Widow Webb of Barby
In the late 19the century a house in the village of Barby had a reputation of being haunted by a widow who could not rest until her estate and debts were settled in full. The case appeared in Glimpses of the Supernatural (1875) by Dr Frederick George Lee (born 6 January 1832 – died 22 January 1902) a Church of England priest and was quoted directly in by John Ingram in The Haunted Homes and Family Traditions of Great Britain (1897).
According to Dr Lee, “An old woman of the name of Webb, a native of the place, and above the usual height, died on March 3rd, 1851, at 2 a.m., aged sixty-seven. Late in life she had married a man of some means, who having predeceased her, left her his property, so that she was in good circumstances. Her chief and notorious characteristic, however, was excessive perniciousness, she being remarkably miserly in her habits; and it is believed by many in the village that she thus shortened her days. Two of her neighbours, women of the names of Griffin and Holding, nursed her during her last illness, and her nephew, Mr. Hart, a farmer in the village, supplied her temporal needs; in whose favour she had made a will, by which she bequeathed to him all her possessions.
“About a month after the funeral, Mrs. Holding, who with her uncle lived next door to the house of the deceased (which had been entirely shut up since the funeral), was alarmed and astonished at hearing loud and heavy thumps against the partition wall, and especially against the door of a cupboard in the room wall, while other strange noises, like the dragging of furniture about the rooms, though all the furniture had been removed, and the house was empty. These were chiefly heard about two o’clock in the morning.
“Early in the month of April a family of the name of Accleton, much needing a residence, took the deceased woman’s house the only one in the village vacant and bringing their goods and chattels, proceeded to inhabit it. The husband was often absent, but he and his wife occupied the room in which Airs. Webb had died, while their daughter, a girl of about ten years of age, slept in a small bed in the corner. Violent noises in the night were heard about two o’clock thumps, tramps, and tremendous crashes, as if all the furniture had been collected together and then violently banged on to the floor. One night at 2 a.m. the parents were suddenly awakened by the violent screams of the child. ‘Mother! Mother! There’s a tall woman standing by my bed, a shaking her head at me! ‘The parents could see nothing, so did their best to quiet and compose the child. At four o’clock they were awakened by the child’s screams, for she had seen the woman again; in fact, she appeared to her no less than seven times on seven subsequent nights.
“Mrs Accleton, during her husband’s absence, having engaged her mother to sleep with her one night, was suddenly aroused at the same hour of two by a strange and unusual light in her room. Looking up, she saw quite plainly the spirit of Mrs. Webb, which moved towards her with a gentle appealing manner, as though it would have said ‘ Speak! Speak!’
“This spectre appeared likewise to a Mrs Rad-Dournc, a Mrs Griffiths, and a Mrs. Holding. They assert that luminous balls of light seemed to go up and towards a trap-door in the ceiling which led to the roof of the cottage. Each person who saw it testified likewise to hearing a low, unearthly moaning noise, ‘ strange and unnatural like,’ but somewhat similar in character to the moans of the woman in her death-agony.
“The subject was of course discussed, and Mrs Accleton suggested that its appearance might not impossibly be connected with the existence of money hoarded up in the roof an idea which may have arisen from the miserly habits of the dead woman. The hint having been given to and taken by her nephew, Mr. Hart, the farmer, he proceeded to the house, and with Mrs Accleton’s personal help, made a search. The loft above was totally dark, but by the aid of a candle there was discovered, firstly, a bundle of old writings, old deeds, as they turned out to be, and afterwards a large bag of gold and bank-notes, out of which the nephew took a handful of sovereigns and exhibited them to Mrs. Accleton. But the knockings, moanings, strange noises, and other disturbances, did not cease upon this discovery. They did cease, however, when Mr Hart, having found that certain debts were owing by her, carefully and scrupulously paid them. So much for the account of the haunted house at Barby.”
The circumstances detailed were most carefully investigated by Sir Charles Isham and other gentlemen in the neighbourhood, and the conclusion they arrived at was that the above facts were completely verified by the evidence laid before them.
The above description does not give the exact location of the house in question and only mentions surnames of those involved. There was a widow named Sarah Webb who lived and died in Barby on 5 March 1851 (nor 3 March 1851) who’s will was dated 11 May 1849 and proved on 17 April 1852. It would I assume be fairly easy to identify the building by checking her death certificate and the census returns for 1851, but as the building has remained anonymous for 150 years and is very likely to be no longer haunted, I see no reason in trying to track it down further, especially as, if it still stands it will be somebody’s private residence.
It may be worth noting that Sir Charles Edmund Isham, 10th Baronet (born 16 December 1819 – died 7 April 1903) who investigated the case was a spiritualist so that he may not have been totally unbiased. He has also been described as being eccentric and was responsible for introducing garden gnomes to Britain