The Moving Bedstead

bedsteadCreepy History 52.  Today’s tale of the unexplained is taken from Norfolk News, 31st May 1902, and concerns an alleged haunting in King’s Lynn.  It caused such a stir that several hundred people were turning up every night, and staying through the night, but as the hauntings were confined to the inside of the house they were wasting their time.

The declaration that a house at Windsor Terrace, King’s Lynn, is under the disturbing influences of a visitor from the invisible world has provided the town with a small sensation. Attracted by the statements that the house had shown signs of being haunted large crowds of curious-minded folk gathered in the vicinity of the troubled habitation on Monday night, and again last night, but as could only have been expected, their vigil produced nothing of an exciting nature. The sensational manifestation has been reserved for those persons who have paid a visit to one of the bedrooms in the house, and a story of strange happenings is given.

It appears that a few days ago a Norwich family moved to Lynn and took occupation of the house in question. Their furniture followed, and the first night they slept in the house seems to have been a very unpleasant one, for during the night the occupants of the bed rushed terrified from the room, averring that a ghostly visitor had laid hold of the bedstead and given it good shaking. Since then watch parties have been organised, and they declared that if they never believed in ghosts before they believe in them now.  One individual, it is stated, was pitched neck and crop out of the room, and the bedstead has repeatedly given evidences of unearthly animation.  Strange noises have also been heard, and altogether the room is credited with containing all the elements a haunted chamber.

At all events the family have been genuinely alarmed, and have net dared pass the night in the house since its members were so rudely disturbed, and a kind neighbour has provided them with sleeping accommodation. They have taken another house, but intend to leave the animated bedstead behind. In the meantime it has been determined to continue the midnight watches in the hope “laying the ghost.”

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A Real Ghost and a Fake Ghost

The Village Church, by Benjamin Williams Leader, 1894.

Creepy History 51.   For today’s “creepy history” let’s take a look at two different quotes about ghostly visitors, both taken from newspaper articles.  The first is from the Edinburgh Evening News, Friday 22nd December 1876, and concerns an alleged haunting during a church service.

The Western Morning News reports a strange incident at the village of Kingston, Devon. While the choir was engaged practising for the Christmas services, a distant door opened, and through the dimly-lighted church a figure, draped in white, slowly stalked the aisle and mounted the pulpit. No one challenged the visitor, and the alleged apparition slowly retraced its steps, vanishing at the same door. The terrified choir fled in dismay. Some assert that in the ghost they recognised the features of a deceased popular minister. Next day one member at least required medical aid.

The second quote is from Leeds Mercury, Wednesday 16th October 1912.  In contrast, the ghostly visitor reported here was not quite what it seemed at first to be.

Peter Fitzgerald, a London surgeon, was awakened at half-past two in the morning by a sound of scratching in his bedroom. He looked round his room, in which a small light was burning, and noticed what at first appeared to be a heap of clothes moving across the bedroom floor.

The moving heap slowly and cautiously approached the bed side and Mr. Fitzgerald saw his trousers dragged from the bed foot on to the floor. He struck at the heap of clothing, knocked off something, and uncovered a human head, which he recognised that of a youth in his employment.

The youth was charged at Old-street Police-court yesterday with stealing £1 16s from the surgeon’s pockets, and was committed to the Sessions.

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Murder Solved by a Ghost

A 19th Century engraving of Hayne House

Creepy History 50.  As part of our October journey through the dark and scary corners of history, the following quote is taken from Apparitions: A Narrative of Facts, by Bourchier Wrey Savile (1817-1888), published in 1874.  As part of a chapter entitled “Murder Will Out”, this true story concerns a crime that was solved with the help of a ghostly visitor in the night:

In the first half of the eighteenth century the well-known family of Harris of Heyne were residing at their ancient seat in the county of Devon, not far from the borders of Cornwall. The family was wealthy, and their estates extended far and wide round the mansion. The head of the family at that time held a situation in the court of George II., which obliged him to reside in London during a part of the year. Travelling in those days was very different from what it is now, as may be judged from the anecdote respecting Lord Godolphin, prime minister in the reign of Queen Anne, of whom it is told that when he visited his estate in Cornwall, as the post did not then extend beyond Exeter, he was accustomed to have a private post of his own for the conveyance of despatches into the far west once a week, and his neighbours used to assemble in his hall for the purpose of hearing the news from London read out pro bono publico.

When the time of his attendance at court arrived, Mr. Harris was accustomed to move the greater part of his establishment to London, leaving behind a few servants only, under the charge of one Richard Morris, who had been long in the family as head butler.

In the year 1730, when Mr. Harris was in London, he received a letter from his confidential servant, informing him that the house had been broken into at night, and that a lad who had lately been taken into service had mysteriously disappeared. Mr. Harris immediately left London for his seat in Devonshire, and on his arrival was told that no alarm had been given on the night of the robbery until the morning, when a window opening on the lawn was discovered to have been broken through, and footstep marks discovered outside. Morris, the butler, was found in the plate-room half dressed, tied to a table, and with a gag in his mouth. His own account of the robbery was that having been roused by some noise in the middle of the night, he had got up and gone down to the plate-room, the door of which had been previously forced, that he was there seized, gagged, and bound before he could escape, or even call for help; and that there were five or six men altogether, none of whom he recognised, except the lad lately taken into service, who had disappeared since that night.

In those days there were no telegraph wires, no means by which a criminal fleeing from the scene of his crime could be outstripped by that wondrous machinery which elicited the remark of the silent traveller, “Them’s the cords that hung John Tawell;” and no detective or rural police. A week had elapsed before Mr. Harris could reach his home. In the meanwhile, the village constables had attempted to trace out the robbers, but without success. No clue to the missing plate or the thieves could be discovered. After making a careful and strict search of the premises, Mr. Harris returned to his court duties in town, giving up all hope of finding either his lost property or the criminals.

Some six months passed away before Mr. Harris again visited his country seat, where he was received by Morris, and found everything in its usual state, nothing more having been ascertained about the robbery. Tired with his long journey from town, Mr. Harris retired early to bed, and soon fell into a sound sleep.

In the middle of the night he suddenly awoke — as he himself was always wont to declare on relating the incident, he was in an instant thoroughly wide awake, how or why he never could explain — and he saw by the light of a small lamp burning in his room the lad who had disappeared on the night when the plate was stolen, standing at the foot of the bed. Mr. Harris asked what he wanted at that time of night; the boy beckoned to him, but made no reply. Again he asked him for what purpose he had come, and again the boy beckoned to him and pointed to the door.

Mr. Harris was as devoid of fear as most men; so he rose from his bed, partly dressed himself, took his sword under his arm, and then followed the lad, still beckoning and pointing with his arm out of the room. His own statement subsequently of his feelings was that he was in doubt as to whether the lad was alive or an apparition, that he felt no fear, but only a strong desire and determination to see the matter to an end. The two went down the staircase, and through a side door, which Mr. Harris remembers to have been to his astonishment unlocked and open, they passed into the park.

The lad led the way for about a hundred yards towards a very large oak, the trunk of which was surrounded and almost hidden by low shrubs and bushes, which had been allowed to grow wild from time immemorial. Here the lad stopped, pointed to the ground with his forefinger, and then seemed to pass towards the other side of the tree. It was not a dark night, and when Mr. Harris followed, as he immediately did, the lad had vanished from his sight. It seemed useless to search for him; and after a little while Mr. Harris returned to the house, fastened the door as he let himself in, and went to his room for the remainder of the night.

Before the dawn he had resolved on his course of action, and having made his arrangements, he first had the butler, Richard Morris, taken into custody. He then set workmen to dig round the oak tree, who after a short search came upon the body of the lad, buried in his clothes, scarcely a foot below the surface. It was evident that his death was occasioned by strangulation, as the cord was still fastened tightly round his neck.

The butler, after attempting at first to deny having had any hand in the business, soon made a confession of the whole affair. He had two accomplices to help him in the robbery, who had carried off the stolen plate to Plymouth, but being interrupted by the lad whilst removing it, they had murdered him, and buried his body under the tree, where it was subsequently discovered in the way related above. They then proceeded to tie and gag the butler, as he was found in the pantry. The murderers were never traced, and so escaped the penalty of their crime; but Morris, the butler, was tried at the ensuing Exeter assizes, and having pleaded guilty, was condemned and executed.

The details given above were mentioned at the trial of Richard Morris, as explaining the cause of his being suspected and of his subsequent arrest. Mr. Harris always avowed most solemnly the reality of the apparition, and that he had actually gone out of the house in the dead of night, and accompanied the spirit of the murdered lad to the very spot where he had been buried. Though all who are disbelievers in supernatural appearances will readily attribute it to the effect of a dream, this plausible theory will not account for the fact of the place where the lad was buried having been so quickly found.

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Mysterious Bones and a Ghostly Visitor

Winter Landscape with Farmstead, by Adolf Stademann

Creepy History 49.  For the fourth year running we are celebrating October on Windows into History with a month of “Creepy History” quotes.  The following is from the Grantham Journal, and appeared in the 4th September 1897 edition:

The good folk of Halton Holgate, a village near Spilsby, are excited over a ghost story. For some time rumours have been afloat of human bones having been discovered under the brick floor of a farm near the village, of strange unearthly tappings having been heard, and of the appearance of a ghostly visitor as the precursor of these happenings. The farmstead where the weird sounds are said to have been heard stands some distance from the high road, and is occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Wilson and a man-servant. Mrs. Wilson, on being interviewed by a reporter, told the following remarkable story:

“We came here on Lady-day last. The first night or so we heard very strange noises about midnight, as though someone was knocking at the doors and walls. Once it seemed as though someone was moving all the things about in a hurry downstairs. Another time the noise was like a heavy picture falling from the wall, but in the morning I found everything as right was the night before. The servant-man left, saying he dared not stop, and we had to get another. Then about weeks ago I saw something. Before getting into bed – my husband having retired before me – I went downstairs to see the cow, and just as I was about to go up again I saw an old man standing at the top looking me. He was standing as though he was very round-shouldered. How I got past I can’t say, but I darted past him into the bedroom and slammed the door. Afterwards I felt that someone was behind me. I turned round sharply, and there again stood the same old man. He quickly vanished, but I am quite certain I saw him. I have also seen him several times since, though not quite so distinctly.”

Mrs. Wilson next conducted her interviewer to the sitting-room, where a gruesome discovery had been made. The floor in one corner had been very uneven, and day or two ago Mrs. Wilson took up the bricks with the intention of re-laying them. No sooner had she done this than a most disagreeable odour was emitted. Her suspicions being aroused, she called her husband, and the two commenced a minute examination. Three or four bones were soon turned over, together with a gold ring, and several pieces of old black silk. All these had evidently been buried in quicklime. Asked what her own opinion of the affair was, Mrs. Wilson confidently asserted her belief that some time or other foul play had taken place. She was fully persuaded in her own mind with regard to the apparition, and though it was suggested she might have been mistaken, she disdained the idea being beneath notice.

Dr. Gay, a local medical man, to whom the bones have been submitted, states that they are undoubtedly human, but he believes them to be nearly one hundred years old. Further excavations under the brick floor of the sitting-room have led to more bones being unearthed and more pieces of corded silk being found. Thus far the bones of the arms and legs have been found, presumably a female. Every night the occupants are aroused by knockings and tappings, but the ghostly visitor has not been seen for over a week, a lamp being now kept burning in the bedroom where Mrs. Wilson asserts that she several times saw the apparition of an old man.

Winter Landscape with Farmstead, by Adolf Stademann

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The Beresford Ghost

The ruins of Tyrone House, where Lord Tyrone once lived.

Creepy History 48.  It’s that time of year again!  October will again be a “creepy” month on Windows into History, so let’s kick things off with an account of a ghostly visitor in 1704, retold many times over the years.  The following quote is from Sir Bernard Burke’s Family Romance, or Episodes in the Domestic Annals of the Aristocracy (1854), in which Burke attempts to tell the story free from embellishments, as told to him by a descendent of the ghost-seer.

At a very early age, Lord Tyrone and Lady Beresford had been on terms of intimate friendship, such as can only exist in extreme youth, and with a romantic spirit, not at all surprising at their age, entered into a mutual compact that whichever of the two died first, should, if the thing were possible, appear to the other. Years rolled on, the lady had married and become a widow, and had probably forgotten her youthful promise, when she was suddenly reminded of it in a manner that was impressive if not awful. It was on the 19th of August, 1704, for tradition has preserved the day with wonderful exactness. Lady Beresford went to bed in full health, as it seemed, without any one remarking, or herself being conscious of, the slightest depression of spirits, or change in her usual habits. After a time she awoke from her first sleep, and to her infinite surprise saw Lord Tyrone standing by her bed-side. While she yet continued to gaze in disturbed wonder, the figure informed her that she saw the ghost of Lord Tyrone, that he was then in bliss, and had only come, in fulfilment of the promise made in their youthful days. To convince her that it was no dream, he wrote his name in her pocket-book, twisted the curtains through a great ring in the ceiling, left the print of his hand upon a wardrobe, and finally laying his finger upon her wrist made an indelible mark, in further testimony of his nocturnal visit. He then foretold that she would marry again, be exceedingly unfortunate in her marriage, and die at the birth of a child, in her forty-second year. Sleep soon again came over her, but, upon awaking in the morning, the events of the night burst at once upon her memory. They could not have been, as she at first imagined, the shadows of a dream; there were the curtains twisted through the ring in the ceiling; there was the print of a hand upon the wardrobe; there was the singular mark upon her wrist, and so indelible that she was fain ever afterwards to hide it with a band of black velvet. If, after such proofs, any doubt could still have remained, it was removed at breakfast by the arrival of a letter announcing Lord Tyrone’s death.

There is a lot more to the story than that, and for a full discussion of the ghostly visitor and the subsequent life of Lady Beresford, I recommend reading the fourth chapter of Apparitions: a Narrative of Facts, by Bourchier Wrey Savile, published in 1874, which can be viewed on

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A selfless act? (Seneca 9)

“Meadow” by Alfred Sisley, 1875.

Is there any such thing as a selfless act?  It’s a philosophical question that has been debated for a very long time.  In the ninth book of De Vita Beata (“About a Happy Life”), Seneca the Younger (C. 4BC – 65AD) tackles a knotty problem.  If his path to happiness is all about being virtuous and rejecting pleasure, isn’t the achievement of virtue something that gives pleasure anyway?  Can you really seek virtue without seeking the pleasure that a virtuous life brings?  Seneca seems to think you can.  Apparently the pleasure is just a Brucey Bonus.

The following is my effort to present Seneca’s writing in more accessible form of English than most academic Latin translations.  Please see below for further explanation of this project, and some more information about Seneca himself.

“You only live a virtuous life because you hope to obtain some pleasure from it.” So goes the counter argument.

Firstly, even though virtue may afford us pleasure, we don’t strive for it on that account. Virtue is not there to give pleasure, but gives it as a bonus. And pleasure is not the goal that virtue aims for, although it wins it anyway, despite aiming for something else altogether.

It’s like a ploughed field. You can farm it for corn, but some flowers will be found there too. Those blooms may charm the eye, but the work you put in was not done for the purpose of growing flowers. The farmer has another aim, and got his flowers as well, so pleasure is not the reward or the cause of the virtue, but comes in addition to it.

We do not choose virtue because it gives us pleasure, but it gives us pleasure also if we choose it. The greatest good lies in the act of choosing it, and in the attitude of the noblest minds, which have achieved their purpose within their own limitations, achieved the highest goodness, and need nothing more.

There is nothing outside the whole, and there is nothing beyond the end.

So it is a mistake to ask what is the purpose behind my quest for virtue. You are looking for something above the peak. Why do I seek virtue? My answer: to seek virtue. There is nothing better, and virtue is its own reward.

Isn’t that great enough? The greatest good is an unwavering strength of mind, wisdom, generosity, sound judgement, freedom, harmony, beauty. Should I look for something greater, which have these attributes? Why talk of pleasures? My quest is for what is good for a man, not for a man’s stomach. Cows and whales have bigger bellies than man.

Sometimes Seneca can be heavy going, even when translated into an accessible manner, but that farming metaphor really stood out for me.  I think Seneca brings his argument to life at that moment.

Seneca was a philosopher, a dramatist, a satirist, a senator and a tutor and advisor to Nero.  He was also a vegetarian for a grand total of one year, until his father persuaded him to abandon the “foreign” practice.  After his retirement he was accused (probably falsely) of being involved in an attempt to assassinate Nero, and was forced to commit suicide, which he did with calm dignity and stoicism (or so the story goes – history is rarely told in an unbiased manner), after attending to his final letters.

Seneca wrote 124 letters tackling issues of morality, and they are absolutely fascinating and still thought-provoking today.  At least, they are thought-provoking if they are translated in an accessible manner.

We will look at some more of Seneca’s advice about how to achieve happiness next time.

An explanation of this project:

Roman writing can have a reputation for being a rather dry subject for those who never had their enthusiasm sparked by Latin, and I would lay the fault with that firmly at the door of the translations. Rome was a vibrant, exciting society and that was reflected in their writing, but I remember when studying Latin finding the obsession in academia with accurately translating everything word for word frustrating. I can see the necessity for that approach from an academic point of view, but if the end result is a piece of hackneyed, stuffy prose, then you have actually produced something that is a million miles away from the original, despite including all the right words. For the general reader, I think Latin needs to be translated a little more loosely: get the meaning across without copying every aspect of the sentence structure. So I am attempting more modern translations.  For these Seneca translations I will be working with the original Latin text and with reference where necessary to a standard translation by Aubrey Stewart from 1900.

Let’s look at what Seneca wrote, but with the translation tidied up into a much more natural form of English. Let’s render the work back to a natural prose, the manner in which it would originally have been enjoyed. I’m not going to take any huge liberties with the original material, just give it a bit of a spruce up.  Let’s see what Seneca really had to say.

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Australian Adages, 1903

The founding of Australia, as depicted in a painting by Algernon Talmage

Snippets 170.  It has been fascinating reading How to Make and Save Money, a book of useful household advice published in Australia in 1903.  We have quoted some of the useful (and bizarre) advice in previous snippets, and last week we looked at a section on etiquette from towards the end of the book.  Let’s take one final look at this interesting book, which concludes with a selection of adages, followed by some legal advice.

Labour is necessary in all things, and riches sometimes come from small beginnings.

A badly kept house leads to a ruined one.

When the tongue is busy the hands are idle.

The bellman of a village makes more noise than he does work.

Speak little, but speak well: great talkers often talk nonsense.

The past gives lessons to the future.

Trifles may produce great happiness or great misery.

He who does nothing for himself ought not to depend upon others.

He who depends solely upon hope will come to want: dependence should be upon exertions.

Industry pays debts: idleness causes them.

A prudent wife is a treasure, and an active one is worth her weight in gold.

To do a thing once cannot be called a habit, but by being repeated it becomes one.

A bad habit is more easily conquered to-day than to-morrow.

All comes from the earth and all returns to it: labour and knowledge increase its produce.

If you cheat the ground it will cheat you: it will give interest for a loan, but gives nothing for nothing.

Instruction is the ornament of the rich and the wealth of the poor.

Instruction is a treasure – labour is the key to it.

With the poor, subsistence depends on the hands, but the head must guide them.

Economy is useful to the rich, but necessary to the poor.

Without economy a man may labour all his life, yet be poorer at the end than at the beginning.

The prudent and careful man increases his store: the idle aud dissipated waste it.

It is better to go to bed supperless than to awake in debt. The first thing saved is the first thing gained.

He who every day has the power of spending has also every day the power of saving.

Let nothing be lost which might be useful to man, animals, or the ground.

More may be lost by one day’s negligence than may be gained by a week’s labour.

Where one may gain, many may be ruined by too often frequenting fairs and markets without real business…

Legal Brevities. — A note dated on Sunday is void. A note obtained by fraud, or from one intoxicated, is void. If a note be lost or stolen, it does not release the maker, he must pay it. An endorser of a note is exempt from liability, if not served with notice of its dishonour within twenty-four hours of its non-payment. A note by a minor is void. Notes bear interest only when so stated. Principals are responsible for their agents. Each individual in partnership is responsible for the whole amount of the debts of the firm. Ignorance of this law excuses no one. It is a fraud to conceal a fraud. It is illegal to compound a felony. The law compels no one to do impossibilities. An agreement without a consideration is void. Signatures in lead pencil are good in law. A receipt for money is not legally conclusive. The acts of one partner bind all the others. Contracts made on Sunday cannot be enforced. A contract with a minor is void. A contract made with a lunatic is void. Written contracts concerning land must be under seal.

“Trifles may produce great happiness or great misery.”  I would suggest buying them in the supermarket, to avoid the latter outcome.

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