Weird Norfolk: The claw-handed ghost that chased children…and wrote letters
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The young couple in the farmhouse just outside Norwich could live with strange noises and mysterious figures: until the servants began to leave, terrified out of their wits.
In May 1894, the story of a ghost who had seemingly taken up residence in a house close to the city began to unfold in the pages of the Eastern Daily Press.
Never identified, other than to describe it as a being “…a farm…by the side of a turnpike at a point not far from Norwich” the building soon became famous after witnesses came forward to describe poltergeist activity.
The young farmer and his wife, in their 20s, leased the premises and “…extended and re-arranged them on a liberal and expensive scale”.
In a note unlikely to be seen on any modern estate agent’s details, the report added: “The doors, sashes, and flooring being substantial and up-to-date are not of the kind that would create ghostly rappings on their own account.”
With years to go until their lease expired and substantial investment in the property there was, the EDP added, no excuse that could be fathomed for the couple making up the reports that it was about to share.
Just months after moving in, the couple had realised they shared their home with a ghost.
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There were noises that couldn’t be accounted for, doors slammed continually, there was a sound of crashing on the stairs and furniture was moved by unseen hands.
Servants began to refuse to stay in the house, claiming they had seen a “…mysterious figure that was wont to frequent the stairways and the sleeping apartments.”
Half a dozen people swore to the couple they had seen the figure and most point blank refused to stay in the house, such was their fright.
One woman, the nursery nurse to the couple’s three children, was made of stern stuff (she was not, the report added, “addicted to the penny novelette”).
The EDP reporter spoke to her about what she had seen: “She assures me that hearing a noise one night at the top of the main staircase, she opened her bedroom door and looked out.
“A lamp standing on her dressing table cast a faint light along the corridor, and she was thus able to see some strangely-clad figure crossing the corridor, apparently on its way to one of the back bedrooms.
“It had the form of a man, she thinks. It seemed to wear a white robe or night-dress, and there was something white upon its head.”
Another servant – who had left the house in abject terror – had been sent to sit with one of the children in the best bedroom to ensure he went to sleep.
“As she watched by the bedside in the dark a strange figure, enveloped in a soft light, suddenly appeared before her,” the report reads.
“She describes it as a man of average height with dark eyes, and it was clad in white or greyish garments. The figure stood gazing at her for a time, and then disappeared.”
The two eldest of the three youngsters, who had – for obvious reasons – never been told about the ghost, started to report seeing something strange.
The youngest of the pair asked his parents who the tall old lady with “a white thing” on her head was and wondered why she came to his cot at night and stretched out a hand towards his face.
Chillingly, his elder brother had also seen the figure, running from his bedroom to the nursery in the night wearing his dressing gown and carrying his shoes and socks and screaming that “Old Fadanny” was after him.
His description of the figure that had chased him matched those given previously.
The couple discovered that the previous tenants had been aware of a presence in the house and a girl who had lived with them had also seen something troubling.
She: “…used frequently to ask who was the person who came and gazed into her face at night, and extended a hand towards her with a curious clawing movement.”
A former servant for the previous tenants claimed the house “…lay under a cloud of evil reputation years before it became a farmhouse.”
The couple living at the house in 1894 were so desperate for staff – one servant was ordered to keep away from the farm by her doctor – that they recruited from outside the county, but even fresh blood was soon tainted by the noises heard at night.
“Matters have already reached such a point that a remedy must be found, or the tenant is sadly afraid that, no matter what the cost, he will have to abandon the advantages of a well-appointed and most desirable building,” the EDP report read.
A spiritualist warned him that the building was haunted by a ‘ghostly intelligence’ that would not leave until a line of communication was opened.
After the story appeared, the EDP’s letters page was ablaze with comment: then, as now, correspondents hid behind pen names to protect their identity.
‘Qui Viva’ writing on May 14 said she had spoken to a man who lived close to the haunted farmhouse and told the story of a clergyman and daughter who had seen “…in the gloaming of the evening” the figure of a man cross a field at the farm and then disappear.
‘MYSTIFIED’ wrote to the paper a letter which appeared on May 28: “…there is a prevalent impression that not merely is the farmhouse haunted, but the whole district in which those premises are situated.”
The author of the letter said they had spoken to people who remembered running past the farmhouse as children for fear of ‘Father Fadanny’ and others who slept in the house and heard what sounded like a dog trotting across their bedroom floor towards a washstand.
Upon reaching the stand, coins in a drawer would jingle.
A passing couple in a horse and trap had also reported seeing the figure of a man in white with its hands outstretched in front of their horse’s head.
The mare spotted the manifestation too and came to an abrupt halt and refused to move until the figure faded away out of sight at which she bolted and raced home “…as if a hornet had stung her”.
There was another correspondent to the EDP in May who no one had expected to hear from: the ghost himself (or someone claiming to be him, at any rate).
“I have been much interested in the correspondence in your columns which you have placed before the public during the past fortnight,” wrote the ghost.
“I never enjoyed such publicity before, and my fellow-shades are becoming quite jealous of my popularity.”
After an offer to meet the EDP editor (“if he kept it dark, I might then throw a light on the mystery”) he added: “What have I done that I should be dragged to the front in this manner? Banged a few doors, frightened a few children, disturbed a few people by walking across the room with my thick boots on.
“Well - what of that others besides ghosts bang doors, and children who eat heavily of mince pies and plum pudding see worse things at night than ghosts and as for my heavy walking, I have heard many a church warden or deacon going round with the collection plate on a Sunday make far more noise than I do in this respect.”
In Essays in Psychical Research by Ada Goodrich-Freer, published in 1899, the farmhouse and its strange inhabitant were examined.
The ghost had been witnessed, according to the book, for at least 85 years, although the essayist believed that suggestion might be to blame for many of the ‘sightings’.
That said…”during my visit to the house I saw nothing — not, as I have already said, that this proves anything at all — but I certainly heard the mysterious noises, not, however, in the degree to which other witnesses have testified,” the writer continued.
While children in Victorian times were seen but not heard, it appears ghosts were heard (or read), but not seen by investigators.