Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Scratching Fanny.

A most terrible event......

    William Kent married Elizabeth Lynes in 1757, they settled in the town of Stoke Ferry near Downham Market in Norfolk. Kent.
    He became the landlord of a local Inn then became the Post master, soon after their wedding Elizabeth fell pregnant, to look after her at this time Elizabeth's sister moved in, her name was Fanny.
    Sadly Elizabeth died during the birth of the Kent's son, Fanny stayed on to look after the baby and William but tragically the baby also died.
    After a while William and Fanny fell in love but they couldn't marry because of Canon Law, so Kent moved to London and tried to forget.

    Fanny found he was living at an address in East Greenwich and soon began sending him love letters, relenting he asked Fanny to join him and they soon found new lodgings in Mansion House.
    Not long after Kent had a run in with the landlord, he had found out they were not married, Kent had lent him some money which the landlord withheld paying back as a kind of protest, so Kent had him arrested.

    The couple had to find somewhere to live and quickly, as Fanny was pregnant. Whilst attending church near Newgate Kent met Richard Parsons who owned a property in Cock Lane, it was a little run down but Kent accepted it readily, not long after they moved in the strange occurrences began.

The Scratching Begins.

18th century Cock Lane.
    Kent was attending a wedding out of town that night, Fanny had Richard Parson's daughter Elizabeth for company. At some point during the night they both heard rapping and scratching noises.

    Unable to locate where the sounds were coming from they asked Mrs Parsons if anyone was working next door to which the answer was no, undeterred the ladies went to the landlord of the Wheat Sheaf public house, a Mr Franzen who returned to the house and upon entering observed a transparent white figure going up the stairs, he turned and fled.

    In late January 1760 Fanny went into labour, as she was already suffering from a fever which was thought to be smallpox her chances were not good and she died on 2nd February.
    Kent was Fanny's sole beneficiary and she had quite a sum of money from inheritances, and so began a long legal wrangle with her family, in 1761 Kent married again.


    However, the house in Cock Lane was now being occupied by a Mrs Friend who stated that the scratching was getting worse, workmen came and searched for a solution but nothing was found.      Richard Parsons approached a local clergyman called John Moore and asked him what he should do.
    The two men stayed in the house one night and asked the spirit questions (one rap for yes, two for no), the answers they received were quite surprising. The first ghost (seen by Franzen) was Elizabeth Kent's first wife who had come back to warn Fanny of her impending doom and now a second ghost, Fanny, appeared saying she had died from arsenic poisoning and Kent was the murderer!
     As a clergyman Moore thought it was quite right that he should put his faith in this ghostly revelation!
The Haunted House.
    The story soon became public knowledge through a newspaper called the Public Ledger and to clear his name Kent visited Moore.
    They then went to Cock Lane and attended a seance, no spirit came so Mary Frazer (a relation of Parsons) decided to call for the ghost by running around the room shouting "Fanny, Fanny, why don't you come? Do come, pray Fanny, come; dear Fanny, come!
    Eventually they made contact and Fanny's spirit was asked the same questions, this time Fanny declared Kent had not poisoned her, someone else had, would Kent hang for this?
     Yes was the reply, Kent was outraged saying this was not Fanny's ghost, she would never say such a thing. 
    Other seances were performed with various persons attending, most notably Kent who still wished to convince everyone of his innocence, Moore even asked if the ghost would stand up in court in defence of Kent!


    The fame of Scratching Fanny of Cock Lane spread, Parsons started to charge money for people to come and talk to the ghost, this eventually led to an investigation. Accusations of fraud were just as vociferous as the credulous calls to have faith, many more seances were performed with ever more illustrious visitors.
     Alderman Gosling, Horace Walpole, Lady Northumberland and Dr Samuel Johnson being but a few, the press were having a field day, a Captain Wilkinson brought a pistol to shoot any fraudulent knocker (or scratcher) and a stick to fight his way out, just in case.

    The daughter Elizabeth Parsons (who was 13 years old) seemed to be possessed with the spirit of Fanny, the scratching centered on her and most times she was the focal point during a seance.
    During the investigation in February 1762 she was made to sleep in a hammock, her hands inside the hammock there were scratching noises, hands out there was silence.
    Parsons was threatened with imprisonment in Newgate if he proved false and when young Elizabeth was caught with a piece of wood given to her by her father to sneak into the hammock, the game was up.


Modern day Cock Lane.
      10th July 1762 Richard Parsons, his wife Elizabeth, John Moore, Mary Frazer and tradesman Richard James were found guilty of conspiring to take William Kent's life by charging him with the murder of his wife, the sentences were reported in the Gentlemen's Magazine;

    "The Court choosing that Mr. Kent, who had been so much injured on the occasion, should receive some reparation by punishment of the offenders, deferred giving judgement for seven or eight months, in hopes that the parties might make it up in the meantime. 
    Accordingly, the clergyman, and tradesman agreed to pay Mr. Kent a round sum—some say between £500 and £600 to purchase their pardon, and were, therefore, dismissed with a severe reprimand.
   The father was ordered to be set in the pillory three times in one month—once at the end of Cock–Lane; Elizabeth his wife to be imprisoned one year; and Mary Frazer six months in Bridewell, with hard labour. 
    The father appearing to be out of his mind at the time he was first to standing in the pillory, the execution of that part of his sentence was deferred to another day, when, as well as the other day of his standing there, the populace took so much compassion on him, that instead of using him ill, they made a handsome subscription for him."
Hogarth's "Credulity" knocking ghost is on top of the thermometer (far right) with priest on left.
     The Cock Lane ghost became very famous, Charles Dickens mentions it in Nicholas Nickleby, Dombey and Son and Tale of Two Cities. 
    The satirist William Hogarth's painting "Credulity, Superstition & Fanaticism" shows the ghost knocking to the girl in the bed, a is priest slipping a ghostly icon into the cleavage of a woman and in the congregation several people are holding icons of the ghost. 
    In The Times Plate ii we see the ghost pilloried. The house in Cock Lane was demolished in 1979.
Hogarth's The Times Plate ii, the Fanny is on the far right in the pillory.

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