The Evening Express of November 19, 1904 reported that, “A ghost has appeared at Blaenavon. So terrified are many of the colliery folk,that they leave lights burning at night, and many of the women are afraid to go to bed. Uncanny noises and the smashing of windows are some of the forms in which the ghost has manifested itself.”
There is disappointingly however, no further elaboration of the events, although one may speculate that carbon monoxide from burning gasoline lamps all night may have contributed slightly to the sightings.
In 2016, the national media remains enthusiastic in its coverage of the supernatural. It is, after all, human nature to be intrigued by the concept of life after death, and is a subject that invokes many emotions in us.
The tabloids delight in printing sensational stories of violent poltergeists or black eyed children! However, rarely is anything reported these days without some tangible “evidence” accompanying it; such are the demands of our cynical society, raised in the midst of ever-increasing science and technology.
In Wales, newspapers have historically reported sightings of ghosts made by local people, however interestingly, very little can be found reported in newspapers until after the 1800s. This is because the appearance of the deceased, even those of loved ones, was rarely considered a welcome experience, given that the blessed were in Heaven, and the damned in Hell, and the Catholic Church had to provide a space within which ghosts could operate.
It was taught that such apparitions were the miserable souls of those trapped, unable to rest until they had paid for their sins...so unsurprisingly it was rare for anyone to publicly confess to seeing a spirit during those times.
In time, theologians began to allow a belief in ghosts, as such a belief when Spiritualism, and the idea that the dead communicate with the living, became a trend, especially from the 1850s, Education and changed social structures did little to affect the beliefs, so this was widespread amongst all the classes, even royalty.
Middle class housewives in particular considered clairvoyance and mediumship that were as a domesticated skill and to be able to communicate with the dead would be as feminine an art as embroidery or music, and this is reflected in some of the local news stories of those times.
On November 7 1893 in the Wales Daily News, a rather long letter was printed, written by a Mrs Downe, of 8, Amelia- Terrace, Llwynypia who wanted everybody to know about her visitation.
The report said;
"I am the woman who was carried away, and l am the woman who can tell you the truth about it. I have plenty of witnesses who have heard the noise, and I had plenty of company in the house when he (the ghost) took me away”
“It was at half-past eight in the evening as near as I can say, when the ghost pulled me off the chair towards him to the passage. I was afraid, and I screamed, and jumped back to my chair. He was still there. Mrs Lewis told me to speak to him. I felt too nervous at first, but after a time I started to speak to him, when, before I could finish my words he pushed me out of the house and across the alley and into the water closet. There he lifted me onto the seat. Standing, and he pointed to the top of the wall. He told me, in Welsh to raise the stone and take what was under it, and that I must go.
“That was all he said to me there. Then he took me down about 200 yards from the house. I cannot tell you how he took me from the closet because I lost all my control. I found myself by the brim of a pond.
“Here he took from me what I had in my hand, and threw it into the water. Then he told me he should never trouble me any more. So that’s all the truth, and I hope you’ll be so kind as to put the truth down in your paper. I am not able to do the washing nor anything else I am not the same woman that I was before, and I think I ever will be.”
So many questions remain unanswered; I wonder what was in her hand, and how long she was unable to do the washing for, after this terrifying experience?
I found this attention grabbing and marvelous story, published in the Evening Express 4th March 1907:
‘Freaks of a spectre visits an act of revenge’
“The freaks of a so-called spectre are alarming a hamlet some forty miles from Cardiff. The ghost has been paying unwelcome attention to a well-known inhabitant of the hamlet who was recently married.
“The trouble commenced by his finding him- self lying on his bedroom floor beside his bed one morning. Naturally he put this down to nightmare. The morning after, however, on awaking he found himself at the other end of the room, and he then became somewhat uneasy.
“His wife on both occasions had slept peacefully The third night, however, both kept awake, and their vigil was rewarded by a sight of their mysterious visitor, who appeared shortly after the traditional hour of midnight. A trustworthy correspondent (says a London contemporary) ascertained from the victim that the spirit took the form of his own mother, who is still alive and well.
“He says that his mother opposed his marriage with the lady of his choice very strongly, and he thinks that the nocturnal visits are acts of revenge. In order to drive forth the unwelcome intruder, the victim, persuaded several of his male friends to remain in his house one night, but, although the ghost appeared as usual to the young man, his wife, and his mother-in-law, the other watchers were quite unable to discern the strange presence.
“The young man’s mother-in-law declares that on one occasion she approached the spectre, who said, quite distinctly, Well, what do you want?" She also says that she temporarily lost use of the lower of the right side of her body at the meeting.
“The victim declares that the spirit has several times accompanied him part of the way to the village, where he is engaged as a collier. His comrades are greatly perturbed by the frequent appearances of the spectre and believe firmly in the victim’s veracity. The vicar of the parish and several others have visited the house and tried in vain to elucidate the mystery.”
In fact, it such was the popularity of the paranormal in the late 1800s and early 1900s there were many bogus ‘haunting victims’ who would fake and invent stories, perhaps some for monetary gain, but more often than not simply for the prominence that the stories gave them.
Famous clairvoyants such as the American Fox Sisters were publicly exposed for their trickery of course, however locals here in Wales also took fraudulent spirit activity extremely seriously and heaven help those who were caught trying to scam people!
On February 7 1888 The Evening Express recounts the harsh reality of one man exposed for this crime. Headlined
“Thashing a Ghost”
“For some days past the inhabitants of Mumbles Head have been in a state of excitement over the alleged mysterious visitation of ghosts round the Mumbles after night-fall.
“It being determined to fathom the mystery, a number of men secreted them- selves on Newton-hill, when the spectre duly appeared in the form of a figure clothed in white, with blackened face. Hands were instantly laid upon the ghost, who was discovered to be well known in the district. He was stripped of his garments, and a sound flogging administered, notwithstanding his entreaties and protestations that it was only a joke. Meanwhile, a crowd had assembled, including the vicar of the parish. On being interrogated, the "ghost" said what he had done was only to amuse the children. The vicar said he had acted in a very foolish manner.”
Ironically a photograph of a spine chilling face in the window of a Mid Wales Hospital at Talgarth, near Brecon was published in a recent edition of Wales Online - however, it was quickly debunked and exposed as being simply a Halloween mask placed there to scare children, not unlike the practical joker in 1904!
Finally, the Evening Express dated November 19, 1904 a story titled “Capturing a ghost” tells the story of a Welsh man who was severely reprimanded for posing as a ghost and fined a hefty £5 which in todays worth would be around £280. The report reads;
“For the past fortnight the inhabitants of a village on the outskirts of Shrewsbury have been nightly terrified by the dangerous pranks of an alleged ghost. On Sunday night, however, fifty villagers set out with sticks and missiles, and succeeded in effecting the capture of the spectre.
It was then discovered that the ghost was a Welsh farmer who had recently gone to reside in the locality. His captors chastised him severely, and had it not been for timely interference, be would probably have been lynched. He had a very narrow escape, and was only released on handing over five pounds to the Salop Infirmary in payment for his folly.”
It was lucky that the farmer had that amount of cash on his person to be able to appease a mob of 50 angry villagers with sticks and missiles!
Those of us who have a real interest in the paranormal can of course now indulge in stories, and the real life testimonials of witnesses to spirit activity are many, so popular is the supernatural. There are publications and even TV channels, dedicated to the subject, but many of them are wasted, either as click bait, grossly exaggerated stories to be mocked on social media or consciously placed in the “strange” section of the day’s headlines.
With this in mind, I cannot help but to have a nostalgic fondness for the way these fascinating historical articles were reported, printed simply as a piece of common information, to be gossiped about similarly by women over stone walls or shared as a stimulating dinner conversation among the wealthy.
Written originally for The Abergavenny Chronicle