Friday 30 October 2009

A Deptford ghost story

As All Hallows' Eve draws near, it's time to imagine a dark autumn night, wind howling and lightning flickering. Settle down by the imaginary fire and listen to a supernatural story from 1804:
Ghostly apparitions, seem at present, to be the order of the night. – Reports are now abroad that a new ghost had made the town of Deptford the scene of its midnight perambulations, and that it is generally seen at first under the meeting-house, in Butt-lane. The clergyman who officiates at the meeting-house, is said to have already watched for several nights in the determined resolution to lay it. This new Ghost does not seem to assume a shape so scaring and terrific as that which has lately been put on by some of its spiritual brotherhood. On the contrary, it assumes, as well as a Ghost can be supposed to assume, an appearance and a language of gaiety and good nature that announces a very strong posthumous propensity to former habits, and which wonderfully prove that

“Ev’n in our ashes live our wonted fires.”

The report is stated as follows: - The watchman, who attends near the spot we have mentioned, declares, that being perfectly sober, and in full possession of his senses, he saw a certain Gentleman, who had recently been buried, rise from his tomb, and heard him, with the good humoured tone for which he was distinguished, call for a pot of beer, and invite the watchman to share it with him. The watchman, however, was too much alarmed to accept the kind invitation; but mentioning the circumstances the next day, he prevailed on two other watchmen to keep him company the following night, and await the return of the apparition, which wonderful to relate, they all three saw and heard the same person call for and solicit a pot of his favourite beverage. These facts, it is added, have been solemnly stated before Mr. Dornford, the Magistrate, and have created no small bustle and apprehension throughout the neighbourhood.
This convivial ghost may not have been seen for some time, but he gives us the perfect opportunity to raise a beer in tribute. Happy halloween!


Minnie said...

And a happy Halloween to you, too, Caroline! Lovely to read a non-spooky, cheerful ghost story: definitely a trend to be encouraged!

CarolineLD said...

Yes, the only downside to this story is that the poor ghost never got to share his beer!

Scott Wood said...

Hi Caroline
I'm trying to chase this ghost story down for a talk I'm giving in September. I've got the account of it in Jess Steele's 'Turning the Tide' but it looks like you've seen another source or an original document. Can I ask where you saw it and whether it's open to all? Many thanks.

CarolineLD said...

Hello Scott,

I can sort-of help. The story appeared in a newspaper report on 19 January 1804 (and is quoted in full here). I don't know which newspaper though, as I saw the cutting in an album of Deptford cuttings in the British Library (shelfmark 578 m 8). Alternatively, there shouldn't be too many London newspapers to search through for that date if you have access to the Newspaper Library.

Scott Wood said...

Thanks Caroline, shouldn't be too hard to track the original paper down, you're right. I wasn't sure whether it was from a newspaper or broadside ballad or parish magazine so that is a help.

Thank you, it's for some research I'm doing on English revenants and I am enjoying fitting a few south London ones in.