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9 Earl Street, Westminster (1825)

In his book ‘Poltergeist Over England: Three Centuries of Mischievous Ghosts’, Harry Price refers to a case at 9 Earl Street, Westminster where the ringing of the bells in the house was ‘so loud and persistent that it sent one of the maidservants into convulsions!’  But was this a poltergeist?  Earl Street is now part of Marsham Street and would have been in the stretch between Horseferry Road and Vincent Street.

The following detailed account of the experience was published in ‘Bealings Bells’ (1841) by Edward Moor and Bernard Barton in which they query whether there could be somekind of electric influence.

19 St Paul’s Terrace, Ball’s Pond, Islington, May 17 1834

SIR I consider it necessary to offer some apology for not having complied with your request sooner. The truth is Mr Milnes has been so pressed with business that it slipped his memory and rather than you should be disappointed I have taken the task upon myself. But Sir I found it much easier to tell you of our mysterious bell ringing than I now find it to sit down for the purpose of giving you a written narrative of it. The fact was so simple in itself that I hardly know how to reduce it to the form of history. However it happened as follows:

In the early part of February 1825 returning home from a walk to our then residence (No 9 Earl Street Westminster) about half past four in the afternoon. I was astonished to find the family much disturbed at the ringing of bells in the house without any visible cause. The first bell that rang was one in the nursery, the pull of which was at the bottom of the house quite unconnected with any others. This bell rang several times before the rest began. Then the dining room, next the drawing room and so on through the house, sometimes altogether as if they were trying to entice each other in uproar, at others one at a time but always very violently. By this time I was much alarmed and sent for Mr Milnes from the wharf, who thinking to find out what ailed them had the cases taken down that concealed the wires. Finding this of no use, he next placed a person with a light in each room while he himself held a candle under the row of bells below, but could not ascertain the slightest reason for this strange ringing, which lasted two hours and a half, nor have we ever since been able to discover more of it than we did then. I do not know that I need mention the equally surprising effect it had on one of our servant girls. But if you have the fact you can exercise your own judgment upon it. She from the first was more terrified than anyone else in the house and at the last peal fell into strong convulsions so strong as to require five men to hold her down. These convulsions continued sixteen hours and were succeeded by insensibility and a stupor that lasted nearly a week. Every means were used to restore her, even violence was resorted to, but without effect. It is singular that the moment she was seized with convulsive fits the bell ceased to ring. I shall be gratified to hear that you receive this in time. Believe me Sir.

Your's respectfully M Muses

Mr Milnes begs his kind respects

Edward Moor Esq

The foregoing however curious and strange is not so copious as Mrs Milnes relation to me. And one circumstance still in my recollection is altogether omitted. It is this the servant who was frightened into fits by the ringing was a mulatto. Undoing her neck and head dress to give her air it was discovered that she had an extraordinary and copious head of hair, which stood widely out from her head in all directions. This divergence or radiation was described to have been very striking and in the mind of the Lady relator, I could discern a connection between the divergence of the hair of her servant the continuance of the ringing and the duration of the fits.

Possibly my smiling or attention in some way to that supposed connection may have been the reason of the omission in the preceding letter. I do not recollect whether or not Mr M noticed the fact. It is in the absence of knowledge not unworthy of relation implying possibly the presence or absence of extra electric matter.

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