Reverend Samuel Wesley – And the poltergeist in Epworth Rectory
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
Ghosts and hauntings – Dennis Bardens
One of the best documented visitations of a poltergeist is contained in the letters and diaries of the Wesley family (see Southey's Life of John Wesley) and .these happenings between 1716 and 1717 are chronicled with such care as to leave no room for doubt.
There are letters written to Samuel, the eldest son, by his parents and two sisters, and the personal accounts of the-Reverend Samuel Wesley and Mr. Hoole, a local vicar. A manservant, Robert Brown, testified to the veracity of the accounts, and so did John Wesley. There is absolutely nothing in the lives of this worthy, God-fearing family to support even a suspicion that they could or would be capable of fraud.
At the time of the visitations the Reverend Samuel Wesley was living at Epworth Rectory where he spent most of his time writing books and poetry. His life, even before the appearance of the- poltergeists had been far from easy-once he was thrown into prison for debt; twice his rectory went up in flames. His wife, Susanna, was a strong character with decided ideas of her own. She expressed disagreement, for example, with her husband's politics-an unusual thing in the eighteenth century.
ln 1716, his household began to complain of strange happenings: ominous and inexplicable rumblings were sometimes-heard in the basement and attic. Loud knocks would shatter the reverent silence of the rectory. Throughout the night the heavy footfalls of a man could be heard walking up and down the stairs.
One night Samuel Wesley heard nine loud bangs on the walls of his study, the sounds appearing to come from the adjacent room. Dashing into the room, he found nobody there. His children, and the staff of servants, all heard these knocks at some time or other. Wesley tried keeping a dog, but it was as frightened as the rest of the household. Once, accompanied by his wife, he went to investigate noises so uproarious that sleep for both was impossible-and to the consternation of this stout-hearted couple the noises followed them wherever they went in the rectory, as though they were accompanied by invisible and malignant hosts. As Wesley put it:
"We still heard it rattle and thunder in every room, locked as well as open, above and behind us."
Once, chasing the invisible "thing' with a club, Wesley was astonished to discover, that when his aim "missed" and struck the house, a complementary knock was made as if by an unseen presence. Sometimes the door latch would lift itself, and when Emilia, one of Wesley’s daughters, tried to hold it down, it would be beyond her strength. The latch would go up and the door burst open, sending the girl flying.
Angry and defiant, Wesley challenged what he called " thou deaf and dumb devil " to come into his study and stop terrorising small children; the records say that the challenge was accepted with alacrity-one might almost say-for Wesley found himself pushed about in his study by an unseen presence. As for the Reverend Mr. Hoole, the near-by clergyman to whom Wesley appealed for comfort and support, it took only one night in the Wesley household to persuade him to take to his heels.