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Epworth Old Rectory


Epworth Rectory has a lot of historical interest, being the childhood home of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. His father, the Revd. Samuel Wesley, arrived at the rectory with his wife Susanna in 1696. Thirteen years later, the original house was destroyed by fire. Thinking everyone had been evacuated, it was only by chance that someone looked up to see the figure of the Wesley's four year old son, John, standing at an upstairs window. John was rescued by the others forming a human ladder, and his mother was sure that her son's lucky escape meant he was a "brand plucked from the burning for a special destiny".

A new rectory was built on the site the same year, and soon afterwards Emily, the family's eldest daughter, began to hear scratching, knocking and footprints which could not be accounted for. She named the spectre 'Old Jeffrey' after a man who had died in the previous rectory. 

Old Jeffrey began to be heard by other members of the family. Visitors and servants also reported unaexplained experiences. Samuel Wesley reported that whenever he said family prayers for King George the sounds became more violent, but did not occur when they were omitted. He therefore assumed Old Jeffrey was a Jacobite!

The phenomena got gradually worse over time, with the family reporting chairs and bottles spontaneously breaking, doors bursting open, beds levitating and the family dog becoming very agitated. Old Jeffrey began to be see occasionally although no-one seems to agree on what he looked like. Emily reported he looked like an old man in a white nightgown, while her mother claimed he was a white rabbit. A maidservant even claimed he was a headless badger!

The family's experience with the poltergeist left a lasting impression on John Wesley, who wrote "With my latest breath will I bear witness.....one great proof of the invisible world, I mean that of witchcraft and apparitions, confirmed by the testimony of all ages."

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Author: 
P A McHugh

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Ian Topham
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Re: Epworth Old Rectory

The Grade I listed Old Rectory is open to the public and became a registere museum in 2001. I had been thinking about an article based upon Epworth Rectory for some time now but luckily Paul beat me to it, for in truth it could have been another few years before I got around writing one.  However I would like to add the following account of the haunting from The Haunted Homes and Family Traditions of Great Britain By John Ingram (1897):

In 1716, the Rev. Samuel Wesley, father of the famous John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was rector of Epworth, in Lincolnshire. During the months of December 1716, and January 1717, the parsonage was haunted in a most unpleasant fashion. The rector kept a diary in which the disturbances were recorded and which eventually formed the basis of the narrative afterwards compiled by his well-known son, for the Arminian Magazine. This account, supplemented by personal inquiries, and carefully written statement of each member of the household, forms not only one of the most marvellous, but also one of the best authenticated cases of haunted houses on record. The famous
Dr. Priestley, and the equally well-known Dr. Adam Clark, both furnish voluminous particulars of the affair, the latter devoting forty-six pages of his Memoirs of the Wesley Family to the narrative. In his Life of Wesley Southey, in reproducing the accounts of the mysterious disturbances, remarks that, " An author who, in this age, relates such a story and treats it as not utterly incredible and absurd, must expect to be ridiculed ; but the testimony upon which it rests is far too strong to be set aside because of the strangeness of the relation."

It is needless to reproduce anything like a complete account of the disturbances at Epworth Parsonage, so the reader must be content to have in a somewhat abridged form the narrative drawn up by John Wesley, supplemented by a few additional data gathered from other equally reliable sources.

" On December 2, 1716," says John Wesley, " while Robert Brown, my father's servant, was sitting with one of the maids, a little before ten at night, in the dining-room which opened into the garden, they both heard someone knocking at the door. Robert rose and opened it, but could see nobody. Quickly it knocked again and groaned. ' It is Mr. Turpine,' said Robert, ' he used to groan so.' He opened the door again twice or thrice, the knocking being twice or thrice repeated ; but still seeing nothing, and being a little startled, they rose up and went to bed. When Robert came to the top of the garret stairs, he saw a handmill, which was at a little distance, whirled about very swiftly. When he related this he said, ' Nought vexed me but that it was empty. I thought if it had been but full of malt he might have ground his hand out for me.' When he was in bed, he heard as it were the gobbling of a turkey-cock close to the bed-side, and soon after the sound of one stumbling over his shoes and boots ; but there was none there, he had left them below. The next day he and the maid related these things to the other maid, who laughed heartily, and said, * What a couple of fools you are ! I defy anything to fright me ! ' After churning in the evening, she put the butter in the tray, and had no sooner carried it into the dairy than she heard a knock-
ing on the shelf where several puncheons of milk stood, first above the shelf, then below. She took the candle and searched both above and below, but, being able to find nothing, threw down butter, tray, and all, and ran away for life.

"The next evening, between five and six o'clock, my sister Molly, then about twenty years of age, sitting in the dining-room reading, heard as if it were the door that led into the hall open, and a person walking in that seemed to have on a silk nightgown, rustling and trailing along. It seemed to walk round her, and then to the door, then round again ; but she could see nothing. She thought, 'It signifies nothing to run away; for, whatever it is, it can run faster than me.' So she rose, put her book under her arm, and walked slowly away. After supper, she was sitting with my sister Sukey (about a year older than her), in one of the chambers, and telling her what had happened. She made quite light of it, telling her, ' I wonder you are so easily frightened. I would fain see what would frighten me.  Presently a knocking began under the table. She took the candle and looked, but could find nothing. Then the iron casement began to clatter. Next the catch of the door moved up and down without ceasing. She started up, leaped into the bed without undressing, pulled the bed-clothes over her head, and never ventured to look up until next morning.

" A night or two after, my sister Hetty (a year younger than my sister Molly) was waiting as usual between nine and ten, to take away my father's candle, when she heard someone coming down the garret stairs, walking slowly by her, then going slowly down the best stairs, then up the back stairs and up the garret stairs, and at every step it seemed the house shook from top to bottom. Just then my father knocked, she went in, took his candle, and got to bed as fast as possible. In the morning she told it to my eldest sister, who told
her, ' You know T believe none of these things ; pray let me take away the candle to-night, and I will find out the trick.' She accordingly took my sister Hetty's place, and had no sooner taken away the candle, than she heard a noise below. She hastened downstairs to the hall, where the noise was, but it was then in the kitchen. She ran into the kitchen, when it was drum* mins on the inside of the screen. When she went round it was drumming on the outside, and so always on the side opposite to her. Then she heard a knocking at the back kitchen door. She ran to it, unlocked it softly, and, when the knocking was repeated, suddenly opened it, but nothing was to be seen. As soon as- she had shut it, the knocking began again. She opened it again, but could see nothing. When she went to shut the door, it was violently knocked against her; but she set her knee and her shoulder to the door, forced it to, and turned the key. Then the knocking began again ; but she let it go on, and went up to bed. However, from that time she was thoroughly convinced that there was no imposture in the affair.

" The next morning, my sister telling my mother what had happened, she said, ' If I hear anything myself, I shall know how to judge.' Soon after she begged her mother to come into the nursery. She did,  and heard, in the corner of the room, as it were the violent rocking of a cradle; but no cradle had been there for some years. She was convinced it was preternatural, and earnestly prayed it might not disturb her in her own chamber at the hours of retirement; and it never did. She now thought it was proper to tell my father. But he was extremely angry, and said, * Sukey, I am ashamed of you. These boys and girls frighten one another ; but you are a woman of sense, and should know better. Let me hear of it no more.'

"At six in the evening he had family prayers as usual. When he began the prayer for the King, a knocking began all round the room, and a thundering knock attended the Amen. The same was heard from this time every morning and evening while the prayer for the King was repeated. As both my father and mother are now at rest, and incapable of being pained thereby, I think it my duty to furnish the serious reader with a key to this circumstance.

" The year before King William died, my father observed my mother did not say Amen to the prayer for the King. She said she would not, for she did not believe the Prince of Orange was King. He vowed he would never cohabit with her until she did. He then took his horse and rode away, nor did she hear anything of him for a twelvemonth. He then came back and lived with her as before. But I fear his vow was not forgotten before God."

" Being informed that Mr. Hoole, the vicar of Haxey," resumes John Wesley, " could give me some further information, I walked over to him. He said," referring to the bygone disturbances at Epworth Parsonage, " Robert Brown came over to me and told me your father desired my company ; when I came, he gave me an account of all that had happened, particularly the knocking during family prayer. But that evening (to my great satisfaction) we heard no knocking at all. But between nine and ten a servant came in and said, ' Old Jeffrey is coming (that was the name of one that had died in the house), for I hear the signal.' This, they informed me, was heard every night about a quarter before ten. It was towards the top of the Louse, on the outside, at the north-east corner, resembling the loud creaking of a saw, or rather that of a windmill, when tbe body of it is turned about in order to shift the sails to the wind. We then heard a knocking over our heads, and Mr. Wesley, catching up a candle, said, ' Come, Sir, now you shall hear for yourself.' We went up-stairs, he with much hope, and I (to say the truth) with much fear. When we came into the nursery, it was knocking in the next room : when we went there, it was knocking in the nursery; and there it continued to knock, though we came in, and particularly at the head of the bed (which was of wood) in which Miss Hetty and two of her younger sisters lay. Mr. Wesley, observing that they were much affected, though asleep, sweating, and trembling exceeding, was very angry, and, pulling out a pistol, was going to fire at the place whence the sound came. But I snatched him by the arm and said, ' Sir, you are convinced that this is something preternatural. If so, you cannot hurt it, but you give it power to hurt you.' He then went close to the place and said, sternly : ' Thou deaf and dumb devil ! why dost thou fright these children who cannot answer for themselves I Come to me, in my study, that am a man ! ' Instantly it knocked his knock (the particular knock which he always used at the gate), as if it would shiver the board to pieces, and we heard nothing more that night."

Commenting upon this portion of the narrative, as furnished by the Kev. Mr. Hoole, John Wesley remarks :

"Till this time my father had never heard the least disturbance in his study. But the next evening, as he attempted to go into his study (of which none had the key but himself), when he opened the door it was thrust back with such violence as had like to have thrown him
down. However, he thrust the door open, and went in. Presently there was a knocking, first on one side, then on the other, and, after a time, in the next room, wherein my sister Nancy was. He went into that room, and, the noise continuing, adjured it to speak, but in vain. He then said, ' These spirits love darkness : put out the candle, and perhaps it will speak.' She did so, and he repeated the adjuration ; but still there was only knocking, and no articulate sound. Upon this he said, ' Nancy, two Christians are an overmatch for the devil. Go all of you down-stairs, it may be when I am alone he will have courage to speak.' When she was gone, a thought came into his head, and he said, * If thou art the spirit of my son Samuel, I pray knock three knocks, and no more.' Immediately all was silence, and there was no more knocking at all that night. I asked my sister Nancy (then fifteen years old), whether she was not afraid when my father used that adjuration. She answered she was sadly afraid it would speak when she put out the candle, but she was not at all afraid in the day-time, when it walked after her, only she thought when she was about her work, he might have clone it for her and saved her the trouble."

"By this time," continues John Wesley, "all my sisters were so accustomed to these noises, that they gave them little disturbance. A gentle tapping at their bed-head usually began between nine and ten at night. They then commonly said to each other, * Jeffrey is coming; it is time to go to sleep.' And if they heard a noise in the day, and said to my youngest sister, ' Hark, Kezzy, Jeffrey is knocking above,' she would run upstairs, and pursue it from room to room, saying she desired no better diversion.

"My father and mother had just gone to bed/' says Wesley, citing another instance of these mysterious disturbances, " and the candle was not taken away, when they heard three blows, and a second and a third three, as it were with a large oaken staff, struck upon a chest which stood by the bedside. My father immediately arose, put on his nightgown, and, hearing great noises below, took the candle and went down ; my mother walked by his side. As they went down the broad stairs, they heard as if a vessel full of silver was poured upon my mother's breast and ran jingling down to her feet. Quickly after, there was a sound as if a large iron bell were thrown among many bottles under the stairs ; but nothing was hurt. Soon after, our large mastiff dog came, and ran to shelter himself between them. While the disturbances continued he used to bark and leap, and snap on one side and the other, and that frequently before any person in the room heard any noise at all. But after two or three days he used to tremble, and creep away before the noise began. And by this the family knew it was at hand ; nor did the observation ever fail.

A little before my father and mother came into the hall," says Wesley, resuming the thread of his story, "it seemed as if a very large coal was violently thrown upon the floor, and dashed all in pieces ; but nothing was seen. Mv father then cried out, ' Sukev, do vou not hear ? all the pewter is thrown about the kitchen.' But when they looked all the pewter stood in its place. Then there was a loud knocking at the back door. My father opened it, but saw nothing. It was then at the front door. He opened that, but it was still lost labour, After opening first the one, then the other, several times, he turned and went up to bed. But the noises were so violent all over the house that he could not sleep till four in the morning.

"Several gentlemen and clergymen now earnestly advised my father," concludes Wesley, " to quit the house. But he constantly answered, 'No : let the devil flee from me ; I will never flee from the devil.' But he wrote to my eldest brother, at London, to come down. He was preparing so to do, when another letter came informing him the disturbances were over, after they had continued (the latter part of the time day and night), from the 2nd of December to the end of January."

The elder Wesley's diary fully confirms all the more remarkable portions of John Wesley's Narrative, and even mentions some curious incidents not given by the son : for instance, the Rev. Samuel says, " I have been thrice pushed by an invisible power, once against the
corner of my desk in the study, a second time against the door of the matted chamber, a third time against the right side of the frame of my study-door, as I was going in."

On the 25th December he records, "Our mastiff came whining to us, as he did always after the first night of its coming ; for then he barked violently at it, but was silent afterwards, and seemed more afraid than any of the children" 

John Wesley, also, received several lengthy letters from various members of the family, corroborating the various details already given, but these communications are too lengthy to cite, besides being frequently but repetitions of the same, or similar stories. From a letter written by Emily Wesley (afterwards Mrs. Harper), some extracts, however, may be given. " A whole month was sufficient to convince anybody," she writes, " of the reality of the thing. ... I shall only tell you what I myself heard, and leave the rest to others.

" My sisters in the paper-chamber had heard noises, and told me of them, but I did not much believe till one night, about a week after the first groans were heard, which was the beginning. Just after the clock struck ten, I went down-stairs to lock the doors, which I always do. Scarce had T got up the west stairs, when I heard a noise like a person throwing down a vast coal in the middle of the fore kitchen. I was not much frighted, but went to my sister Sukey, and we together went all over the lower rooms, but there was nothing out of order. Our dog was fast asleep, and our only cat in the other end of the house. No sooner was I got up- stairs and undressing for bed, but I heard a noise . . . This made me hasten to bed. But my sister, Hetty, who sits always to wait on my father, going to bed, was still sitting on the lowest step of the garret stairs, the door being shut at her back, when, soon after, there came down the stairs behind her something like a man in a loose night-gown trailing after him, which made her fly rather than run to me in the nursery." Emily Wesley, the writer of these words, it may be added, appeared to believe herself followed by this manifestation through life. When writing to her brother John, thirty-four years after the Epworth disturbances had taken place, she alludes to " that wonderful thing called by us Jeffrey " as calling upon her before any extraordinary new affliction.

In summing up the general circumstances attendant upon the disturbances in their household, John Wesley remarks :

"Before it came into any room, the latches were frequently lifted up, the windows clattered, and whatever iron or brass was about the chamber rung and jarred exceedingly. -

"When it was in any room, let them make what noise they would, as they sometimes did, its dead hollow note would be clearly heard above them all.

"The sound very often seemed in the air in trhe middle of a room ; nor could they ever make any such themselves, by any contrivance.

"It never came by day till my mother ordered the born to be blown. After that time scarce anyone could go from one room into another but the latch of the room they went to was lifted up before they touched it.

"It never came into my father's study till he talked to it sharply, calling it a deaf and dumb devil, and bid it cease to disturb the innocent children, and come to him in his study if it had anything to say to him.

"From the time of my mother desiring it not to disturb her from five to six, it was never heard in her chamber from five till she came down-stairs, nor at anv other time when she was employed in devotion."

No satisfactory explanation of these remarkable circumstances has ever, so far as we can discover, been afforded.



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