In October 1897, many people saw a ghost flitting about near St James’s Church and school, Plumstead.
Sensitive little girls had fainted dead away when the white spectre approached them; some were still in bed, said the Daily News of October 29, suffering from nervous exhaustion.
A timid schoolmaster had been frightened out of his wits when the Plumstead Ghost grabbed hold of him from behind and shouted ‘Boo-hah!’ at the top of its voice.
An old couple visiting the churchyard received a similar shock when the ghost hailed them from a tree, making use of the same uncouth outcry.
When another schoolmaster was taking an evening walk, he heard rustling in the hedges nearby, and a shout of ‘Boo-hah!’
He had brought with him a large Newfoundland dog, which he set on the spectre.
Since the master heard the ghost give a yelp when the dog’s fangs made contact with its buttocks, he became convinced that the Plumstead Ghost was flesh and blood.
He spoke to both masters and schoolboys, asking them not to be fearful, but to teach the ghost a hard lesson if they came across it.
The rowdy schoolboys decided to do just that.
One evening, after scouts had reported that the ghost was at large, a troop of schoolboys, a hundred strong, stormed the churchyard.
Shouting and yahooing, they pelted the ghost with stones, but without scoring any hits on the absconding spectre.
Instead, their missiles broke some valuable stained glass.
Pursued by the Newfoundland dog, which had belatedly been brought into the action, the ghost was seen to disappear into the hedges.
Since the schoolboys had been so very rowdy, the police arrested two of the ringleaders and brought them to Woolwich, but after the masters had explained the extraordinary circumstances of their riot, they were both discharged.
The evening after, the Plumstead Ghost was seen in the grounds of Mr J.R. Jolly, J.P. Arrayed in white attire, and wearing some kind of grotesque mask, the spectre was sitting in a tree, shouting its usual ‘Boo-hah!’ to frighten some female domestics.
Mr Jolly was not at all amused: he sent for the police and the ghost was arrested.
It turned out that the spectre’s white garb had been torn, and his buttocks badly bruised, from his two encounters with the fierce Newfoundland dog.
He turned out to be a local engineer, whose mind had become unhinged after he had lost a good deal of money in litigation.
The friends of this unbalanced engineer made sure he was put under restraint in an asylum, and the Plumstead Ghost was laid.
This is an extract from Jan Bondeson’s Strange Victoriana (Amberley Publishing, Stroud 2016).
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