomena of ‘urban ghosts’. These were not the typical SPR phantoms in nice country houses, nor the traditional ghosts of ‘ye ancient pile’; they were stories of ghosts in urban settings, which became the centre of attention for huge crowds. The stories which I present here are a first selection of these.
The first takes place in St Helens, in the late 19th century a rapidly rising industrial town, best known for its glass works. The centre of this story however was another St Helens firm, Messers Beecham’s pill makers, owned by Thomas Beecham, grandfather of the famous conductor of that name.
He had come to the town in 1858/59 and by the 1880s his firm of patent medicines was making huge strides. In the years 1884-1889 the amount spent on advertising (example left) rose from �22,000 to �95,000 and the work force from 19 to 88. (T. C. Barker and R Harris, A Merseyside Town in the Industrial Revolution 1750-1900, Liverpool University Press, 1954, pp.378-9) This meant the construction of new premises and while that was going on the firm moved to temporary premises. This when the trouble began.
The man at the centre of things was the works manager, a man who gave his name as Walter Robert Andrews, said to have been born in the outskirts of Bristol around 1844, but who cannot be found until his marriage to the pregnant Elizabeth Dyson in Walton, Liverpool, in 1870. His association with the firm will terminate soon after the opening of the new factory in 1887. The 1891 census shows him working as an insurance agent in Walton on the Hill, by 1901 he is trying his hand as a mineral water maker and by 1911 he is described as retired engineer. He is joined in this adventure by his son Walter James Andrews (1870-1890).
I have not been able to access St Helens papers as the local studies library there is closed for refurbishment, but regional papers tell the full story.
Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, 26 August 1885.
THE FREAKS OF A ST. HELENS GHOST. During the past few weeks the employees of Messrs. Beecham, manufacturers, St. Helens, have been alarmed by an extraordinary series of performances of what has been termed “ghost.” The Messrs. Beecham some time ago determined to rebuild their manufactory, and for this purpose the machinery was moved into a building in Lowe-street belonging to the same firm, which had been used as sawmill, but which for a year or two had remained unoccupied.
A portion of the ground floor had recently been taken as a co-operative store, and the upper room by the Salvation Army as a barracks: and Messrs. Beecham utilised the remaining portion as a temporary pill manufactory. During the day the work goes on without anything extraordinary taking place, but as soon as darkness sets and the place is locked up, “beings of immortal shape” take possession. The public assemble nightly in Lowe-street watching for the “supernatural,” which, however, has not been seen. So far our inquiries go, it seems that the “antics” of the ghost are confined to stone-throwing.
The manager of the works, Mr. Andrews, gives us an instance. On Sunday night week he was a little conservatory the rear of the building with his son, about 15 years of age, and started to go his nightly rounds through the building. He opened back door and he and his son walked in, when a missile, apparently launched at him, struck the door with great force. He looked round, but saw one, as indeed he had seen no one on previous nights when he had experienced the same thing. He moved forward a little, when another stone came in a slanting direction and struck the wall. This was followed by another, which struck some iron wheels, making a clear ring, and then the further door was struck fourth. This sort of thing had been going on for some weeks, and although a number of workmen had been got together and formed band and scoured the place, searching particularly every nook and corner, no trace of anyone could be seen.
The police had been appealed to, and constables had perambulated the premises, but with no effect, and as yet the mystery has not been solved. Of course the excited crowds outside have imagined all sorts of things appertaining to the invisible, and have done some damage to the building by breaking glass, &c. With the exception of the doors inside being dented and brass machine being struck by some missiles, no damage has been done inwardly. The chief work of the police has been to keep the street clear. An entrance has not been made into the works since Sunday night week, but it is stated that the missiles can be heard flying about. This extraordinary occurrence has caused great excitement, and will continue to do so until the mystery is solved. Suspicions are fixed on a certain person who is believed to be playing an exceedingly clover hoax; but if detected in the works it will be “the worse for him,” unless he is made of stuff that the penetration of lead will not affect.
Cheshire Observer 29 August 1885
A ST. HELENS GHOST STORY- A sensation is just now raging in St Helens the cause the cause of which, being shrouded in mystery. has given rise to all kind .of wild speculation. Mr Beecham, the world-famed pill-maker, has. removed his. manufactory to premises in Lowe Street, pending the completion of his new works. The temporary building was formerly a saw-mill. Mr Beecham occupies the basement, comprising three rooms, and the large hall overhead is utilised as the headquarters of the local branch of General Booth’s warriors.
Almost every night during the past three months there has been s stone-throwing seance in the works, performed with such success that although the gas has been suddenly turned on the “spirit” escaped detection. Whether these performances have a sinister motive in their accomplishment, or may be regarded as the outcome of a sportive disposition, remains yet to be discovered. But one thing is certain, that if the unknown one who has been the cause of so much annoyance is caught, he will be speedily introduced to a magistrate.
It is the custom of Mr Beecham’s manager, Mr Andrews, to make a nightly inspection of the works. For between two and three months his entrance has been welcomed by the throwing of missiles with such velocity and accuracy of aim that it was deemed prudent to erect a door opposite the main entrance for protection. Scheme after scheme for the detection of the perpetrator has been unsuccessfully put into effect. Whoever the individual may be he has carried out his little game with a persistency and an ingenuity that would have distinguished him if employed in s better cause. For four successive nights – that is from eight till dsybreak – Mr Andrew, with s staff of men paraded the works determined to capture the delinquent. The stone-tbrowing went on as usual, but Mr Andrews and his men failed after repeated search to bring the mysterious one to light. At last the assistance of the police was obtained.
A detective backed by five men, good and true, entered the works determined not to leave the premises until they had captured the intruder. The gas had been left burning low. The instant the stone throwing commenced the lights were quickly turned up and the searchers rushed in the direction from which the missiles came. The mysterious one, however, had disappeared into thin air for the nonce, and the detective and his five men quitted the premises baffled and disappointed. On this night about 30 missiles – copper slag, pieces of brick, scraps of stone, etc., in weight averaging from four or five ounces – were thrown. Of the hundreds of missiles thrown, not one has caused personal injury, although some of them have passed in dangerous proximity to the person. No property has been removed from the works.
It having been suggested that the mischief-maker might be a member of the monkey tribe, dogs were introduced, but although the stones darted about as usual no ” Jacko ” could be found. Meanwhile the public got wind of the occurrence! Imaginative women, peeping through crevices, saw inhabitants of the invisible world in every shape and form floating about the air ; and gossip -mongers knew for s fact that skulls had been dog up, pointing to the conclusion that all kinds of foul murders bad been committed.
Every night last week crowds of people thronged the streets near the works, and on Friday evening when the last seance took place hundreds of people congregated about the works, giving the streets the appearance of a fair. Fried fish sellers and hot potato vendors drove a roaring trade. The police had a busy time of it in keeping the thoroughfares passable, and it was not until the small hours of the morning that the crowd was finally dispersed. Hundreds of people again assembled on Saturday night, but as there was no seance the police had not so much difficulty in dispersing the crowd. The works are now being watched by the police and others, and no doubt the unknown one will cease his pranks — for the present at least.
Warrington Examiner August 29 1885 p. 6, col. b.
A STRANGE GHOST STORY: Extraordinary proceedings. A great sensation , and one that has occasioned very lively comment, has arisen in St Helens during the past few weeks by the alleged haunting of the manufactory of the world-famed pills of Messes Beecham. To say the least, the incidents which have occurred therein have been of the most startling character, and their exceedingly mysterious nature has given rise to rumours that they are of supernatural origin. Whatever doubts may exist as to the latter theory, the occurrences are still unexplained, and the mystery remains unsolved.
Messes Beecham’s establishment is situated in Westfield-street St Helens, but some months ago they decided to rebuild it on a more extended scale. In order to carry out these operations the machinery was removed to another building in Lowe Street, belonging to the firm. The greater portion of this building was formerly used as a saw mill, but it remained unoccupied for a year or two. At present Messes Beecham occupy the basement, comprising three rooms, while another portion of the ground floor is taken up by the St Helens Industrial Co-operative Society, and the upper room is used as a barracks by the Salvation Army.
Each day the employees of Messes Beecham perform their accustomed duties without hindrance or inconvenience, but after darkness has set in for some two or three months past their have been nightly occurrences, which have given rise to every imaginable rumour as to “Ghosts and Goblins’. Party of the duty of Mr Andrews, the manager, has been to inspect the building each night after the men have left, and this has lately been an exiting the risky undertaking. No sooner has Mr Andrews entered the works to make his accustomed rounds than he has been assailed by an alarming shower of stones, pieces of brick, copper slag and other missiles, hurled with great force by some unseen hand.
This has been an almost nightly occurrence for a considerable period, and the elucidation of the mystery has baffled the most searching investigation of police officers and other inquirers. As an instance of the stone throwing Mr Andrews states that on Sunday night week he was in a little conservatory at the rear of the building with his son, about fifteen years of age, and started to go on his nightly rounds through the building. he opened the back door and he and his son walked in, when a missile, apparently launched at him, struck the door with great force. He looked round, but saw no one, as indeed he had seen no one on previous nights when he had experienced the same thing. He moved forward a little when another stone came in a slanting direction and struck the wall. This was followed by another which struck some iron wheels, making a clear ring, and then the further door was struck by a fourth.
With the view of unravelling the mystery, bands of workmen have got together and patrolled the works and its neighbourhood, while the aid of the police has been sought. Scheme after scheme for the detection of the author of the stone throwing has hitherto been unsuccessful. The steps taken to secure the stoppage of the noisome visitations have apparently been of a most complete character. For four successive nights, from sunset till daybreak. Mr Andrews with a staff of men have paraded the works. but after the closest searches they have failed to bring the mysterious individual to light. On another occasion five police officers entered the works and determined not to leave the premises until they had [cornered?] the intruder. For that purpose the gas was set burning low, and the instant the stone throwing commenced the lights were turned up and the searchers rushed in the direction from which the missiles had apparently proceeded, but again the search was fruitless and the policemen left the premises disappointed.
On the night in question about 30 missiles, including pieces of bricks, stones and etc., were thrown, their weight averaging from four to five ounces.. A suggestion was made that the mischief maker might be a member of the monkey tribe, but dogs were introduced without success, though the stones flew as usual. Information as to these alarming proceedings naturally spread throughout the town, and each evening for the past fortnight the neighbourhood of Beecham’s Pill Works has had an animated appearance.
A crowd of some hundreds of persons has nightly gathered in the vicinity. The police have had some difficulty in keeping the footpaths clear. The superstitious gossip mongers in the vicinity have imagined all sorts of things, and rumours of ‘ghosts and goblins’� having been seen floating about have been circulated on every hand. It is needless to add that these and numberless other assertions are absolutely without foundation. The genuine manifestations have been confined to stone throwing, and of these mysterious occurrences there can be no doubt. A large number of individuals have volunteered to render assistance in ferreting out the ‘invisible one’� and Mr Andrews on several occasions has permitted them to undergo the trying ordeal. he states however that one trial has been sufficient to test the nerves of the bravest among them., and they have manifested an anxious desire to escape to a place of safety at all possible speed.
Another singular part of the affair is the fact that not withstanding all the stones that have been flying about, neither Mr Andrews nor any of those who have witnessed the occurrences have ever been injured or even struck by any of the stones. There have, however, been some very narrow escapes, many of the stones having past within a few inches of the bodies and faces of those present. The only damage to the property inside has been the [dinging?] of doors and other woodwork, while a brass machine also bears evidence of having been struck by a stone. So violent and accurate was the stone throwing a short time ago that it was deemed advisable for the safety of Mr Andrews to erect a wooden partition opposite the main entrance, and this partition still remains.
The excitement attending the affair seemed to reach a culminating point on Sunday evening when some thousands of persons visited the spot. The crush around the doors to look inside the works through crevices in the door was so great that the gate was burst open. From seven o clock on Monday evening until 9 o’clock on Tuesday morning thousands of persons flooded to the neighbourhood, but the crowd was a good deal more orderly than on the previous evening, On Monday night two policemen and six of Mr Beecham’s employees were stationed outside the building while Mr Andrews was on duty inside, with a view of capturing the ‘spirit’.
Notwithstanding these precautions, however, when Mr Andrews paraded the works a large stone of about half a pound in weight was violently thrown and struck the wall near to where he then was. That was the only missile thrown during the night. On Tuesday morning a member of the Salvation Army volunteered to solve the mystery, not by physical means, but he declared that he would invoke divine aid, and since Monday night the stone throwing has ceased. Mr Andrews expressing the opinion to our representative on Thursday that he thought the manifestations would (cease?) ‘for the present’.
He added that he did not think the occurrences were due to any supernatural cause but he thought it was a clever dodge on the part of some scheming individual. In their efforts to the latter men had surrounded the works, been on the roof, stood at every door, and yet the stone throwing had gone on. He observed that one constable who was rambling in the dark through the works in his endeavour to discover the marauder fell down an old sawpit� and so damaged his clothing that the firm produced new articles of clothing for him. The room of the Salvation Army had also been visited by the nocturnal wanderer and on one occasion the drum and money-box were struck, sending a rattle through the room.. Up to Thursday evening the strange affair had not been explained, but as long as it remains in its present state the excitement is not likely to diminish.
Another Visit.
For the last two days hopes have been entertained by Mr Beecham, Mr Andrews, his employees and public generally that the extraordinary performances had ceased, and that the ‘ghost’ had either vanished entirely or removed his quarters. About half past seven o clock on Thursday night however, Mr Andrews and his son went into the works to fetch out their overcoats as the evening was wet. All seemed quiet and Mr Andrews remarked that he should very much like to do a little of the work, which was in arrears owning the disturbances, but that he was almost afraid to stay. He had scarcely uttered the words when a large piece of copper slag, weighing half a pound, came whizzing through the air, rolled over a number of parcels, struck a bench and then dropped to the floor. Neither Mr Andrews nor his son was hurt.
Previous suspicions have been carried into another channel by the following letter which on Thursday was received by Mr Beecham:
  • Dear Sir In reference to the ghost in Lowe-st by Reports I note that you cannot find anything, have you, Sir, Examined the floor. It is my firm opinion that someone Carrying out an illegal Business and that there are subterranean vaults of which you are not aware, it may be a subterranean passage from Cowley Hill (C.M.) Perhaps dynamitards) it is very advisable to be very Cautious in the Proceedings as the consequences might be fatal should you fall on them in their lair they would in all probability be desperate it is quite evident that there are someone there that have no business there, and you are stumbling block in their way, and so they have formed a conspiracy to try and frighten you from the premises.
The envelope bears the Prescot postmark and is addressed to Mr Beecham, pill manufacturer, St Helens, private. The letter bears a signature but until enquiries have been made it is not considered advisable to publish it. Mr Andrews says many persons have an idea that ‘Beecham’s Ghost’ has been ‘got up’ as an advertisement, but he states that no such idea has been entertained, and that the members of the firm are all mystified as to the extraordinary occurrences.!
We can see one of the great ‘traditions of disbelief here; that ghostly things are got up by nefarious people trying to drive the residents out. These tend to be folk devils of the current social panics, here we see the coiners and smugglers of tradition replaced by ‘dynamitards’ (i.e. Anarchists, who occupied the same role as folk devils as do radical Islamists today).
This was not the first industrial haunting in the St Helens area. Peter Underwood in his Ghosts of North-West England (Fontana 1978) records the strange events in a flint glass work and showroom at Croppers Brow in September 1875 when “an industrious loyal and reliable glass engraver”� was interrupted at 3 o clock one Wednesday afternoon by a shower of stones smashing the windows. These did not come from a polt but from a crowd of people outside who claimed that they saw a ghostly face in the window. Clearly there was something of a local tradition for ghost stories to be an excuse for vandalism.
Meanwhile the phantom chucker moved to the leafier Warrington suburb of Stockton Heath, an area that was just beginning the suburbanisation that would accelerated with the building of the Manchester Ship Canal the next decade.
Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, Saturday 31st October, 1885, p.11.
WARRINGTON GHOST STORY. During the past few days (says a Liverpool contemporary) the inhabitants of Stockton Heath, a usually quiet suburb of Warrington, have had their minds considerably agitated by some extraordinary phenomena. A short time ago the public of St. Helens were startled by mysterious operations a certain pill manufactory that were popularly supposed to be due to supernatural agency.
It will be remembered that despite all precautions that could be taken large numbers of stones of rather peculiar appearance wore thrown about the building in all directions in a most unaccountable manner. This took place whenever anyone entered the building, and in the presence large numbers of people, who had been attracted there by the rumours of the mysterious doings In spite, however, of the closest watching no one so far has fathomed the mystery, and a mystery it still remains. From what can be learned it would appear that the ghost, if ghost it be, migrated from the busy manufacturing Lancashire borough to the rural Cheshire village. Here mysterious stone-throwing, similar in character, has been taking place at intervals for some days.
The particular part of the village where this has been going on in close proximity to the churchyard, and the unwelcome visitant has displayed considerable activity. The scene of its operations is one of a row of better-class houses abutting on the high road. Instead of, like the rest of its kind, disturbing the quietude of timorous mortals in the darkness of night, it has not feared to brave the full light of day. The first indication of its presence was the smashing of glass in the greenhouse. At first little notice was taken of this, but when the first stone was succeeded by others, a temporary feeling of annoyance gave way to one of uncomfortable anxiety. The missiles were common paving stones, and after a large quantity of glass had been destroyed it was determined that no effort should be spared to clear up the mystery.
Accordingly sentinels were stationed in front, behind, and on the top of the house. Despite their vigilance, in one day, the third since the commencement of these strange doings, no fewer than twelve fomidable-looking stones were quietly dropped from the direction of the roof on the greenhouse, shattering about as many large panes of glass. A day of quietness intervened, but on the following day the window smashing was repeated in a more singular manner still.
While several people were watching at various points, a crash of breaking glass was heard at the front of the house, and, a rush being made to the spot, an ordinary pane of glass was found to have been broken, and the glass was lying some yards away near a paving stone, and everything pointed to the theory that the stone had been thrown the inside of the house. The singular part of the story is that no one so far as can be ascertained, was in that portion of the house, which was the parlour, and the thing remains shrouded in mystery despite the efforts of the inhabitants and the police.
Warrington Guardian, 24th October 1885 p.5, col. 2.
BEECHAM’S GHOST AT STOCKTON HEATH: During the past week a peculiar affair, which has caused considerable excitement has taken place at Stockton Heath. A clerk employed by Wilderspool Brewery has had nearly twenty widows of his conservatory, which is attached to his private residence, broken. A rigorous look out has been kept both night and day for the depredators but they have not been discovered and some of the credulous attribute the damage to ‘Beechams Ghost’�, which caused so great a sensation at St Helens a short time since, but more sensible people consider it to be the work of some mischievous persons.
  • Four years later a disused flour mill in Warrington was to become the scene of crowd excitement similar to that at Cropper’s Brow.
Liverpool Echo, 5 September 1889.
ALLEGED GHOST AT WARRINGTON. The headless lady. The inhabitants the neighbourhood of Dial Street Warrington, are just now somewhat exercised in their minds regarding the alleged appearance of a ghost and other supernatural mysteries In the street in question there is an old mill formerly used as corn mill by Messers Fairclough, which is now in a state of disuse and neglect. One night this week, it is stated, a strange light was noticed in the building and rumours have since been circulated (about) a ghostly visitant, blood-curdling tales at the same time being told as to what occurred in the locale some time ago.
It said that in the dim and distant past a lady was murdered in the neighbourhood. in question, and that now her spirit haunts the place at that particular hour when “churchyards yawn and .graves give their dead.” Tradition does not say what means were adopted to put an end to the to the life of the poor lady, but as she is reported appear in the spirit in a headless condition; its is surmised that her death must have been a terrible one. The apparition, it is alleged, when the ghostly presence is revealed to unfortunate members of the male sex, give an utterance to a scream (to) literally make the flesh creep, and hence the name of too “Screaming Lady” has been awarded the wandering headless one.

The Butter Boggart of Old Lostock

In my review of  Karl Bell’s The Magical Imagination, I mentioned that there was a story from my own area which I intended to look into, So here it is; the story of the mysterious appearance of butter in an isolated country cottage.

The Place

The locality was one of  two cottages known as Knowsley Cottages (the other being unoccupied at the time), lying just to the west of Moss Lane (now Moss Vale Road) which ran from the Barton-Stretford turnpike in Lostock (now Lostock Road) to Gammershaw Lane (now Stretford Road) in Urmston. The lost village of Lostock was divided between the civil parish of Davyhulme (latter part of Urmston Urban District) and the Borough of Stretford toward the end of the 19th century.

Before the building of the Urmston and Flixton railway stations, the villages of Urmston, Flixton, Davyhulme, Lostock, Croft and etc were rural places, where according to Edwin Waugh writing in 1857 “Even now, the scattered inhabitants are mostly employed in agriculture, and their language and customs savour more of three centuries ago than those which we are used to in manufacturing towns”



Of these locations Lostock was the most underdeveloped, and much of the medieval field system remained. The area remained rural until the mid 1930s when there was a major housing development.

The Personnel.

At the heart of the story lies Samuel Warburton, baptised at St Michael’s Church Flixton on 23 June 1793, and his younger brother William baptised there on 21 October 1799, the sons of William Warburton and his wife Betty Muddiman who were married at St Michael’s on the 19th of October 1784.

Then there is Samuel’s wife Ann Royle, daughter of Benjamin and Betty Royle baptised at St Michael’s on the 27th of July 1788, and whom he married at the Collegiate Church in Manchester on the 12th of January 1815.

The final person in the household is Ann’s great niece Mary Maria Hopwood who was  baptised on 22 August 1841 at the Manchester Collegiate. Samuel, Ann and Mary Maria are the core household, William has come to lodge with them after loosing his job as a schoolmaster in Hulme. The Warburton brothers are devout members of the Primitive Methodist denomination, and the family’s life seems uneventful until the morning of Sunday 22 January 1854, when something very strange starts to happen. The Manchester Times of 4 February takes up the story.


During the recent week a number of the inhabitants in the villages of Stretford and Barton-upon Irwell, near Manchester  have had their wonder excited by a report that in a certain cottage situate in the latter township, occupied by persons of quiet habits and of rather advanced age, there had been innumerable instances of butter spontaneously and marvellously presenting itself, on the floor, the furniture, and the clothing, and even the beds of the occupants, for which they could assign no cause, and by which they were very much alarmed.

The news of this spread to Manchester and Salford. Our reporter found the matter exciting the curiosity a of several individuals who had business at the New Bailey (1) on Thursday. One of them, a farmer, who is the owner of land in the vicinity of the cottage, had himself witnessed the circumstance, and was unable to find any rational solution. Police-constable Bent, (2) whose duties lay in the neighbourhood of Stretford, had also visited the place, but although tolerably clever in detecting parties who are in the habit of illegally taking butter away, lie was unable to discover who could be the contributor of it in the case under notice.

With the view of tracing the odd story about the wondrous butter to its source, our reporter proceeded to the place on Thursday afternoon. The topic, he found, was even rife in the railway Carriages between Manchester and Stretford. Half an-hours walk from the Stretford station sufficed to reach the scene of the alleged mystery, and which, it would seem, was threatening to supersede the good offices of that useful animal, the cow, which has hitherto had the sole monopoly of supplying us with butter. The cottage is situate about six miles west of Manchester, between Stretford and Barton Bridge, a little to the right of Moss Lane, a few hundred yards beyond Lostock Hall. There are two double-story thatched cottages adjoining, having gardens and door in front, but only one of these is tenanted. There is no other house within 200 yards, and the others are thinly scattered, and at greater distances.

The cottage, which has a brook running close at his rear, is occupied by Samuel Warburton, a man about 60 years of age (who we understand, has a small income, and weaves  a little cotton plaid in a room within the house), his wife, William Warburton (a brother), nearly 60 years old, and a girl about 12, the daughter of a relative. William Warburton has also a small income, and was, during some part of last year, a schoolmaster in Hulme, (3) but is not now so engaged. On entering the cottage, our reporter found these four persons within, and a very few words sufficed to explain the object of his visit, for that was anticipated, as many had already preceded him to make inquiries. A glance around the apartment revealed the fact that he was in the fat of the land, for butter seemed to have budded from every description of substance from living boughs of holly to dead veneers of mahogany, and even glass.

The door had been closed but a few minutes, when a knock was heard. On its being opened, a gentleman remarked, ” How do you do, Mrs Warburton; I have heard a strange story, and I am come to investigate it.” He was desired to take a seat, and was tolerably silent while the inmates gave an account of what seems to them an inpenetrable mystery. They are all professors of religion, and attend the services of the Primitive Methodist Connection (4). This may not apply to the girl, but she seems steady, and has been several years with her relatives, who have occupied this house about fifteen years. William Warburton, the younger brother, we may remark, was the owner of the house in Urmston where the celebrated Tim Bobbin was born .(5) The following is the narration of the parties: (6)

Samuel Warburton: ‘The first time we noticed anything particular was last Sunday but one. Just before breakfast, we saw several bits of butter on the floor, upon some of which we had trodden. William (the younger brother) had gone out, and we thought he must have accidentally spilled some. Nothing was said or thought of further until last Saturday, in the forenoon, when he again observed little bits of butter on the floor.

Mrs. Warburton: I said to my husband, it must have been done by William (who had gone to Manchester at the time), he must have had his coat amongst the butter, and then have shaken his coat, and so thrown the bits about; for I found them against the drawer, the cupboard, the sofa, the clock, the table, and all round.

Samuel Warburton: The girl sleeps in a bed in our room, and my brother William in another room. On Saturday night, they went to their beds about nine o’clock, but I stayed up with my wife, to have a little talk, and a pipe of tobacco. It would be after one when we went to bed. We noticed nothing on the stairs that night, but on Sunday morning there was not, I believe, a single step without butter upon it. It seemed, in many instances, as if we had trodden upon it  on Saturday night. We followed the track into each room, and there were marks on the, carpets. At first we thought  this had come off’ our shoes, but we don’t think so now. We found a piece upon my brother’s bolster, also on his night cap. Than we examined the bed clothes, and we found some between the two quilts, which were on the top of the bed; and another piece, being the larger, at  the bottom of the bed, where his feet might lie.

He had gone to Manchester, and it kept us busy all the forenoon clearing it away. A piece of paper we found at the top part of the bed by the girl, with butter upon it, but we believe that had only had the butter wiped upon it which we collected, and then accidentally let the paper fall. There were  several bits of butter found in our room, too. On Sunday morning last, my brother got up first, as usual, had lighted the fire. He goes to the Primitive Methodist Sunday school, to teach. I and my wife came down stairs about nine o’clock, and we found that bits of butter were all about the floor, and sticking to the furniture.

Mrs. Warburton: I had occasion to go into the garden, and took my shawl out of the drawer; I saw nothing on the shawl when I went out, but when I came in, after a few minutes, there was a large piece upon it.

Will. Warburton: I found a piece inside my coat, before I set off to the school, in Urmston; (7) and when I came home there was a piece on my trousers.

Samuel Warburton: We kept picking it off the furniture, and still we found it, On Sunday, after dinner, it was again a on the furniture. As we sat by the fire we kept observing it on our clothes. We never saw it coming, an know not how it came. On Sunday evening, I and my brother were going to public service (8), but my wife and the girl, owing to it, did not like to stay by themselves, so we arranged for or my brother to stay with them. When I put my coat on to go there were pieces of butter on it, and my wife took a  number off, and then, when she thought I were partly clean, she said, “Will’t be off, while thou’s decent.” (9)

Mrs. Warburton (appearing very serious): I could not keep straight with it, and I said, “Will’t be off while that only a bit like.”

Samuel Warburton: When I come back from the preaching, they told me they had been standing by the fire, picking the butter off each other’s clothes, They threw it into the fire and it burned.

Mrs. Warburton: At last I said, “Let’s sit down, and let it do as it likes” for I was weary. It never came on our skins, but I found one piece between my dress and my petticoats, and two pieces on my cap, and the girl had some on  her hair,

Samuel Warburton: On Monday morning it continued to appear on the furniture, and instead of burning it, as we had done, we determined to keep it. About nine o’clock, I d collected what I could see, and put it on that piece of pot on the table. I thought that it must be some black thing or other, and I have a  Herbal, and read in this book that holly boughs were good against witchcraft. (10) I thought, “Well, I can easily get them, I’ll try that.” So I got three holly boughs, and I hung them up to the ceiling of the house, and in half an hour there was a piece of butter on every bough So that 1 am satisfied that holly boughs can do no good.

Mrs. Warburton: As we were going to wash, the girl was  putting water into a boiler in a little scullery, and she called me to look at a piece of butter sticking to the side of the boiler.

Samuel Warburton: I weave a little plaid cotton, in a small room adjoining the kitchen, and, on Monday forenoon, when I went to work at my loom there were two pieces of butter on the cloth, and other two pieces on the panes of  glass. I read a passage of scripture every morning; and on Monday I was surprised to find several bits of butter between  the leaves of different parts of my Bible; and they were not in the places where I had read.

The Bible was then shown, and the greasy marks were  visible enough. Of course there was nothing in the stained places referring to the importation of foreign butter, but to satisfy the curiosity of any who might wish to examine for themselves, we may state that the first mark was in 1st Saml. (Chap.6, v.5)  and 1st Saml. (Chap.9, v.2-3); Isaiah (Chap. 57, v.1) and another between the  v. and vii. chapters of Revelations.

It was stated that there had been no obvious accumulation since Monday noon, although a few bits were noted on the furniture on Tuesday morning which were not seen on Monday. On Tuesday the head family invited the Rev. J. Garner, Primitive Methodist preacher residing in Warde Street, Hulme (11) (and who was to preach in the neighbourhood) to take tea with him. The particulars of the unusual situation were discussed, but no explanation could be given.

No clear notion of the weight of the butter thus collected could be ascertained, but as the bits were only from the size of a bean to that of a  nut, it would probably not exceed a few ounces,. although the master of the house said he must have burned hundreds of them.

In answer to various questions, it does not appear that it can be the interest of anyone to frighten them from the house. The house is so isolated, and there are no mischievous boys about, and no one has been near the house.  No broken panes were observed, through which the pellets of butter could be introduced, nor does it seem likely they could have come from without, as they were found in the chambers, and inside two other small rooms down stairs, and at the time our reporter vas present there were fourteen or fifteen bits collected together, a few of which were brought to Manchester, and there can. be no doubt of its really being butter, from various tests; there were four or five bits adhering to the front of the mahogany drawers; two upon a bookcase, one of them on the glass; three on a waistcoat belonging to the younger brother, the schoolmaster, and three on the holly boughs. one it the frame of a sampler, and another or two on the weaving rooms, inside.

That there can be no such thing as butter springing out of  glass, is evident enough; the whole must, of course, be a trick, but it has hitherto been so ingeniously accomplished,  that the perpetrator of the deception is undiscovered. The bits of butter are very varied in shape, and although some of them have an appearance which would suggest the probability of their being sucked in the mouth and then ejected, yet others are so irregularly shaped as to preclude any such  supposition. One thing was noticeable, however, that some  of them had struck the surface obliquely (as drops of rain do when falling against vertical panes of glass), and thus slid along a little, and thus left a mark at the point of first contact. This ought to have been sufficient to have .prevented the idea which the old people seem to entertain, that the substance might possibly grow where it was found.

The young girl does not appear to have anything about her indicative of the artfulness which a series  of’ tricks of this kind would imply. The manner in which the old man and woman speak about the circumstances, and seem to be affected by them, would lead even an observer of the deceptiveness of human nature to acquit them of any participation it the fraud.

Probably the reader of the above will think that the “schoolmaster” is the most  likely person to explain the matter.


The rival Manchester Courier and Lancashire Advertiser also published the story on the same day, a shorter piece but giving some additional information.

The Manchester Courier and Lancashire and General Advertiser of Saturday 4th February 1854, p. 7 col. 7.

Mysterious production of butter in a cottage

The labouring population of Lostock near Stretford are in a state of some excitement in consequence of a mysterious and very novel mode in which butter has been supplied to the inhabitants of a cottage in Moss Lane, leading to Urmston from the turnpike and between Stretford and Barton Bridge.

The inmates of the cottage are a couple named Warburton, near sixty years of age, a brother of Mr Warburton who is, we should guess between forty and fifty, and a girl of about 12, a relative of Mrs Warburton. Warburton has some little property and also follows and occupation of handloom weaver; the brother is a schoolmaster, but has been out of employment since Christmas, and the girl takes a share in the homework.

Last Sunday week when Mr and Mrs Warburton got up, they observed lumps of butter varying in the size from the bulk of a bean to that of a small nut and they thought that Mr William Warburton had been getting something to eat, and had been careless with the butter, which it should be stated, he purchases for himself along with other provisions.

The week passed over without any more appearances, but on the following Saturday morning, a quantity was observed on the floor. They thought it belonged to William, who had gone out, but they were puzzled, when in the course of the forenoon, they found it sticking upon the furniture, where they had not observed it before.

On Sunday morning they found it upon the steps heading to the bedroom, upon the bedroom floor in patches as though it had been trodden into the room, upon the beds, and upon various articles of clothing. In some places it appeared  as if it had been patted on, in others as if it had been rubbed on by a finger. The old man and woman are members of the Primitive Methodist Society and the brother is a teacher in the Sunday School connected to the chapel of that body near the house, and on putting on his clothes to go to school he found the butter adhering to his clothes. It was with some difficulty he was put in proper trim to go to school , and when he came home at noon, he found a lump sticking to his leg.

While he had been out the old couple and the girl has so much to do in picking it off their clothes that they had not got the dinner ready, and they were both puzzled and worried. it got into impossible places, between Mrs Warburton’s gown and petticoat, inside the collar of a waistcoat and, on Monday, three lumps were actually found inside a bible. There was another visitation on that day, and on the last time we have heard of, appeared on Tuesday. The only man having heard that holly bushes are a check to witches, thought he would try if they were any good, though he had no faith in them, and got three, but they had not been up many minutes before a lump adorned them. Many persons have visited the house and declare, from having tasted it, that the substance is butter, rather old and “turnipy” but without any flavour of sulphur. It burns in the fire as butter would, and without any blue accompaniment. If any more should make its appearance, we will examine the matter and report more at length.

Despite this publicity neither paper ever referred to the matter again, and one has to presume after the Rev Garner’s visit the events ceased.  No doubt if such a story were reported today it would be ascribed to a poltergeist, albeit a reasonably well behaved one. At the time William seems to have been the chief suspect, perhaps because people thought that a schoolmaster might be a better trickster than a young girl, but the latter clearly fits into Frank Podmore’s stereotype of the bored young girl.

Life cannot have been easy for a girl verging on her teens living with a strongly religious elderly couple in an isolated spot, and that may have been exacerbated by the arrival of schoolmaster William. Perhaps she had to give up her own room to him, hence her sharing a room with the elderly couple.

However as we saw, at the time it seems to have been attributed to witchcraft, or at least to some “dark thing”.

One explanation of the period would have been the actions of a boggart. Boggarts were quite well known in the district, the road at the southern end of Moss Lane, Gammershaw Lane, was the haunt of a notorious boggart, though no-one ever seems to have given a clear description of it. Along the Barton-Stretford turnpike was a house called by the Victorians the boggart house, though whether this referred to an alleged haunting, or was a Victorian euphemism for ‘bugged’, (local term for stupid or ruined) as that was how it was described in the 18th century Stretford Parish Registers.

Mary Maria stuck it out however, she was still there at the time of the 1861 censuses, and when Samuel died on the 25 June 1864, she was the main executor of his will. By 1871 she had gone and her widowed mother Mary Hopwood Snr. had come to look after her aunt.

The cottages remained in existence into the early twentieth century, apparently now run together into a house called locally “The Butterhouse” after the incident, but memories were vague and confused. In one of two histories of the district written for the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria but not published until the following year. Richard Lawson, the Head Master of the Urmston Higher Grade School wrote;

“THE BUTTERHOUSE. This farmhouse still standing on the left hand side of Moss Road, was the subject of a supposed mystery, about the year 1848; it was then occupied by Samuel Warburton and his wife. A greasy substance, resembling butter was supposed to have unaccountably appeared on the walls, furniture, pictures but especially the leaves of the family bible; in fact everywhere except Sam’s suite of Sunday clothes. It is generally supposed the author of this ‘mystery’ was Warburton himself, due to mental alienation.” (Lawson, Richard.  A History of Flixton, Urmston and Davyhulme. The author, 1898, p.123)

This area was finally urbanised in the mid 1930s and became an estate of semi-detached houses. No trace of the old cottages remains, and I have not been able to find a photograph of it.



1. New Bailey: the old prison in Salford, opened in 1787 and closed in 1868.

2. Police Constable Bent.  James Bent (1828-1901), In 1853 he was the constable for Lostock and Davyhulme. By 1868 he had risen to the Superintendent at Stretford in the Lancashire Police. He was noted for his work with destitute children, and was author of  My Criminal Life. (1891) He does not refer to the incident in this book, but does confess that as a young man he was much afraid of ghosts and the like, mainly from reading too many “penny dreadfuls”

3. Not traced; in the 1851 census William was lodging with John Owen a farmer at Pownall Fee in Cheshire, probably a distant relative, Samuel and William’s grandfather was John Owen alias Warburton. Hulme was a suburb of Manchester, already it was an industrial area. In 1851 the population was 53,482

4. Primitive Methodist, a radical evangelical and essentially working class breakaway from the mainstream Methodist Movement, starting from a camp meeting at Mow Cop in Staffordshire in 1807. Regarded as ‘emotional’ and ‘enthusiastic’ by its critics. Both its founders William Clowes and Hugh Bourne believed in witches and boggarts. Handloom weavers and petty property owners like the Warburtons were the sort of people attracted. By 1854 the denomination was edging much closer to respectability.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Primitive_Methodism and http://www.methodist.org.uk/index.cfm?fuseaction=opentogod.content&cmid=1619)

5. Tim Bobbin, John Collier (1708-1786) was a Lancashire dialect writer of both prose and poetry, he was the son of a local schoolmaster, and was born in a house in Church Lane (Church Road) in Urmston. However the actual house was demolished by this period, and its exact location was disputed, Warburton presumably owned one of the cottages on the most probable site. For more details on Collier and his house see the Waugh reference above.

6. These purport to be verbatim transcripts, yet they are all in suspiciously standard English, not the heavy local dialect (briefly used in the bit about Sam’s suit.

7. I have not been able to locate this Sunday School

8. Possibly the Primitive Methodist Chapel in Davyhulme Road built in 1853.

9. The couple may have been bilingual in standard English and Lancashire but it is perhaps more probable that the editor has standardised the speech and perhaps altered in other ways.

10. Briefly mentioned in A Dictionary of Superstitions edited by Iona Opie and Moira Tatem Oxford University Press, 1992 pp.200-01 and Steve Roud The Penguin Guide to the Superstitions of Britain and Ireland. Penguin Books, 2003 p.250.

11. James Garner 1809- 1895, was a noted member of the Primitive Methodist Community (born in Leake, Nottinghamshire) and spent much of his career in the nearby Cheshire town of Sale.

* * * * *

The Lostock area was relatively unchanged as late as 1910, and a comparison with a modern map can be found here. http://maps.cheshire.gov.uk/tithemaps/  You should enter ‘Sale’ township and move slowly north-west at high magnification to find the locality.



The Magonia Problem.
David Halperin


by David Halperin

– 1 –

One day not long after the year 800, Agobard, archbishop of Lyon, found himself in exactly the right place to stop a lynching. Lucky thing for three men and one woman, who were said to have fallen from ships that sailed through the sky.

Vis-à-vis the aerial ships, Agobard was what we’d now call a “debunker.” If he were alive today, he’d probably be in CSICOP. Or maybe not: the foundation of his skepticism was that the popular beliefs he devoted himself to debunking were contrary to Holy Scripture.

But let Agobard tell the story:

But we have seen and heard of many people overcome with so much foolishness, made crazy by so much stupidity, that they believe and say that there is a certain region, which is called Magonia, from which ships come in the clouds. In these ships the crops that fell because of hail and were lost in storms are carried back into that region; evidently these aerial sailors make a payment to the storm-makers [Tempestariis], and take the grain and other crops. Among those so blinded with profound stupidity that they believe these things could happen we have seen many people in a kind of meeting, exhibiting four captives, three men and one woman, as if they had fallen from these very ships. As I have said, they exhibited these four, who had been chained up for some days, with such a meeting finally assembling in our presence, as if these captives ought to be stoned. But when the truth had prevailed, however, after much argument, the people who had exhibited the captives, in accordance with the prophecy (Jeremiah 2:26), “were confounded … as the thief is confounded when he is taken.”

(From Agobard, Against the Multitude’s Absurd Belief Concerning Hail and Thunder, chapter 2; translated by Wendy Lewis http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/Agobard-OnHailandThunder.asp)

Obviously—the skyships were “really” extraterrestrial vehicles, the three men and the woman “really” humanoid beings from other planets. That’s what the UFOlogists of the 1950s and 1960s would have said. It was left for Jacques Vallee, in a groundbreaking book published in 1969, to float the idea that the obvious resemblances between reported UFOnaut behavior, and traditional beliefs about “little men” and “fairy folk,” pointed instead to some transcendent realm which we humans can’t grasp as it really is, and therefore try to force into whatever categories our culture approves. For Biblical prophets like Ezekiel, the appropriate conventionalization might be “visions of God.” For us, it’s space-age technology.

Vallee took his code name for this realm from Agobard’s story. He entitled his book Passport to Magonia: From Folklore to Flying Saucers. From there “Magonia” entered UFOlogical discourse, where it remains to this day.

But what and where was Magonia? Who were the four people alleged to have come from there? Nice that Agobard (or somebody voicing arguments similar to Agobard’s) seems to have kept them from being stoned to death—but what gave the crowd the idea in the first place that they ought to be stoned? Agobard gives hardly a clue. A true “debunker,” he’s more interested in mocking than in understanding.

Getting behind a 1300-year-old story is seldom easy. But it can’t hurt to try.

– 2 –

What exactly is Magonia? I learn from Miceal Ross’s fascinating article “Anchors in a Three-Decker World” (in the 1998 volume of the journal Folklore) that the etymology of the name is a subject of dispute. Some derive it from Greek magoi, Latin magi, “magicians,” and understand it as “land of the magicians.” This is the derivation that’s always made sense to me. But there’s another theory, associated with the famous nineteenth-century folklorist Jakob Grimm, that links Magonia to Old High German maganwetar, “whirlwind.” As far as I know, the name occurs nowhere but in this Agobard passage.

Let’s grant that Agobard must be right: the three men and the woman were ordinary human beings. Magonia and the Magonians never existed. But the Tempestarii to whom they paid their tolls surely did. To judge from Agobard’s references, these “storm-makers” were as real, and every bit as pathetic, as the nasty old women who got burned at the stake in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries when some witch-hunter decided they had near-infinite powers of malignity hiding behind their feeble exteriors. Agobard doesn’t deny that the “storm-makers” are actual, identifiable people. Only, he says, they can’t possibly have the magical mastery of weather that his contemporaries credit them with.

Homunculi, “little men,” he calls them (ch. 14). The term might evoke Vallee’s elfin folk and our modern UFO aliens, but it probably conveys only Agobard’s contempt for the storm-makers’ insignificance. They’re hated by their neighbors, he says, who at every passing breeze curse them as gale-raisers. He tells a rather funny anecdote (ch. 7) about someone who assured him he’d witnessed one storm-maker’s wonders with his own eyes, yet backed off under cross-examination and admitted he wasn’t actually there at the time. He complains about a similar sort of folk, believed to have the power to ward off storms in exchange for a share of the farmer’s crop—and about the so-called Christians who can’t be bothered to pay tithes for the church or the deserving poor, yet are only too eager to buy protection from these fakers.

It’s a hardscrabble, superstition-ridden world Agobard calls up for us, where a hailstorm might doom an entire village to starvation while sky-riding “Magonians” feast off the fruits of their broken backs. Not very long before, Agobard tells us at the end of his treatise, a cattle plague was blamed on poison dust scattered through the fields by Charlemagne’s enemies. Whole crowds of people were scapegoated and lynched for the impossible crime, perversely insisting on their own guilt as they died. In a world like this, what’s extraordinary about three men and a woman almost stoned for falling from airships?

Yet as I read Agobard’s story I sense a residue of bafflement, something pointing beyond simple superstition toward “Magonia,” in Vallee’s sense of the word . And to an oddly similar story from a different time and place, told by a dead man whom I’ve come to know exceedingly well, which may (or may not) give the key to what happened in Lyon centuries earlier. You be the judge.

– 3 –

This man is usually known as Abraham Cardozo, though he was christened Miguel at birth and carried that name with him until he died.

He was born in Spain in 1627, to a family that once had been Jewish but accepted Catholicism at the end of the fifteenth century, when the Iberian Jews were given the choice of conversion or exile. Not all such families preserved their ancestral Judaism in secret—confessions of “Judaizing,” extracted by Inquisitional tortures, are often suspect. But the Cardozos did. At age six, little Miguel knew he was a Jew beneath his Christian façade. At age 21 he fled to Venice and formally converted. That was when he took the name “Abraham,” after Judaism’s first convert.

He became a physician, then a Hebrew scholar, then a Kabbalist—a devotee of Judaism’s mystic doctrine. In 1665, when a Turkish Jew named Sabbatai Zevi became an international celebrity by proclaiming himself Messiah, Cardozo was among the thousands who believed. He kept on believing even after 1666, when Sabbatai scandalized his followers by converting to Islam.

Cardozo knew what it was to profess a religion you didn’t really believe—Islam in Sabbatai’s case, Christianity in Cardozo’s. He conceived that he also was Messiah, Sabbatai’s mirror and partner; and when Sabbatai died without doing what Cardozo believed was the Messiah’s task, of revealing the secret identity of God, Cardozo took it upon himself. Until his death in 1706, he wandered among the cities of the Turkish Empire, expounding upon the relation between God and the Supreme Being. (Hint: they’re not the same.) He performed magic rites to bring about the messianic redemption. He maintained a lively intercourse with the world of ghosts and demons.

Insane, you say? Probably. (You might have turned out a little odd too, growing up in the shadow of the Spanish Inquisition.) Yet extraordinary—intellectually brilliant, dazzling in his utter sincerity and devotion to Judaism as he understood it, which happened to be different from the way nearly every other Jew of his time did. For years I’ve felt admiration and spiritual kinship with this man, and eventually published translations of his Hebrew writings under the title Abraham Miguel Cardozo: Selected Writings (Paulist Press, 2001). The story I’m about to tell may be found, with more detail and citation of sources, in that book.

– 4 –

It takes place in July 1683. Cardozo was at the time living by the Dardanelles, a hunted exile. He’d predicted Redemption for the spring of 1682; prophecy, as often, had failed. Its failure was not just embarrassment but disaster. Cardozo’s Jewish enemies, fed up with him, were rumored to have planned a lynching. He fled.

From this time of exile and humiliation, Cardozo reports the following experience:

On Tammuz 11, 5443 [= July 5, 1683], one hour before nightfall, as I was descending into my garden from my upper chamber, I looked up and saw the moon. “I see what appear to be shapes on the moon,” I said to the people of my household. They looked and said: “There are four shapes: Messiah ben David, Rabbi Nathan, Rabbi Isaac Luria, and a fourth shape that looks to be a woman.”

Cardozo lists five witnesses beside himself. They know, or think they know, who the three men on the moon are: Sabbatai Zevi, the Messiah descended from David; Sabbatai’s prophet Nathan of Gaza; and the sixteenth-century Kabbalist Isaac Luria. Three ghosts, in other words (for both Sabbatai and Nathan had died years earlier); and it comes as a shock when, later on, Cardozo discovers the three are not what they seem to be. No one tries to guess the woman’s identity.

Now I could see them clearly. “After our meal,” I told the others, “we shall say the evening prayer. They shall tell us then what their appearance in the moon today may betoken. It has been many years since they visited us, sitting and speaking with us. This is a certain indication that something new has come to be, and after the prayer, we shall know what it is.”

(Am I the only one who’s reminded of the Anglican missionary William Booth Gill, who on June 26-27, 1959, at Boianai, Papua New Guinea, saw close-up a hovering illuminated disk with four humanoid pilots? And who interrupted his contemplation of the extraordinary craft to eat dinner and lead a church service?)

About a half-hour past nightfall they began to speak with us from the moon, loudly, in human voices. We could hear them as distinctly as though they were conversing with us in the garden. I told them that the spot was ritually pure and that they might stand upon the trees, which they proceeded to do. They spoke that night for about two hours. They imparted attractive interpretations of the Bible, considered according to its literal meaning. They discussed Kabbalistic subjects with accuracy. And, after bidding us adieu, they departed.

The next day they visited me in my upper chamber, conversing with me as was their wont. I did not recognize them; I believed they really were the Messiah, and Rabbi Isaac Luria, and Rabbi Nathan.

The three men, in other words; the woman seems to have stayed on the moon. Gradually Cardozo unmasks his three visitors. They are not, as he and his friends first imagined, spirits of the blessed dead. They’re three demons, come to seduce him into misbelief.

Foul are the blasphemies the evil three pronounce. God, they tell Cardozo, has been stripped of His power by the Supreme Being; Satan now rules the world. Once God was able to drown Pharaoh in the sea, to kill Sennacherib within his camp. Now, the demons demand—if He has any power at all, let Cardozo call upon Him to send fire to burn them up! Cardozo accepts their challenge. But, horribly, it’s upon Cardozo himself that the fire descends.

For days Cardozo lies in his bed, teetering on the edge of death with fiebre ardiente, burning fever. Dressed in black, the three men stand by his bedside, declaring it their demon-god’s delight to do to him as his God once did to Pharaoh. Their black clothing has its roots in Talmudic legend; yet it’s striking that this is the first time “three men in black” put in an appearance. They will re-appear in Bridgeport, Connecticut, 270 years later—as Gray Barker relates in They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers—to terrorize Albert K. Bender into abandoning his UFO researches.

Of course all this is Cardozo’s hallucination. That his friends also see the foursome on the moon is a problem, but not much of one. Throughout his life Cardozo had a talent for getting others to share his hallucinatory experiences, to enter with him into a complex folie à deux, to see things that were never there to be seen. It’s likely enough, actually, that his memories of the whole episode were a fever-hallucination, the beginnings of which he projected back to the time just before he fell ill. His moon-woman, his three moon-men, never had any physical existence. In this they differ from Agobard’s Magonian Four, who were plainly flesh-and-blood human beings.

Yet the parallel is haunting. A quaternity in the celestial realms, three men and one woman. They descend, three of them or all four, to earth. Their purpose is sinister and malignant. (And in case you wonder what evil beings would be doing in the sky rather than somewhere down below, the idea of “spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” is as old as the New Testament: Ephesians 6:12.)

Forget the gap of nearly nine centuries that separates Agobard’s report from Cardozo’s. Can their resemblance be coincidence?

Well, of course it can.

The more fruitful question is, is it coincidence? Or is there another hypothesis that works better, that correlates and explains the two testimonies in a more satisfying way than treating their resemblance as random and accidental? I think there is. And as I’ve tipped you off with my use of the word “quaternity,” this hypothesis is rooted in the psychology of Carl Jung.

– 5 –

I’m not a Jungian, not exactly. The mystagogic quality of Jung’s writings has always put me off. More than once I’ve found myself asking, as I read him: why can’t he just say what he means, show us the evidence, and let us decide for ourselves? (The way I hope I’ve done with you, in this essay.)

Yet, during my three decades of research in some of the odder byways of Jewish mysticism, I’ve kept coming up against texts which Jung is highly unlikely to have been aware of, yet which best make sense through his explanatory models. The ancient rabbinic doctrines of the merkavah (the chariot seen by Ezekiel, chapter 1), for example, show us a quaternity very like the hypothetical Quaternity of which the Christian Trinity is a mutilated relic: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, plus the Fourth, the Devil. (Jung develops this idea in “A Psychological Approach to the Dogma of the Trinity,” in Psychology and Religion: West and East, vol. 20 in the Bollingen edition, pp. 109-200. I discuss the rabbinic materials in my book The Faces of the Chariot: Early Jewish Responses to Ezekiel’s Vision, Tübingen, J.C.B. Mohr, 1988.)

Cardozo also knows a divine, or at least messianic, quaternity. It’s the same Jungian 3 + 1 pattern—three alike, the fourth tied to the three yet in some significant way different. Developing an ancient Jewish tradition of two Messiahs, Cardozo tells us there will be four: Messiah son of David, Messiah son of Joseph, Moses redivivus, and Elijah returned from heaven. Only—here Cardozo bowls a major googly—he’s not quite sure whether the fourth Messiah will really be Elijah after all. Maybe it will be a she, a woman Messiah, the She-Who-Brings-Good-News-To-Zion of Isaiah 40:9. This female Messiah has no precedent in Jewish tradition. She’s the Jungian Fourth, in a quaternity that’s no longer 3 divine + 1 demonic (as in Ezekiel’s vision), but 3 male + 1 female.

In Cardozo’s vision of 1683, this quaternity is transplanted to the moon. Degraded, in the process, from messianic to demonic. (But Cardozo admits: they had him fooled for a while.)

There’s more to Cardozo’s vision than Jungian psychology. I have no doubt that the unnamed moon-woman came to him, at least in part, from unconscious or half-conscious memories of his Catholic childhood. Seventeenth-century Spain was awash with paintings and sculptures of the Immaculate Conception, showing the Blessed Virgin as a beautiful young girl standing on the moon. (There’s a particularly gorgeous painting of this genre by Velázquez, done about eight years before Cardozo was born http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/diego-velazquez-the-immaculate-conception.) Often the Virgin is accompanied by three male cherubic figures, whose wings could have suggested to an impressionable child that they might fly down from the moon to pay us a visit, while the Lady remains above.

Will this contradict the Jungian explanation of the vision, or render it unnecessary? Not at all. The two supplement each other. The archetypes clothe themselves in the cultural garb of the time and place in which they appear. And who knows?—the tendency of Spanish artists to give the Virgin three cherubic attendants may itself have been influenced by the quaternity archetype.

You may say: this is well and good for a psychic production, a hallucinatory vision like Cardozo’s. But do the archetypes become flesh, as they must if we’re to use them to make sense of Agobard’s story?

Jung himself asked much the same question …

– 6 –

In the final chapter of his classic Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies (1958), after demonstrating at length the psychic associations of the UFO, Jung confronts the problem: UFOs can be photographed. UFOs can appear on the radar screen. And if they’re psychological—how can this be?

It boils down to nothing less than this: that either psychic projections throw back a radar echo, or else the appearance of real objects affords an opportunity for mythological projections. …

If these things are real—and by all human standards it hardly seems possible to doubt this any longer—then we are left with only two hypotheses: that of their weightlessness on the one hand and of their psychic nature on the other. This is a question I for one cannot decide. … But the psychic aspect plays so great a role that it cannot be left out of account. The discussion of it, as I have tried to show, leads to psychological problems which involve just as fantastic possibilities or impossibilities as the approach from the physical side … psychology, too, has not only the right but also the duty to do what it can to shed light on this dark problem.

The question of anti-gravity is one which I must leave to the physicists, who alone can inform us what chances of success such an hypothesis has. The alternative hypothesis that Ufos are something psychic that is equipped with certain physical properties seems even less probable, for where should such a thing come from? If weightlessness is a hard hypothesis to swallow, then the notion of a materialized psychism opens a bottomless void under our feet …

Fortunately, there are less drastic ways by which psychic phenomena can take on physical reality. The extent to which these can be applied to the more baffling modern UFO experiences, and the manner of their application, are questions upon which I’m not yet prepared to offer an opinion. But for Agobard’s Magonians, I think they’ll work.

I’m thinking of the mechanism called projection, to which Jung alludes in the quote above. The term refers to our psychological habit, nearly unbreakable, of projecting what’s going on inside us onto people or situations in the external world. These persons or situations are sometimes wholly innocent of what we attribute to them, blank screens for our projections. Sometimes they collude, consciously or unconsciously, with our projections, in which case they confirm the illusion of reality that we’ve created. But the essential process remains the same. What we won’t recognize within us, we conceive to be out there.

Sometimes, by taking action based on our projection we can make it be out there, in the manner of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I imagine something of the sort happened in Agobard’s Lyon. For reasons I can’t guess, the quaternity archetype of 3 + 1 had taken on a peculiar power and intensity in the collective psyche of the people of his time. (Like Jung, I do believe in a psyche that transcends the individual.) The archetype is a pattern, a form; it goes in search of matter to be formed, reality to be patterned and organized. One day early in the ninth century, the quaternity archetype encountered its matching reality.

That reality, no doubt, was something altogether banal. A fortuitous grouping of three men and one woman—that by itself, perhaps, was enough to invoke the archetype. Or perhaps these people were seen conversing with one of the reputed Tempestarii, arranging something that looked like an exchange of goods or promises. In came the archetype, investing the situation, and the unfortunate individuals caught up in it, with its own uncanny numinosity.

And the populace, seeing its internal “spiritual hosts of wickedness” made flesh before its eyes, set about stoning them.


My thanks to Dr. Thomas E. Bullard, author of The Myth and Mystery of UFOs (University Press of Kansas, 2010), for his read of this essay and his insightful comments thereon.


David Halperin was a teenage UFO investigator in the 1960s. Later he became a Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill—his specialty, religious traditions of heavenly ascent and otherworldly journeys. His novel Journal of a UFO Investigator was published in the USA by Viking Press this past year. It appeared in Spanish translation in 2010; Italian and German editions are scheduled for 2012. David blogs about UFOs, religion, and related subjects at: www.davidhalperin.net.


The Last Warrington Witch.
Peter Rogerson

We associate the late survival of witchcraft beliefs into the Victorian age with remote rural settlements, so it comes as surprise to see them associated with a quintessential Northern industrial town.

Warrington, between Manchester and Liverpool, was in the mid Victorian period a rapidly growing industrial town, drawing in people from all parts, including not just the surrounding areas of Lancashire and Cheshire, but from Ireland, Scotland, Wales, the Midlands and the Black Country. Unlike the traditional Lancashire mill towns it was far from a one-industry town, with traditional industries such as tanning, textiles and tool and pin-making, vying with the new big industries of brewing, soap and chemicals and heavy iron and steel. Between 1871 and 1881 the population rose from 29,984 to 40,957. It is against this background that the following story appeared in one of the main local newspapers, The Warrington Examiner, 16 September 1876.

Alleged Witchcraft

A man and his wife named Jackson were summoned for beating an old woman named Maria Platt, aged 84 years of age. She stated that during a dispute about the right of placing a clothesline in the yard at Dial Court, the female defendant struck her with a clothesline and her husband knocked complainant down and threatened to kill her. When on the floor she received blows from both of them. In answer to the defendants’ solicitor she denied that she got a living from telling fortunes, but said that the defendant, Mrs Jackson, had cups, cards and glasses for the use of fortune tellers which she offered to sell her.

The defendants’ solicitor said his witnesses would not come up to court, as the complainant bore the reputation of being a witch and a fortune teller and neighbours were afraid that if they gave evidence against her she would bewitch them. Parents would not let their children come and were afraid to come themselves. It was very lamentable that there could be such gross and ignorant superstition in Warrington but such was the case. The bench considered the case proved and fined each of the defendants £1 and cost and bound over to keep the peace for 6 months

It is always difficult to accurately assess the value of money, but £1 in 1876 would probably buy goods equivalent to £60-£70 in today’s money, but in terms of average earnings it was more like £500.

The main rival newspaper also reported the case, their report contained a number of errors, but did give voices to the people involved.

Maria Platt says: (A)t dinner time … Mrs Jackson went up to her door and used very abusive language towards her and afterwards attacked her, and beat her with a clothes line about the head. (Mr Jackson) then came up and struck her on the face and knocked her down. She was then picked up by some of the neighbours, and was being taken down the yard when (Jackson) came up and knocked her down again, her face striking the ground and maintaining a severe cut. She had never given the least provocation and though it was shame that her at her age she should be subject to such treatment.

The only witnesses are for the prosecution, Ellen Reaney or Ready who said “she saw Mrs Jackson with the clothes line several times”. When the witness interfered Mrs Jackson struck her also. Mr. Jackson came up and knocked the old woman down and “abused her in many ways”. Another witness ,Alice Thompson, Maria’s next door neighbour also reported seeing the two women fighting and that she saw Mrs Jackson knock the old woman down and strike her with a clothes line.

The defence solicitor, Mr Bretherton, said:

There was some dispute between the two parties about putting up a clothes line, and the old woman interfered with Mrs Jackson to hinder her in putting it up. This led to a dispute, but he denied that any brutal assault was committed. The old woman was accused of being a witch by her neighbours, who were afraid that she would bewitch them and they dare not go past her door in consequence. It was a very sad thing that such ignorance should exist in a town like Warrington, and that a poor old woman like her should be thought to have such power, but such was the superstition.

Image reproduced courtesy of Warrington Borough Council: Culture, Libraries & Heritage. It cannot be reproduced without further permission from the address given below.

What can we make of this story. Well, for a start, witchcraft accusations have often been assumed to be the product of the tensions of small face to face societies, and you couldn’t get more face to face than in a place like Dial Court.  Dial Court, a narrow passage between Dial Street and Cockhedge Lane (outlined in red on the accompanying map) was in a dense urban essentially slum area, People were iterally in each others face, Things like hanging out washing really needed to be organised on a rota basis, and neighbourhood disputes would have been common.

The two families involved in this case are also of interest, they were not members of the industrial proletariat, but rather on the precarious lowest rung of the petty bourgeoisie. Census and birth marriage and death indexes show something of their background. Maria Platt was born Maria Morris in Holywell, Flintshire in 1793/4. At the rather late age of about 30 she married Henry Platt, a baker in the little village of Grappenhall just south of Warrington on 22 September 1824, but Henry died in 1846, leaving her a widow. By 1871 she was living with her son Henry, described as a baker, but not owning his own business. The Warrington Guardian index 1853-66 showed Henry in the courts several times, as both a defendant and plaintiff. After Maria died in 1879 he went further downhill, and by 1881 he was a pauper in the workhouse.

As the Platt’s are on the fall, the Jackson’s are on the rise. In 1871 John Jackson was a coachman, but by 1881 they had a grocer’s shop in Dial Street itself which they will hold for at least the next twenty years.

We can perhaps make a guess at the root cause of this conflict. Maria Platt has been telling fortunes as a way of making money and keeping out of the workhouse. Then John and Ann Jackson arrive on the scene and Ann goes in for fortune telling herself, but she can afford fancy equipment and tarot cards. At some point Ann offers to sell some of this fancy equipment to Maria, knowing she can never afford the price. A bitter neighbourhood quarrel develops and Maria gets the reputation of being a quarrelsome person, with a son rather prone to fights, which adds to her reputation as a witch. If Maria is the stereotypical village witch, then Ann with her occult equipment is much closer to modern New Age beliefs. These two women then represent the link between the village witch and the modern new practitioner.



Copies of the original newspapers can be consulted in the local studies searchroom at Warrington Library. Details here: http://www.warrington.gov.uk/home/leisure_and_culture/libraries/local_library/warrington_library/

The wider area along with a modern map can be seen here: http://maps.cheshire.gov.uk/tithemaps/TwinMaps.aspx?township=D4625-12


Carter, Pollard and the Broken Backed ‘f’.
Gareth J. Medway.

Originally published on Magonia Online, December 2010.

Probably most of us have a list of books that we intend to read some time. For several years mine has included An Enquiry into the Nature of Certain Nineteenth Century Pamphlets, by John Carter and Graham Pollard, but recently I discovered that there is a copy of it in a local reference library. I found it particularly interesting because it deals with a point that I raised more than once in the Magonia Bulletin, that is, how can you prove something to be a hoax, as opposed to merely suspecting it?

To outline the background: in Victorian England it was common for authors to print their shorter works, initially, as pamphlets limited to a few dozen copies, which they would give to their friends, and only later make them available to the public. Some of Tennyson’s narrative poems were first published in this way, for example. Since these were limited first editions, by the end of the century they had begun to fetch high prices amongst collectors. Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnets from the Portuguese (not, in fact, translations, but original compositions), issued in the second edition of her Collected Poems, 1850, but known to have been written in 1846, also featured in an edition (according to the title page) “Reading, Not for Publication, 1847”, this item being particularly prized. In the early 1930s Carter and Pollard, who were both antiquarian book dealers, heard a rumour that it was in fact a forgery.

They were not immediately able to examine a copy, most of which were by then in America, but meanwhile it had occurred to them that there were quite a number of similar pamphlets that had various peculiarities in common: they seemed to come on to the market too often; they were never signed, as one would expect works produced for the author’s intimates would usually be, nor even inscribed with an owner’s name; none had ever been rebound (quite common for that kind of work); and, though they bore dates from 1842 to 1899, there was no trace of any them in sales catalogues until about 1890. Most suspiciously of all, by this time the majority of copies were coming from a single bookseller named Herbert Gorfin. Now, a dealer might very occasionally acquire an unsold cache of works of this sort, but could hardly hope to make a habit of it.

You can see where all this is leading. The suspicion was that these pamphlets had not in fact been printed for their authors, but produced by some unscrupulous dealer from 1890 onwards, bearing false dates. In two particular cases there were already reasons for thinking so. Swinburne, in his old age, had denied knowing anything about a copy of his Cleopatra, purportedly printed for him in 1866. This just might have been due to a memory lapse on his part, but no such explanation was possible in the case of a Ruskin booklet. His best-known work, Sesames and Lilies, is a collection of lectures that he had delivered over a period of a few years. One, ‘The Queen’s Gardens’, was delivered at Manchester Town Hall on 14 December 1864, and printed in the Manchester Examiner and Times two days later. A pamphlet also bore the date 1864. But, as Ruskin’s bibliographers had pointed out, the text of this pamphlet did not correspond to the newspaper printing, nor to the first edition of Sesames and Lilies, 1865, but to the very slightly revised version issued in 1871. Obviously, it was printed much later than the title page pretended.

Carter and Pollard realised that there was a way of proving an earliest possible date for some of these works. In 1863 manufacturers had began introducing esparto grass into paper; chemical wood was included in some makes after 1874. Although not apparent to the naked eye, under a microscope the presence of esparto grass or chemical wood is quite easily visible. The letter f used to break in a press more often than any other; in 1880 a printer devised a new font with a ‘broken-backed f’, which was less likely to break. The ‘1847’ Sonnets from the Portuguese proved to have been printed with a broken-backed f on paper containing chemical wood. These tests also demonstrated some of the other suspect items to be spurious, though not in every case, since esparto grass, chemical wood and the broken-backed f were not always used, and some of them did not, in any case, purport to have been printed before 1880.

The authors then took the obvious step of contacting Herbert Gorfin. He denied having been involved in any forgery, and since he was only ten years old at the time when sales catalogues indicated that the scam had begun, they believed him. But he told them that, without exception, he had obtained the dodgy pamphlets in the years 1909 to 1912 from a certain Thomas J. Wise. This name was familiar to them, as that of a well-known book collector and bibliographer. He had published a ten-volume catalogue of his own collection, the Ashley Library, which could thereby be seen to contain every one of the suspect works, as did that of an American library, the Wrenn collection, that Wise had helped to assemble. Copies in the British Museum, Bodleian and Cambridge University Libraries generally bore a note: “Presented by Thomas J. Wise”. A few others could be traced back to Wise by some other route. A further clue came from the 1847 Sonnets, which, in addition to the broken-backed f, contained what they termed “the tilting question mark”, which, they determined, had never been used in the same fount of type. It must therefore have been a mixed fount, and though several different printers routinely used the same fount, a mixed fount would be unique to a particular printer. They were able to identify the one who used this mixture as the firm of Richard Clay and Sons of Bungay, Suffolk, who were also known to have printed several works for Thomas J. Wise.

In their Enquiry, published in 1934, Carter and Pollard did not come right out and accuse Wise of forgery – libel laws saw to that – but simply presented the facts, so as to let readers form their own opinions. One man refused to accept the obvious conclusion, and said that Wise would have had no reason to engage in fraud, since he was a rich man. He did not speculate on how Wise had got to be rich in the first place.

Subsequent historians have confirmed the suspicions about Wise, who died in 1937. It is now known that in 1886 he had teamed up with one Henry Buxton Foreman. At first, beginning with Byron’s 1806 Fugitive Pieces, they tried to produce facsimiles of genuine first editions and pass them off as originals, but these fakes were easier to detect. So they turned to making pamphlets which were quite unlike the real first editions, but bore an earlier date. See the entries on Carter, Foreman, Pollard and Wise in the new Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Verbal and other literary anachronisms are less conclusive than those of paper and typeface, but they can be highly indicative. In 1979 the publishers David & Charles of Newton Abbot issued An Account Of A Meeting With Denizens Of Another World 1871, attributed to William Robert Loosley, but ‘Edited and with commentary by David Langford’. The ascribed author was a cabinet maker of High Wycombe, who one night saw a strange star descend onto a wooded hill near his home.

Going to investigate, he was confronted by two strange animated metallic objects, who treated him to a sort of holographic light show, which made no sense to him, but which he recorded in such detail as to enable Langford to interpret them as referring to various scientific facts, such as the behaviour of the hydrogen molecule and the carbon atom, which would have meant nothing to anyone in the nineteenth century, but were clearly apparent to a 1970s physicist. They did not appear to have tried to show him anything beyond what was known in 1979, though one might expect that interstellar travellers would have discovered things unknown to twentieth century earthlings.

The book contained several photographs proving that Loosely was a real person, but, as Colin Bord observed in his review in Fortean Times (31, Spring 1980, pp.46-48), there was no authentication of the manuscript itself by experts, nor even a photograph of it, and that without these there was no reason to think it anything but “an academic joke at the expense of ufologists.” He also noted that it read “like a short story by H. G. Wells”, and this is true: it began “It is my intention to record the curious and marvellous happenings of a few days past, while the memory is still vividly with me…” which is typical of nineteenth century fiction, though not of factual writing of the period.

In any case, the generally passable imitation of Victorian prose was completely spoiled by the use, twice, of the adjective ‘alien’ to mean ‘from outer space’: “the small alien contrivance I had seen … the meaning of one alien message…” Of course, in 1871 alien meant ‘foreign’. It was first recorded by the Oxford English Dictionary as used to mean ‘extraterrestrial’ in 1944, in a story in Astounding Science Fiction. Even then, it took a couple of decades to catch on elsewhere: it was not used by early flying saucer writers such as Keyhoe, but finally turned up in ufology in Brad Steiger’s Strangers from the Skies, 1966, and then in the Guardian in 1967. This fact turns a suspicion of a hoax into a certainty.

David Langford was no stranger to such sport, for only the year before he had contributed a twenty page article to George Hay’s spoof Necronomicon, in which he pretended to describe how he had deciphered the text from an old manuscript with the aid of a computer. How can I be so sure that this was a fake? It purported to be the work of Abdul Alhazred, an eighth century Arab, which was translated into Latin in the thirteenth century, and thence into English by Dr. John Dee in the sixteenth. Langford claimed to have decoded the text of the Necronomicon from a genuine manuscript of Dee’s in the British Library, which consists of a hundred pages of seemingly meaningless jumbles of letters.

It begins: “The Old Ones were, the Old Ones are and the Old Ones shall be. From the dark stars They came ere Man was born, unseen and loathsome They descended to primal earth.” The idea that the stars might be inhabited was unknown before the Renaissance, and any eighth century writer, and indeed a sixteenth century translator, would have considered that the Earth was only older than Man by a few days. Then we are told that one of these Old Ones, Hastur, should be invoked at Candlemas, “the second day of the second month”, the author of this having forgotten that in Dee’s day April was the first month of the year (hence February was the eleventh), and that no Arab writer would have used the Christian calendar in the first place.

Then again: “And ye stones shall be ye Gates through which thou shalt call Them forth from Outside man’s time and space.” This last phrase is clearly post-Einstein. There are various diagrams in the text, none of which are in the original manuscript, and include a cipher alphabet with separate characters for i and j, although Langford himself noted that the two letters were not distinguished in those times. Here also are some words used in this alleged text of 1587, together with the date of first usage known to the OED: primal, 1602; ultimate, 1654; magnetic, 1634; circumambulate, 1633; antagonism, 1838; vortex, 1653; elevenfold, not recorded at all; intersect, 1615; pentagram, 1833.

One could draw appropriate conclusions from these facts, even if one did not know, as most people do, that the Necronomicon was a non-existent book invented by the horror writer H. P. Lovecraft in the 1920s as a literary device for use in his short stories. These were accompanied by references to copies in the library of Miskatonic University in Arkham, both the institution and the town being themselves fictitious. The myth took on a remarkable life of its own, so that before this book appeared there had already been three printed and at least two manuscript Necronomicons in circulation, none of them having anything in common with each other apart from the title. There have been several others since.

The examples given here only show how hoaxes related to alleged events in the fairly distant past may be exposed. They are, however, important in that there is certain evidence of fraud. What I would like to find are ways of establishing whether supposed contemporary events may be spurious.