Demon of Spreyton

The Demon of Spreyton

About the month of November last in the Parish of Spraiton, one Francis Fey (servant to Mr. Philip Furze) being in a Field near the Dwelling house of the said Master, there appeared unto him the resemblance of an old Gentleman, like his Master's Father, with a Pole or Staff in his hand, like that he was wont to carry when living, to kill Moles withal. The Spectrum approached near the young Man, who was not a little surprised at the Appearance of one whom he knew to be dead, but the Spectrum bade him have no Fear, but tell his Master that several Legacies, which by his Testament he had bequeathed were unpaid, naming ten shillings to one, ten shillings to another, both which he named. The young man replied that the party last named was dead, and so it could not be paid to him. The Ghost answered, He knew that, but it must be paid to the next relative, whom he also named. The Spectrum likewise ordered him to carry twenty shillings to a Gentlewoman, sister of the Deceased, living at Totness, and promised if these things were done, to trouble him no more. At the same time the Spectrum speaking of his second wife (also dead) called her a wicked Woman, though the Relater knew her and esteemed her as a good Woman.”

The spectre vanished. The young man did as enjoined and saw that the legacies were duly paid, and he took twenty shillings to the gentlewoman near Totnes; but she utterly refused to receive it, believing it to have been sent to her by the devil.

That same night, the young man, who was lodging in the house of his former master's sister, saw the ghost again. The youth thereupon remonstrated with it and reminded it of the promise made no more to annoy him, and he explained that the deceased man's sister refused to accept the money. Then the spirit bade the young man take horse, ride into Totnes, and buy a ring of the value of twenty shillings, and assured him that the lady would receive that.

Next day, after having delivered the ring, that was accepted, the young man was riding home to his master's, accompanied by a servant of the gentlewoman near Totnes, and as they entered the parish of Spreyton, the ghost was seen sitting on the horse behind the youth. It clasped its long arms about his waist and flung him from his saddle to the ground. This was witnessed by several persons in the road, as well as by the serving man from Totnes.

On entering the yard of Mr. P. Furze's farm, the horse made a bound of some twenty-five feet, to the amazement of all.

Soon after this a female ghost appeared in the house, and was seen by the same young man, as also by Mrs. Thomasine Gidley, Anne Langdon, and a little child. She was able to assume various shapes: sometimes she appeared as a dog, belching fire, at another she went out of the window in the shape of a horse, breaking one pane of glass and a piece of iron. It was certainly vastly considerate of her in the bulk of a horse to do so little damage! But usually she stalked along the passage and appeared in the rooms in her own form. No doubt could exist as to who this troublesome ghost was. The “spectrum” of the old gentleman had already hinted that his second wife was a bad woman, and could make herself unpleasant.

On one occasion, invisible hands laid hold of the young man, and rammed his head into a narrow space between the bedstead and the wall, and it took several persons to extricate him; and then, what with fright and what with the pressure, he was so unwell that a surgeon was sent for to bleed him. No sooner was this operation performed, than the ligatures about the arm were suddenly snatched at and torn off, and slung about his waist, and there drawn so tight that he was nearly suffocated. They had to be cut through with a knife to relieve him. At other times his cravat was drawn tight.

The spectre was of a playful humour sometimes, and would pluck the perukes off the heads of people, and one that was on top of a cabinet in a box, with a joint-stool on it, was drawn out and ripped to shreds—and this was the most costly wig in the house.

At another time the youth's “shoe-string” was observed without assistance of hands to come out of his shoe of its own accord and cast itself to the other side of the room, whereupon the other shoe-lace started crawling after its companion. A maid espying this, with her hand drew it back, when it clasped and curled round her hand like an eel or serpent.

The young man's clothes were taken off and torn to shreds, as were those of another servant in the house, and this while they were on their backs. A barrel of salt was seen to march out of one room and into another, untouched by human hands. When the spectre appeared in her own likeness she was habited in the ordinary garments of women at the time, especially like those worn by Mrs. Philip Furze, her daughter-in-law.

On Easter Eve the young man was returning from the town when he was caught by the female spectre by his coat and carried up into the air, head, legs, and arms dangling down.

Having been missed by his master and fellow servants, search was made for him, but it was not till half an hour later that he was found at some distance from the house plunged to his middle in a bog, and in a condition of ecstasy or trance, whistling and singing. He was with difficulty extracted and taken to the house and put to bed. All the lower part of his body was numbed with cold from long immersion in the morass. One of his shoes was found near the doorstep of the house, another at the back of the house, and his peruke was hanging among the top branches of a tree. On his recovery he protested that the spirit had carried him aloft till his master's house had seemed to him no bigger than a haycock.

As his limbs remained benumbed he was taken to Crediton on the following Saturday to be bled. After the operation he was left by himself, but when his fellows came in they found his forehead cut and swollen and bleeding. According to him, a bird with a stone in its beak had flown in at the window and dashed it at his brow. The room was searched; no stone, but a brass weight was found lying on the floor.

“This is a faithful account of the Contents of a Letter from a Person of Quality in Devon, dated 11 May, 1683. The young man will be 21 if he lives to August next.”

The title of this curious pamphlet is: “A Narrative of the Demon of Spraiton. In a Letter from a Person of Quality in the County of Devon, to a Gentleman in London, with a Relation of an Apparition or Spectrum of an Ancient Gentleman of Devon who often appeared to his Son's Servant. With the Strange Actions and Discourses happening between them at divers times. As likewise, the Demon of an Ancient Woman, Wife of the Gentleman aforesaid. With unparalell'd varieties of strange Exploits performed by her: Attested under the Hands of the said Person of Quality, and likewise a Reverend Divine of the said County. With Reflections on Drollery and Atheism, and a Word to those that deny the Existence of Spirits.” London, 1683.

It is pretty obvious that the mischievous and idle youth was at the bottom of all this bedevilment. This was but an instance of the Poltergeist that so exercised the minds of Körner, Mrs. Crowe, and the like, but which can all be traced back to a knavish servant.