1632 (ca.): The Key Witness

Shared to Patreon:8/4/2018

The Apparition

"About the year of our Lord 1632" -- as begins the earliest account of the matter I can find -- a miller named James Graham (or Grime) who worked near the small town of 'Chester in the Street' in England (now known as 'Chester-le-Street') found himself confronted one winter night around twelve or one o'clock in his mill by the gory form of a young woman with five large wounds on her head. Graham was walking down the stairs from putting corn in the mill's hopper; the doors were shut; and the woman was standing in the middle of the floor. He was horrified by the vision, and began to bless himself; but eventually Graham asked who she was and why she was there.

        The spectre answered that she had been the kinswoman and housekeeper to a local widower named Walker, "a Yeoman-man of good Estate." She had become pregnant with Walker's child, and Walker "promised me to send me to a private place, where I should be well lookt to until I was brought in bed, and well again, and then I should come again, and keep his house." So Walker had sent her away one evening with a 'collier' [coal miner] named Mark Sharp to go to a private place to stay until the child was born.

        Instead, Sharp murdered her in the moors near the town with a pick, threw her body in a coal pit, and hid the pick, as well as his shoes and stockings -- as he couldn't wash the blood out of them -- in a bank. The spectre further told Graham that "he was the Man to reveal it, or else that she must still appear, and haunt him."

        It's not said if Graham knew Walker, but Walker lived only two miles away from the mill so it was possible he did. It is stated that the place in the moors the ghost described as the crime scene was a spot that Graham was aware of and familiar with, so he could quite likely have gone to check the truth of the matter if he chose to. Yet Graham hesitated to talk about the matter; instead, he endeavored to avoid being in the mill alone at night, thinking that he could escape the spirit in that way. Nonetheless, the angry ghost appeared to him again one night just as it grew dark, and threatened harm upon him if he did not reveal the murder.

        Still Graham kept quiet about the haunting, perhaps for the practical reason that he himself might be accused of committing the crime... but on St. Thomas' Eve -- the night before St. Thomas' feast on December 21 each year -- shortly after sunset the grisly apparition appeared to him again while he was walking in his garden. The ghost's threats on this occasion frightened Graham so much that, on the following morning, he finally went to see the local magistrate and tell him the whole story.

        The matter was quickly investigated. The body of the young woman, with five wounds in her head, was found in the designated coal pit; and the pick, shoes, and stockings were found hidden in the bank, as described. Given the evidence as it stood, Walker and Sharp were both imprisoned, though they would confess nothing of the matter. At the very next assizes for the county (a designated time when court cases were examined for the area), the two men were arraigned and found guilty of the woman's murder, and they were sentenced to death and executed; though they never actually confessed to the crime.

        Some people reported that the gory spectre had appeared to either the Judge or the Foreman of the Jury, and that was why the men were sentenced so quickly and severely, but this was not a certain thing and so could have been mere rumor.

The Earliest Source

        The details above were first published in 1677, forty-three years after the event is said to have happened, in John Webster's The Displaying of Supposed Witchcraft. Though the lateness of this reporting is a problem, Webster claims to have read and possessed for some time a letter written by the judge at the trial explaining the particulars of the case which had been sent to a Serjeant Hutton in Goldsbrugh at the time. Webster had lost this letter in 1658 when he was arrested and a number of his books and papers were confiscated (I don't know what he was arrested for). Webster further stated that -- at the time, mind you -- there were yet many people alive in the area that remembered the murder, and the story itself was often related and discussed in the "North Countrey." So, though he was relating the tale from memory, he felt he had a pretty good grasp of the facts of the matter.

        As the title of Webster's book implies -- The Displaying of Supposed Witchcraft --Webster didn't believe in witches; the volume is largely a skeptical critique of proposed evidence of witchcraft, a fact that created animosity between Webster and another author, Henry More, who fully believed that witches were an existent threat to humanity. Despite the disagreement -- more of a personal war between them, really -- both men agreed on one thing... that the account of Graham's haunting was an important event to document.

        In fact, Henry More was so intrigued by the matter that he discussed it with a number of his friends, and one in particular -- whom More only referred to as "Dr. J.D." -- offered to send a friend of his own, a Mr. Shepherdson, to the area of Chester-in-the-Street and see if he could find out more from the residents there, an offer More jumped at.

Strange New Facts Emerge

        Shepherdson sought out people who were old enough to be present for the event in 1632, focusing most of his efforts on two men in particular who were not only alive at the time of the incident, but who also served on the jury for the trial. One of the men, William Lumley, had lived next door to Walker!

        Lumley and Walker lived in the town of Lumley, which is about two-and-a-half miles from Chester-le-Street where Graham lived. Lumley said he personally remembered the kinswoman who worked for Walker; her name was Anne Walker. Towards the time of her murder it had become obvious she was with child, but she would not tell anyone who the father was. Anne left Walker's house to stay with her aunt who lived in the same town, a Dame Caire, and told her aunt that the father of the child "would take Care both for her and it, and bid her not trouble her self." One night sometime after Anne moved in with her Aunt, Mark Sharp was seen coming to town to visit his friend, Walker; then the two men went to visit Dame Caire's house, and Walker sent Anne off with Sharp... and that was the night she was murdered.

        Two weeks later, Anne Walker's apparition appeared to James 'Graime,' whom Lumley described as a 'fuller' rather than a miller -- a fuller was a person who cleaned and fluffed sheep's wool, in this case at a mill. Lumley characterized Graime's hesitation to report the matter as a fear of disclosing "a Thing of that Nature against a Person of Credit as Walker was." The ghost continued to annoy Graime -- More claimed Lumley stated the apparition would pull the sheets off of Graime's bed each night -- so Graime did eventually report the matter and, upon investigation, both Wallker and Sharp were imprisoned to eventually face trial and execution.

         The second testimony came from a Mr. James Smart of the city of Durham, about seven miles away from Lumley. Smart said the trial of Walker and Sharp was before Judge Davenport in August of 1631 -- which implies the crime happened a year earlier than Webster claimed, 1632. One of the witnesses at the trial, a Mr. Fairhair, stated under oath that he saw the figure of a child standing upon Walker's shoulders during the trial itself, a statement that appeared to bother Judge Davenport quite a bit. Sentence was passed on Walker and Sharp that same night, which was not a normal thing at all.

        More compared his new testimonies to what had been previously reported by Webster, and felt that Webster's doubtful report of hearing that the spectre of Anne Walker had appeared to either the foreman of the jury or judge was likely a confused accounting of Mr. Fairhair's statement about the seeing the figure of a child on Walker's shoulders. Since it was possible that Mr. Fairhair might have been the foreman of the jury, this would be a very close match for this part of the story that Webster doubted.

        More is also suspicious of Webster's statement that Walker and Sharp were apprehended around St. Thomas' Day, in December, as it would be very strange for them to wait until the following August for their trial. More supposes the two men must have been taken into custody sometime much closer to August, never proposing the possibility that his own informant might be wrong about the date of the trial.

        More chose to include the story of Anne Walker's apparition in a later edition of his 1659 book, The Immortality of the Soul. This edition had to have been published after Webster's death in 1682, for More mentions his source for the account is deceased... but this publication also does not include the new information from Shepherdson's inquiries. Shepherdson's information is first presented by More in a letter to Joseph Glanvil, who included it in his 1700 edition of his book Saducismus Triumphatus. So Shepherdson's inquiry had to have happened sometime between 1682 and 1700.

Confusions and Changes

        So... remember me saying that Webster and More didn't actually like each other? As in 'at all'? And that More included the account of Anne Walker's apparition in his own book after getting it from Webster's book? Well, about that...

        In 1659, Henry More published his book The Immortality of the Soul, which argued that the human soul was a provable matter and survived death to act on its own in the living world... which Webster didn't agree with. In fact, part of the reason John Webster wrote his 1677 book, The Displaying of Supposed Witchcraft -- the very book that Anne Walker's story first appeared in -- was to argue against More's points in Immortality of the Soul... which is why it's ironic that More then included the story of Anne Walker's apparition in a later edition of the book that Webster hated after Webster died!

        How much did More hate Webster? Oh, a whole lot. In More's presentation of the story in the new edition of Immortality of the Soul, More does not mention Webster's name at all, only stating that the source's author was now deceased and that he didn't personally like him very much at all (frankly, More goes into great detail on that second point). As a result, many researchers now credit Henry More's account of the story in the later editions of The Immortality of the Soul as being the first publication of the event, because they assume it was also in the 1659 printing of the book, making it earlier than Webster's mention of event in 1677... but the story wasn't in the earliest printing of More's book. Oy.

        Though More and Webster wrote a great deal about this matter, about 200 years later in the 19th Century their works were largely forgotten... but Anne Walker's ghost appeared once again. In his 1852 book Dream Land and Ghost Land, Edwin Paxton Hood once again presented the story. Hood's intention with the book was to try to demonstrate that many ghost stories were based on credible reports and facts, and so, therefore, ghosts as a general topic could not simply be scoffed at. Unfortunately, in his attempt to merge all the details of Webster's account and the new details turned up by Shepherdson's investigation, Hood created a fairly confusing version of the story, in which he claimed the event happened in 1680 (rather than 1632).

        In 1973, Reader's Digest's book Folklore, Myths and Legends of Britain presented a simplified version of Hood's account of the story... and this was simplified even more in 1982 when it was presented again in Reader's Digest's book Mysteries of the Unexplained; they brought everything down to just two paragraphs! Most modern recountings of the event are based on one or the other of Reader's Digest's versions of the story, and therefore get the year wrong, reporting the event happening in 1680, as Hood did.

Some Thoughts...

        First, a skeptical observation: Suppose Graham discovered the murder evidence on his own, but didn't feel he could successfully accuse Walker and make it stick because Walker was better respected, so people would take his word over Graham's. In this case, the 'spectral evidence' may have been created in order to put a more divine feel on the evidence, adding weight to it and separating the accusers from the accusations.

        This of course assumes that either there was a coordination between Graham and Fairhair for the presentation of their two separate ghostly sightings to get the maximum effect, or Fairhair got caught up in the spirit of things (so to speak).

        Second, a believer's observation: I've seen this turn up before, so let me tease your brains for a moment. If we assume the event actually happened as reported, then why did Anne Walker appear to James Graham? Think about it: if Anne Walker had appeared to the local magistrate directly, the matter would have been handled faster... so why did that not happen?

        Since it has been noted for at least three hundred years that, generally speaking, not everyone can see a fairy or a ghost when these beings appear in front of a group of people, this account seems to imply there is an actual limit to the number of people who can see and interact with these beings. So Anne Walker might have been haunting James Graham simply because he was the person she found that could see and hear her. Perhaps her ghost spent the two weeks after her murder trying to find someone that could see her... just a thought.