The Ghost at Epworth

One of the best documented ghost stories took place in 1716 at the childhood home of John and Charles Wesley. The story was mentioned in the diaries and correspondence of several family members, including Samuel and Susannah Wesley (the parents).  John Wesley also later mentioned the story in the Arminian magazine. At the time the Wesleys had 10 living children, 7 at home.  Samuel Jr was at college, John  (age 12) was in school, Charles (age 8) was also away from home.  The event took place between December 1716 – January 1717.

The following account by Samuel Wesley (along with accounts by other family members) can be found in Memoirs of the Wesley Family, by Adam Clarke, 1817, pages 161-165


From the 1st of December my children and servants heard many strange noises, groans, knockings, etc., in every story and most of the rooms of my house, but I hearing nothing of it myself-they would not tell me for some time, because, according to the vulgar opinion, if it boded any ill to me I could not hear it. When it increased, and the family could not easily conceal it, they told me of it.

My daughters, Susannah and Ann, were below stairs in the dining-room, and heard first at the doors, then over their heads, and the night after a knocking under their feet, though nobody was in the chambers or below them. The like they and my servants heard in both the kitchens, at the door against the partition, and over them. The maid-servant heard groans as of a dying man.

My daughter Emilia coming downstairs to draw up the clock and lock the doors at ten o’clock at night, as usual, heard under the staircase a sound among some bottles there, as if they had been all dashed to pieces; but when she looked, all was safe.

Something, like the steps of a man, was heard going up and downstairs at all hours of the night, and vast rumblings below stairs and in the garrets. My man, who lay in the garret, heard someone come slaring through the garret to his chamber, rattling by his side as if against his shoes, though he had none there; at other times walking up and downstairs, when all the house were in bed, and gobbling like a turkey-cock. Noises were heard in the nursery and all the other chambers; knocking first at the feet of the bed and behind it; and a sound like that of dancing in a matted chamber, next the nursery, when the door was locked and nobody in it.

My wife would have persuaded them it was rats within doors, and some unlucky people knocking without; till at last we heard several loud knocks in our own chamber, on my side of the bed; but till, I think, the 21st at night I heard nothing of it. That night I was waked a little before one by nine distinct very loud knocks, which seemed to be in the next room to ours, with a sort of pause at every third stroke. I thought it might be somebody without the house, and having got a stout mastiff, hoped he would soon rid me of it.

The next night I heard six knocks, but not so loud as the former. I know not whether it was in the morning after Sunday, the 23rd, when about seven my daughter Emily called her mother into the nursery, and told her she might now hear the noises there. She went in, and heard it at the bedsteads, and then under the beds, then at the head of it. She knocked, and it answered her. She looked under the bed and thought something ran from thence, but could not well tell of what shape, but thought it most like a badger.

The next night but one we were awaked about one by the noises, which were so violent it was in vain to think of sleep while they continued. I rose, but my wife would rise with me. We went into every chamber and downstairs; and generally as we went into one room, we heard it in that behind us, though all the family bad been in bed several hours. When we were going downstairs, and at the bottom of them, we heard, as Emily had done before, a clashing among the bottles, as if they had been broke all to pieces, and another sound distinct from it, as if a piece of money bad been thrown before us. The same, three of my daughters heard at another time.

We went through the hall into the kitchen, when our mastiff came whining to us, as he did always after the first night of its coming; for then he barked violently at it, but was silent afterwards, and seemed more afraid than any of the children. We still heard it rattle and thunder in every room above or behind us, locked as well as open, except my study, where as yet it never came. After two we went to bed, and were pretty quiet the rest of the night.

Wednesday night, December 26, after or a little before ten, my daughter Emilia heard the signal of its beginning to play, with which she was perfectly acquainted; it was like the strong winding up of a jack. She called us, and I went into the nursery, where it used to be most violent. The rest of the children were asleep. It began with knocking in the kitchen underneath, then seemed to be at the bed’s feet, then under the bed, and last at the head of it. I went downstairs, and knocked with my stick against the joists of the kitchen. It answered me as often and as loud as I knocked; but then I knocked, as I usually do, at my door, 1-23456-7, but this puzzled it, and it did not answer, or not in the same method, though the children heard it do the same twice or thrice after.

I went upstairs and found it still knocking hard, though with some respite, sometimes under the bed, sometimes at the bed’s head. I observed my children that they were frightened in their sleep, and trembled very much till it waked them. I stayed there alone, bid them go to sleep, and sat at the bed’s head by them, when the noise began again. I asked what it was, and why it disturbed innocent children, and did not come to me in my study if it had anything to say to me. Soon after it gave one knock on the outside of the house. All the rest were within, and knocked off for that night.

I went out of doors, sometimes alone, at others with company, and walked round the house, but could see or hear nothing. Several nights the latch of our lodging chamber would be lifted up very often when all were in bed. One night, when the noise was great in the kitchen, and on a deal partition, and the door in the yard, the latch whereof was often lifted up, my daughter Emilia went and held it fast on the inside, but it was still lifted up, and the door pushed violently against her, though nothing was to be seen on the outside.

When we were at prayers and came to the prayer for King George and the prince it would make a great noise over our heads constantly, whence some of the family called it a Jacobite. I have been thrice pushed by an invisible power, once against the corner of my desk in the study, a second time against the door of the matted chamber, a third time against the right side of the frame of my study door as I was going in.

I followed the noise into almost every room in the house, both by day and by night, with lights and without, and have sat alone for some time, and when I heard the noise, spoke to it to tell me what it was, but never heard any articulate voice, and only once or twice two or three feeble squeaks, a little louder than the chirping of a bird, but not like the noise of rats, which I have often heard.

I had designed on Friday, December the 28th, to make a visit to a friend, Mr. Downs, at Normandy, and stay some days with him, but the noises were so boisterous on Thursday night, that I did not care to leave my family. So I went to Mr. Hoole of Haxey, and desired his company on Friday night. He came, and it began after ten, a little later than ordinary. The younger children were gone to bed, the rest of the family and My Hoole were together in the matted chamber. I sent the servants down to fetch in some fuel, went with them, and staid in the kitchen till they came in. When they were gone I heard loud noises against the doors and partition, and at length the usual signal, though somewhat after the time. I had never heard it before, but knew it by the description my daughter had given me. It was much like the turning of a windmill when the wind changes. When the servants returned I went up to the company, who had heard the other noises below, but not the signal. We heard all the knockings as usual from one chamber to another, but at its going off, like the rubbing of a beast against the wall, but from that time till January the 24th we were quiet.

Having received a letter from Samuel the day before relating to it, I read what I had written of it to my family, and this day at morning prayer the family heard the usual knocks at the prayer for the king. At night they were more distinct, both in the prayer for the king and that for the prince, and one very loud knock at the AMEN was heard by my wife and most of my children at the inside of my bed. I heard nothing myself. After nine, Robert Brown, sitting alone by the fire in the back kitchen, saw something come out of the copper-hole like a rabbit, but less, and turned round five times very swiftly. Its ears lay flat upon its neck, and its little scut stood straight up. He ran after it with the tongs in his hands, but when he could find nothing he was frighted, and went to the maid in the parlour.

On Friday, the 25th, having prayers at church, I shortened as usual those in the family at morning, omitting the confession, absolution, and prayers for the king and prince. I observed when this is done there is no knocking. I therefore used them one morning for a trial; at the name of King George it began to knock, and did the same when I prayed for the prince. Two knocks I heard, but took no notice after prayers, till after all who were in the room, ten persons besides me, spoke of it, and said they heard it. No noise at all at the rest of the prayers.


Filed under General Interest, John Wesley

10 responses to “The Ghost at Epworth

  1. Kent

    Good day

    I regularly check your website. In fact, it is in my Favorites. There is only one thing I would like to suggest:

    Can you make the color of the letters in black instead of gray? It would be more comfortable to the eyes if we read black letters with a white background.


  2. Eighteenth-century Paranormal Activity: The Real Prequel! That is some incredible reading, and especially so right near Halloween! ;)

  3. Kent

    Thanks for the improvement Kevin!

    By the way, I read somewhere before, I don’t know if this is true, that in John Wesley’s journal he recorded there an entry of seeing a flying object (a UFO) flew into the sky from a lake.

    Is this true?

    Nice to see you here Will!

  4. Pingback: Society of Evangelical Arminians | This Week in Arminianism

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