THE DEMON OF SPREYTON
About the month of November last in the Parish of Spraiton, one Francis Fey (servant to Mr. Philip Furze) being in a Field near the Dwelling house of the said Master, there appeared unto him the resemblance of an old Gentleman, like his Master’s Father, with a Pole or Staff in his hand, like that he was wont to carry when living, to kill Moles withal. The Spectrum approached near the young Man, who was not a little surprised at the Appearance of one whom he knew to be dead, but the Spectrum bade him have no Fear, but tell his Master that several Legacies, which by his Testament he had bequeathed were unpaid, naming ten shillings to one, ten shillings to another, both which he named. The young man replied that the party last named was dead, and so it could not be paid to him. The Ghost answered, He knew that, but it must be paid to the next relative, whom he also named. The Spectrum likewise ordered him to carry twenty shillings to a Gentlewoman, sister of the Deceased, living at Totness, and promised if these things were done, to trouble him no more. At the same time the Spectrum speaking of his second wife (also dead) called her a wicked Woman, though the Relater knew her and esteemed her as a good Woman.”
The spectre vanished. The young man did as enjoined and saw that the legacies were duly paid, and he took twenty shillings to the gentlewoman near Totnes; but she utterly refused to receive it, believing it to have been sent to her by the devil.
That same night, the young man, who was lodging in the house of his former master’s sister, saw the ghost again. The youth thereupon remonstrated with it and reminded it of the promise made no more to annoy him, and he explained that the deceased man’s sister refused to accept the money. Then the spirit bade the young man take horse, ride into Totnes, and buy a ring of the value of twenty shillings, and assured him that the lady would receive that.
Next day, after having delivered the ring, that was accepted, the young man was riding home to his master’s, accompanied by a servant of the gentlewoman near Totnes, and as they entered the parish of Spreyton, the ghost was seen sitting on the horse behind the youth. It clasped its long arms about his waist and flung him from his saddle to the ground. This was witnessed by several persons in the road, as well as by the serving man from Totnes.
On entering the yard of Mr. P. Furze’s farm, the horse made a bound of some twenty-five feet, to the amazement of all.
Soon after this a female ghost appeared in the house, and was seen by the same young man, as also by Mrs. Thomasine Gidley, Anne Langdon, and a little child. She was able to assume various shapes: sometimes she appeared as a dog, belching fire, at another she went out of the window in the shape of a horse, breaking one pane of glass and a piece of iron. It was certainly vastly considerate of her in the bulk of a horse to do so little damage! But usually she stalked along the passage and appeared in the rooms in her own form. No doubt could exist as to who this trouble some ghost was. The “spectrum” of the old gentleman had already hinted that his second wife was a bad woman, and could make herself unpleasant.
On one occasion, invisible hands laid hold of the young man, and rammed his head into a narrow space between the bedstead and the wall, and it took several persons to extricate him; and then, what with fright and what with the pressure, he was so unwell that a surgeon was sent for to bleed him. No sooner was this operation performed, than the ligatures about the arm were suddenly snatched at and torn off, and slung about his waist, and there drawn so tight that he was nearly suffocated. They had to be cut through with a knife to relieve him. At other times his cravat was drawn tight.
The spectre was of a playful humour sometimes, and would pluck the perukes off the heads of people, and one that was on top of a cabinet in a box, with a joint-stool on it, was drawn out and ripped to shreds—and this was the most costly wig in the house.
At another time the youth’s “shoe-string” was observed without assistance of hands to come out of his shoe of its own accord and cast itself to the other side of the room, whereupon the other shoe-lace started crawling after its companion. A maid espying this, with her hand drew it back, when it clasped and curled round her hand like an eel or serpent.
The young man’s clothes were taken off and torn to shreds, as were those of another servant in the house, and this while they were on their backs. A barrel of salt was seen to march out of one room and into another, untouched by human hands. When the spectre appeared in her own likeness she was habited in the ordinary garments of women at the time, especially like those worn by Mrs. Philip Furze, her daughter-in-law.
On Easter Eve the young man was returning from the town when he was caught by the female spectre by his coat and carried up into the air, head, legs, and arms dangling down.
Having been missed by his master and fellow servants, search was made for him, but it was not till half an hour later that he was found at some distance from the house plunged to his middle in a bog, and in a condition of ecstasy or trance, whistling and singing. He was with difficulty extracted and taken to the house and put to bed. All the lower part of his body was numbed with cold from long immersion in the morass. One of his shoes was found near the doorstep of the house, another at the back of the house, and his peruke was hanging among the top branches of a tree. On his recovery he protested that the spirit had carried him aloft till his master’s house had seemed to him no bigger than a haycock.
As his limbs remained benumbed he was taken to Crediton on the following Saturday to be bled. After the operation he was left by himself, but when his fellows came in they found his forehead cut and swollen and bleeding. According to him, a bird with a stone in its beak had flown in at the window and dashed it at his brow. The room was searched; no stone, but a brass weight was found lying on the floor.
THE BIDEFORD WITCHES
At the assizes held at the castle of Exeter 14 August, 1682, three poor old women from Bideford—Temperance Lloyd, aged eighty years, Mary Trembles, and Susanna Edwards—were tried for witchcraft, were found guilty, and were executed on 25 August ensuing.
They had all previously been examined before Thomas Gist, Mayor of Bideford, and John Davie, Alderman, and also by the Rector. Before these worthies they had made full confession of their misdeeds, but to what an extent they had been drawn on by leading questions appears from the procès verbal of these examinations.
The worst of the three women was Temperance Lloyd, “intemperate Temperance” as she is called in one account.
According to the information of Dorcas Coleman, she had suffered from prickings in her body. She had consulted a physician, Dr. Beare, and he had told her that he could do nothing for her, as she was bewitched. When Susanna Edwards entered the room of Dorcas, the deponent was sitting in her chair speechless, but on seeing Susanna she slid out of her seat and tried to scramble towards her so as with her nails to draw blood, for by that means alone can a spell be broken that has been cast by a witch.
Grace Thomas also complained of pricking pains caused by Temperance Lloyd, “just as though pins and awls had been thrust into her body, from the crown of her head to the soles of her feet.” Temperance was brought to confess that she had met the devil, as a little blackamoor, in a lane, and that she had gone with him invisibly to the bedroom of Grace Thomas, who lodged in the house of Thomas Eastchurch, and that she “did then and there pinch with the nails of her fingers the said Grace, in her shoulders, thighs, and legs.” She further admitted that the black man had sucked her teats, and that he was about the length of her arm. She was subjected to examination by some matrons, who professed that they found suspicious marks upon her body. Before the rector of Bideford she confessed that, having assumed the form of a cat, she fetched out of Thomas Eastchurch’s shop a puppet, commonly called a child’s baby, and left it near Grace’s bed, but she would in no way admit that she had run pins into this figure. It appears that Grace Thomas had been pricked in nine places about the knee, as though pricked by a thorn, and according to the evidence of Elizabeth Eastchurch, Temperance had confessed that she had taken a piece of leather and driven a pin into it nine times, purposing thereby to cause injury to the skin of Grace. She allowed that she had been accused of assuming the form of a red pig, but would not admit that the accusation was true. According to the evidence, the devil had appeared to her at various times, sometimes in the form of a magpie, sometimes in that of a grey or braget cat.
Susanna Edwards confessed that she first encountered the devil, dressed very respectably and gravely in a black suit, in the Parsonage Close, and that afterward, shrinking in size to a small boy, he had sucked blood from her breast. She had pricked and pinched Grace Barnes; and she stated that whilst her body lay motionless in bed, she could go to any place she liked invisibly.
Mary Trembles confessed that the devil came to her “in the shape of a Lyon” and sucked her so hard, that she was obliged to scream for pain, and that she also could travel invisibly.
Among these witches, a certain Anne Fellow was said to have been done to death by their practices. They had also bewitched cows so that they would not yield their milk; and Temperance admitted that she had caused several shipwrecks and been instrumental to the death of several persons and many cattle. They could only say the Lord’s Prayer backwards. They had squeezed Hannah Thomas to death. At their trial at the assizes, all their confessions before the Mayor and Alderman at Bideford were accepted against them. There was no evidence produced to inculpate them beyond these confessions and the suppositions of women who had felt pains and pricks in their bodies. Nevertheless, the three poor creatures were sentenced to death. On the scaffold they were again questioned, and denied almost everything that they had previously been induced or frightened into admitting.
There is a broadside ballad on the subject. At the top are two rude woodcuts of witches, and a third of the devil dancing in the middle of a ring of witches. He holds a candle in his right hand and a broomstick in the other. Black owls are flying about; and a black cat sits hard by looking on complacently. It has been reprinted by John Ashton in his Century of Ballads, London, 1887.
It is wretched doggerel. Here are some stanzas:—
So these Malicious Women at the last,
Having done mischief, were by Justice cast;
For it appear’d they children had destroy’d,
Lamed Cattel, and the Aged much annoy’d.
Having Familiars always at their Beck,
Their Wicked Rage on Mortals for to wreck;
It being proved they used Wicked Charms,
To Murder Men, and bring about sad harms.
The Country round where they did live came in,
And all at once their sad complaints begin;
One lost a Child, the other lost a Kine,
This his brave Horse, that his hopeful Swine.
One had his Wife bewitch’d, the other his Friend,
Because in some things they the Witch offend:
For which they labour under cruel pain,
In vain seek remedy, but none can gain.
THE SAMPFORD GHOST
In 1810, considerable commotion was caused by the rumour that spread concerning a house in Sampford Peverell reputed to be haunted. The house belonged to a Mr. Tally, who let it to a Mr. Chave, son of a well-to-do yeoman of the neighbourhood, for a general shop and residence. The rumours reached the ears of the Rev. C. Colton, M.A., a clergyman at Tiverton, and he visited Sampford to investigate the matter, and wrote his experiences to the editor of the Taunton Courier on 18 August. The tone of the letter is frank and sincere.
“I am well aware that all who know me would not require the sanction of an oath, but as I am now addressing the public, I must consider myself before a tribunal of which my acquaintance constitutes a very small part. And first, I depose that after six nights at Mr. Chave’s house, and with a mind perfectly unprejudiced, after the most minute investigation and closest inspection of the premises, I am utterly unable to account for any of the phenomena.
“I further depose, that in my visits to Mr. Chave’s house, I never had any other motive, direct or indirect, but an earnest wish to trace these phenomena to their true and legitimate cause. Also that I have in every instance found the people of the house most willing and ready to contribute everything in their power to co-operate with me in the detection of the cause of these unaccountable sights and violent blows and sounds. Also, that I have affixed a seal with a crest to every door, cavity, etc., in the house, through which any communication could be carried—that this seal was applied to each end of sundry pieces of paper in such a manner that the slightest attempt to open such doors, or pass such cavities, must have broken these papers—that none of these papers were deranged or broken; and also, that the phenomena that night were as unaccountable as ever.
“Also, that it appears that this plot, if it be a plot, hath been carried on for many months, that it must be in the hands of more than fifty people, that the present owner is losing the value of his house, the tenant the customers of his shop, whom fear now prevents from visiting it after sunset.”
To this and more, Mr. Colton took oath before B. Wood, Master in Chancery, Tiverton.
This letter was animadverted upon by the editor and by writers to the Taunton Courier, as dealing in general, and giving no details.
To this Mr. Colton (14 September) replied, giving particulars of what he had seen and heard.
The house rented by Chave had for some time been looked upon as haunted. An apprentice boy lodging in it had been frightened by the apparition of a woman. Persons passing at night had seen strange lights in the windows. Mr. Colton goes on to say:—
“Rather more than four months ago, this house became extremely troublesome. The inhabitants were alarmed in the following manner: noises and blows by day were heard extremely loud, in every apartment of the house. On going upstairs and stamping on any of the boards of the floor, in any room, say five or six times, corresponding blows, generally louder, and more in number, would be instantly returned. The vibration of the boards caused by the violence of these blows would be sensibly felt through a shoe or boot. Observe, the floors underneath which these noises were heard are all of them immediately over rooms that are ceiled. An effect not to be produced by any blows on the ceiling was that the dust was thrown up from such boards as were beaten with such velocity as to affect the eyes of the spectators.
“At midday the cause of these effects would announce its approach by amazing and loud knockings in some apartment or other of the house, above stairs or below, as might happen. The moment they were heard, any person on ascending the stairs, and stamping with the feet, would be answered somewhat louder; and then, what is extremely curious, these noises would absolutely follow the persons through any of the upper apartments. The joists and beams of the flooring opposed not the slightest obstacle to its progress. Walls it would penetrate with equal facility, as was manifest by its following any person into different apartments.
“These phenomena by day continued almost incessantly for about five weeks, when they gradually gave place to others still more curious and alarming, which succeeded at night. There are two apartments in this house—one within the other. In this room there is but one door, not a single cupboard, and one very small chimney. The walls are of stone, the flooring of new deal, extremely close, and not covered by a carpet. There is one large modern window in the room. There is no visible access to this room but through another, in which they who wish to satisfy their curiosity constantly sit. The partition is thin, there is also a window in it (it is of lath and plaster). In the room where strangers sit, there is also one door only; and there is a kind of landing-room at the top of the stairs opposite to this door.”
In the further room the servant-maids were sent to sleep. These were now violently beaten, during the night, producing bruises and swellings. Those who sat in the outer room could hear the blows being administered. Mr. Colton went into the inner room and stood by the bed where the maids were, and heard the blows rained on them. When he cried for a light, it was brought in, but no person could be seen by him who could have administered these blows.
The next phenomenon was this, not witnessed by Mr. Colton. He says: “Mr. Chave, of Mere, no relation at all to Mr. Chave who rents the house, can swear to the following fact. Sitting up to hear and see these phenomena, he was alarmed by one or two loud shrieks; on rushing into the room his course at the threshold of the door was arrested by the following phenomenon. Every curtain of that bed was agitated and the knots thrown and whirled about with such rapidity, all at the same time, that it would have been by no means pleasant to have been in their vortex, or within the sphere of their action.” The moon at the time was full, and was shining into the room.
“This scene, accompanied with such a violent noise of the rings as could not have been exceeded by four persons stationed one at each curtain for the purpose, continued for about two minutes, when it concluded with a noise resembling the tearing of a sheet from top to bottom. Candles were then instantly produced, and many rents, one very large one across the grain of strong new cotton curtains, were discovered.” Mr. Colton, however, on other occasions professes to have seen the curtains violently agitated and a heavy Greek Testament placed on the bed flung across the room. But it is worth noticing that these things only took place when the women were in the bed, and never when the candle was in the room. The maids now pretended to be so frightened that they dared no longer sleep in their room, whereupon Mr. and Mrs. Chave allowed them to remove into their apartment. The noises followed them, an iron candlestick was flung across the room at Mr. Chave’s head. Another significant matter noted by Mr. Colton, was that the maids after one of these violent exhibitions were found bathed in perspiration, the drops rolling from their brows.
Such is a brief summary of Mr. Colton’s narrative. It called forth a pamphlet by Mr. Marriott, the editor of the Taunton Courier, that had been prompted by Mr. Tally who was much annoyed at the probable depreciation of the value of his house, and who gave notice to Mr. Chave to quit it.
Mr. Marriott was doubtless right in his conjecture that there was a plot among the servants, and that it was they who produced the phenomena. He conjectured that the raps were dealt by a mop-stick at the ceiling below the floors that seemed to be struck. He pointed out that there were marks on the ceiling as if the mop-stick had been so used, and he intimated that the set of hauntings was due to Mr. Chave trying by this means to avenge a quarrel he had had with his landlord over a bill.
To this Mr. Colton promptly replied, that it was true that there was a mop-stick in the house, but that by means of the mop-stick the sounds heard and the vibration of the boards casting up dust could not have been effected. He and others had tried, and the marks observed on the ceiling were caused by these trials. As to the quarrel over a bill, it had not occurred. It was not to Mr. Chave’s interest to give the house a bad name, for he had but recently rented and fitted it up, and it would be an inconvenience to him to move; moreover, these supernatural phenomena were doing him much harm, in injuring his business.
Mr. Colton now added further mysterious sights, but they rested on nothing better than the testimony of the maids. One had seen a white hand come out from under the bed, another had seen a livid arm hanging down from the ceiling.
There can, I think, be little doubt that it was not Mr. Chave, but the servant-maids who managed the whole series of phenomena. These knockings could easily be transmitted through boards, and the curtains tossed about, and books and candlesticks flung across the room, by having horsehair attached to them. That is the true secret of the Poltergeist manifestations in England, France, and Germany.