Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Devil of Deptford - a poltergeist tale from 1699

For Halloween here's a spooky story from late 17th century Deptford. 'The Devil of Deptford' is a pamphlet by the clergyman Edward Fowler.  According to the historian Peter Elmer,  the 'haunted' house in question 'almost certainly' belonged to 'Henry Godman (d.1702) who combined preaching with medical practice and had resided at Deptford since at least 1672' (The Miraculous Conformist: Valentine Greatrakes, the Body Politic, and the Politics of Healing in Restoration Britain, OUP, 2013). Looking at old maps I believe that Back Lane was near to Deptford Green about where Gilbert House now stands.

'The Devil of Deptford... being a true relation of the strange disturbances, ludicrous feats and malicious pranks of an evil spirit in the house of Mr G. living in Back Lane at Deptford near London, in April and May 1699. The truth whereof is known, and can be attested to by a great number of the inhabitants of that town...

there are evil spirits or devils, which do infest this lower world, and of which we have a fresh convincing argument in the following instance: all the particulars whereof were acted, not in the dark, or at midnight, but at Noon-day in the face of the sun, in the sight of a great many persons, and the effects thereof were felt by divers of the family

Upon Saturday April 25 1699... about Twelve a Clock at Noon, a stone was thrown against the parlour window next to the street, which breaking the glass came into the room.The boys that were in the street were charged with doing it, but they all denyed it; when instantly another stone was thrown, which broke the glass likewise... Soon after for many days together a great number of stones were thrown against the back and side windows next to the garden, seeming to come from the fields behind... At length they nailed strong deal board on the outside of the broken windows, after which the disturbance ceased from without, but began within the house. One time all the china cups and glasses were removed from the mantel-piece in the parlour, and set on the floor... Several pewter plates were seen to come out of the kitchen below stairs into the parlour of themselves... A candle and candlestick being left in the dining room, which was locked, was thrown upstairs, and their looking out at the noise found it there, and yet the door continued locked as before'.

(the full text may be available at Early English Books online,
if anyone has a login)

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