The poltergeist that ruined Christmas

An invisible entity brought chaos to a Welsh farmhouse over the Christmas of 1812
By Richard Holland

Years ago I dug out a fascinating document from my local county archives, a personal account of a poltergeist that plagued the family of a farmer at St Asaph in North Wales.

The account is in the form of a letter written by Robert Roberts, the tenant farmer of Bodeugan [pictured], a lovely old house that now stands close to the busy A55 trunk road. The letter, dated Christmas, 1812, begins straightforwardly enough as an apology to the landowner for failing to supply him with his usual Yuletide geese. The reason he gives for this lapse is extraordinary, however. Roberts states that the house had been bewitched. Today we would recognise the symptoms of this enchantment as classic poltergeist activity.

‘On the 1st Day of December at night,’ writes Mr Roberts (I have tidied up the punctuation), ‘something began to break the windows by throwing stones and coals and other materials and did so the night following. The day after it began again in the day time, especially in the dairy, to throw down the pots containing churning milk and breaking them to pieces and great many other earthenware and throwing cans and other things at us.

‘That night it was so terrible that the women left the house and went to a neighbour’s house. It threw stones, bricks and the like that they had no quiet to milk by throwing dung upon them. From noon a Thursday till Monday nothing was felt. It began on Monday … threw water and glasses at us that we were so wet as we had been in a river, and shifting many other things …’

For some reason the spook then left the house alone for ten days. But on Christmas Eve it returned, ‘more dangerous’ than before. It kicked and pinched the servants and threw their bed clothes on the floor, and then the servants along with them. Roberts said that it had ‘done great deal of damage’ and that his poor wife had become ill with the terror of it all.

The landlord’s response to this extraordinary letter was to ask two friends of his to investigate on his behalf. These were a Mr Hughes and a Mr Lloyd. In the dairy they caught one of the servant girls throwing a potato and then a pepper-pot. The girl vehemently denied throwing either article, but the two men went away convinced she was the cause of the disturbances. However, Mr Roberts’s father-in-law later wrote to say that he was certain of her innocence, and the two men did agree ‘that the Ghost might have made use of her hands to throw things’. This is very perceptive of Hughes and Lloyd, because in more recent poltergeist cases it has been demonstrated that people often contribute to the phenomena without their conscious knowledge.

Unfortunately, there is no further correspondence in the archives, so we will never know whether this was a true haunting or just some elaborate prank. However, it remains an important artefact in the history of uncanny UK: a rare, first-hand account of some considerable age.[SOURCE: Clwyd County Council archives (now Denbighshire).]© Richard Holland 2008

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