Monday, 13 September 2010

The Rev. Gibbs and the Poltergeist

Another English case blamed on a witch with no real ending dates to the 1660s. The case was investigated by Reverend Gibbs, prebendary of Westminster, who wrote an account of the visitation that regrettably ends before the events came to an end. Gibbs was alerted to the “witchcraft” by an unnamed gentleman for Essex. This man said that he was doing business with a weaver named Paul Fox, who lived in Bow near Plaistow. A few months earlier, he had called on Fox to be given the sad news that the weaver’s youngest daughter had died a few days earlier. As she lay on her death bed, the girl had complained of a cold hand that touched her repeatedly on the leg. The Essex gentleman muttered his commisserations, concluded his business and moved on.

Some weeks later the Essex gentleman called again on Fox, but this time was told that the household was being attacked by witchcraft. The gentleman was sceptical and said so. At that point an upstairs window opened and a lump of wood was thrown out, missing the man by inches. The man denounced the stunt as “knavery”, whereupon the window opened again and a brick was lobbed out, which the man had to move smartly to avoid.

Still convinced that some prankster was throwing the objects, the gentleman pushed past Mr Fox and made straight for the stairs. Fox managed to halt the man on the stairs and warned him that the upstairs of the house was no place to go. He told the gentleman that he and his family had abandoned the entire upstairs area a week before so as to escape the constant noises and the frequent rain of missiles that took place up there. The gentleman harrumphed and went on up.

He found himself confronted by a scene of utter mayhem. Furniture and clothing was scattered about in confusion. Bricks and stones were piled up around the place. Gallantly the man stepped over the mess to reach the room overlooking the front door and where he supposed the person who had thrown objects at him to be hiding. As he pushed the door open, he saw a bed staff that lay on the floor begin to move of its own accord. He stepped forward and stamped his foot down on the object to bring it to a halt. He then picked it up to look for the wire or thin string that he guessed must have been making it move. There was no sign of any trickery. That was when a wooden pole lifted itself up from the floor and whacked him over the shoulders.

The man promptly fled from the room, pulling the door shut behind himself. He paused on the landing, but the door to the room was wrenched open by unseen hands and a mass of clothing, candlesticks and other objects came floating out at speed as if to attack him. He ran downstairs to be greeted by the worried Fox family. They all retreated to the kitchen to discuss things, but had barely sat down when a clay pipe rose into the air from the sideboard, flew across the room and shattered to a dozen pieces as it hit the wall opposite. The “witch’s familiar” had come downstairs.

The Essex gentleman called in Gibbs, who fortunately knew how to unmask the culprit. He ordained that one of the wooden staves that had been the object most often moved about by the familiar should be slowly roasted over an open fire. This, it was confidently stated, would cause the wizard or witch who controlled the familiar to come calling. The fire was lit and the stave placed over it. The Fox family sat down to wait. At first nothing happened. Then there was a knock at the door. Paul Fox threw the door open and pounced on the person outside. It turned out to be an elderly woman who lived up the road and had come to see what the column of smoke was for.

Convinced that they had the witch, Fox and Gibbs tied her up and sent for the magistrate. When the local magistrate arrived he was unimpressed. The old woman was of good character, attended church regularly and was about as far from being a tool of Satan as could be imagined. He let her go. Gibbs then lost interest in the case and we do not know what happened next.


This is an extract from Poltergeists by Rupert Matthews

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