SCRACTHING FANNY & THE COCK LANE HAUNTING

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SYNOPSIS

William Kent was what some might have called a rather unlucky man. Twice widowed shortly after marriage to his relatively wealthy wives, his relationships had not been the fairy tales he had longed for. The 19th Century was an age where bumping off an unwanted spouse could be as easy as a trip to the local apothecary, and as such, one might have expected William to harbor fears of a few unsavory rumours surfacing around him, however, when this inevitably did happen in the spring of 1762, his shock could certainly be forgiven when it became apparent that the accusations levelled against him were from none other than the spirit of his recently deceased second wife.

Carthew, G.A. The hundred of Launditch and deanery of Brisley :

in the county of Norfolk : evidences and topographical notes from public records, heralds’ visitations, wills, court rolls, old charters, parish registers, town books, and other private sources : digested and arranged as materials for parochial, manorial, and family history /

collected by G.A. Carthew. Norwich. Vol. 3. (1879) Miller and Leavins, UK.

Goldsmith, Oliver. The mystery revealed; containing a series of transactions and authentic testimonials: respecting the supposed Cock-Lane ghost: which have hitherto been concealed from the public. (1762) W. Bristow, London, UK. Eighteenth Century Collections Online, Text Creation partnership, https://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/ecco/004882880.0001.000?rgn=main;view=fulltext, accessed 22 January 2020.

Chambers, Paul. The Cock Lane Ghost: Murder, Sex and Haunting in Dr. Johnson’s London. (2006) The History Press Ltd; UK

Leeds intelligencer Tuesday 02 February 1762, p3

The Scots Magazine – Monday 01 March 1762, p37

Various historical Parish records found on https://www.freereg.org.uk/

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Scratching Fanny: The Cock Lane Haunting

 

Intro

 

William Kent was what some might have called a rather unlucky man. Twice widowed shortly after marriage to his relatively wealthy wives, his relationships had not been the fairy tales he had longed for. The 19th Century was an age where bumping off an unwanted spouse could be as easy as a trip to the local apothecary, and as such, one might have expected William to harbor fears of a few unsavory rumours surfacing around him, however, when this inevitably did happen in the spring of 1762, his shock could certainly be forgiven when it became apparent that the accusations levelled against him were from none other than the spirit of his recently deceased second wife. This is Dark Histories, where the facts are worse than fiction.. 

 

18th Century London & The Rise of the Methodist Movement

 

In the 18th Century, the Anglican Church was recovering from recent Civil and Religious Wars that had seen different factions attempt to install reform and enthusiasm back into the religious establishment. As such it had become a church that favoured respectability and the comfort of the middle ground, conservatism was the order of the day and an academic approach to worship was adopted with the status quo being the preferred long term result. It was within this atmosphere of relative ambivalence that John and Charles Wesley formed their study club, whilst studying at Oxford University. The study club was a small group of students consisting of the Wesley brothers friends and acquaintances who, at the time, would have been considered “religious enthusiasts”, a group of people who took the study and practice of their faith a little more direct than had become the norm. As a group they would regularly partake in fasting, abstinence and would visit the sick and poor in order to offer aid. The group were quickly branded as sticklers for the rules of the bible and as such were branded “Methodists” by their fellow students and whilst it was meant as a jab at their practices, the group instead chose to adopt the term for themselves as a badge of honour.

 

The newly named Methodists would often preach in the streets, as well as any church that would allow their evangelistic style and dangerously enthusiastic interpretation of living a Holy life. This lead to the groups teachings quickly spreading as they found a market for their ideas amongst those who likewise felt disenfranchised with the lackadaisical attitude towards faith in the mainstream Anglican church. The methodists preached about Christian Holiness, the importance of moral responsibility, sanctification and general religious good practice. Alongside these fairly benign ideals, however, Methodism did harbour certain views which were a degree more controversial and not entirely in line with the Anglican church. Chiefly, this was a strong, spiritual belief in the supernatural, the ideas that both angels and demons existed in reality, along with the afterlife, resurrection and miracle healing. In the 18th Century, such ideas were not at all in vogue, the age of enlightenment had seen a general shift of such belief to a more metaphorical position in religious preaching. This made a perfect target for the Anglican church, which preached rationalism over the supernatural and who saw the Methodists as a growing threat towards the guarded status quo. This didn’t manifest in the desired effect of quashing the growth, however, as much of the less educated lower classes still held onto the more traditional idea of supernatural possibility and as such, the Methodists found themselves tapping into more disenfranchised feeling and by the mid 19th Century, the movement was boasting a following over 20,000 strong. 

 

By 1760, many Methodists and those sympathetic to the movement within the Anglican church were seeking for proof and justification for their beliefs. Many sought hard evidence to utilise in their preaching or to find comfort in their own convictions. It was within this atmosphere of blossoming theological thought that William Kent would wind up entangled when the spirit of his deceased second wife would accuse him of murder. On one side, the methodists would leap on the situation, seeking for proof of their teachings, whilst the Anglicans would come to his rescue, seeking to once again ridicule those that might voice their belief in an otherworldly force.The stage for a national scandal was perfectly set, as winter drew in and rain and snow fell across the tight, cobbled back streets of Central London, resting in the shadow of St Paul’s Cathedral.

 

William Kent & The Lynes Family

 

William Kent was born in 1729 in the City of Norwich, the largest city in the County of Norfolk, lying 100 miles North-East of London, in the East Anglia region of England. His father, Thomas Kent was a weaver and locally had been reasonably successful in business. He lived a comfortable life with his brother, Robert and Sister, Elizabeth until his father died in 1752. HIs mother was a much younger woman than Williams father and so, finding herself newly widowed and the recipient of a healthy sum from the inheritance, she moved the family 20 miles to the small village of Mileham, in Norfolk. William continued to live with his mother whilst he became the manager of a local Inn in the village. It was whilst working at the Inn that William met Elizabeth Lynes in 1756. Elizabeth Lynes was the daughter of Thomas and Susan Lynes, a very wealthy and well respected family from the village of Little Dunham, which lay just a handful of miles to the Southwest of Mileham. 

 

The Lynes family had recent ancestors who had held the position of Lord of the Manor and had owned sizeable chunks of land and real estate throughout the Parish of Little Dunham. In the early 1700’s Thomas and Susan Lynes moved to Litcham, the neighbouring village to Mileham and settled down to have a family. Over the following years, they had seven children that survived into adulthood, two sons, John (1727) and Thomas (1730) and five daughters, Susan (1728), Elizabeth (1736), Frances (1737) and Ann (1740). When both Thomas and Susan passed away, the responsibilities of looking after the large family fell to the two sons, John and Thomas. 

 

When William met Elizabeth, she was seven years his junior, at just twenty years old and the baby sister to a very protective pair of brothers who were well aware that their sisters made primary targets for anyone in the local area looking to marry up into a family of old money. It comes as little surprise then, that when William approached the brothers in February of 1757 to explain that Elizabeth was pregnant and he the father, they were not best pleased. Outside of the natural protective instinct of an elder brother, the Kent family were very much Nouveau Riche and therefore, a class well below the Lynes family. Furthermore, a child born out of wedlock would have been a disaster for Elizabeth’s reputation in the local area and by extension, the entire Lynes family would be the centre of something of a scandal. With their hands forced by the unexpected pregnancy, the Lynes brothers begrudgingly accepted their sisters decision to marry William, the more pressing order was to ship the couple out of the local area in order to conceal the pregnancy before it began to show. At three months pregnant, William and Elizabeth married on the 8th March, 1757 in the Litcham Parish Church and were then quickly moved out to a small village 20 miles South of Litcham called Stoke Ferry. Here, the brothers had purchased a concession for the couple to run a local inn with a two year contract. This would ensure that Elizabeth would be out of sight of any locals until well after the child was born, allowing the date of birth could be fudged and no one need be any the wiser.

 

In all likelihood, William was probably glad to put some distance between himself and Elizabeth and her possessive brothers. Their life in Stoke Ferry once settled appears to have been happy enough, though only evident by the lack of information during their early time at the inn. As Elizabeth’s pregnancy reached its third trimester and she began to find daily tasks more of a struggle, Frances Lynes, her younger sister known as “Fanny”, moved in with the couple to help out around the house and keep Elizabeth company. William and Elizabeth first son, William Junior, was Born in mid-Spetember, though the birth had not gone well at all. Elizabeth struggled heavily and sadly passed away from the traumatic Birth, whilst William Junior was born sickly and weak. The baby lived for only two months, before passing away himself on the 19th November. These were heavy blows for William, who now found himself newly widowed with a deceased Son and a contract at the Inn that tied him to a household filled with the unhappiness of dashed happiness, for another year. Fanny, meanwhile, stayed on in Stoke Ferry with William to help him run the inn whilst he came to terms with all that had happened. Perhaps inevitably, it wasn’t so long before William found himself becoming attached to Fanny, as he later stated,

 

“I always had a great affection for my wife, and her sister now living with me and she being very much like my wife in temper and person, I conceived a great love for her and she the same for me.”

 

Considering the situation, two people tied into a household together, in a village not their own and mourning the shared loss of a wife and sister, it really does seem difficult to see any other outcome. This would have been of very little solace to the Lynes Brothers should they catch wind of the developing romance, however, and so the pair found themselves in a spot of bother. Faced with the same issues as Elizabeth and William, Fanny and Williams relationship had the added sting that Fanny was the sister of Williams recently deceased wife. Once you add to this the animosity felt towards William by the brothers, who placed an element of responsibility onto his shoulders for the death of their sister, the situation quickly becomes very difficult indeed.

 

Their immediate concern was to avoid a scandal amongst Stoke Ferry and so their developing relationship had to be nurtured in secret, out of the prying eyes of any locals who would be more than excitable at the discovery of such a scandalous affair. The issue with the brothers could be dealt with later. Their plans were expedited somewhat, however, when Williams mother passed away towards the end of November. Her passing saw William inherit a large sum of money from both Elizabeth and his mother, and as such, he now found himself in a position to be able to buy himself out of the contract at the Inn early. William contacted his friend Augustin leavy, an attorney from london who had owned property in Stoke Ferry and been a visitor during Williams time at the inn, in order to determine the legal position on his marrying Fanny. Leavy checked out the small print and came back to William with sorry news, their marriage would be impossible by law, as he had had a surviving child with Elizabeth before her death. Despite William Junior dying aged only two months, if a child between husband and wife survived past the death of the mother, regardless if it then died two months or two days later, a second marriage to a relative of the wife was effectively legally impossible. With heavy hearts, the pair decided to split up and to do their best to move on with their own lives apart from one another. In January of 1759, Fanny moved back home to Litcham, whilst William moved to a rented room in the Strand, London.

 

Things did not go quite to plan, however, and as much as the couple might have hoped to have been able to move on after a fresh start, both William and Fanny suffered at the pulling apart of their relationship. Fanny wrote to William week after week pleading to come to London to start again with William and as much as he knew it would be difficult, William too wished for the same. Together, the couple began to make plans to elope to London, where they hoped to start a new life under the cover of a false marriage. Frances Lynes would become known only as Frances Kent and for all intents and purposes, they would live as husband and wife both with themselves but especially to anyone that lived around them. Their was one last condition for Fanny that William requested of her, that she must cut ties with her family, allowing the couple to truly start fresh, away from the Lyness family and the obvious scandal and difficulties that any association would entail once they found out where Fanny had gone. Fanny promptly agreed to the conditions, and together with Leavy, travelled to London on the 3rd June, via stagecoach from Yarmouth. The pair moved into Leavys house in Greenwich whilst they settled into London life. Shortly after, William changed his will to leave everything he owned to Fanny and Fanny the same in reciprocation, though William did insist that she should leave something to her relatives in Norfolk and assured her that it was not so important for her to change her will at all, though Fanny insisted..

 

William leased a house in bartletts Court, in the central London district of Clerkenwell, however, the property was in dire need of renovation before it could house tenants and so builders were contracted to get it into a fit state, whilst Fanny and William moved into rented accommodation in the meantime. For a few months this arrangement seemed to work out well enough, but in October, the Landlord became suspicious and eventually discovered that the pair were not married as they had previously told him. They found themselves turfed out into the street and with the builders suggesting the work on their Clerkenwell home would not be finished before January, they were essentially homeless. To make matters worse, it had very recently become known to the couple that Fanny was now four months pregnant. Seemingly desperate, William made enquiries around the local area and with everyone he knew, though, by pure chance, it found itself entirely solved when they met Richard Parsons after a service in the local church.

 

Richard Parsons & Cock Lane

 

Richard Parsons lived in Cock Lane, Central London, a stones throw North West of St Pauls Cathedral, whose domed spire then, as now, dominated the local skyline. He lived with his wife Elizabeth and two daughters, Anne, aged 6 and Betty, aged 10 in a three story terraced house that fronted directly onto the narrow, cobbled street. The local area was one of mixed fortunes. To the South lay the border of the slums of Blackfriars and the Lane was only divided from the direct poverty by the Smithfield Meat Market, which cut across the entrance to Cock Lane and kept it seperate, at least in the minds of the people who lived there. In reality, it was a fairly rough street itself that saw the comings and going from the market on a daily basis. In the past, the Lane had been famous in London as being the only street where prostitution was deemed legal and in 1666, marked the boundary o fthe Great Fire of London. In the mid 18th Century, the Lane, or more appropriately perhaps, the lanes pubs, found themselves loosely affiliated with the London silk trade and taverns like the Wheat Sheaf, which stood just a few doors up the lane from Richard Parsons house, were frequented by the silk weavers of Bethnal Green.

 

Parsons himself had been born in the local area, the first of nine children, he had attended the local charity school before being taken in as an apprentice clerk at the local St Sepulchre’s Church, which stood on the corner of Giltspur Street and Cock Lane. Known amongst the locals as a bit of a chancer with alcoholism issues, a common affliction at the time due to the recent to and fro of licensing laws, which first made cheap alcohol freely sellable by anyone, only to later clamp down heavily once drinking became a clear issue throughout the city, as cheap gin was sold by street vendors off the back of carts and out of wheelbarrows. This severe swing in legislation saw many with a newly acquired alcohol habit and a lack of ways to fund it. Despite these challenges, Richard Parsons seemed to live reasonably well, renting out the spare room in his home to tenants and managing to scrape by on his small wage from the church.

 

When Richard Parsons met William and Fanny Kent, he would have been without a doubt excited at the prospect of stumbling across new lodgers with such credibility. William had told Parsons that he had moved to London from Norfolk where he had owned several businesses and intended to settle in London as a stockbroker. A lodger of such status and reliability does not fall into one’s lap everyday and he was as keen to move the Kent couple in as they were to find lodging wherever they could. Parsons initial excitement was somewhat diminished when he learnt that William and Fanny intended only to stay until February, when the building work on their Clerkenwell home would be complete, but for now, that concern could wait. And so, through a chance meeting in a church on the corner of Cock Lane, both Parsons the Landlord and William and Fanny found their problems resolved. 

 

Complicating matters somewhat, the Lynes brothers had decided to publish details of their sisters relationship with William in order to attempt to track down their vanished sister, but for now at least, people around them were none the wiser that William and Fanny were not legitimately man and wife. The couple introduced themselves to everyone they met as William and Fanny Kent and no one thought to question them on the fact, especially given their moneyed and educated status.

 

Scratching Fanny

 

After William and Fanny moved into cock lane, things settled down for the couple and they were allowed to relax a little more. William would return to Norwich for several days at a time, which he told Parsons was in order to take care of the selling up of his business operations in Norfolk, though in reality his disappearances remain something of a mystery. There is evidence that William was still the owner of his original inn in Mileham so it’s possible that he was going back to Norfolk to take care of matters there, though most other evidence seems to show William simply living off his inheritance whilst seemingly waiting for an opportunity to arise in London. Either way, the couples new life in Cock Lane was uneventful enough and seemingly happy. Williams adventures did leave Fanny alone, however, and though she got on well with Parsons daughters, she asked if it might be possible to take on a servant girl to both help her around the house and to keep her company whilst William was away. Richard Parsons and his wife Elizabeth agreed and so William hired a young girl named Esther Carlisle to join them in Cock Lane. Esther had a bright red head of hair, so it was in no time at all that she took the nickname of Carrots of all in the Cock lane household. 

 

As Fannies pregnancy progressed, so too did Williams relationship with Richard Parsons. The two men found themselves getting along perfectly well, which pleased both William, as he could feel secure leaving Fanny alone whilst he was away and for Parsons, who was more than happy to have such stable lodgers. A few months after moving in, Parsons approached William and asked him for a loan of 12 guineas, which he told William he needed in order to feed his family over the coming months during a time of particular financial struggle. William consented happily and drew up a contract that would see Parsons pay back the debt at 1 guinea per month over a twelve month period. William was apparently a relatively trusting man, as he had recently loaned his previous landlord the sum of 20 guineas in a similar situation and had been forced to take him to court in order to receive any repayment. Perhaps this time it would be better, besides, he got on well with Parsons and so he could not foresee any problems. William was clearly not quite tuned into the local area, however, as the news spread about the Wheat Sheaf that Parsons had taken a loan from William, most thought William a bit of a fool to trust the somewhat sketchy landlord.

 

This trust saw William make his second mistake, after the loan, concerning Richard Parsons. In confidence, William told Parsons the truth behind his and Fannies marital situation and how they had come to live in London. Parsons promised to keep the secret to himself and life continued on as normal, but unbeknowingly, William had handed Parsons a golden bullet by entrustusting him with the private information of himself and Fanny.

 

During Williams trips away to Norfolk, Fanny often spent time with Richards eldest daughter Betty and the pair had grown close in their cohabitation. Often when William was away, Betty would sleep in the same room as Fanny. Fanny enjoyed the company and for Betty, she no doubt found enjoyment in sharing her thoughts with an analogue to an older sister. On one such night in November, when William had returned to Norfolk to attend a wedding, Betty was sleeping in the same room as Fanny when Fanny woke suddenly the sound of scratching around the walls of the room. Betty was fast asleep, but straining her ears to try and locate the source of the scratching, she thought only that the sound seemed to be coming from inside the walls. She chalked it up to the nature of a terraced house in London and thought little more of it, falling back to sleep. The next night however, the noise progressed, this time waking both Fanny and Betty, when it started making prolonging knocking noises along with the sinister scratching in the walls. The next morning the girls complained to Richard Parsons about the sounds, though with little he could do himself, he merely said that he had not heard anything and suggested that perhaps it was the doing of a nocturnal shoe maker that lived several doors down the lane from the parsons house. That same night when the knocking and scratching once again began in the early hours of the morning, Fanny jumpe dup out of bed and woke Richard and Elizxabeth parsons and forced them out of bed to come and hear the noises for themselves. Parsons could not explain the mystery sounds, but promised Fanny that he would look further into the matter. The next night saw William return home and with his return, the noises appeared to cease.

 

As the winter passed and 1762 ticked into place, life in Cock Lane was, for the most part normal. Fannies pregnancy reached it’s third trimester and William hired Doctor Thomas Cooper to take care of his wife and the baby. Other relationships in the house became far more strained, however, when predictably, Parsons failed month on month to make any repayments on his loan from William. As William pressed him on the matter, relations deteriorated rapidly. This culminated in mid-January, when a fight broke out between William and Parsons, that ended with William threatening to sue his landlord in order to claim back the money he owed if he did not repay the debt in full immediately. Now was Parsons chance to use the gift that William had so kindly handed him in earlier months. Parsons threatened William in return to out the truth of his and Fannies relationship, that they were an unmarried couple living in sin and nearly 9 months pregnant. William stormed out of the house saying he was off to see his lawyer and when he returned, he found his belongings thrown out into the street.

 

With Fannies condition as it was, William sort accommodation as quickly as he could and within the day had secured them a small room above a nearby jewelers. The room was beyond shabby and threatened to be completely uninhabitable, but with the building work on the Bartletts Court house still a few weeks from completion, it would have to do. At least it would only have to house the couple for a short time. Carrots helped the pair move in and they attempted to make the best of it. On the 25th January, Fanny woke William with complaints of a backache. Insisting that she was in labour. William himself was not so sure and asked his friend Augustin Leavy for a second opinion. Leavy took one look at Fanny and advised William to call in a doctor who upon entering the small room, told William that he must move Fanny from the premises as soon as humanly possible, for it was unfit to house anyone, let alone a patient. William made arrangements with the builders in Bartletts Court and the couple moved over to their permanent lodgings on the same day, however, by this point Fannies condition had deteriorated rapidly. The Doctor was quick to point out that she was not in labour, but was suffering from what he called a “Virulent Eruptive Fever”, it was clear to everyone who saw Fanny by now though, even to William, as a rash spread across her face, that she was suffering from Smallpox. By 1750, Smallpox inoculations were reasonably common amongst city dwelling folk, but for those that had come from more rural areas, like William and Fanny, inoculations were much rarer. Death rate for Smallpox was around 1 in every 3, sadly, for Fanny, the doctor suggested that with her late stage of pregnancy, she was very likely to be the unfortunate 1 and told William that he should not expect her to live much longer than a few days. Fanny was apparently aware of her own situation already and on the last day of January, 1762, summoned an attorney to ensure that her will was taken care of and in good standing legally. The Reverend, Stephen Alrich from the local Church of St johns came to visit and Fanny requested to William that her family should be informed of her situation. William sent word to Ann Lynes, Fannies younger sister who lived in Pall Mall. Upon her visit, Ann thought that William was being overly dramatic and in good spirits left the Kent household, the next day she felt so confident of Fannys recovery, that she only sent the servant round to see how her sister was doing. It was not great news.

 

“The last morning of her life we found her extremely low, her eyes sunk, her speech failing, and her intellects very imperfect; we told Mr Kent she could not then live twelve hours. Accordingly, a short time after we left her, her speech was wholly taken from her, she became senseless, a little convulsed, and expired in the evening.”

 

Fanny Lynes passed away on the 2nd February 1762, leaving William now twice widowed. As was to be expected, William did not take this loss well at all and suffered a more or less complete mental collapse. He registered her burial under the name of Frances Kent to protect her reputation and left the nameplate on her coffin blank as he was unsure of which name would best fit, both socially and legally. Named as the sole executor of her will, William took Fannies last wishes to be registered, where his paths once again crossed with Fannies younger sister Ann. It was a rude shock for Ann to find out during the registration that Fanny had recently changed her will, leaving everything she owned to William, minus a half crown (2s 6d) for each of her relatives. Once again William now found himself on particularly difficult terms with the Lynes family. This was made all the worse as William was the executor it too fell to him to make sure the wishes in the will were carried out. The job was made only slightly easier by the recent death of one of the Lynes brothers, which Fanny and William had been unaware in their status of elopement, but once again, this only complicated matters, as this now meant that the whole family owed William nearly £100 from the sale of Fannies unknown inheritance of a portion of her brothers land. Ann immediately tried to get the law to overturn Fannies will, but it was legally sound as they saw it and as such, her request was promptly thrown out. On a roll for legal matters, William also now saw it a fit time to sue Rixchard Parsons for the money owed to him in debt of 12 guineas. It was safe to say that in February of 1762, William had few friends and was clearly just fine in keeping it that way.

 

Whilst Fanny had lay dying in Bartlett’s Court, Ricxhard Parsons had not been sitting idle. The knocking and scratching sounds in his house has made a return and after a few drinks in the Wheat Sheaf and a bit of loose chatter, rumours soon started flying around Cock Lane that his house was haunted. In early february, Parsons invited the Landlord of the pub, James Franzen, to come and check out the sounds for himself. After pub closing that night, he strolled down to Parsons house, but found his host not to be home. Elizabeth Parsons invited him into the house to wait for his return and he sat in the parlour with Elizabeth and the eldest daughter, Betty. As the trio waited, the scratching sounds started which a terrified James Franzen later described as “Like knuckles knocking against the wainscot.” Visibly shaking, Franzen asked Elizabeth who they thought the spirit to be and she was all too happy to furnish him with their theory that it was Williams first wife, Elizabeth Kent. The thinking that went into the theory was essentially that since the sounds had started when William and Fanny had been staying with the parsons and since the noises had started in Fannies room, the spirit must have been a tormented Elizabeth who felt angered towards the couple for getting together after her death. Franzen had heard enough, both of the mysterious sounds and of the tales behind them. He stood to leave the house, pale as a sheet. As he made his way to the front door, a figure dressed from head to foot in what appeared like a white sheet, “all luminous and shining”, ran passed him and up the stairs, turning near the top to beckon him to follow. It was the final straw for the Pub Landlords weak constitution and he left the Parsons house at a sprint, thundering back to his pub, where he promptly poured himself a drink and sat trembling in fear until a knock came at his door. The visitor was none other than Richard Parsons who had returned home only to hear the story of his running from the house from his wife Elizabeth. Parsons told him that as he had returned home, he had seen the same ghost. The pair drank nervously into the night, trying not to think of the ordeal. It was an evening that would go on to haunt Franzen for years to come and it was later reported that the experience had shocked him so much that he “Hardly seemed recovered from his fright.” On the plus side, if Parsons needed one man who perfectly placed to spread a rumour through Cock Lane faster than if the ghost stomped up and down the street in broad daylight with a gigantic sign over it’s head advertising free ectoplasm, he had found it in Franzen.

 

Over the coming days, word spread fast throughout the Cock Lane area. It played both for and against Parsons, who received many visitors looking to experience the hauntings for themselves. Naturally such visitors would bring gifts to ease their way in the door, which was a nice benefit, however, Parsons new lodgers soon left the house after complaining about the noises which left him out of pocket. This financially damaged Parsons, but saw the rumours bolstered. After all, why would Parsons spread such rumours, if they would leave him out of pocket? Soon people were coming from further afield to witness the ghost and the crowds outside Parsons house in Cock Lane was finding itself surrounded by crowds each night. One of these visitors who heard of the rumours was the Reverend John Moore. Reverend Moore was a young lecturer at St Sepulchre’s Church and would have known Parsons from there, though he had heard the rumour of the ghost from two of his students. Moore was an anglican minister, but like many at the time, he held Methodist sympathies and was fairly active within the movement. He found his interest instantly piqued by the stories that were circulating of spirits scratching and knocking on the walls of the nearby house every night and so he marched round to join the crowds and see for himself. When he was let in to witness the rumoured visitations by parsons, he found quite how far Parsons had gone to accommodate the crowds. By now Fanny had passed away and as such, the Parsons story had shifted appropriately. Elizabeth told Reverend Moore that they believed the spirit to be that of Fanny Lynes, back to avenge her murder, which they were claiming had been carried out via poison by William himself. The spirit seemed to attach itself to betty parsons, and so every night, whilst she slept in a bed in the middle of the room, visitors would crowd into the young girls bedroom to witness “Scratching Fannys” return. The event was orchestrated by one of Parsons friends from the local area, a woman named Mary Fraser, who acted as something of a medium, asking questions of the ghost, which replied in a series of knocks.

 

“To have a proper idea of this scene, as it is now carried on, the reader is to conceive a very small room with a bed in the middle. The girl, at the usual hour of going to bed, is undressed, and put in with proper solemnity; the spectators are next introduced, who sit looking at each other, suppressing laughter, and wait in silent expectation for the opening of the scene. As the ghost is a good deal offended at incredulity, the persons present are to conceal theirs, if they have any, as by this concealment they can only hope to gratify their curiosity. For, if they shew either before, or when the knocking is begun, a too prying, inquisitive, or ludicrous turn of thinking, the ghost continues usually silent, or, to use the expression of the house, “Miss Fanny is angry.” The spectators therefore have nothing for it, but to sit quiet and credulous, otherwise they must hear no ghost, which is no small disappointment to persons, who have come for no other purpose.”

 

“The girl who knows, by some secret, when the ghost is to appear, sometimes apprizes the assistants of its intended visitation. It first begins to scratch, and then to answer questions, giving two knocks for a negative, and one for an affirmative. By this means it tells whether a watch, when held up, be white, blue, yellow, or black; how many clergymen are in the room, though in this sometimes mistaken; it evidently distinguishes white men from negroes, with several other marks of sagacity; however, it is sometimes mistaken in questions of a private nature, when it deigns to answer them”

 

“she pretty invariably persists in one story, namely, that she was poisoned, in a cup of purl, by red arsenic, a poison unheard of before, by Mr. Kent in her last illness; and that she heartily wishes him hanged.”

 

Throughout Reverend Moores first visit to the house he addressed questions to the ghost, which appeared to confirm Elizabeth parsons story that it was the Spirit of Fanny and she was indeed claiming to have been murdered by William. 

 

“Are you the soul of a departed person? One knock.

Are you the soul of a person once living in this house? One knock.

Are you the departed soul of Miss Frances Lynes? One knock.

Are you returned for a purpose? One knock

In life, were you harmed by someone? One knock.

Were you murdered? Silence…

Were you poisoned?”

 

When Moore asked this question, the reply was a series of sustained scratching and excited knocking. The Reverend went on,

 

“Was the person who administered the poison known to you? One knock.

Was the person William Kent? One knock.

 

After the nights proceedings Reverend Moore left most impressed by what he had seen. He returned night after night, bringing other methodist or methodist sympathising clergymen along with him. The Methodist interest in Scratching Fanny stemmed from the possibility that if somehow they could prove the ghost to be real, they could, by extension, prove the legitimacy of their own preachings and beliefs. Each night the crowds grew and Parsons soon started charging entry. Reverend Moore wasn’t overly impressed by this development, thinking that it could damage the veracity of the rumours if people knew that Parsons was profiteering from the visitations. Parsons pointed out that he had to make up the shortfall in his income from the lack of lodgers somehow and so the Reverend proposed him a deal. If he stopped charging an entry fee, Moore himself would subsidise Parsons income via methodist donations for as long as the ghost hung around. Parsons took him up on the offer quicksharp.

 

With the rumours spreading across the wider London area and the interest in the Londnon press growing by the day, it was only to be a matter of time before William would dhear of the stories flowing out of Cock Lane. When he did finally hear of the goings on, it was from his friend Augustin Leavy, who had read a piece in the Public Ledger. Though Williams name had been redacted, the story had to be about William and Fanny, and furthermore, the details it included meant that it had to have been written, or at least the story supplied to a writer, by Richard Parsons. William was furious, the story was nothing short of character assassination as far as he could see and a petty reaction from parsons who had been seeking to get back at William after he had sued him. William set off immediately for Cock Lane in order to see the supposed ghost for himself. 

 

When he arrived in the narrow, dingy street, William set about asking around the locals to see what they were saying concerning the rumours. It didn’t take long before the Reverends name was dropped into the conversations and thinking him to be an educated man went to visit him at St Sepulchres church. Concealing his name, William asked Moore about the ghost of Cock Lane under the guise of an ordinary visitor who had heard the rumours and came to see what the fuss was all about. He soon learnt the entire backstory from Moore and then chose to out himself, much to the surprise of the Reverend. Far from thinking that William might be there to cause trouble, Moore showed William all of the detailed notes he had been taking during the visitations every night from the previous weeks. Moore had been documenting the case and writing down every detail he could manage with an eye to publish the story either as a pamphlet or in the press, or both. His notes detailed all of the questions asked of the ghost and all of the ghosts answers, including the ghosts accusations against William of murder by poison. William arranged with Moore to go and witness the ghosts communications in Parsons house for himself on the following night. The matter had become fairly grave for William. With the methodists bent on proving the case for their own ends, he saw himself put up against an accusation of murder that could very well end in himself being hanged. It appeared that for Williams part, he needed to do all he could to disprove the ghost and show Parsons up as the fraudster that William was convinced he was.

 

Williams first port of call after visiting Moore was to pay a visit to Doctor Cooper, the doctor who had attended Fanny whilst she lay on her deathbed. He explained the situation to the doctor who listened to the story with a sympathetic ear. When William asked him for his help in the matter, he signed up straight away, assuring William that he would do all he could to help clear his name. William next went to visit James Jones, the Apothecary who had treated fanny for Smallpox. Similarly Jones signed up to help William in any way he could and the next night, the three men stepped up into a hackney carriage and headed off towards to Cock Lane. The weather that night was dreadful, with wind speeds approaching hurricane status. As the rain lashed down and the wind howled through the streets, whistling with great gusts between cracks of thunder. When they pulled up outside Parsons house, they found the crowds greatly diminished owing to the frightful conditions. This only worked in the three men’s favour and they joined Reverend Moore outside the house for their first experience of Parsons ghost.

 

That night saw a much smaller crowd piled into betties bedroom. As usual, Betty lay asleep in the bed in the centre of the room. Mary Fraser was in attendance, as usual, heading the proceedings somewhat in the manner of a spirit medium, whilst Richard Parsons, his wife Elizabeth, Reverend Moore, his friend and colleague Revered Thomas Broughton and business colleague Richard James looked nervously about the room, eyeing William and his small entourage suspiciously. Here the group waited… and waited. After some time with the ghost making no signs of showing itself that night, despite Mary Frasers enthusiastic summons. Eventually, Moore suggested to William that himself and the two doctors should perhaps wait downstairs as they may have been the reason deterring Fanny from returning to the room. He assured them that he himself would attempt to make contact and bring forth the spirit and, in the case of success, he would stamp his foot on the floor to signal for the men to return to the room. William and the doctors agreed and they retired downstairs to the parlour to await the signal, which came just minutes later. When they returned to the room, Moore was ready with his questions, which he launched into immediately,

 

“Are you a woman”, One knock.

Are you Frances Lynes? One knock.

How many years since your death? Two knocks.

Was your death by natural means? Two knocks.

Were you poisoned? One knock.

Is your murderer knwon to you? One knock

Is your murderer in this room? One knock

 

The Reverend then took it upon himself to insist that William should ask the ghost for himself, if he was to be hanged for his accused crimes. William did so, asking simply, “Am I to be hanged?”. The ghost replied with a short, sharp knock to confirm that yes, he would. This was enough for William, who stormed out of the house, only stopping to turn back to Parsons and tell him that he’d be hearing from him shortly. With that, William, with Doctor Cooper and Jones left the house. It had been a tumultuous night in Cock Lane, London had witnessed the worst storm over its streets for over twenty years, whilst William had witnessed what he believed to be a complete farce in Parsons daughters small, poorly lit bedroom. One that he now had to prove, for it would undeniably be the end for his reputation and could feasibly see the end of his life if he did not.

 

Aldrich & The Investigation

 

William found himself in something of a bind. Parsons had employed relatively powerful friends with the Methodists. If nothing else, their presence in the stories leant a level of credence and respectability to the Cock Lane ghost. The methodists belief in the supernatural was often made a target by the Anglican church, but the common people that might be asked to make up a jury in a court of law were less scathing about such beliefs. William knew that to combat Parsons, he would need equally powerful friends and so, he visited the Reverend Stephen Aldrich.

 

Reverend Stephen Aldrich was Williams local Parish Priest and the clergyman that had visited Fanny as she neared the end of her life. He was an elderly priest, somewhat old skool in his beliefs and fortunately for William, absolutely against the Methodist movement. Barely needing to ask, Alrich signed up to Williams cause instantly, promising to work to uncover the fraud. He was a powerful ally for William and saw the scales tilt back to a more balanced position. With some relief, William arranged with Aldrich to visit Cock Lane the following evening, 10pm on the 18th january.

 

When the next night rolled around, William made his way to Cock Lane, this time with a new team in tow consisting of the Reverend Alrich, Doctor Jones, the Apothecary and much to Parsons chagrin, his lawyer, Mr Selman. With the weather much improved, Cock Lane was in full swing, the street outside Parsons house rammed full of curious onlookers, sharing the festival atmosphere. Inside the house, space was much tighter than the night before, with Bettys bedroom crammed to the rafters. Mary Fraser was running her usual performance and much to Williams relief, Fanny was already active upon their entrance. Not afraid of ruffling a few feathers, Reverend Aldrich got immediately involved, requesting to asks questions of Fanny, which Parsons permitted. Aldrich asked if the ghost had appeared before people in the past, which is once again answered in the affirmative. He then put it to the ghost that if it genuinely wanted William hanged for his crimes against her, then she should appear to those in the room now. The ghost replied by making wild scratching noises, which Mary Fraser interpreted as anger and requested the line of questioning to be changed. As the group left the house later that morning, it was in confident spirits. Alrich was convinced the ghost was a fraud and Selman believed that William had a strong case for a libel suit, though he admitted they would need solid evidence first, something which they currently lacked.

 

Feeling matters becoming somewhat more serious, Reverend Moore visited the Mayor of London to petition for Williams arrest. The Mayor was in no mood to be hasty about matters, however, and in a disappointing move as far as the reverend was concerned, he suggested that they should first let matters play out a little more to allow more evidence to be gathered. The mayor put a deadline on the situation, stating that he would monitor the situation until the 23rd, by which point, he hoped the affairs between William and his dying wife might be made a little clearer. 

 

By this point, Mary Fraser, Reverend Moore and Richard Parsons had been running nightly seances in the Cock Lane house for several weeks and in an effort to secure more solid evidence, they had no intention of stopping before the 23rd. Moore contacted Carrots, the Kents maid with a goal to secure a corroborating statement from her in regards to the murder. The ghost had told Alrich the previous night that Carrots was aware of the poisoning, a fact which, if true, Moore was sure could be a solid point of evidence, or at least, enough to secure an arrest. He contacted the young maid, who agreed to attend the seance that evening. Sadly for Moore, it didn’t go quite to plan, as Carrots told him plainly that William and Fanny had been a loving couple, that she had no prior knowledge of any murder and that she was quite sure that William would not have murdered Fanny. In fact, she stated that even if Fanny had wanted to entrust Carrots with any information regarding a poisoning, she likely would not have been able to, as she was barely able to speak at all during the last days of her life. 

 

Once again at around 10pm, the crowds were allowed to enter the bedroom to await Fannys arrival and once again, Aldrich was in attendance. Before the ghost appeared that night, he ordered the bed to be stripped of all linen so that he could check for any device that the supposedly sound asleep Betty could be discreetly using to create the noises. The bed was stripped, but nothing was found and he permitted it to be remade and allowed Betrty to return to bed to get back to sleep.

 

When Fanny arrived for her usual questioning, Moore, not willing to brush the opportunity to secure a form of confession from Carrots aside, posed the same questions to Scratching Fanny as he had to the maid earlier that evening. When he asked the ghost if Carrots had known about the poisoning the ghost replied with a single knock. Carrots was bursting with anger and she jumped into the questioning herself, “Are you really my mistress?”, The ghost replied with a knock. Carrots shouted back at the top of her lungs, “Then I am sure, madam, you may be ashamed of yourself, for I never hurt you in my life!”  It had been something of a gamble on Moores part and it had backfired spectacularly. 

 

The following day, the Cock Lane haunting hit the national newspapers front pages. Word had finally began reaching outside of the boundaries of the city and the press found the entire affair far too tempting to ignore any longer.

 

“For some time past a great knocking having been heard in the night, at the Officiating Parish Clerk’s of St. Sepulchre’s, in Cock Lane near Smithfield, to the great terror of the family, and all means used to discover the meaning of it, four gentleman set up there on Friday Night, among whom was a clergyman, who asked various questions – On his asking if any one had been murdered, nothing answered, but on his asking if any one had been poisoned, it knock’d six times; Various are the conjectures in the neighbourhood of this supposed spectre, but the cause as yet has not been discovered. The report current in the neighbourhood is, that a Woman was some time ago poisoned, and buried at St. John’s Clerkenwell.”

 

“The extraordinary affair above-mention’d is universally credited, and becomes a matter of furious debate. Crowds of people are about the house every night late, and we are told that the person whom the spectre accuses of poisoning, has made a point of attending, and been present at the time of such accusations. Upon the whole, we can’t help remarking that, for a long time past, every ten or a dozen years have been productive of something of the marvellous.”

 

It was a spark to a line of gunpowder and the story exploded across the nation, creating a whirlwind of rumour and commotion across the country. It was also precisely what the Mayor of London had hoped to avoid by delaying Williams arrest in earlier days. The crowds outside of Cock Lane grew and became rowdier than ever and the crowds saw all levels of society bolster its ranks, from the common rabble to Lords and Ladies of the gentry. William, sensing trouble, retired to a safe house in Greenwich, after handing over the task of uncovering the methods behind Scratching Fannys appearances squarely on the Reverend Aldrich, who was more than happy to continue to get stuck in. The reverend Moore too upped his game, promising a large sum of money to Richard Parsons, should he be able to secure enough evidence against William to guarantee his arrest warrant being granted. He also promised Parsons a plum job in central London as a clerk if they could get the job done. Suddenly finding hijmsfl between a fervent Methodist Movement on one side, salivating over the prospect of a conviction and the Anglican church along with Williams Lawyer on the other, promising to uncover a fraud that they were very much convinced of. Things were, perhaps getting a little more out of hand than he had foreseen.

 

With the heat on in Cock Lane and with Betty seen as the central factor in the ghosts appearances, Parsons moved her to a different house, just around the corner from his own. He didn’t stop the nightly seances however, as moore still had ambitions of securing the evidence he needed. That same night, now in new surroundings, Parsons, Fraser and Moore once again put on a performance, this time in the company of the Earl of Northumberland who had turned up at the house looking to have his curiosity satisfied. Aldrich too arrived on the scene watched on with much enthusiasm as the Earl accused Betty of committing fraud after he found the questioning not to live up to his high expectations. After the Earl had said his piece and stormed out disappointed, he took his turn to question the ghost for himself once more. This time, he had a list of questions that he and William had devised earlier that day, which were of a more personal nature and that William felt sure only he and Fanny would have known the answers to. 

 

“Was your Father’s name John?” He asked, the ghost replied with a single knock, which, it turns out was incorrect, as Fannys father’s name had been Thomas. “Was your father buried at Litcham?” Once again, the ghost answered yes, and was, once again, incorrect. Thomas Lynes had been buried in Little Dunham. “How many sisters have you alive?” This time the ghost was correct, replying with three knocks. “How many relatives were present at your sister’s wedding?” he next asked. The ghost replied with six knocks, which was another blunder as there had only been one sister present, Susan. “When your sister was married, did you dine at Mr Kents?” Yes, the ghost answered, once again wrongly. Finally he asked, “Will you consent to make your appearance at my house?” Much to everyone’s surprise, not least the Reverend Moore, the ghost replied that yes, it would. Happy with the answer, Aldrich replied that he would be expecting her the following day, but Moore butted in and assured him that he had been mistaken and clearly misheard what was, he was quite sure, a negative response from the ghost. It had been a trying evening for Parsons but Aldrich was not yet finished. Before he took his leave, he approached Parsons and asked if he would permit Betty to be removed to his own house at a time convenient, in order to be properly inspected by a group of his choosing. He insisted that there would be “a woman of good honesty and reputation” present who would take care of any needs that Betty may have and who would undertake any physical inspection of Betty. Exhausted, Parsons reluctantly agreed, though the following day, when Aldrich arrived at the house to collect Betty, he was shooed away by Parsons, who now decided to stick to his guns and deny the Reverend access to Betty. Fortunately for Aldrich, the 23rd January was fast approaching and he hoped that he could put an end to the matter by pressing his case with the Mayor.

 

The 23rd January 1762 fell on a Saturday and as the cobbled streets of Cock Lane clacked and rattled with the sounds of the bustling crowds that continued to grow outside Parsons house, Reverend Moore and reverend Aldrich made their way to the Mayors tribunal to each put forward their own case. On Moores part, he had secured no further evidence, but hoped with the commotion, popular support might bolster his application for an arrest warrant. Aldrich had his own ideas and he took the notes that he had gathered over the past weeks seances in the hope that he could petition the mayor for an arrest warrant for Parsons under the charge of conspiring against William Kent. The mayor wasn’t best pleased with either position, as he saw it, neither party had managed to secure any real, hard evidence for or against an arrest on either side. In an effort to maintain his current fence sitting, however, he was satisfied to force Moore into handing over Betty to Aldrich, in order to gain the evidence that both parties needed, as well as himself, if he was to avoid any negative backlash from the public, to guarantee an arrest. It was a blow to Moore and a decisive victory for Alrich, who set about gathering an “Examination Committee of Learned Gentlemen” to carry out his tests.

 

First on Alrich’s list was naturally William Kent, though one might suggest that he had something of a conflict of interest in the case. Nxt up was William Legge, the 2nd Earl of Dartmouth. The Earl was in fact a methodist sympathiser, but he felt that Moore had gone too far with Cock Lane and Scratching Fanny and suspected that the story was now damaging the movement rather than benefiting it. Next, there was Mrs Oakes, a matron from a nearby hospital who would take care of Betty during her stay with Aldrich and carry out any physical examinations needed in order to search Betty or her bedsheets. For some local colour, Aldrich requested the aid of Captain Thomas Wilkinson, a neighbour of Richard Parsons and a war veteran with a penchant for firing his pistol at any and every opportunity. There were two doctors, Doctor George Macauley and Doctor John Douglas, a Scottish priest who had previous history with unmasking high profile fraud in the past and finally, to document the entire examination, Aldrich requested the aid of Dr Samuel Johnson, one of the ages most celebrated writers. Among other works of poetry, literary criticism and essays, one of johnson’s most famous works in his Dictionary, which took eight years to complete and became the authoritative Dictionary in use until the completion of the Oxford English Dictionary over 150 years later. Having Johnson on board was really quite the coup for Aldrich and his committee. With the members in place, the date for the first examination was set for night of Monday 1st February. In the week running up to the removal of Betty to ASldrichs house, Parsons opened up his home to as many of the public as he could, cramming people in night after night. This helped his reputation in the eyes of the public on one hand, but on the other, the surge in excitement with the influx of new witnesses meant for more and more lurid rumours spreading throughout the streets, inevitably finding their way into the press and Parsons could not control whether the stories and letters printed were on his side or not. This lead to a war of words in the press, as onlookers wrote in with both views for and against the ghost. The noises, which until now had been documented as simple knocking, scratchings and the occasional “flutter of wings”, were now put up alongside descriptions of “the cries of animals and the knocking of hammers”, whilst other stories compared it to “stories of a similar farce.”

 

As the debate raged in the press and the days rolled on, the 1st of February dawned and Reverend Aldrich arrive din Cock Lane to remove Betty, with the supervision of her father Richard Parsons and the Reverend Moore, who, by agreement were to remain outside of the bedroom set aside for Bettys stay upon arrival. When they arrived at the house the examination was to take place in, betty was taken upstairs to the bedroom by the matron and searched, before she was put to bed. The room had been stripped bare in preparation, with a single bed as the only item of furniture remaining, sitting in the centre of the room. At 10pm, the committee filed into the room and the investigation began. For an hour they sat, with nothing happening and no sight, nor sound of Scratching Fanny. By 11pm, the group had got bored and left the room in order to vent their frustrations towards Parsons and Moore, who waited downstairs anxiously. As soon as the arguing started however, the group were alerted to the arrival of the spirit, who had, according to the matron, began making her usual scratching sounds on the walls. The group rushed in and Aldrich requested that the bed be stripped and searched for any device that could be used in order to generate the sounds. The matron set about her task, but found nothing. After redressing the bed, Betty was replaced but this time, asked to keep her hands outside of the covers, where every man in the room could see them. There they sat in silence for another hour, until, at midnight, Aldrich suggested a change of scenery. In an earlier series of questioning, Alrich had been told by the spirit that if they visited her coffin in the church vault, she would make herself known by baning on the lid of the wooden casket. So it was that the Committee of learned gentleman found themselves traipsing through a quiet churchyard in the dead of night by candlelight, to enter the Church of St John’s crypt and gather themselves around the coffin of Fanny, waiting to hear the sound of wrapping they were promised. In the cold, stone tomb the group waited in dim candlelight, it would have been a reasonably absurd scene, but at the time, despite the groups ambitions of uncovering fraud, it would have undoubtedly been a fairly uneasy silence. Sadly for the reverend Moore, that was all there was. Silence. No wrapping on coffin lids and no Scratching Fanny.

 

The group made their way out of the tomb and back to the warm light of the examination house to confront Parsons and Moore. Each one of them now more convinced than ever of fraud, but still they lacked any hard evidence. When they returned, they questioned Betty, who had remained behind, laying in bed, pressing her until 2:30am, though she denied vehemently the whole time that their was any fraud on her own part. Next in the firing line was Reverend Moore. William confronted the tried priest but much to Williams surprised, it appeared he now sided with William and had realised that somewhere down the line, he too had been a victim of a fraud perpetrated by Parsons. It was a win for William, however, if there was indeed fraud, Moore himself had been just as much in the dark as William and when William asked Moore to write up an affidavit to aid in the prosecution, he soon backtracked, perhaps realising, albeit too late, how deeply he had become embroiled, along with many friends and colleagues, who he had brought in with such enthusiasm. He ended the conversation with William by stating that whilst he longer believed the ghost to be real, he also flatly refused to help William with a prosecution case and with that, he left the house.

 

The night had been a long one and though skirmishes were certainly won by William and his allies, the war was certainly not over. No evidence had been uncovered and no signs of any fraud had been found when they had searched both the bed and Betty herself. Doctor Johnson wrote his account of the night and published it to the press the same morning, though it soon became apparent that Parsons had a similar idea and he too had published his own account of the night, which differed from Johnsons account greatly. Chiefly, Parsons account suggested that their had been no knocking was heard by the group in the churchyard vault, because William had stolen the body of Fanny away just hours before. It was an absurd accusation and something of a last ditch from Parsons, who must have known that he was treading on thin ice, given it was a fact that could be easily checked. 

 

Still, it was enough for the public, who now saw opinion sharply divided. The educated classes, spearheaded by the Anglican church, began to satirise and attack the haunting as a fraud carried out by a bumbling fool in parsons, whilst the common man still sided with Parsons, who saw William as a murderer out to pull the wool over the eyes of the public. And still, night after night the examinations continued. For several days, no noises were heard at all but by the 7th february, they had once again begun on a nightly basis. With the fervour that surrounded Betty, Aldrich saw fit to once again move her to a new location and he arranged for her to stay at his friend John Brays home. Laying in the strangers house, night after night, Betty slept on whilst on the ghost of scratching Fanny scratched and knocked on the walls. This disturbed Mrs Bray, her children and the maids of the house so much so, that they demanded Betty be removed and so Alrich next lined up a friends house in Covent Garden owned by Daniel Missiter. Missiter was a friend of Aldrich’s and a hardline skeptic and rationalist. He saw the examination of Betty as a chance to unravel the fraud and claim the fame for doing so for himself and so gladly permitted the use of his home by the committee. Once settled into the Covent Garden home, the noises once more resumed around Betty, witnesses spoke of “fluttering sounds” that “moved about the room, sometimes within 6” of our ears.” Each time noises were heard, Betty was searched, her bed stripped and eventually, her hands were tied above the sheets, but still the sounds continued. At a loose end, Missiter resorted to employing a maid to spy on Betty whilst she was left alone in the room, using a small spyhole in the wall. He approached Betty and told her, in no uncertain terms that if the ghost did not begin scratching noises that night, her father would without doubt find himself in trouble with the law for attempting to pull off a fraud and conspire against William. He then left Betty alone in the room, insisting to her that he would only give the ghost a short time, after which, he hoped that it would return. As he left the room, the maid watched on, she saw Betty slip out of bed, pull up a lose floorboard from the corner of the room and hide it under her bedclothes, she slipped back into bed and began knocking. The maid alerted Missiter to the deception who stormed into the room, uncovered the board and declared the case settled. He had uncovered the fraud that had escaped so many, for so long, though he himself later admitted that the sounds produced by the floorboard were “not at all” like the earlier sounds heard in the days previous.

 

Still, it was enough for Aldrich who visited the mayor with the account of the deception and successfully applied for the arrest of Richard Parsons, Mary Fraser, Richard James, Charles Say, Robert Browne and Reverend John Moore. The names included those directly involved as well as several press men who had written and printed Parsons own accounts of the story and was a sweeping haul for William cause. Throughout the examination, William had visited a writer by the name of Oliver Goldsmith and given him his full account of the situation up until the examination, with an aim to print and release a pamphlet to sell and circulate in the papers in order to clear his name, once a fraud was uncovered. On the same morning of the arrests, William now greenlit the publication, titled “The Mystery Revealed”. The pamphlet hit the streets just two days later, on the 23rd February 1762 and it gave a damning account of the entire affair. With the pamphlets publication, the case seemed more or less settled in the eyes of the press, who now openly called it a fraud, though not all were so on board. There were rumbles in some publications that suggested that the threats to Betty concerning her father made by Missiter before the uncovering of the fraud were, perhaps, not made in good conscience and would have potentially forced Betty’s hand into creating a sound for Missiter, by hook or by crook. 

 

In order to bolster his side of the story, William next exhumed Fannys body in order to prove that he had not stolen it away and the whole grim scene of her decaying corpse was witnessed and documented, to be distributed across the nation. On the asme day of the exhumation, William received word that Reverend Moore had released a public statement from prison which would further his case against Parsons.

 

“In justice to the person whose reputation has been attacked in a most gross manner, by the pretended ghost in Cock Lane; to check the credulity of the weak; to defend the attempts of the malicious, and to prevent further imposition, on account of this absurd phenomenon, I do hereby certify, that though, from the several attendances on this occasion, I have not been able to point out, how, and in what manner, those knockings and scratchings, of the supposed ghost, were contrived, performed, and continued; yet that I am convinced, that those knockings and scratchings were the effects of some artful, wicked contrivance; and that I was, in a more especial manner, convinced of its being such, on the first of this month, when I attended with several persons of rank and character, who assembled at the Reverend Mr Aldrich’s, Clerkenwell, in order to examine into this iniquitous imposition upon the public.”

 

It was perhaps made in an effort to save his own skin, but for William, he cared not. He now settled down and awaited the trial to commence, which had already been set for 10th July, until which time, all accused were to remain in prison.

 

The Trial

 

The crimes in which Richard Parsons and Co. were to be tried for was “Conspiracy to take away the life of William Kent by charging him with the murder of Frances Lynes by giving her poison whereof she died.” As expected, the defence pushed forward on behalf of Reverend Moore focused solely on his being sucked into the deception by Parsons in order to profit from the donations made by the Methodist movement. As far as Parsons himself was concerned however, he made very little defence at all, instead remaining steadfast to his story that the ghost was real and that no deception had taken place at all.

 

The jury left the courtroom to make their deliberations at 9:30pm. After 15 minutes, they returned with a guilty verdict for all those accused. All the prisoners were sent back to prison to await sentencing, which was delayed in order to give them time to raise funds in which to pay off William Kent. By the time the sentencing rolled round on Saturday 12th february 1763, the Reverend Moore was well and truly done with prison life. Himself and James had managed to raise a total of £488 to offer to William Kent as compensation, which he duly accepted. The other prisoners fared less well. Unable to raise enough money to buy their way out of prison, Mary Fraser was sentenced to 6 months in Bridwell Prison. Elizabeth Parsons was sentenced to one year in Bridwell Prison with hard labour and Richard Parsons, seen as the ringleader of the entire affair was sentenced to two years imprisonment along with three trips to the pillory in Charing Cross, the Royal Exchange and in Cock Lane itself. 

 

Conclusions

 

The overriding feeling within the London educated classes after the trial was that Scratching Fanny had been nothing more than an absurd and rather crude attempt at a hoax perpetrated by Richard Parsons in order to get one over on William Kent and likely raise a little money in the meantime. This view was not entirely accepted wholesale however. Many of the lower classes still appeared to side with Parsons and this was made all the more evident when he was made to stand in the Pillories across London. Rather than suffer the humiliation of passers by hurling abuse, and possibly much worse, at him, the crowds instead gathered donations from locals and handed them over to the prisoner along with their messages of support. This show of unity wasn’t entirely baseless either, when the manner in which the deception was uncovered was found out, many immediately disapproved of the heavy handed threats directed towards Betty by the somewhat overzealous Daniel Missiter. Fingers were pointed at Missiters own statement in which he mentioned that the sounds from the night of the discovery of the loose board were “not at all” like the sounds everyone had heard from the ghost up until that point. These details left a niggling doubt within many, who questioned whether or not Betty had used the floorboard on that occasion simply because she was concerned for her family if the ghost of Fanny had not shown up as demanded by Missiter. Furthermore, they point to the fact that for almost two weeks, Betty stayed under the committees controlled conditions, throughout which sounds were heard and something as obvious as a missing floorboard or the discovery of the wood in Bettys bed, which had been searched over and again by various maids, had not been discovered until after the heavy threats.

 

And so it was that the Cock Lane haunting slipped into London folklore. The press naturally tired of the story once the trial was over and so instead it was left to the streets, gentlemans clubs and coffee houses to keep the story alive. Whilst much of the written material had made their position clear on the matter, these verbal accounts and discussions were not so cut and dry. Well into the 1880s the story of Scratching Fanny pricked ears around England, an amusing anecdote of a clumsy hoax, a frightening tale to tell around a Christmas fireplace and amongst some, the precursor to a debate on the enduring 19th Century fascination with afterlife.

 

“These facts laid down, then thus I reason:

Wit in a prologu’s out of season

Yet still will you for jokes sit watching,

Like Cock Lane folks for Fanny’s scratching.

And here my simile’s so fit;

For prologues are but Ghosts of wit;

Which mean to shew their art and skill,

And scratch you to their authors will.

In short, for reasons great and small,

‘Tis better to have none at all:

Prologues and Ghosts – a paltry trade!

So let them both at once be laid!

Say but the word – give your commands – 

We’ll tie our prologue mongers hands:

Confine these culprits (holding up his hands) bind em tight,

Nor girls can scratch, nor fools can write.”

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