Author RICHARD HOLLAND has delved into the spooky past to discover one of England’s greatest but least known ghost hunters
I’d like to introduce you to a character I came across some years ago while carrying out my seemingly endless book research into various types of ghost. His name is Frederick George Lee. F G Lee was vicar of Lambeth in London. Prior to his death in 1902 he wrote numerous books on theology and church history. He also gathered together some of the strangest, most dramatic and yet least known ghost accounts committed to print.
Who was F G Lee?
Among his works on spiritual matters, F G Lee wrote four books exploring the realm of the paranormal: Glimpses of the Supernatural (also known as The World Unseen), published in 1875; More Glimpses of the World Unseen, 1878; Glimpses in the Twilight, 1885; and Sights and Shadows, Being Examples of the Supernatural, 1894. These aren’t really ‘ghost books’ of the usual sort: the paranormal events Lee relates in them are there mainly to support his philosophy on the spiritual world. An awful lot of theology and discourse has to be waded through in order to get to the nuggets of spookiness.
For this reason these volumes have not only rarely been reprinted but few of the ghost stories themselves have even been noted by subsequent, more focused, authors on the supernatural, let alone anthologised by them. I decided to seek them out for myself, which took some time but proved well worth the effort (and the expense!). Among the yarns typical of Victorian ghost books – crisis apparitions, dreams that came true and the like – I found some real gems. Here is a flavour of just a few:
“On one occasion, the tenant’s wife suddenly saw the figure of a tall stout man, whose face apparently had no features in it. There were neither eyes, nose, mouth, nor ears to the spectral head; but long hair, and an oval wholly unformed face. He was accompanied by a large grey spectral dog.” [Birmingham]
“In an empty attic the most frightful sounds were heard, as of people being strangled; and sometimes noises and shouts, as of twenty or thirty persons being beaten severely, came from the courtyard. The house was haunted by two animals – a large ape and a huge black dog. One or other of these creatures appeared in several of the rooms, and was constantly passing [the servants] in the passages and on the stairs.” [Bristol]
“When he arrived near the house he saw, as he describes it, ‘a light in all the upper windows, just as if the house was on fire’, but on entering the front door and going up the stairs all was dark. Meanwhile something had set fire to some clothes in the kitchen … there was a noise like the report of a pistol, and the furniture began to move about.
“A little cupboard burst open and a bar of soap was thrown onto the middle of the dairy floor. Mr Lea succeeded in getting a number of articles out of the house … when he was coming out, a large kitchen table followed him to the door, and probably would have gone further if the width of the door would have allowed it.” [Shropshire]
“One night, when we had all been in bed for some time, we were each startled and awakened by the most frightful shrill and horrid shrieks and noises just outside on the roadway that ever man heard. In about five minutes we gathered half-dressed at the top of the staircase and went to a long front window overlooking the road, in order to learn the cause.
The night was rather dark, and as our tinder-box would not light, we were looking out, without any candle or lamp, towards the spot from which this horrible and hellish row came, when all of a sudden a white face – a face most awful in its pallid aspect and a miserable imploring look – was pressed from outside against the glass of the window and stared at us wildly.” [Buckinghamshire]
These are just a few extracts from stories collected by F G Lee from England: there are many others just as arresting from around the world. A good number of accounts came directly from the witnesses themselves. The last of the incidents quoted above becomes even more alarming and I am at a loss to understand why such a fascinating case, told by the witnesses themselves, should be so little known. In response to this neglect, I’ve now gathered together the best tales collected by F G Lee into an anthology which I’ve named after this particular story. I’ve called it ‘The Horror of Gyb Farm’.
I hope this book will help to bring F G Lee’s research to a wider audience and resurrect some exceptional ghost accounts, including a personal experience of
Lee’s with what he believed to be the restless spirit of a suicide.
Not only are they rare and interesting, Lee also told these tales with a compelling, somewhat gothic, turn of phrase, so I trust the book doesn’t just have value to the scholar: I believe it’s also a jolly good read!
‘The Horror of Gyb Farm and Other True Ghost Stories from the pen of F G Lee’ by RICHARD HOLLAND is available in print and for Kindle on Amazon.