; Phantoms and Monsters: Pulse of the Paranormal

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The 1772 Stockwell Poltergeist

The case of the Stockwell poltergeist is not commonly told nowadays, mainly because it took place in 1772. But it is a terrifying tale that was told in great detail for the time. I have added some commentary to the witness accounts (which is written in 18th century King's English):

"An authentic, candid, and Cir­cumstantial Narrative of the astonishing Transactions at Stock-well, in the County of Surrey, on Monday and Tuesday. the 6th and 7th days of January, 1772 ; containing a Series of the most surprising and unaccountable Events that ever happened, which continued, from first to last, upward of twenty hours, and at different places : published with the consent and appro­bation of the family and other parties concerned, to authenticate which the original copy is signed by them.

Before we enter upon a description of the most extraordi­nary transactions that perhaps ever happened, we shall begin with an account of the parties who were principally concerned, and, in justice to them, give their characters, by which means the impartial world may see what credit is due to the following narrative :

The events, indeed, are of so strange and singular a na­ture, that we can not be at all surprised the public should be doubtful of the truth of them, more especially as there have been too many impositions of this sort ; but, let us consider, here are no sinister ends to be answered, no contributions to be wished for, nor would be accepted, as the parties are in reputable situations and good circumstances, particularly Mrs. Golding, who is a lady of an independent fortune : Richard howler and his wife might be looked upon as an exception to this assertion ; but, as their loss was trivial, they must he left out of the question, except so far as they appear corroborating evidences. Mr. Pan‘s maid lost nothing.

How or by what means these transactions were brought about, has never transpired: we have only to rest our confi­dence on the veracity of the parties, whose descriptions have been most strictly attended to, without the least deviation: nothing here offered is either exaggerated or diminished—the whole stated in the clearest manner, just as they occurred : as such only we lay them before the candid and impartial public."

The phenomenon centered upon a Mrs Golding at her farmhouse. Mrs. Golding, an elderly lady at Stockwell, in Surrey, at whose house the transactions began, was born in the same parish (Landreth), has lived in it ever since, and has always been well known and respected as a gentlewoman of unblem­ished honor and character.

Although the beginnings of the case suggested nothing more than a nuisance spirit that occasionally threw plates from the wall, something sinister was on the cards one particular day when Mrs Golding fainted.

“On Monday, January the 6th, 1772, about ten o‘clock in the forenoon, as Mrs. Golding was in her parlor, she heard the china and glasses in the back kitchen tumble down and break; her maid came to her and told her the stone plates were falling from the shelf; Mrs. Golding went into the kitchen and saw them broke. Presently after, a row of plates from the next shelf fell down likewise, while she was there, and nobody near them ; this astonished her much, and while she was thinking about it, other things in different places began to tumble about, some of them breaking, attended with violent noises all over the house ; a clock tumbled down and the case broke ; a lan­tern that hung on the staircase was thrown down and the glass broken to pieces ; an earthen pan of salted beef broke to pieces and the beef fell about : all this increased her surprise and brought several persons about her, among whom was Mr. Rowlidge, a carpenter, who gave it as his opinion that the foundation was giving way and that the house was tumbling clown, occasioned by the too great weight of an additional room erected above : so ready are we to discover natural causes for everything ! But no such thing happened, as the reader will find ; for whatever was the cause, that cause ceased almost as soon as Mrs. Golding and her maid left any place, and Ibilowed them wherever they went. Mrs. Golding ran into Mr. Gresham’s house, a gentleman living next door to her, where she fainted.

In the interim, Mr. Rowlidge and other persons were removing Mrs. Golding‘s effects from her house, for fear of the consequences he had prognosticated. At this time all was quiet ; Mrs. Golding’s maid, remaining in the house, was gone up stairs, and when called upon several times to come down, for fear of the dangerous situation she was thought to be in, she answered very coolly, and after some time came down as deliberately, without any seeming fearful apprehensions.

Mrs. Pain was sent for from Brixton Causeway, and desired to come directly, as her aunt was supposed to be dead : this was the message to her. When Mrs. Pain came, Mrs. Golding was come to herself, but very faint.

Among the persons who were present was Mr. Gardner, a surgeon, of Clapham, whom Mrs. Pain desired to bleed her aunt, which he did. Mrs. Pain asked him if the blood should be thrown away : he desired it might not, as he would examine it when cold. These minute particulars would not be taken notice of, but as a chain to what follows. For the next circum­stance is of a more astonishing nature than anything that had preceded it : the blood that was just congealed, sprang out of the basin upon the floor, and presently after the basin broke to pieces! This china basin was the only thing broke belonging to Mr. Gresham; a bottle of rum that stood by it broke at the same time.

Among the things that were removed to Mr. Gresham’s, was a tray full of china, a japan bread-basket, some mahogany waiters, with some bottles of liquors, jars of pickles, &c., and a pier-glass, which was taken down by Mr. Saville (a neighbor of Mrs. Golding’s) ; he gave it to one Robert Hames, who laid it on the grass-plat at Mrs. Gresham’s : but, before he could put it out of his hands, some parts of the frame on each side flew off! It rained at that time ; Mrs. Golding desired it might be brought into the parlor, where it was put under a sideboard, and a dressing-glass along with it. It had not been there long, before the glasses and china which stood on the sideboard be­gan to tumble about and fall down, and broke both the glasses to pieces. Mr. Saville and others being asked to drink a glass of wine or rum, both the bottles broke in pieces before they were uncorked !

Mrs. Golding’s surprise and fear increasing, she (lid not know what to do, or where to go. Wherever she and her maid were, these strange, destructive circumstances followed her and how to help or free herself from them was not in her power or any other person’s present. Her mind was one confused chaos, lost to herself and everything about her—drove from her own home, and afraid there would be no other to receive her. At last she left Mr. Gresham’s and went to Mr. Mayling‘s, a gentleman at the next door; here she stayed about three quar­ters of an hour, during which time nothing happened. Her maid stayed at Mr. Gresham’s to put up what few things remained unbroken of her mistress’s, in a back apartment, when a jar of pickles that stood upon a table turned upside down ; then a jar of raspberry jam broke to pieces ; next two mal3′ogany waiters and a quadrille-box likewise broke in pieces.

Mrs. Pain, not choosing her aunt should stay too long at Mr. Mayling’s, for fear of being troublesome, persuaded her to go to her house at Rush Common, near Brixton Causeway, where she would endeavor to make her as happy as she could, hoping by this time all was over, as nothing had happened at that gentle-man’s house while she was there. This was about two o’clock in the afternoon.

Mr. and Miss Gresham were at Mr. Pain’s house when Mrs. Pain, Mrs. Golding, and her maid, went there. It being about dinner-time, they all dined together; in the interim, Mrs. Golding’s servant was sent to her house to see how things re­mained. When she returned, she told them nothing had hap­pened since they left it. Some time after, Mr. Gresham and miss went home, everything remaining quiet at Mr. Pain’s; but about eight o’clock in the evening a fresh scene began. The first thing that happened was, a whole row of pewter dishes, except one, fell from off a shelf to the middle of the floor, rolled about a little while, then settled ; and, what is almost beyond belief, as soon as they were quiet, turned upside down ! They were then put on the dresser, and went through the same a second time. Next fell a whole row of pewter plates from off the second shelf over the dresser to the ground, and, being taken up and put on the dresser one in another, they were thrown down again.

The next thing was, two eggs that were upon one of the pewter shelves, one of them flew off, crossed the kitchen, struck a cat on the head, and then broke in pieces.

Next, Mary Martin, Mrs. Pain’s servant, went to stir the kitchen fire ; she got to the right-hand side of it, being a large chimney, as is usual in farmhouses. A pestle and mortar that stood nearer the left-hand end of the chimney-shelf, jumped about six feet on the floor ! Then went candlesticks and other brasses, scarcely anything remaining in its place. After this, the glasses and china were put down on the floor for fear of undergoing the same fate : they presently began to dance and tumble about, and then broke to pieces. A teapot that was among them flew to Mrs. Golding’s maid’s foot, and struck it."

A glass tumbler that was put on the floor jumped about two feet and then broke. Another that stood by it jumped about at the same time, but did not break till some hours after, when it jumped again, and then broke. A china howl that stood in the parlor jumped from the floor to behind a table that stood there. This was most astonishing, as the distance from where it stood was between seven and eight feet, but was not broke. It was put back by Richard Fowler to its place, where it remained some time, and then flew to pieces.

The next thing that followed was a mustard-pot, that jumped out of a closet and was broke. A single cup that stood upon the table (almost the only thing remaining) jumped up, flew across the kitchen, ringing like a bell, and then was dashed to pieces against the dresser. A candlestick that stood on the chimney-shelf flew across the kitchen to the parlor-door, at about fifteen feet distance. A teakettle under the dresser was thrown out about two feet ; another kettle, that stood at one end of the range, was thrown against the iron that is fixed to pre-vent children from falling into the fire. A tumbler with ruin­and-water in it, that stood upon a waiter upon a table in the parlor, jumped about ten feet, and was broke. The table then fell down, and along with it a silver tankard belonging to Mrs. Golding—the waiter in which stood the tumbler, and a candle­itick. A case-bottle then flew to pieces.

The next circumstance was, a ham that hung in one side of the kitchen-chimney raised itself from the hook and fell down to the ground. Some time after, another ham, that hung on the other side of the chimney, likewise underwent the same fate. Then a flitch of bacon, which hung up in the same chimney, fell down.

All the family were eye-witnesses to these circumstances, as well as other persons, some of whom were so alarmed and shocked, that they could not bear to stay, and were happy in getting away, though the unhappy family were left in the midst of their distresses. Most of the genteel families around were continually sending to inquire after them, and whether all was over or not. Is it not surprising that some among them had not the inclination and resolution to try to unravel this most intricate affair, at a time when it would have been in their power to have done so? There certainly was sufficient time for so doing, as the whole, from first to last, continued upward of twenty hours.

At all the times of action, Mrs. Golding’s servant was walk­ing backward and forward, in either the kitchen or parlor, or wherever some of the family happened to be. Nor could they get her to sit down five minutes together, except at one time for about half an hour toward the morning, when the family were at prayers in the parlor ; then all was quiet: but in the midst of the greatest confusion, she was as much composed as at any other time, and with uncommon coolness of temper ad­vised her mistress not to be alarmed or uneasy, as she said these things could not be helped. Thus she argued, as if they were common occurrences, which must happen in every family.

This advice surprised and startled her mistress almost as much as the circumstances that occasioned it. For how can we suppose that a girl of about twenty years old (an age when female timidity is too often assisted by superstition) could re-main in the midst of such calamitous circumstances (except they proceed from causes best known to herself), and not be struck with the same terror as every other person was who was pres­ent? These reflections led Mr. Pain (and, at the end of the transactions, likewise Mrs. Golding) to think that she was not altogether so unconcerned as she appeared to be ; but, hitherto, the whole remains mysterious and unrivalled."

About ten o’clock at night, they sent over the way to Rich and Fowler, to desire he would come and stay with them. He came and continued till one in the morning, and was so ten-i. fled that he could remain no longer.

"As Mrs. Golding could not be persuaded to go to bed, Mrs. Pain at that time (one o’clock) made an excuse to go up stairs to her youngest child, under pretence of getting it to sleep, but she really acknowledges it was through fear, as she declares she could not sit up to see such strange things going on, as everything, one after another, was broke, till there was not above two or three cups and saucers remaining out of a consid­erable quantity of china, &c., which was destroyed to the amount of some pounds.

About five o’clock on Tuesday morning, Mrs. Golding went up to her niece, and desired her to get up, as the noises and destruction were so great, she could continue in the house no longer. At this time all the tables, chairs, drawers, &c., were tumbling about. When Mrs. Pain came down, it was amazing beyond all description. Their only security then was to quit the house, for fear of the same catastrophe as had been ex­pected the morning before at Mrs. Golding’s. In consequence of this resolution, Mrs. Golding and her maid went over the way to Richard Fowler’s. When Mrs. Golding’s maid had seen her safe to Richard Fowler’s, she came back to Mrs. Pain, to help her to dress the children in the barn, where she had carried them for fear of the house falling. At this time all was quiet. They then went to Fowler’s, and then began the same scene as had happened at the other places. It must be re-marked, all was quiet here as well as elsewhere, till the maid returned.

When they got to Mr. Fowler’s, he began to light a fire in his back room. When done, he put the candle and candlestick upon a table in the fore-room. This apartment Mrs. Golding and her maid had passed through. Another candlestick, with a tits lamp in it, that stood by it, were both dashed together, and fell to the ground. A lantern, with which Mrs. Golding was lighted across the road, sprang from a hook to the ground, and a quantity of oil spilled on the floor. The last thing was, the basket of coals tumbled over, the coals rolling about the room."

The maid then desired Richard Fowler not to let her mistress remain there, as she said wherever she was the same things would Mow. In consequence of this advice, and fearing greater losses to himself, he desired she would quit his house ; but first begged her to consider within herself, for her own and the public’s sake, whether or not she had been guilty of some atrocious crime, for which Providence was determined to pur­sue her on this side of the grave : for he could not help think-mg she was the object that was to be made an example to pos­terity, by the all seeing eye of Providence, for crimes which but. too often none but that Providence can penetrate, and by such means as these bring to light.

Thus was the poor gentlewoman’s measure of affliction complete, not only to have undergone all which has been re­lated, but to have added to it the character of a bad and wicked woman, when till this time she was esteemed as a most deserv­ing person. In candor to Fowler, he could not be blamed. What could he do ? what. would any man have done that was so circumstanced ? Mrs. Golding soon satisfied him : she told him she would not stay in his house or any other person’s, as her conscience was quite clear, and she could as well wait the will of Providence in her own house as in any other place what-ever; upon which she and her maid went home. Mr. Pain went with them. After they had got to Mrs. Golding’s the last time, the same transactions once more began upon the remains that were left.

A nine-gallon cask of beer, that was in the cellar, the door being open, and no person near it, turned upside down. A pail of water, that stood on the floor, boiled like a put ! A box of candles fell from a shelf in the kitchen to the floor; they rolled out, but none were broke : and a round mahogany table over-set in the parlor.

”Mr. Pain then desired Mrs. Golding to send her maid for his wife to come to them. When she was gone, all was quiet Upon her return she was immediately discharged, and no dis turbances have happened since. This was between six and seven o’clock on Tuesday morning.

At Mrs. Golding’s were broke the quantity of three pail. fuls of glass, china, &c. At Mrs. Pain’s they filled two pails.

Thus ends the narrrative—a true, circumstantial, and faith­ful account of which we have laid before the public ; and have endeavored as much as possible, throughout the whole, to state onl! facts, without presuming to obtrude any opinion on them, If we have in part hinted anything that may appear unfavora­ble to the girl, it is not from a determination to charge her with the cause, right or wrong, but only from a strict adherence to truth, most sincerely wishing this extraordinary affair may be unravelled.

The above narrative is absolutely and strictly true, iii wit­ness whereof we have set our hands this eleventh day of Janu­ary, 1772:


Accounts provided by a Mr. Marks, bookseller, in St. Martin’s Lane, London

Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology 5 2v (Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology)
Pseudoscience/Paranormal 2nd Edition
The Poltergeist