21 February 1903

THE ASHTON GHOST SENSATION

Tests at the Alleged haunted House – Some Sidelights on the Phantom

Local Ghost Scares and their Sequel
The excitement of the past week or two at the West End of Ashton in respect of the Ellison-street ghost has apparently subsided, and the inhabitants of the famous street can sincerely exclaim requiescat en pace. (May he (or she) rest in peace – L. third person singular subjective of requiescere – Ed) The departure of the mysterious imp of darkness is very much on a par with the Northumbrian bogie, who “flitted” with the farmer when he removed his furniture.

The house is still untenanted, and from enquiries made the residents of the street will be able to don their nightcaps in peace without being disturbed by an excited mob, and the spectre, like Hamlet’s which disappeared – like a guilty thing upon a fearful summons, has apparently departed, and given over the earthly tenement in Ellison-street to the charge of a solitary policeman on his beat.

When the crowd began to again collect in front of the house one night last week, one or two of the neighbours took it into their hands to mete out summary jurisdiction in order to rid themselves of the nuisance, and a pail or two of water properly administered had the desired effect, so that the street during the past week has been comparatively clear.

The agents of the property in Ellison-street, Messrs MOSS and BARKER, have done what they considered the best under the circumstances. During the past week workmen have been at work in connection with the house, and the window through which the terrified members of the family are said to have seen the face of the phantom miner peering at them has been taken out, and the aperture built up with bricks.

To allay any fear or misapprehension, the hearthstone and boards upstairs, where peculiar noises are said to have been heard, have been taken up, with the result that a nest of young rats was discovered, which helped to provide a little sport for an omnivorous terrier in waiting with ears erect close at hand.

Tests have also been made with respect to the chamber door, which was said to open mysteriously during the night time. A piece of gummed paper was struck across the door and the jamb and left over night, so that in the event of the door opening the paper would be torn. On examination the following morning the paper was intact, showing that the door had not been opened.

A test was made with a view of ascertaining whether the tenants of the house, in the excitement of the moment, had omitted to latch the chamber door properly on going to bed, and the door being blown open by a draught of wind. Two or three match stalks were placed underneath the latch to prevent it from catching properly, the door then being closed for the night. The door was found closed in the morning, as it had been left the previous night.

Pressure was applied to the boards round the doorway to see if they would yield and cause the door to open, but they remained firm, and had no effect whatever on the opening of the door.

Some of the noises heard during the night-time were attributed by watchers to the action of the water tippler at the rear of the house emptying itself of accumulated water. The open ashpit has recently been discarded in favour of the water carriage system.

An incident has leaked out during the past week which may to some extent serve to explain some of the mysterious noises. It appears that a dove was kept in a box in the bedchamber. One morning the dove was missing, and some of the wires in the box had apparently been forced apart. A quantity of feathers lay about, and the abnormal appearance of the cat which lay snug as a bug in a rug on the mat beside the fire in the house told its own tale. The dove had coo’d its last coo, and pussy, in her quest for game, had unwittingly been a source of much trouble and annoyance.

In spite of the statements made in explanation of the ghostly manifestations, a neighbour who lives a few doors away from the alleged haunted house, states positively that she saw the apparition so far back as last September, when she was a tenant of the house. She subsequently removed, and refrained from telling the neighbours what she had seen.

One night, she said, there was a bang against the chamber door as if from a man’s fist. She also saw the luminous object in the chamber, followed by a dark cloudy substance, and one morning, in broad daylight, she saw the figure of the phantom miner in the house, and the figure vanished mysteriously. She again saw the figure on other occasions.

These conflicting statements tend to make the affair all the more mysterious, and one is reminded of the affliction of Margaret, as described by Wordsworth: -

‘Tis falsely said
That there was ever intercourse
Betwixt the living and the dead;
For surely then, I should have sight
Of him I wait for day and night,
With love and longings infinite.

Local Ghost Scares
In entering the cloudland of folk-lore, one is constrained to refer to a few of the many ghost stories current in Ashton in times past, many of which are vouched for as being accurate by several old Ashton worthies.

Weird Traditions of Ashton Old Hall
There are few old halls destitute of weird traditions, nor was Ashton Old Hall an exception. One of many ghost stories was told, says HIGSON, by an old man who formerly lived in one of the cottages close by, and was to the effect that he had frequently after dark seeing haggard apparitions, smeared with gore, the shades, as he believed, of victims of olden time, unjustly imprisoned in the dungeons, and then put to death.

When Sir Ralph de Assheton occupied Ashton Old Hall, in the time of Henry VI, it was an age of witchcraft and superstition. The following story is related in connection with a Yuletide feast held at the Old Hall.

Whilst the revelry was going on, a shrewd conjecture went abroad that some malicious imp of darkness had been let loose. Yet was it looked upon as an unusual occurrence upon Yule night, when these disturbers were supposed to be prevented from walking the earth, being confined for a space to their own kingdom. The termagant (A boisterous brawler or bully, especially a woman – Ed) was a little broad-set figure wearing a mask, intended as a representation of his Satanic Majesty, adorned with a pair of horns, and a black cloak, from which protruded a tail.

Sir Ralph, the revellers hoped, would be able to master aught in the shape of mortal or immortal intelligence. When Sir Ralph made his appearance, clad in his usual suit of black velvet, he was received with a great show of humility, and all made their obeisance.

”Now braves, to your sport. Ye be as doleful as a pack of pedlars with a full basket after a fair. I will make ye play and be merry too, or, ye shall taste of the mittens,” quoth Sir Ralph.

Up trotted the imp, and irreverently crept behind Sir Ralph, and laying hold of the tail of the knight’s cloak, twisted it round his arm, and by a sudden jerk this dignified personage was brought backwards upon the floor. The knight’s wrath was almost too great for utterance. When he got up he laid hold of a tough cudgel and pursued the luckless emissary of the Evil One, roaring and foaming with his unusual exertion.

But the original cause of the mischief generally contrived to mingle the revellers, who in vain tried to rid themselves of his company. Often the knight made a terrible blow, but shot inside of the mark, bringing down the innocent and unoffending victims.

Yet, he of the horns and tail, by some chance or another, always passed uninjured, a hideous laugh accompanying the adroit contrivance by which he eluded the cudgel. The hall was now but scantily supplied with guests, the number having been reduced to some half-score. – “Hold, ye lubberly rascals – ye recreant – why do ye run?” said the ancient knight. “Bring hither that limb of Satan, and ye shall depart everyone to his home.”

His Satanic Majesty had gotten himself perched on the projecting ledge by the gallery, whence they were either unable or unwilling to dislodge him. “How!” said the knight, “Ye are afraid, cowards, I trow. (To trust, to believe – Ed) Now will I have at thee for once.” This threat was followed by a blow aimed at the devoted representative of the infernal court, but it failed to dismount him, and another and more contemptuous laugh announced this failure.

Then there issued a thin squeaking voice from underneath the disguise. “The heriot, Sir Ralph, the heriot!” (A fine due the lord of a manor on the death of a tenant, originally his best beast or chattel – Ed)

Had a thunderbolt fallen at his feet the knight could not have been more terrified. He let the weapon fall, his hands dropped powerless, and, with a look of horror on his face, he hastily departed from the hall, leaving the enemy in undisputed possession.

It turned out that the imp was the son of a poor widow, unable to pay the customary heriot to the liege lord, who thereupon ordered it to be wrenched from her by taking her only cow. The following day the widow’s heriot was sent back.

Parish Churchyard Ghost Story
A well-known gentleman, now living, vouches for the accuracy of the following ghost story: An Ashton woman who was troubled with a drunken husband adopted a ruse of curing him of his bad habits of coming home in the “wee sma’ hours” of the morning. Her brother made himself up as a ghost, intending to give the husband a fright.

At that time there was a public roadway, open night and day, leading along what was known as Flag Alley, opposite the Arcade, across the Parish Churchyard, and down Anne’s Brow. The drunken husband was sauntering across the churchyard about one o’clock in the morning, hiccoughing and singing “I winna go home till morning.” Suddenly there arose from behind a tombstone a ghostly looking figure.

”Hello! Who art theaw?” said the wayward husband, at the same time poising himself on his toes and peering through his half-close eyelids at the flimsily clad figure. “I’m th’ owd lad,” replied the ghost. “Eh, what!” Why theaw’rt my wife’s brother, then? Give us a wag o’ thi paw.”

The Bright-street Ghost
Some excitement was caused for several weeks in Ashton many years ago by what was known as the “Bright-street ghost.” The windows of a house near the Cemetery in Stalybridge-road were constantly being broken, but the proprietor could not be discovered, and this affair was for a time a mystery. Police were constantly on the spot, and the inhabitants were greatly alarmed.

Two detectives secreted themselves in the home on one occasion, and immediately the crash of a stone was heard against the window they darted outside and discovered that it was the son of the tenant of the house who had caused the mischief.

Spring-heeled Jack
The story of the ghost known as “Spring-heeled Jack” will be fresh in the minds of many, the incidents in connection therewith occurring about a dozen years ago. This undesirable was for a time a pest in the neighbourhood of St James’ Day School, and got his name on account of the facility with which he made himself scarce when confronted likely to give him trouble. In fact, it was said at the time that he had fitted springs on his shoes, so agile was he; and it was said he was able to jump over walls and hedges with the greatest leap.

He was a terror to women and little children, and on many occasions when women were crossing the waste ground near to St James’ School, on their way to work, he would suddenly jump down from a wall or building, and exclaim:

“I’m the devil from down below,
Give me your breakfast and I’ll let you go!”

Bands of men chased him on several occasions, but he always managed to get away. It is stated that he was eventually caught by two men who gave him his desserts, and it was further discovered that he was a former County Court bailiff.

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