This is a bit of a “what the hell?” ghost story, if it can even be called that. Do blast furnaces, iron rollers, and steam engines have souls that they can be reanimated? Certainly there are stories of phantom locomotives, ships, and buildings; apparitions of the inanimate are not uncommon. But it is difficult to categorize the following experiences. Were they shared hallucinations, wishful thinking for the mill’s reopening, or some sort of time-slip? I have no idea.
A STRANGE STORY FROM WALES. A Plymouth correspondent sends us the following extract from The Cornishman, quoted by it from the Weekly Mail (probably of Cardiff) of August 20th last:
The chief dramatis persona; in the wonderful scenes related are gentlemen of the highest integrity and of unblemished reputation. They, we have no doubt, believe that their experiences were stubborn realities.
“I had occasion,” says the narrator of this most remarkable adventure, “to visit Cyfarthfa Works at night lately, in company with a friend. Cyfarthfa Works have been familiar to me for many years, but they were associated with the fullest activity, with the glare of furnaces, the whirl of the rolls; and that picture was vividly in my imagination when we stood at length before the works that were slumbering in thick darkness, and as silent as the grave. No change could have been greater, no stillness more profound. We were far enough from the town to lose its glare and its noise, and out of the way of the people journeying from one place to another.
“We stood a while just within the dense shadow of one of the mills, just tracing the ponderous wheels and the dimly outlined rolls, when suddenly the huge wheels creaked and began to revolve, the rolls to move, and in a moment there was all the whirl of industry again, only needing the glare of light and forms of men to assure us that the works were in full action. My companion, with an exclamation of profound astonishment, clasped me by the arm. Cool, iron man as he is, strong-minded and proof against the superstitions of the age, I felt his voice tremble, as he said, ‘This is most strange. There are no men here; the works are stopped; no steam, no motive power.’ And the grip on my arm became severe. I, too, felt alarmed, and am not ashamed to confess it. My imagination, livelier than that of his, conjured up misty shades, and I saw shapes flitting to and fro, and heard the cry of men and boys amidst the clanging iron. Involuntarily we stepped back into the air, and as suddenly as the medley arose, so it died away; not a wheel moved, all was hushed and at rest.
“We walked away a little distance, our purpose unaccomplished. My friend, better able than I to afford a clue, was, like myself, utterly at sea, and could give no explanation. ‘But,’ said he, resolutely, ‘ it must be fathomed, and we will find it out.’ With these words he hurried back again to the works. I followed, and in a few minutes again stood looking into the silent mill. There was the same strange hush, the same weird gloom that appeared palpable did we but attempt to grasp it; but no sound. ‘Was it fancy?’ said my friend, with his cheerful laugh. He had scarcely spoken when the great wheel again revolved, and machinery here and there, to the right, to the left, ponderous wheels and rolls, all sprang into motion, and the din of work was perfect in its fullness. With this came the clanging of falling iron, the rattle of trams sounded strangely alike, and again the impression was strong that puddlers and moulders flitted by, and ghostly labour went on. This was sufficient for us. We hurriedly left the scene, and on our way home met one of the old ironworkers of Cyfarthfa going to Cefn, to whom my friend related the circumstance. He knows the man as an old and respectable inhabitant, and made no secret of what we had heard. ‘Ha,’ stopping and leaning on his stick,’ I have heard it too’; and, sinking his voice, he continued, ‘it always comes when the works are stopped. It did one time before, many years ago, and when Mr. Robert was living it came again. No one can say what is the reason, and perhaps it is best not to make any stir about it.”’
Our correspondent has not done the same as the overman, but gives the narrative. He adds: “This I know, that the hearts of the Crawshays have been bound up with their great iron industry. Richard was never happier than in his works, William never slept so well as in the sound of his great hammer. Robert’s last look of keenest interest was on the old furnaces and mills. If omens are true in these secular as in Scriptural days, and to the degenerate Briton as to the Greek and Roman, let us accept it as an augury of good, and these ghostly shadows forerunners of the big event, a genuine practical start at Cyfarthfa.”
The Spiritualist Newspaper, 9 September 1881: pp 126-7
See here for a quick history of the ironworks. The factory was rebuilt as a steel works just after this story was published, so perhaps the noises were an augury of good.
Other stories of haunted factories where the machinery comes to life? Or the sound of industrial activity can still be heard? Dark, satanic mills also welcome. 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 newest blog, The Victorian Book of the Dead.