The Richmond and Twickenham Times sold on Saturday 23rd October 1886 was the usual mix of court reports, news items from the surrounding parishes and the familiar advertisements - “Blair’s Gout Pills, the great remedy for Gout, Sciatica and Lumbago”, “Mazawatte Tea - for City Men, Brain Workers and those of weak indigestion”, “Clarke’s B41 Pills, guaranteed to cure all discharges from the urinary tract” and even more unlikely “Messrs Tomlinson, Estate Agents - for houses to be let or sold in St Margarets from £20 to £300 per annum.”
While the casual reader, already bored by the headline story of the day about the ongoing debate in the Vestry (the organisation responsible for local parish expenditure and upkeep) about drainage in the area -and nodding off over his glass of “Henry Dine’s Pure Mineral Water in Codd’s Patent Bottles”, the more persistent reader might has noticed this story tucked away in the inside pages…
During the last few evenings considerable excitement has existed in the neighbourhood of Richmond Green, inconsequence of a statement that a ghost was to be seen. As a rule, ghosts are very sensitive creatures, and only exhibit themselves at the witching hour of midnight, under vague and uncertain circumstances, and in the presence of a solitary and terrified mortal; but the Richmond ghost was of a more obliging disposition, for he was on view for several evenings and seen by some hundreds of persons. Of its form there was some doubt, but that it could be seen by all who cared to walk around the far side of Richmond Green after dark was undeniable. There it was, on the corner of the stable of Avenue House, a white figure which some declared was the unhappy spirit of a clown with his hands in his pockets, while others were of the opinion that it was the shade of a former vicar of Richmond, clad in his white surplice, who had come to terrify his old parishioners. Indeed some went so far as to say that the mysterious figure was seen looking out of the windows of the Vicarage, but this is not corroborated. That there was some unusual appearance on the stables of Avenue House however was beyond doubt, and crowds of boys assembled to see it, in addition to some ladies and gentlemen, who seemed profoundly interested in the matter.
And now for the explanation. Recently it appears, the lamp-post opposite the house of Mr. Noyce has been supplied with a double burner. This gives a stronger light than usual, and throws a bright reflection on the stable of Avenue House. Intervening obstructions cause this to assume something approaching a human shape and imagination does the rest. The crowds assembling to see the ‘ghost’ have been so troublesome that it has been found necessary to extinguish the lamp and so banish the uncanny visitor, who seems in this particular to have departed from the usual rule, for he evidently does not like darkness rather than light, as the moment the light is extinguished the ‘ghost’ disappears. Last night a considerable number of boys assembled, but as the lamp was not lit there was nothing to see.
By this point even the most persistent reader, having waded through acres of newsprint dedicated to the workings of the Vestry committee, “extensive improvements seconded by Mr. Alabaster”, “Eton Street to be renumbered” and so on, would have folded up the “Rich and Twick” and wandered off for a cup of Mazawattee Tea (less injurious than Indian and China Tea). They would have missed however this letter tucked away inside the newspaper on the same page as the “Ghost” story”. It was from Messrs Reynolds and Co. of 12 George Street…
“To show that the oil lamp (a price for which we gave to the Vestry for lighting the parish) gives a better light than the gas lamps, we have fitted one outside our premises on George Street and although a new burner has been fitted in the gas lamp two doors off, we still consider the oil lamp gives the best light.”
Maybe they should have added that it didn’t conjure up ghosts either and scare half the parish to death.
This article was motivated by “Ghosts, Murderers and Mayhem in Richmond” by Norman Radley, written on behalf of the Richmond upon Thames Society of Voluntary Guides.
– from Martyn Day