Ghost Streakers!

In the dim moonlight of a nineteenth century lane, if you came across a pale spectral figure as naked as the day he was born, you might take it for a restless spirit. However, perhaps you had encountered a naked ghost – people who wandered the streets at night frightening any unlucky victim they happened to meet. They were a combination of ghost hoaxer, streaker and flasher and were surprisingly frequent, especially in the early nineteenth century.  

The many people who encountered these flesh and blood naked ghosts must have found it a disconcerting experience. The sight of someone stalking a secluded location with his wan naked body eerily reflecting the gas lamps or moon light would have been a very disconcerting experience. It has an element of the bizarre and surreal about it, so it’s easy to see why these figures would be seen as otherworldly – why they were referred to as ghosts.

Here’s a selection of true tales of ghostly streakers. Contains nudity.

A Giant Horny Naked Lady Ghost

The watchmen who patrolled the vicinity of the Walworth turnpike near Lambeth were initially sceptical when they heard tales of a ghost at the end of March 1818. An unnamed man had burst into their office scared out of his wits claiming he had seen a woman with horns on her head rise out of the earth in front of him. The watchmen had heard his screams and hurried to the vicinity, but dismissed the man’s claim that he had seen a ghost.

However, when another man told them that he had also seen a strange apparition that had vanished into thin air before his eyes, they began to take the reports more seriously.

A Watchman was likely to meet a naked ghost

The following night the watchmen were already feeling on edge as the sound of soft music was heard at around 11pm. This was followed by a man running to their office and telling them the ghost had made another appearance. One of the watchmen, Mr Snow, decided to get to the bottom of the mystery and followed the terrified man, when he was surprised to see another watchman, Mr Mathews, running in terror towards him fleeing from what seemed to be a gigantic naked figure. Mathews was desperately calling for help, and shouted at the apparition ‘If you follow me, I will shoot you!’

Snow was made of sterner stuff and approached the ghost which turned and retreated. Snow pursued the figure and when he caught it, realised the ‘ghost’ was actually a naked woman who burst into hysterical maniacal laughter. Snow put his coat round her and brought her back to the office, where from her incoherent speech and state of undress he assumed she was an escaped lunatic from an asylum. This was indeed the case, and Mrs Ashton, as she was called, had apparently been insane for some time and was taken to the workhouse before appropriate accommodation was found for her.[i]

The surprising thing about this sad but rather comical story is how the witness’s imagination could turn an unfortunate naked woman into a horned gigantic ghost that was capable of vanishing and spreading such terror among the night watchmen.

It’s not clear where the soft music was coming from, but we may suppose the ‘ghost’ was singing to herself as she wandered naked through the dark lanes terrifying the locals.

A Cheshire Boggart in the Buff

For three years in the 1830s, Windsford in Chesire had been bothered by a ‘boggart’. The word ‘boggart’ is often used to mean a malevolent spirit of a house or location such as a wood or a bridge, but was frequently used to describe any spooky phenomenon from goblin like creatures to ghosts to poltergeists. In this instance the boggart took the form of a naked man.

The naked boggart was often seen at dusk on local roads around this Cheshire village and led to many women being scared to go out at night for fear of meeting him. However, in January 1834, the boggart met his match in the form of a brave hearted pub landlord.

Late in the evening of 4 January a servant girl was washing the floors in the pub while other members of the household were asleep. She heard a gentle tapping on the window and looked up to see the naked boggart leering in at her through the window. She screamed and fainted, and the landlord, hearing the noise ran out of the house and gave pursuit to the mysterious figure.

On being caught by the plucky landlord, the ‘boggart’, who was a member of a nearby Wesleyan chapel and was named George Barlow, said he had only come for a glass of ale. Why he had left his clothes at home is unknown.

In any case, he was sentenced to three months hard labour on the treadmill at Knutsford.[ii]

Penal Treadmill, London 1817 – how a naked ghost might be punished

The Naked Ghost of Bolton

In late 1871 the people of Bolton, Lancashire were being terrified by an unclad ghostly figure stalking the streets after dark instigating what the papers called a ‘reign of terror’. The question on everyone’s lips was ‘Have you seen the ghost?’

In June 1841 Ann Gledwin was asleep on her sofa when she was awoken at around midnight by the barking of a dog. In her house was the naked ghost, behaving ‘indecently’. She screamed and the figure left.

Other residents were also shocked to find their home had been invaded by this audacious unclad apparition. In October of the same year Isabella Jackson was sitting by the fire with her young daughter when a naked figure entered her house. He stood there for a few minutes in silence before leaving.

On Shrove Tuesday Martha Weaver was in her shop when a little girl who was standing on the shop counter said, ‘Oh, there’s the naked man.’ Martha looked and saw the ghost peeping round the corner at them. He then moved towards the window and acted indecently.

Esther Hargreaves saw the naked apparition outside St James’s Church. She screamed and ran, though only after watching it for a full five minutes.

Saint James’s Church, Bolton – Haunt of the Naked Ghost

As reports continued, Chief Constable Thomas Beech took action and extra police were put on patrol and almost caught the miscreant. However, this ghost was lubricated from head to foot so whenever police managed to catch him, he slipped from their grasp with ease. He once even leapt from a railway bridge into the darkness below to escape capture.

The police tried to dial down the ghost rumours by telling the press that all that had happened was a ‘half-demented’ man had wandered naked into a neighbour’s house at around the same time that a flasher had exposed himself to a young woman, causing her to be scared into convulsions. These two unconnected events, they said, had given rise to the rumours of the naked ghost haunting Bolton’s streets.

Nevertheless, people were afraid to go out at night and the stories kept coming in. Citizen vigilante patrols were formed and finally the ghost was caught. In April 1872 John Henry Smith and several others saw the ghost – this time only half naked and with his trousers on – just before 11pm near Saint James’s Church and they gave chase. At one point the semi-clad ghost turned to his pursuers and said ‘You might as well go back, you will never catch me.’

However, catch him they did, and he soon changed his tune to ‘Oh Lord have mercy upon him [sic]; let me go this once, and I will do so no more.’ He was carrying his shirt under his arm and he was made to dress before carried by the legs and arms through the streets of Bolton to the police.

Ironically, this naked ghost turned out to be a tailor named Taylor. In court he gave a rambling defence blaming taking ‘salts of prunella’ for a disease of the lips possibly related to scurvy after which he went out forgetting his shirt. It was suggested that he may have been suffering from delirium tremens.

In any case, Bolton’s naked ghost was given 28 days in prison for indecency.[iii]

[i] ‘A ghost at Newington’, The Globe 30 March 1818, p.4

[ii] ‘Commitment of a ghost to the treadmill’, The Globe 21 January 1834, p.4

[iii] ‘A ghost panic in Bolton’, Bolton Chronicle 7 October 1871, p.5; ‘The Bolton Ghost’, Bolton Evening News, 17 April 1872, p.3; ‘The Bolton Ghost’, Bolton Evening News, 18 April 1872, p.3; ‘Capture of a ghost at Bolton’, Liverpool Mercury, 18 April 1872, p.3; Liverpool Weekly Courier, 20 April 1872, p.1; ‘Capture of a ghost’, South London Press, 27 April 1872, p.4

Published by Paul Weatherhead

Author of Weird Calderdale, musician and songwriter

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