Epworth Phenomena

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Epworth Phenomena

The psychic disturbances of a poltergeist nature at Epworth Vicarage, England, in 1716 during its occupancy by Rev. Samuel Wesley, father of Methodist Church founder John Wesley. The phenomena lasted for several months and were first attributed to trickery, then to the devil, although Samuel's wife, Susannah Wesley, disagreed with the latter hypothesis. Instead, she connected it with the fate of her brother who, in the service of the East India Company, disappeared and was never heard of again. It was not proved that the rappings were caused by his discarnate agency, but the members of the family took it for granted after a while that "Old Jeffrey" was involved in the manifestations, which appeared to be connected mostly with Hetty Wesley. She was noticed to tremble strongly in her sleep when the knockings occurred.

The main disturbances lasted with intervals for two months, December and January 1716-17, and broke out occasionally afterward. The contention that they still recurred a generation later is based on a letter by Emily Wesley, dated February 16, 1750, containing this passage: "Another thing is that wonderful thing called by us Jeffrey. You won't laugh at me for being superstitious if I tell you how certainly that something calls on me against any extraordinary new affliction; but so little is known of the invisible world that I am at least not able to judge whether it be friendly or an evil spirit."

The records of the phenomena consist mostly of family letters and an account written by Samuel Wesley. The disturbances began with knockings. Susannah Wesley wrote on January 12, 1717:

"One night it made such a noise in the room over our heads as if several people were walking; then run up and down the stairs, and was so outrageous that we thought the children would be frightened, so your father and I rose and went down in the dark to light a candle. Just as we came to the bottom of the broad stairs, having hold of each other, on my side there seemed as if somebody had emptied a bag of money at my feet and on his as if all the bottles under the stairs (which were many) had been dashed into a thousand pieces. We passed through the hall into the kitchen and got a candle and went to see the children. The next night your father would get Mr. Hoole to lie at our house and we all sat together till one or two o'clock in the morning and heard the knocking as usual. Sometimes it would make a noise like the winding up of a jack; at other times, as that night Mr. Hoole was with us, like a carpenter planning deals; but mostly commonly it knocked three and stopped and then thrice again and so many hours together."

Her daughter Hetty heard "something like a man in a loose nightgown trailing after him" coming down the stairs behind her, and sometimes a shape like a "badger" was seen under the bed. The noises answered knock for knock and came in any part of the house. At family prayers they became very agitated at the names of King George and the Prince. Samuel Wesley often tried to speak to them but the only answer he received was "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."

Another daughter, Nancy, was once lifted up with the bed in which she sat. She leapt down and said that surely Old Jeffrey would not run away with her. She was persuaded to sit down again when the bed was lifted several times successively to a considerable height. The noise affected the mastiff of the household. It whimpered in terror and strove to get between the people of the house.

(See also Ashtabula Poltergeist ; Cock Lane Ghost ; Drummer of Tedworth ; Enfield Poltergeist ; haunted houses ; and Eliakim Phelps )


Clarke, Ada. Memoirs of the Wesley Family. 4th ed. London: W. Tegg, 1860.

Priestley, Joseph. Original Letters by the Rev. John Wesley and his Friends. Birmingham, England, 1791.

Wilder, Franklin. Good News for Martha Wesley. Hicksville, N.Y.: Exposition Press, 1976.

Wright, Dudley. The Epworth Phenomena. London: William Rider & Son, 1917.