Monday, 24 July 2017

Manchester Mysteries

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.