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A Lady of Quality Tells a Ghost Story

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Miss Frances Williams Wynn, a well-bred woman from a good family who moves in the heights of society, has a blog. That’s with a little help from me, since she died in 1844.

Her Diaries of a Lady of Quality was published in a second edition in 1864 (my copy) and it had received a positive review in The Times, yet it has almost disappeared from view. I’m trying to resurrect it by publishing the Diaries, which are rather like a commonplace book, so ideal for blogging, in daily form. (I’ve collected what little I know about her thus far here.)

Miss Williams Wynn might be high class, but she’s not stuffy, as this Halloween-seasonal extract suggests:

Buxton, Oct. 16th 1803

The night before my departure, the conversation happening to turn on ghost stories, Lord Bagot mentioned the following, as being very curious from its uncommon authenticity.

During the American war, Major Wynyard (who afterwards married Lady Matilda West), Gen. Ludlow, and Col. Clinton, were dining together in a mess-room at New York. In this room there were but two doors, one of which led to a staircase, and the other to a small closet, or rather press, without either door or window.

A man entered at the door, when Gen. Ludlow, the only one of the gentlemen whose head was turned to the door, exclaimed, ‘ Good God. Harry! what can have brought you here?’ The figure only waved its hand and said nothing. At his friend’s exclamation Major Wynyard turned round, and his astonishment at seeing a brother whom he had left in England was so great, that he was unable to speak.

The figure stalked once round the table, and then disappeared through the closet door, pulling it after him, without fastening it. One of the gentlemen rose immediately to open the door, but the figure was already vanished, and no trace of any mode of egress was found in the closet. Col. Clinton, who had never seen Mr. H. Wynyard, and was less horrified than his friends, proposed that they should mark both the day and the hour on which they had seen this strange apparition, believing that they should never hear of it again, but at the same time, thinking’ it might be a satisfaction to know the precise time of so extraordinary an occurrence.

The next mails which came from England brought news of the death of Mr. Henry Wynyard, which had taken place at the same hour, two days after that on which his brother had seen the figure.

Some years after this, as Col. Clinton and Gen. Ludlow were walking together in London, Col. Clinton exclaimed: ‘ There is the figure which we saw in America.’ Gen. Ludlow turned round, and saw a man (whose name Lord Bagot had forgot) so famous for being so like Mr. H. Wynyard, that he was perpetually mistaken for him. This man never had been in America. All these facts were told to Lord Bagot by Col. Wynyard, in the presence of either one or both of the gentlemen who were with him at the time that this extraordinary adventure happened.

Her editor, A. Hayward, comments: No ghost story is more frequently mentioned in society than this.

Coming soon from Miss Williams Wynn are accounts of an innocent Botany Bay convict, and of the Naples earthquake of 1805.

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About Natalie Bennett

Natalie blogs at Philobiblon, on books, history and all things feminist. In her public life she's the leader of the Green Party of England and Wales.
  • Sounds interesting. I will be following this elusive lady’s ghostly adventures.

  • Jewels

    Maybe I’m just too jaded. Try growing up in a household where scrying into glasses of water was a “fun thing to do”. Article feels somewhat incomplete.

  • Jewels

    Here is a bit on scrying scrying.

  • Nice post, Natalie.

    I’ve heard these kinds of stories before, even in my own family. Someone I know who is a psychic says that the spirit traverses the globe during the time it has before crossing over. It seems hard to discount such things as coincidence or illusion.

  • WTF


    If you believe in this tripe, then you believe in God, and Satan and all that other mythological crap. Bull.

    Get it straight… either you DO believe in it all… or you Don’t.

    There’s no middle ground.

  • Well I don’t believe in gods, but I do believe in history. You perhaps hadn’t noticed this account was written early in the 19th century.

  • “a psychic says that the spirit traverses the globe during the time it has before crossing over.”

    Translated: A con artist makes implausible and non-verifiable statement.

    I don’t see how it matters when this was written, it is still superstitious nonsense.

  • WTF

    19th century or not… it’s all crap, and ranks right up there with Alien abductions… there have been some rather significant studies recently which allude to brain chemistry etc… that this is all in the fabric of our minds.

    For instance… ever notice how UFO sighting have technologically advanced collaterally with the advances in SciFi depictions of UFO’s and the technological advancments in visual effects?

    Gimmie an F
    Gimmie a R
    Gimmie a A
    Gimmie a U
    Gimmia a D

    Whazzat spell?
    Whazzat spell?
    Whazzat spell?

  • No arguments from me; I’m a strict materialist. But that doesn’t mean that ghost stories can’t be just that, good stories, i.e. fictional accounts, and when they’re historic stories they tell us about what and how people thought in the past. So what this tells us is, even post-Enlightenment, believing in ghost stories was perfectly acceptable, even in high society.

  • And if you don’t like this diary entry, then Miss Williams Wynn comes through for you in , where she finds a rational explanation for a “ghost”.

  • Sorry, that link went wrong, try here.

  • Nancy

    I got extra time before I have to report to the Head Office? Ohboyohboyohboy! I’m gonna hit the V&A museum, the Louvre, Windsor, The Tower, The Vatican Library (restricted section), and a whooooooole lotta other places I’ve always wanted to get into without restriction.