A Patting Round the Bed: A Persistent Apparition

Mother and Child, George Frederic Watts, c. 1903 http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/paintings/mother-and-child-13241

Mother and Child, George Frederic Watts, c. 1903 http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/paintings/mother-and-child-13241


By William H. Harrison

Last Saturday Mr. James Cain, of 8, Bloomfield-road, Burdett-road, Bow, London, wrote to me that he had received information of the frequent appearance of a “dead” woman to her sister and other persons, during several years. As Mr. Cain was the writer of several sensible occasional letters to The Spiritualist, about the progress of Spiritualism in East London, I went to see him on Monday evening last to inquire into the matter. He informed me that the witness, Mrs. Bentley, had never heard of Spiritualism till he mentioned the subject to her a few days ago, when she at once said that she fully believed in it because she and others had once been unable, for several years, to keep the spirit of her deceased sister out of the house, which in truth was a substantial basis for belief.

Mr. Cain accordingly took me to see Mrs. Bentley, of 6, Tibbatts-road, Bromley-by-Bow, E., who gave me the following particulars, which I recorded in shorthand as the details were given by her. There was some cross-questioning by me to get the narrative in a connected form so far as regards order of sequence, but I put no question of a leading character. Consequently, the whole statement is spontaneous.

She said:-

“Thirty-five years ago I lived in the village of Mepal, near Ely, Cambridgeshire, about which time my married sister, Maria–Mrs. Sammons–the wife of a labouring man, died. I took her two little children to my house, and a week afterwards, while they were sleeping in my room, I heard a patting noise round the bed, which afterwards came over me; I saw nothing, but felt something pulling one of the children away from me. A candle was burning in the room.

“The second night I heard footsteps on the stairs, and by the light of the candle I saw my departed sister standing in the doorway ; she upraised her two hands to the level of her head, with the fingers pointing upwards, and said–‘Ann! How’s Harry?’ I was astonished, yet not afraid, and replied, ‘He’s very poorly.’ Then she walked into the next room, where the eldest child was. I went in after her, and found the child out of bed, near the window. I could see him going along the floor, as if some one were pulling him over the boards; I could not then see the spirit, but heard her muttering, ‘Harry! Harry! Harry!’ I seized hold of the boy, and put him back in his bed. After this I could not sleep. An hour later I went into the child’s room, and found him by the window. I again put him back in bed.

“When I saw my sister that evening in the doorway, she appeared exactly the same as in life, and wore her usual cotton dress, likewise her ordinary cap. Her face was not white, but of the same colour as usual.

“For two or three nights I saw nothing more of her, but afterwards she came patting round the bed again. I saw her but did not speak to her, nor did she speak to me; indeed, after this we rarely spoke to each other; but when she said anything, she said she wanted her children. She always came after her children. During the first fortnight I saw her only twice, but heard her nearly every night.

“Although I was never afraid of her, I was uneasy, so at the end of a fortnight I called in the minister; his name was Dorman, or something like it; I do not know how to spell it; I cannot read or write; he belonged to the Church of England. He does not live in Mepal now; he left to go abroad somewhere to preach to the heathen. My father was parish clerk; his name was Mr. Dan.

“The minister came about eight o’clock at night; it was a winter’s evening, and we had the candle burning. Soon we heard the spirit walking up the stairs, and the minister, who was very nervous, began to read. I do not know what he read, but think that it was something from the Bible. Then SHE came in; there was no door for her to pass through in the bedroom of our cottage; my father, my mother, the minister, our next-door neighbour, and myself, all saw her by the light of the candle in the room. She was just exactly the same as in life; had on the same boots and everything. The minister, who was very white, said to her ‘What is your trouble?’ My sister replied—’I will come as long as I can come.’ The minister, who was fearfully nervous; said—’I never saw anything like this in my life before.’ My sister then walked out into the next room, and the minister remarked— ‘I could never have believed this if I had not seen it.’ From that time the spirit came to my house regularly every night for rather less than two-years-and-a-half, but she never did any more talking.

“About a year after my sister’s death, her husband, who had always treated her badly, came to sleep in my house. The spirit dragged him half out of bed during the night. Early in the morning I saw her following him to the street door, and when he opened it she gave him a push, which sent him sprawling into the road.

“She always appeared on or about the premises where her children were, and was constantly pulling little Harry out of bed, and dragging him to the window. I suppose she wanted to take him away with her, I do not know where. I had to dress him in thick flannel to prevent his catching cold, because my sister so often pulled him out of bed during the night.

“Rather more than two years after my sister’s death, her husband, John Sammons, married again, and took the two children from me to his house. That night he was pulled out of bed by the spirit, and there were great noises in the house. These disturbances were powerful during the whole of the next month; afterwards they moderated, but lasted for two years–for the time he had the children with him. My sister had been his second wife. The third looked pale and miserable; she told me that there was no peace for him, or the children, or herself. She died fifteen or sixteen years ago and so did he. He died suddenly. He used to be afraid to go after dark to the stables to look after his horses, without some of the boys with him, for she often appeared to him there.

“The child my sister’s spirit most followed was Harry Sammons; he is now somewhere abroad—in New Zealand, I think. I do not know whether his mother’s spirit followed him, or whether she followed or left the other brother, whose name was Joe Sammons. Joe is now at Haddenham, near Ely.

“Once, when I was nursing one of the children by candle light, my sister’s spirit entered the room, and kissed it three times.”

Such is the narrative given me on Monday by Mrs. Bentley, without hesitation or prevarication, and as given previously to Mr. Cain. I saw no reason, nor did he, to question its truthfulness, and the publication of the particulars will, no doubt, result in the account being well sifted by residents in the locality. The facts are half-way between those so common in haunted houses and those prevalent at spirit-circles. The phenomena were not restricted to the house, but followed the children, who were manifestly strong mediums, and the “patting” noises were evidently ordinary spirit raps. The apparitions different from an ordinary materialization in the circumstance that the personal identity of the spirit was so clearly proved. Mrs. Bentley seemed pleased to find her narrative accepted with appreciation, instead of received with that ridicule with which the ignorant greet that which they do not understand, thereby causing the loss of much interesting knowledge to the world.

38, Great Russell-street, London, March l9th, 1878

The Spiritualist Newspaper 22 March 1878

If events happened as stated, this must be one of the most remarkable series of apparitions in the history of ghosts!  The nervous clergyman who can hardly believe his eyes, “the same boots,” shoving the nasty husband into the street, and the child being dragged across the floor are particularly interesting details and suggest a far more corporeal spirit than is usual.  I would have suggested that the “patting noise” might be a vernacular pronunciation of “padding,” meaning walking softly, rather than a Spiritualist rapping sound–but the researcher seems to want to frame the narrative in that vein.

Any other versions of this astonishing story? You’ll recognize me by my boots at 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. And visit her new blog at The Victorian Book of the Dead.

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