A Cavalier Ghost by the Thames
The writer of the following case, Mrs. L., is known to me. Mrs. L. has read this to Mr. L., and he confirms it. I inspected the locality with Mrs. L., on November 15th, 1884, and concur with the description given below.
We were walking home from Richmond, my husband and I, one bright July day, about half-past five, having ordered the boat to meet us and take us up to our own steps.
Between Richmond and Twickenham, on the Surrey side, is a splendid avenue of large trees; between the avenue and the river is a long and wide stretch of beach, and at the Twickenham end the ground is very open, and one sees the curve of the river and glimpses of some houses at Twickenham and Teddington; there is no bank nor tree to intercept the view, and anyone walking along the towing-path can be seen for a long distance.
When a little way down the avenue, at the third tree, perhaps, a man passed stealthily behind me, to my left side, and went outside the trees–I was walking the furthest from the river. Two or three times he passed me thus, always in the same stealthy manner, as if not wishing to be seen.
I did not draw my husband’s attention to him, because, although the last man to commence a quarrel, he never submitted to an impertinence, and this stranger’s movements appeared so spy-like.
I did not know my husband had seen him till he passed the third time; then R. said:
“What is that fellow dodging about for? The avenue is open to all, why does he not keep in or out of it? He appears anxious to know what we are talking about; and as it does not concern him, we will go out into the open.”
We were then about the seventh or eighth tree down. As he spoke, he stepped on to the open beach, and gave me his hand to help me over some obstruction in the path, a fallen branch, if I remember rightly. Both these movements were made in less time than it would take me to speak of them.
As I put my hand in his I looked round and saw the stranger standing between the trees. It was the first full look we had, and I said, “He looks as if he had stepped out of an old picture.”
We could see only his boots, his cloak, and hat. The boots were peculiar, high, and falling over at the knee, his cloak large and round, and thrown over his left shoulder in the Spanish fashion, and his hat, apparently a soft felt, had a very wide drooping border, and was worn so much on one side we saw no face.
We both distinctly remember that in all the times we saw him that day, no face was visible. His whole costume was of one tone, and that of a dusty cobweb is the only thing I can liken it to.
We stood looking at him, I wondering if he would resent my husband’s speech; but he made no movement, and I put my hand in R.’s to step into the open. As my husband’s fingers closed on mine, he started, and as I looked up to see the cause I saw his eyes fixed steadily on the open space at the remote end of the avenue.
There, clearly defined by the bright background of the towing-path and the river, stood the figure that, less than an instant before, was by our side, and which we certainly thought to be that of a fellow-creature (of rather ill-bred manners, utterly inconsistent with the decided dignity of his appearance).
Had he been shot out of a gun he could not have gone faster.
The distance I have since measured; it is [about 150 yards. Meyers said at the time of writing the distance had not been precisely obtained.]; the time occupied in traversing it I could not have counted a dozen in, however rapidly.
Now comes the most peculiar part of our experience, that which has made me very chary of telling it for fear of ridicule. When we saw the figure standing out there on the open ground, we were simply perplexed; no sensation of fear or suspicion of the supernatural entered our minds. We walked towards him with our eyes fixed on him.
There stood the figure, clearly defined, till we got within a certain distance; then it changed. It is so difficult to describe what did take place; the only way I can suggest it even is thus: You have seen a thick volume of smoke come out of a railway engine and gradually become thinner and thinner as it hovers over the ground, till you see through it the objects behind.
That is what took place. The figure stood there still, but, though it did not lose its shape, it gradually became transparent, till we saw the river and the bank and the distant trees through it! Still it was there. Then it got fainter and fainter, till there was not the least suggestion of it left; nothing but the large bright open space, without a single object behind which anyone could have hidden.
We stood still, and I saw our boat coming. I got into it feeling rather “dazed,” like one does when waking from a too heavy sleep. As my husband pulled past the place where the figure had stood, for the first time a feeling of horror came over me, and I said, “What could it have been?”
He answered, “God only knows, darling, perhaps we never shall.”
And so, I suppose, we must leave it.”
Journal of the Society for Psychical Research January 1885, pp 246-8
I think this apparition qualifies as an official “road ghost:” he dodges about a path and an avenue of public transport, moves in an uncanny way (the dead travel fast?), and the witnesses never see his face. I’m particularly charmed by the lady’s description of the way the ghost disappeared and her Jamesian turn of phrase about his costume color: “one tone, and that of a dusty cobweb.”
The ghostly cavalier seems to have been seen by others. Supplementing this sighting were these somewhat inadequately documented notes from the version of the story above given in Sights and Shadows, Frederick George Lee, 1885.
The following narrative concerning a haunted locality on the Thames, near Richmond, is deserving of notice. The record itself, which is from the pen of one who is known personally to Mr. F.W.H. Myers, of the Psychical Society only embodies the description of an apparition which has been seen on other occasions by several persons.
Mr. Edward T. Bennett, of Devonshire House, Richmond, writes to me, “The account of the apparition is quite true.” Another correspondent from Petersham asserts that “it has often been seen.” A third, Mr. R.H. Harper, of Richmond, declares that “the old cavalier ghost which haunts the bank near Ham House, has been seen by eight or ten persons at a time.”
Looking at The Ghost Club’s investigative notes for one of their investigations at Ham House, I don’t see any reference to this ghost. Perhaps his statute of limitations has run out. Other, more recent sightings? Chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com
Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.