The Devil in the Nightcap

The Devil in the Nightcap

The Devil in the Nightcap. A carpenter with a half-finished coffin, William Strang, 1884

This “extraordinary” ghost story from a small Welsh village in the Rhondda Valley comes with all the trimmings: polt manifestations, levitation, and an aggressive apparition with a mysterious request.


[By Morien.]

Having heard that some extraordinary statements had been made by a Mrs. Ann Jenkins, of Ynyshir, as to her having seen a ghost, I, accompanied by Police Constable Menhennick, proceeded on Monday to interview her. We found Mrs. Jenkins at home with her four children. She conversed with me in the Welsh language, and told me, with a deep sigh, that what I had heard was true enough; that a few nights ago she had seen a ghost in the room in which we were then assembled. She had frequently during the last two years heard strange knockings in various parts of the house, but never until she saw the ghost had she dreamed that the knockings came from a supernatural source. One night, about six months ago, she had gone out for a few minutes, leaving the children alone. Suddenly people living in the adjacent houses heard loud screaming in her house. She ran home, accompanied by the neighbours, when they found her boy, about eight years of age, in a state of terror and trembling all over. He stammered forth that a strange man had come in the room from the back kitchen, and had beaten the table with his hands and made faces at him. A short time afterwards Mrs. Jones, wife of Mr. R. Jones, collier, and Mrs. Jenkins were sitting quietly by the fire-place when there came suddenly a terrific noise in the chimney, followed by both seeing the tea kettle flying from one hob to the other. Both women ran upstairs, where they remained trembling at a frightful rate. But yet another appearance was made by the ghostly visitor. “I was sitting here,” said Mrs. Jenkins, “–on the left side of the fireplace-“with the round table near me. I was busily engaged sewing. My husband was out, and the four children were in bed. Something gently brushed the right side of my face. I thought the cat was on the chair near me, and that it was her fur which I had felt. I went on sewing, when I was brushed on the face a second time in the same way. I then made use of an angry expression, and looked up, when, to my unutterable astonishment, I beheld an aged man with a nightcap on his head, and wearing a waistcoat with sleeves. He was very pale, and was gazing intently at me. He had so terrified me that I called him a devil. He, however, made no reply. This increased my alarm, and I jumped up intending to run out, but he dodged me and prevented my doing so. He then spoke to me in Welsh, his voice being loud and sharp. I tried to scream, but was so paralysed with fear that I could not do so. I was as helpless as a child, and I accompanied him to the back room, he all the time moving by my side. I undid the bolt of the back door and we went out. I then became conscious of a strange light about us. My companion pointed to a stone in the loose wall facing the back of the house. I pulled out the stone, and behind where it stood was a small implement such as carpenters use. The ghost then said, ‘Don’t say to anyone what it is,’ and I have not told even my husband. The ghost then led me into the street through the front door. When we reached the pavement in front of the house I endeavoured to cry out, but failed to do so. I caught hold of an empty bucket and flung it over the wall so as to draw the attention of my next door neighbours. We reached the road, and I attempted when on the other side to remain behind, when I was suddenly lifted off my feet and carried bodily for some distance. I alighted on the railway bridge leading to Troedyrhiw Siding. All this time I carried the implement in my hand. The ghost then ordered me to throw the thing into the Rhondda Fach River. This I did. I was then led back by the ghost, and left on the road opposite my own house. It was about nine o’clock, with a little moonlight.” After Mrs. Jenkins had finished her tale, I sent for Emily Evans, the next door neighbour, who came and told me that she noticed the bucket thrown, and had heard the most distressing cries. She and her mother concluded Mrs. Jenkins was beating her boy for “mitching,” and that it was the boy who was crying. She saw Mrs. Jenkins going across the road at a rapid rate in the direction of the river, and thought she was chasing the boy.

Presently she heard cries of “Emmy! Emmy! Emmy!”

She ran out and saw Mrs. Jenkins coming from the direction of the river, but saw no one with her. The next moment Mrs. Jenkins fell into her arms in a fit, and she dragged her into her mother’s house, where she remained for a long time in convulsions. When she recovered consciousness she related what she had seen. Since the occurrence it has been remembered that an aged carpenter died in Mrs. Jenkins’s house about ten years ago. In answer to my question, the woman said that she never saw anything of the kind before.

Western Mail, Cardiff, October 31st, 1885.

The Medium and Daybreak 6 November 1885: p. 706-7

Let’s get the usual book-keeping out of the way, starting with a caveat: except for the police constable, the people mentioned have very common names. If I have the correct Ann Jenkins, she was born in 1863, died in 1940, and is buried in Penrhys Cemetery, Rhondda Cynon Taff, about 3 miles from Ynyshir. But that would mean she was 22 years old with four children at the time of this story. Not impossible, but… Again, if this is the correct woman, Emily Evans b. unknown d. 1928 is buried in Ferndale Cemetery, 2.4 miles beyond Penrhys Cemetery. Oh, and “mitching” means to play truant/hooky.

“Morien” was the bardic name of Owen Morgan, a journalist for the Western Mail. He was fascinated by Welsh history and wrote much that was unreliable on Druids, but there is controversy about whether he was sounder on more modern topics.

I have to say that it sounds like the distressed Mrs. Jenkins might have dozed off over her sewing and had a vivid dream. How many of us have tried to scream in a nightmare and been unable to cry out?  She might have even sleepwalked or had a seizure, as indicated by the post-ghost “convulsions” and possibly by the “strange light” she saw about her and the apparition. I won’t be dogmatic and say this is the only explanation; I would much prefer a genuine levitation.

The aged fellow in the nightcap follows a well-known motif of ghost stories where a ghost wishes an object discovered and disposed of with the utmost secrecy, either in water or in the post to a London solicitor. If only Mrs. Jenkins had let us know what it was! The carpenter’s tool-box contains so many useful murder weapons that it seems probable that is what the hole in the wall contained. But, why, if the ghost had enough energy to whisk the lady off to the bridge and pound a table at her son, was it not able to dispose of that small implement by itself? Why this strange human-ghost co-dependence we hear so much about?

Other thoughts about other Welsh ghosts or Morien’s reliability as a narrator? chriswoodyard8 AT

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 Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.



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