Epworth Rectory in Epworth, Lincolnshire, also known as the Old Rectory, is the site of supposed paranormal events that occurred in 1716. The rectory was at that time the home of the Reverend Samuel Wesley, his wife Susanna and their 19 children, one of whom, John Wesley, grew up to become a founder of the Methodist Church.
Suspicion has fallen on the Wesley’s oldest daughter Hetty for contriving the various disturbances that were reported to have occurred in the house, which is now owned by the British Methodist Church. The Queen Anne-style building, which was rebuilt in 1709 after a fire, now houses a museum.
The Epworth Rectory haunting, also known as the Wesley poltergeist, is one of the best-known English poltergeist claims. From December 1716 until January 1717, the house is said to have been plagued by a series of regularly occurring mysterious loud noises and knockings, apparently caused by a ghost the eldest Wesley daughter Hetty nicknamed Old Jeffrey, who made his presence known to all on Christmas Day 1716. In Mrs Wesley’s words, “there was such a noise in the room over our heads, as if several people were walking, then running up and down stairs that we thought the children would be frightened”. According to the tale, as she and her husband searched the house in vain for the culprit, Old Jeffrey continued “rattling and thundering in every room, and even blowing an invisible horn at deafening decibels”. Old Jeffrey supposedly disappeared in January 1717, just as suddenly as he had appeared.
Addington Bruce (1908) noted that the earliest records that document the haunting have large discrepancies from later reports. According to Bruce the original records from the 18th century reduce the alleged haunting to nothing more than some creaking noises, knocks, footsteps or groaning sounds. Bruce commented that “we are, therefore, justified in believing that in this case, like so many others of its kind, the fallibility of human memory has played an overwhelming part in exaggerating the experiences actually undergone.” He suggested that Hetty had produced the phenomena fraudulently.
Trevor Hall in his book New Light on Old Ghosts (1965) also provides naturalistic explanations for the phenomena at the rectory.