Haunted Carpentry Shop, Plymouth
In his ‘The Haunted Homes and Family Traditions of Great Britain’ (1897), John Ingram gives the following account of the ghostly carpenters encountered by Mary Anne Hunn, probably around 1791. ‘Amongst the innumerable multitude of buildings which have the reputation of being haunted, it will be noted that by far the larger number are haunted by strange noises and mysterious sounds only, but few of them really attaining to the dignity of being visited by visible beings. Some of the places, however, which have had the character of being disturbed by unusual and unaccountable noises are very interesting from the suggestiveness of these noises: in the following account, for instance, and indeed in many others, the ghostly but invisible visitants appear to be condemned to return to the occupations they followed before they shuffled off the mortal coil, and to resume, after their incorporeal fashion, the labours of their past life.
The mother of the famous premier, George Canning*, after the death of her first husband, became an actress, and married an actor. Becoming a widow for the second time, she married a third husband, named Hunn, and under his name appears to have acted in the provinces. Among other provincial towns Mrs. Hunn visited Plymouth, but previous to her arrival there she had requested Mr. Bernard, who was in some way connected with the theatre there, to procure lodgings for her in the town. When Mrs. Hunn arrived, she was met by Mr. Bernard with the intimation that if she were not afraid of a ghost, he could obtain very comfortable lodgings for her at a very low rate, “for there is,” said he, “a house belonging to our carpenter that is reported to be haunted, and nobody will live in it. If you like to have it, you may, and for nothing, I believe, for he is so anxious to get a tenant; only you must not let it be known that you do not pay any rent for it.”
Mrs. Hunn, alluding to theatrical apparitions, said it would not be the first time she had had to do with a ghost, and that she was very willing to encounter this one; so she had her luggage taken into the house in question, and the bed prepared. At her usual hour, she sent her maid and her children to bed, and curious to see if there was any foundation for the rumour she had heard, she seated herself with a couple of candles and a book, to watch the event. Beneath the room she occupied was the carpenter’s workshop, which had two doors; the one which opened into the street was barred and bolted within; the other, a smaller one, opening into the passage, was only on the latch; and the house was, of course, closed for the night. She had read somewhat more than half an hour, when she perceived a noise issuing from this lower apartment, which sounded very much like the sawing of wood; presently, other such noises as usually proceed from a carpenter’s workshop were added, till, by-and-bye, there was a regular concert of knocking and hammering, and sawing and planing; the whole sounding like half a dozen busy men in full employment. Being a woman of considerable courage, Mrs. Hunn resolved, if possible, to penetrate the mystery; so, taking off her shoes, that her approach might not be heard, with her candle in her hand, she very softly opened her door and descended the stairs, the noise continuing as loud as ever, and evidently proceeding from the workshop, till she opened the door, when instantly all was silent all was still not a mouse was stirring; and the tools and the wood, and everything else, lay as they had been left by the workmen when they went away. Having examined every part of the place, and satisfied herself that there was nobody there, and that nobody could get into it, Mrs. Hunn ascended to her room again, beginning almost to doubt her own senses, and question with herself whether she had really heard the noise or not, when it re-commenced, and continued, without intermission, for about half an hour. She however went to bed, and the next day told nobody what had occurred, having determined to watch another night before mentioning the affair to anyone. As, however, this strange scene was acted over again, without her being able to discover the cause of it, she now mentioned the circumstance to the owner of the house and to her friend Mr. Bernard; and the former, who would not believe it, agreed to watch with her, which he did. The noise began as before, and he was so horror-struck that, instead of entering the workshop as she wished him to do, he rushed into the street. Mrs. Hunn continued to inhabit the house the whole summer, and when referring afterwards to the adventure, she observed that use was second nature; and that she was sure, if any night these ghostly carpenters had not pursued their visionary labours, she should have been quite frightened lest they should pay her a visit upstairs. ‘
*George Canning lived at 50 Berkeley Square between 1770 – 1827, a reputedly haunted house.
**Mary Anne Costello (Born 1747 – Died Henrietta Street, Bath, 10 March 1827) had three children with her husband George Canning Snr. Following his death she took to the stage and became the mistress of Samuel Reddish, an actor. One account suggests they had had five children. In 1778 George Canning’s family came to his financial aid and was taken in by guardians and was sent to a respectable school. Though he could write to mother, he was not allowed to see her as being on the stage was not seen as being acceptable and he did not see her again until 1786. In 1783 she married a draper from Plymouth, Richard Hunn, who she possibly had a further three children with.
Map Note: I do not know where in Plymouth this experience took place yet so the map shows a central location. I will update this map should more information become available.