The Cock Lane Ghost ('Scratching Fanny'; London; 1762)

jefflovestone

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The Cock Lane Ghost: Murder, Sex and Haunting in Dr. Johnson's London by Paul Chambers

I wasn't sure whether to put this here on in the ghosts forum. I read this the other day and thoroughly enjoyed it; the amount of background information provided was amazing. In fact, the actual hoax haunting takes a back seat to the backgrounds of the various characters and wider social context, making for an illuminating poke around 18th C. society.

Anyone else read this?
 

Stormkhan

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Yes - this book is a wonderful addition to my library. It is a very clever account of a solved mystery (as opposed to unsolved mystery) which gives any Fortean a good example of how a series of 'paranormal' events can spiral out of control and (almost) lead to mass demonstration but takes a few sceptical, level-headed people with determination to both diffuse a situation and completely debunk the 'classic' case.

I admit, it is a corking good read as well as a good Fortean history.
 

jefflovestone

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Stormkhan said:
Yes - this book is a wonderful addition to my library. It is a very clever account of a solved mystery (as opposed to unsolved mystery) which gives any Fortean a good example of how a series of 'paranormal' events can spiral out of control and (almost) lead to mass demonstration but takes a few sceptical, level-headed people with determination to both diffuse a situation and completely debunk the 'classic' case.

I admit, it is a corking good read as well as a good Fortean history.

Thank God for that! I thought I was reading phantom literature that no-one else had heard of!

Yes, it's a great book lots of insight into such a variety of things. I found the parallels between mass media then and now particularly fascinating.

It's a shame such a great book hasn't been more widely read on here as it looks like two of us can greatly recommend it.
 

fishersghost

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I am an Aussie and lived in London for a total of 6 years 1995-97 and 1999 - 2003. I love London and consider it to be my true home. Anyway being a fortean I used to work around London and spot famous sites of hauntings, murders and mysteries. It helped that I lived betweeb Barbican and Spitalfields for much of this time, and that area really has the Vybe !!!

Anyway I used to walk a lot a round the City/Clerkenwell/Holborn area(yes I used the tube, love the tube, know the map off by heart and also grumble about the tube). Now the point of my posting is this. Over near Smithfield just around the corner from St Barts hospital ( Newgate prison) near Pie corner ( where the great fire stopped), is Cock Lane, which is famous for the Cock Lane Ghost, which was the first heavily covered poltergiest case in history. I would walk past that house every couple of weeks and marvel that I was in touch with such a famously Fortean building. Fortean Times even did an article on the house and had a photograph on the house as it was today in comparison with an 18th century engraving done at the tim eof the haunting.

Now just before I left London in early 2003 I took a walk down Cock lane to say good bye, not knowing when I would again return to my beloved London and the lane. I was shocked to find that the house had been demolished . I called the Fortean Times to alert them to the situation, I was assured that it would be looked into and promptly left London to say good-bye to old mates up north .

I have never missed an edition of FT in over 11 years and no one has mentioned it destruction in the FT or anywhere else that I have looked.

What I want to know is did I imagine this ? Did I walk down CockLane in some timeslip that threw me way way into the future and that it is still there ? Do the FT staff think I was Hoaxing them or perhaps that I am mad.

Can someone please take a look down Cock lane for me and see if I imagined this or if I am sadly correct. I hope Iam mistaken, as I would hate to think that people would destroy an 18th century house in the centre of London especially one with such an historic slant to it.
 
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Elliesquire

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Was it number 33 Cock Lane?
This website:
tinyurl.com/r6gom
Says it's not there anymore. :(

The URL posted above is dead. The MIA webpage can be accessed via the Wayback Machine:
https://web.archive.org/web/2006072...alks.co.uk/29/great-fire-of-london-cock.shtml

Here's the relevant text from the MIA webpage ...


Cock Lane today is a relatively unappealing and unattractive modern thoroughfare. Number 33 was long ago demolished, which is a great pity, for in the late 18th century one of London’s most infamous hauntings occurred, at what was then the home of William Parsons.

One morning in 1760, Parsons offered lodgings to a widower named William Kent. Kent gratefully accepted and moved in with his sister-in-law, Miss Fanny, with whom he had become romantically involved. Not long after the two lovers had taken up residence, Parson’s borrowed a considerable sum of money from Kent, and showed a marked reluctance to repay it. With relations strained between the two men, Kent was suddenly called away on business, and Miss Fanny, rather than sleep alone, took Parson eleven –year- old daughter, Elizabeth, into bed with her at night. In the early hours of the morning, they were woken by a mysterious scratching noise, sounding from behind the wainscoting, and Fanny convinced herself that it was the spirit of her dead sister, warning her of her own imminent demise. When Kent returned he found his mistress on the verge of a nervous breakdown and deemed it best that they move out. But no sooner had they found new lodgings than Fanny died of smallpox, and was buried in a vault in the church of St John’s Clerkenwell.

When Kent began to press Parson’s for repayment of the outstanding loan, the former reacted by claiming that the scratching noises had resumed in his house. Furthermore, he insisted that it was the spirit of Miss Fanny that was behind this latest outbreak, and that she had informed him that William Kent had, infact, murdered her. When news spread that a vengeful ghost was making its presence known at 33 Cock Lane, Londoners flocked to make its acquaintance, where they heard the revenant of Miss Fanny - using a sequence of banging, scratching and knocking noises – accuse William Kent of poisoning her with arsenic. The activity appeared to centre on eleven- year-old Elizabeth Parson’s, and her father was only too happy to decipher the messages. He also did a roaring trade, charging an admission fee to those who wanted to hear the ghost!

But then a local clergyman threw a holy spanner into the works by announcing that, since the spirit was apparently accusing Kent of a serious crime, then an investigation should be carried out by a group of eminent men into the veracity of the allegations. The ghost proved more than willing to oblige and informed him, through Parsons, that if he would spend a night by Miss Fanny’s resting place in the crypt of St John’s church, then she would answer any questions by knocking on the lid of her coffin. And so it was that the vicar, accompanied by a group of fearless companions that included the great Dr Samuel Johnson, traipsed down into St John’s crypt at one o’clock one morning. When nothing had occurred by dawn, Johnson declared the ghost a fraud. A secret watch was kept on Elizabeth, who was observed hiding a small wooden board under her stays, and the trick was exposed. Parsons spent two years in the King’s Bench Prison. Elizabeth was exonerated of any crime, it being deemed that she had been an unwitting accomplice. William Kent’s name was cleared. London settled back into the Age of Reason, and the ghost was assigned to the pages of history as, ‘Scratching Fanny of Cock Lane!’
 
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fishersghost

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Elliesquire said:
Was it number 33 Cock Lane?
This website:
http://tinyurl.com/r6gom
Says it's not there anymore. :(

Well 2003 is not long demolished by my thinking. Why oh why won't we learn. I saw it with my own eyes as late as Nov 2002.

Thanks for looking it up for me.
 

Eponastill

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An antique, very Common Sense account of the famous Cock Lane knocking 'ghost' can be found here on p125 of 'Apparitions?' by Joseph Taylor, 1815.
(Link is dead. No archived version found.)

I haven't got anything sensible to say about it, I just wanted to share it with you..

Some of the other tales in the book are very interesting, particularly (to me) the ones about people misperceiving things which they then realised were something quite different.
I rather like it's purpose ie
"Being a collection of entertaining stories founded on fact, and selected for the purpose of eradicating those fears which the ignorant, the weak, and the superstitious are but too apt to encourage."


edited by TheQuixote: fixing link
 
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A

Anonymous

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Thanks Eponastill, I'll look that one up - it's a most entertaining subject.

A fascinating and essential book for the collection is Lore of the Land: From the Witches of Warboys to Spring-Heeled Jack. It's a thoroughly well edited compendium of phenomena from the whole of the British Isles - but it is quite expensive. Still well worth it though.

cheers

PK
 

synchronicity

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I haven't heard of either of these books, but I appreciate the recommendations!

I don't know if they're available here in the US, but I can check to see.

Thank God for amazon.com! :lol:
 

Timble2

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I was wilfing the other night and came across the site for the Newgate Calendar - which started as court reports and developed into a sort of proto-True Crimes - that was published from around 1750 to 1840. Someone's put them online (based on a 1926 edition). One appendix contains several stories about faked hauntings. This one's interesting as there's what amounts to a seance nearly 90 years before the Fox sisters.

If anyone's posted these before please merge, I did a search and couldn't find them.

The Cock Lane Ghost kept London in a state of commotion for no short time, and was the universal theme of conversation among the learned and the illiterate, and in every circle of society, "from the prince to the peasant." It appears that at the commencement of the year 1760, there resided in Cock Lane, near West Smithfield, in the house of one Parsons, the parish clerk of St Sepulchre's, a stockbroker, named Kent. The wife of this gentle man had died in child-bed during the previous year and his sister-in-law, Miss Fanny, had arrived from Norfolk to keep his house for him. They soon conceived a mutual affection, and each of them made a will in the other's favour. They lived for some months in the house of Parsons, who, being a needy man, borrowed money of his lodger. Some differences arose betwixt them, and Mr Kent left the house, and instituted legal proceedings against the parish clerk for the recovery of his money.

While this matter was yet pending, Miss Fanny was suddenly taken ill of the small-pox, and, not withstanding every care and attention, she died in a few days, and was buried in a vault under Clerkenwell church. Parsons now began to hint that the poor lady had come unfairly by her death, and that Mr Kent was accessory to it, from his too great eagerness to enter into possession of the property she had bequeathed him. Nothing further was said for nearly two years; but it would appear that Parsons was of so revengeful a character, that he had never forgotten or forgiven his differences with Mr Kent, and the indignity of having been sued for the borrowed money. The strong passions of pride and avarice were silently at work during all that interval, hatching schemes of revenge, but dismissing them one after the other as impracticable, until, at last, a notable one suggested itself. About the beginning of the year 1762, the alarm was spread over all the neighbourhood of Cock Lane, that the house of Parsons was haunted by the ghost of poor Fanny, and that the daughter of Parsons, a girl about twelve years of age, had several times seen and conversed with the spirit, who had, more over, informed her, that she had not died of the small-pox, as was currently reported, but of poisons administered by Mr Kent. Parsons, who originated, took good care to countenance these reports; and, in answer to numerous inquiries, said his house was every night, and had been for two years -- in fact ever since the death of Fanny, troubled by a loud knocking at the doors and in the walls. Having thus prepared the ignorant and credulous neighbours to believe or exaggerate for themselves what he had told them, be sent for a gentleman of a higher class in life, to come and witness these extraordinary occurrences. The gentleman came accordingly, and found the daughter of Parsons, to whom the spirit alone appeared, and whom alone it answered, in bed, trembling violently, having just seen the ghost, and been again informed that she had died from poison. A loud knocking was also heard from every part of the chamber, which so mystified the not very clear understanding of the visitor, that he departed, afraid to doubt and ashamed to believe, but with a promise to bring the clergyman of the parish and several other gentlemen on the following day, to report upon the mystery.

On the following night he returned, bringing with him three clergymen, and about twenty other persons, including two negroes, when, upon a consultation with Parsons, they resolved to sit up the whole night, and await the ghost's arrival. It was then explained by Parsons, that although the ghost would never render itself visible to anybody but his daughter, it had no objection to answer the questions that might be put to it by any person present, and that it expressed an affirmation by one knock, a negative by two, and its displeasure by a kind of scratching. The child was then put into bed along with her sister, and the clergymen examined the bed and bed-clothes to satisfy themselves that no trick was played, by knocking upon any substance concealed among the clothes, as, on the previous night, the bed was observed to shake violently.

After some hours; during which they all waited with exemplary patience, the mysterious knocking was heard in the wall, and the child declared that she saw the ghost of poor Fanny. The following questions were then gravely put by the clergyman, through the medium of one Mary Frazer, the servant of Parsons, and to whom it was said the deceased lady bad been much attached. The answers were in the usual fashion, by a knock or knocks.

"Do you make this disturbance on account of the ill usage you received from Mr Kent? " -- "Yes,"

"Were you brought to an untimely end by poison? " -- "Yes."

"How was the poison administered, in beer or in purl? " -- "In purl."

"How long was that before your death? " -- "About three hours."

"Can your former servant, Carrots, give any information about the poison?" -- "Yes."

"Are you Kent's wife's sister?" -- "Yes."

"Were you married to Kent after your sister's death?" -- "No."

"Was anybody else, besides Kent, concerned in your murder? " -- "No."

"Can you, if you like, appear visibly to any one? Yes."

"Will you do so? " -- "Yes."

"Can you go out of this house?" -- "Yes,"

"Is it your intention to follow this child about everywhere?" -- -" Yes."

"Are you pleased in being asked these questions?" -- "Yes."

"Does it ease your troubled soul?" -- "Yes."

[Here there was heard a mysterious noise, which some wiseacre present compared to the fluttering of wings.]

" How long before your death did you tell your servant, Carrots, that you were poisoned? -- An hour? " -- "Yes."

[Carrots, who was present, was appealed to; but she stated positively that such was not the fact, as the deceased was quite speechless an hour before her death, This shook the faith of some of the spectators, but the examination was allowed to continue.]

"How long did Carrots live with you?" -- "Three or four days."

[Carrots was again appealed to, and said that this was true.]

"If Mr Kent is arrested for this murder; will he confess? " -- "Yes."

"Would your soul be at rest if he were hanged for it? " -- "Yes."

"Will he be hanged for it?" -- "Yes."

"How long a time first?" -- "Three years."

"How many clergymen are there in this room?" -- "Three."

"How many negroes?" -- "Two."

"Is this watch (held up by one of the clergymen) white? " -- "No."

" Is it yellow? " -- "No."

"Is it blue?" -- "No."

"Is it black? " -- "Yes."

[The watch was in a black shagreen case.]

"At what time this morning will you take your departure?"

The answer to this question was four knocks, very distinctly heard by every person present; and accordingly, at four o'clock precisely, the ghost took its departure to the Wheatsheaf public-house, close by, where it frightened mine host and his lady almost out of their wits by knocking in the ceiling right above their bed.

The rumour of these occurrences very soon spread over London, and every day Cock-lane was rendered impassable by the crowds of people who assembled around the house of the parish clerk, in expectation of either seeing the ghost or of hearing the mysterious knocks. It was at last found necessary, so clamorous were they for admission within the haunted precincts, to admit those only who would pay a certain fee; an arrangement which was very convenient to the needy and money-loving Mr Parsons. Indeed, things had taken a turn greatly to his satisfaction; he not only had his revenge, but he made a profit out of it. The ghost, in consequence, played its antics every night, to the great amusement of many hundreds of people, and the great perplexity of a still greater number.

Unhappily, however, for the parish clerk, the ghost was induced to make some promises which were the means of utterly destroying its reputation. It promised, in answer to the questions of the Reverend Mr Aldritch of Clerkenwell, that it would not only follow the little Miss Parsons wherever she went, but would also attend him, or any other gentleman, into the vault under St John's Church, where the body of the murdered woman was deposited, and would there give notice of its presence by a distinct knock upon the coffin. As a preliminary, the girl was conveyed to the house of Mr Aldritch near the church, where a large party of ladies and gentlemen, eminent for their acquirements, their rank, or their wealth, had assembled. About ten o'clock on the night of the 1st of February, the girl, having been brought from Cock-lane in a coach, was put to bed by several ladies in the house of Mr Aldritch, a strict examination having been previously made that nothing was hidden in the bedclothes. While the gentlemen, in an adjoining chamber, were deliberating whether they should proceed in a body to the vault, they were summoned into the bedroom by the ladies, who affirmed, in great alarm, that the ghost was come, and that they heard the knocks and scratches. The gentlemen entered accordingly, with a determination to suffer no deception. The little girl, on being asked whether she saw the ghost, replied, "No; but she felt it on her back like a mouse." She was then required to put her hands out of bed, and, these being held by some of the ladies, the spirit was summoned in the usual manner to answer, if it were in the room. The question was several times put with great solemnity; but the customary knock was not heard in reply in the walls, neither was there any scratching. The ghost was then asked to render itself visible, but it did not choose to grant the request. It was next solicited to give some token of its presence by a sound of any sort, or by touching the hand or cheek of any lady or gentleman in the room; but even with this request the ghost would not comply.

There was now a considerable pause, and one of the clergymen went down-stairs to interrogate the father of the girl, who was waiting the result of the experiment. He positively denied that there was any deception, and even went so far as to say that he himself, upon one occasion, had seen and conversed with the awful ghost. This having been communicated to the company, it was unanimously resolved to give the ghost another trial; and the clergyman called out in a loud voice to the supposed spirit that the gentleman to whom it had promised to appear in the vault was about to repair to that place, where he claimed the fulfilment of its promise. At one hour after midnight they all proceeded to the church, and the gentleman in question, with another, entered the vault alone, and took up their position alongside of the coffin of poor Fanny. The ghost was then summoned to appear, but it appeared not; it was summoned to knock, but it knocked not; it was summoned to scratch, but it scratched not; and the two retired from the vault, with the firm belief that the whole business was a deception practised by Parsons and his daughter. There were others, however, who did not wish to jump so hastily to a conclusion, and who suggested that they were, perhaps, trifling with this awful and supernatural being, which, being offended with them for their presumption, would not condescend to answer them. Again, after a serious consultation, it was agreed on all bands that, if the ghost answered anybody at all, it would answer Mr Kent. the supposed murderer; and he was accordingly requested to go down into the vault. He went with several others, and summoned the ghost to answer whether he had indeed poisoned her. There being no answer, the question was put by Mr Aldritch, who conjured it, if it were indeed a spirit, to end their doubts -- make a sign of its presence, and point out the guilty person. There being still no answer for the space of half an hour, during which time all these boobies waited with the most praiseworthy perseverance, they returned to the house of Mr Aldritch, and ordered the girl to get up and dress herself. She was strictly examined, but persisted in her statement that she used no deception, and that the ghost had really appeared to her.

So many persons had, by their openly expressed belief of the reality of the visitation, identified themselves with it, that Parsons and his family were far from being the only persons interested in the continuance of the delusion. The result of the experiment convinced most people; but these were not to be convinced by any evidence, however positive, and they therefore spread about the rumour, that the ghost had not appeared in the vault, because Mr Kent had taken care beforehand to have the coffin removed. That gentleman, whose position was a very painful one, immediately procured competent witnesses, in whose presence the vault was entered, and the coffin of poor Fanny opened. Their deposition was then published; and Mr Kent indicted Parsons and his wife, his daughter, Mary Frazer the servant, the Rev Mr Moor, and a tradesman, two of the most prominent patrons of the deception, for a conspiracy. The trial came on in the Court of King's Bench, on the 10th of July, before Lord Chief-Justice Mansfield, when, after an investigation which lasted twelve hours, the whole of the conspirators were found guilty. The Rev Mr Moor and his friend were severely reprimanded in open court, and recommended to make some pecuniary compensation to the prosecutor for the aspersions they had been instrumental in throwing upon his character. Parsons was sentenced to stand three times in the pillory, and to be imprisoned for two years: his wife to one year's, and his servant to six mouths' imprisonment in the Bridewell. A printer, who had been employed by them to publish an account of the proceedings for their profit, was also fined fifty pounds, and discharged.

The precise manner in which the deception was carried on has never been explained. The knocking in the wall appears to have been the work of Parsons' wife, while the scratching part of the business was left to the little girl. That any contrivance so clumsy could have deceived anybody, cannot fail to excite our wonder. But thus it always is. If two or three persons can only be found to take the lead in any absurdity, however great, there is sure to be plenty of imitators. Like sheep in a field, if one clears the stile, the rest will follow.
 

Yithian

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This is a very famous book in the history of psychical research, named after the famous case/scandal/scam of 1762 that captivated London (and Dr Samuel Johnson). The author is best known today for his highly collectible 'Fairy Books', but in the Victorian era he was a public intellectual, a prominent journalist and a household name.

See Here:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cock_Lane_ghost

Cock Lane and Common Sense by Andrew Lang [1844-1912](London: Longhams, 1894)​

Book Here:
https://archive.org/details/cocklanecommonse00languoft

Written by folklorist Andrew Lang (1844-1912), this 1894 publication examines the ambivalent relationship the living have attempted to forge with the dead throughout history. Nicknamed 'the Wizard of St Andrews', this prolific polymath also worked as an anthropologist, classicist, historian, poet, mythologist, essayist and journalist, producing over a hundred publications in his lifetime. Largely ignored by scholarship, this book suggests expanding the study of folklore to include contemporary narratives of supernatural events. Taking its title from the legends of the notorious Cock Lane ghost, the work considers the survival of ancient beliefs such as hauntings, clairvoyance, and other phenomena believed to transcend the laws of nature, and how such beliefs have persisted through great social upheaval and change. It includes chapters on savage and ancient spiritualism, comparative psychical research, haunted houses, second sight, crystal gazing, and Presbyterian ghost hunters, among others.
 
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EnolaGaia

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This extensive article on the Cock Lane Ghost / Scratching Fanny appeared in Fortean Times ...

Scratching Fanny

In early 1762, a ghost story unfolded in London involving a teenage girl, a drunken parish clerk, a horde of nosy aristocrats and intellectuals, and an accusation of murder. The story of ‘Scratching Fanny’ was the media sensation of its day, writes Sarah Bakewell, attracting a nightly crowd to rival those that flocked to the Covent Garden theatres.

By Sarah Bakewell
September 2001

https://web.archive.org/web/2007120...m/features/articles/265/scratching_fanny.html
 
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