History is filled with tales of ghosts and ghouls that have lived on for centuries and captured our imaginations. Here are some of the most haunting ghost stories throughout the centuries that still have the power to send a chill up your spine.
The Ghost Tales (or lack thereor) in the 16th Century
The headless ghost of Anne Boleyn was rumored to haunt the people in the vicinity of the Tower of London and in other locations nearby. It may be the most popular ghost story of the 16th century. But after the Reformation, Protestant theologians dismissed the presence of ghosts as merely Catholic inventions, delusions and frauds. A good Protestant just didn’t believe in ghosts so the spooky tales started to dwindle away.
Later in the 16th century, John Scogan published “Scoggin’s Jests” which tells how the eponymous hero detected a fraudulent ghost while he was in Rome. The hoaxer intended to frighten a wealthy widow in hopes of stealing her money. One evening, he “came into her home and lapped himself in a white sheet, counterfetting a spirit, thinking she would run her ways.” Scoggin catches him and beats him with a cudgel.
Debates on Ghosts and Spirts in the 17th Century
During the second half of the 17th century, there was a lot of debate over the authenticity of ghosts and spirits. For some people, the possibility of modern miracles and as a consequence of the foundations of Christianity, where at stake. Ghost sceptics were denounced as dangerous atheists.
The haunting of the home of John Mompesson at Tedworth, Wilshire during the early 1660s was a much-cited case in the debate.
The haunting consisted of a mysterious drumming noise, but there were other sounds and spectral evidence that was recorded.
Rather than attributing them to the restless spirit of a deceased person, those who believed in their existence explained that they were caused by a demonic spirit sent in revenge by a drummer that Mompesson had convicted not long before.
Belief in Ghosts Grows in the 18th Century
During the 18th century there was the case of the Cock Lane Ghost. Few other ghost stories attracted so much notoriety at the time and in the following centuries thereafter.
In 1762, in Cock Lane, not far from St Paul’s Cathedral, strange knockings and visions were reported to be emanating from the bedroom of one Elizabeth Parsons.
Communication was attempted with the spirit by a system of knocks – such as would be used in early spiritualism 80 years later. This apparently revealed that the source of the disturbances was the ghost of Fanny Lynes, the mistress of William Kent.
Fanny’s ghost confirmed rumours that she had been poisoned by Kent.
The case was a London sensation, attracting the attention of renowned literary figures such as Samuel Johnson, Horace Walpole and Oliver Goldsmith. The sceptics argued that it was all an elaborate hoax to defame Kent, and indeed a defamation suit was brought to court.
The 19th Century Brought Folklore, Psychics and More
In the age of folklore and mediums, there are many haunting cases to choose from. But there are few that are as memorable as the notorious and tragic tale of the Hammersmith Ghost.
During the dark evenings of the winter of 1803/04, word spread through the streets of Hammersmith that a ghost was molesting people. One rumour had it that it was the spirit of a suicide buried in Hammersmith churchyard.
On the night of 3 January a local bricklayer and plasterer named Thomas Milward was making his way home, dressed in the white linen clothes of his trade. He had already been mistaken for a ghost, and his mother had warned him about walking the streets at night in white.
On this occasion a drink-fuelled pair set out from a local pub to catch the ghost, and one of them, catching sight of Milward’s ghostly figure in the dark, shot him dead.
The 20th Century is the age of Hauntings and Ghost Tales
For most of the 20th century, there was no one person associated with ghost research more than Harry Price. He was a larger-than-life character who loved the media, and assembled a unique library of rare works on the occult and paranormal.
His most famous investigation was that of Borley Rectory, Essex, which came to be known as the most haunted house in Britain.
Apparently haunted by the troubled spirits of a medieval monk and nun, numerous poltergeist phenomena were reported, and ghostly figures were seen walking the house and grounds.
In 1937 Price rented the rectory, and advertised in The Times for “Responsible persons of leisure and intelligence, intrepid, critical, and unbiased, are invited to join rota of observers in a year’s night and day investigation of alleged haunted house.”
The rectory was ruined by fire in 1939 (some say by ghostly hands), and the site continues to be a hot spot for psychical investigators.