The same year that Marie Antoinette made friends with the Princesse de Lamballe, is the same year when the Stockwell ghost or poltergeist appeared in Stockwell, Surrey. The story involves a pious old lady named Mrs. Golding and her 20-year-old maid. On the Twelfth Day — which was 6 January 1772, about ten o’clock in the morning — a great alarm was raised because out of nowhere and without any visible cause, Mrs. Golding’s crockery began to rattle, tumble, and whirl. It fell down the chimney and sailed through the windows. Pots and pans also began to tumble and then “hams, cheese, and loaves of bread disported themselves upon the floor just as if the devil were in them.” Even the furniture began to misbehave and act strangely:
“A clock tumbled down and the case broke; a lantern that hung on the staircase was thrown down and the glass broken … [and] an earthen pan of salted beef broke to pieces and the beef fell about.”
It seemed as if all the articles in the house were possessed by the devil or to be more precise the Stockwell ghost. This caused a fearful Mrs. Golding to inquire of a local carpenter, a Mr. Rowlidge, as to the cause of such unusual commotion. He surmised “the foundation was giving way and that the house was tumbling down, occasioned by the too great weight of an additional room erected above.” With such news, Rowlidge and several other persons began to remove Mrs. Golding’s belongings from her house.
While Mrs. Golding belongings were being moved, a distraught Mrs. Golding ran to her neighbor’s house. His name was Mr. Gresham, and it was at his house that Mrs. Golding fainted. About the same time Mrs. Golding fainted, the commotion stopped. Miss Ann Robinson, Mrs. Golding’s maid, who had hidden herself upstairs, was finally coaxed downstairs and she went to Mr. Gresham’s too.
In the meantime, Mrs. Golding’s niece, a Mrs. Pain, was sent for with word that Mrs. Golding had died. When Mrs. Pain appeared at Gresham’s house, she found her aunt alive, weak, and frightened. At Gresham’s house also was a surgeon by the name of Gardner. So, when Mrs. Golding revived, she asked Gardner to bleed her, which he did. Mrs. Pain asked if the blood should be thrown out, but the surgeon said no.
After the blood congealed, an amazing thing happened. It “sprang out of the basin upon the floor and presently after, the basin broke to pieces!” Other items of Mrs. Golding’s removed to Mr. Gresham’s house also suddenly began to act strangely. The china flew off the sideboard and tumbled about the floor, a jar of pickles turned upside down, a jar of jam broke to pieces, and so did two mahogany waiters and a quadrille box.
With all the strange things happening, Mrs. Pain persuaded her aunt to go to her house at Rush Common, near Brixton Causeway. They arrived around two o’clock in the afternoon. Mrs. Pain promised her aunt “she would endeavor to make her as happy as she could, hoping by this time all was over.”
Later that evening, Mr. Gresham and his wife went to Mrs. Pain’s for dinner and then around eight o’clock, “a fresh scene began.” A row of pewter dishes suddenly fell off a shelf, landed on the floor, rolled around, and then settled. Then without warning “and what is almost beyond belief, as soon as they were quiet, [the dishes] turned upside down!” Someone gathered the dishes and set them on the dresser, but again they fell, rolled, became quiet, and turned upside down. A second row of pewter plates fell to the floor, and they were gathered up only to be quickly thrown down again.
But that was not all. An egg on a shelf “flew off, cross[ed] the kitchen, struck a cat on the head, and then broke into pieces.” More things then fell to the floor — a pestle and mortar, candlesticks, glasses, china, and a glass tumbler — and then a teapot flew across the room and hit Robinson on the foot. Everyone witnessing the strange scene was scared and believed it must be some nefarious Stockwell ghost, Furthermore, Mrs. Pain and her aunt worried what would happen next.
During all these strange events, Mrs. Golding noticed that Robinson seemed calm. She even told her mistress that such events “were common occurrences, which must happen in every family!” When the strangeness continued, Mrs. Pain sent for her neighbor, Richard Fowler. He came but he did not stay past one o’clock in the morning because he was so terrified.
Eventually, Mrs. Pain was so exhausted she went to bed. All seemed quiet for a time until Mrs. Golding woke her niece about five o’clock in the morning. Mrs. Golding declared, “the noises and destruction were so great, she could continue in the house no longer.” The two women went downstairs and found the furniture was tumbling again, and they deduced “their only security … was to quit the house, for fear of the same catastrophe [occurring].”
At this point, Mrs. Golding went to Fowler’s house. Later, when Robinson appeared strange things began to happen there reputedly caused by the Stockwell ghost. Fowler claimed Robinson told him “not to let her mistress remain there, as she said wherever she was the same things would follow.” Fearful, Fowler requested Mrs. Golding “quit his house; but [he] first begged her to consider … 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.”
Mrs. Golding was offended by Fowler’s suggestion. She pointed out that until the Stockwell ghost appeared she had been held in high esteem by everyone who knew her. For that reason, Mrs. Golding told Fowler with certainty, “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.”
At this point, Mrs. Golding, Robinson, and Mr. Pain went back to Mrs. Golding’s house. Soon after their return, strange and curious things began to occur attributed to the Stockwell ghost:
“A nine-gallon cask of beer, that was in the cellar … turned upside down. A pail of water, that stood on the floor, boiled like a pot! A box of candles fell from a shelf in the kitchen to the floor … a round mahogany table over-set in the parlor.”
Because the strange happenings seemed to follow Robinson, Mr. Pain and Mrs. Golding came to the conclusion that there was no Stockwell ghost but that Robinson was the culprit. To test their theory, they sent Robinson to retrieve Mrs. Pain. While Robinson was gone all the curious and strange circumstances ceased. So, when Robinson returned, Mrs. Golding dismissed her, and thereafter the strange circumstances never occurred again.
Years later, Robinson revealed the affair to a Reverend Brayfield. He repeated the story to William Hone, who then published the explanation, and, as predicted, there was no ghost or mischievous apparition. Instead Robinson admitted she “was anxious to have a clear house to carry on an intrigue with her lover, and [so] she resorted to this trick in order to effect her purpose.”
According to Robinson, she placed the crockery and china on shelves in such a manner that it would easily fall. She attached horse-hair or wires to articles so that she could jerk them and cause them to jump and dance. She also admitted that when no one was looking, she threw the egg at the cat and threw other things down, “which the persons present, when they turned round and saw them in motion or broken, attributed to unseen agency.” As for the boiling water, she slipped in chemical powders.
She furthermore reported that the frightened spectators assisted her. It seems everyone was so alarmed no one thought to inspect anything too closely, and because they were scared, “they kept an awful distance, and sometimes would not look at the utensils, lest they might face fresh horrors.” In the end, Robinson noted she was astonished everyone attributed the strange happenings to the Stockwell ghost. Thus, Robinson continued:
“[F]rom one thing to another; and being quick in her motions and shrewd, she puzzled all the simple old people, and nearly frightened them to death.”
-  Walford, Edward, Old and New London, Vol, 6, 1880, p. 328.
-  Hone, William, The Every-day Book, 1825, p. 64.
-  Ibid., p. 63.
-  Ibid. p. 64.
-  Crowe, Catherine, The Night-side of Nature, 1850, p. 375.
-  Ibid.
-  Ibid.
-  Ibid.
-  Ibid., p. 377.
-  Hone, William, p. 67.
-  Crowe, Catherine, p. 378.
-  Hone, William, p. 67.
-  Crowe, Catherine, p. 379.
-  Ibid.
-  Ibid.
-  Walford, Edward, p. 328.
-  Hone, William, p. 78.
-  Ibid., p. 69.
-  Ibid.