Ann Frost’s Ghost: 1820s

servant girl


The following story may be relied upon as authentic. The incidents narrated were given to me by the farmer in whose house they occurred some fifty years before. At the time they happened he was a young man residing with his wife and children in the northern part of Yorkshire. He had been brought up respectably and could read and write and knew a little arithmetic—an amount of education not common at that time with men of his class. In addition to being a man of strict integrity, he was a professing Christian, and I believe a sort of local preacher amongst the Methodists. The extent of his reading was small, being confined to the Bible, the hymn book of his denomination, an odd volume of Wesley’s sermons, a few religious tracts, Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, and an occasional newspaper. Works of fiction he was completely ignorant of. Anything of a supernatural character as occurring in modern times he was in the habit of treating with contempt and describing it as “old women’s tales.” And he was probably too robust, healthy, and matter of fact in his mind to be the victim of optical illusions or clairvoyant experiences.

Tt was towards the close of a warm midsummer day that a certain buxom servant girl, in Mrs. Neal’s employ, came to her mistress, as the latter stood beside her husband, admiring the antics of a young colt, who was trying its legs in the meadow for the first time, and said, in a very earnest way, “I’d like leave this afternoon, Missus, if you please. Mary says she’ll get the tea, and I haven’t seen my mother this three weeks.”

“You may go, Ann,” said Mrs. Neal, kindly; “but you’ll be sure to be home to-night, for to-morrow is washing day.”

“Oh, I’ll be home, ma’am,” said Ann. “And to tell the truth, ma’am, I want to go, because I hear mother’s behind with the rent, and I want to take her my wages. It’s been hard for her since poor father died, with all them little children.”

“Yes, poor soul, it must have been,” said Mrs. Neal; ” and you may take her a dozen new-laid eggs, and the pat of butter in the stone jar, and a loaf of our cream bread for her tea.”

Ann, with a grateful “Thank you, Missus,” ran away to get herself ready for her walk, and soon reappeared with a straw basket on her arm. In this, as her fellow-servant knew, she had her quarter’s wages in a handkerchief, and above it the good things her mistress had sent to the widow.

“That’s a good girl,” said Mrs. Neal, as she watched her on her way up the road. “It isn’t every one that would save for the mother’s sake as Ann does. I’ll give her a new stuff gown for her Christmas present.”

After that no more was said of Ann Frost. The family had tea, and after it was over a friend dropped in, and when he had gone the children were put to bed, and the servants were heard trudging up to their garret overhead. All was dark, for the moon rose late that night; and Mrs. Neal, as she looked at the clock and saw that its hands pointed to the hour of nine. said, “Ann’s a foolish girl to stay so late. She’ll hardly find her way along the road by this light.”

“Maybe she’ll wait for moonrise,” said Mr. Neal.

“Then she’ll be out later than a decent woman ought,” said the wife; “and I’m too tired to sit up all night for her; and I won’t leave the door unlocked. She can just wait in the shed until day breaks.”

“Don’t be cross, mother,” said Mr. Neal, good-naturedly. “Go to bed. I’ll just sit up a bit and read, and she’ll be home soon I’ve no doubt.”

Mrs. Neal took her lord’s advice, and went to her room, where she was soon asleep. He, for his part, lit two candles, seated himself in a big arm-chair, opened his book, and went to sleep over it.

“When I wakened up,” he says, as he tells the story, “It was with a start like. I’d been asleep a long while, I could see, for the candles were burnt clean down to the sockets; and there was the moon, big as a bushel basket, and yellow as gold, staring in at the window. I felt queerish, as if I’d had a bad dream that I couldn’t remember; and while I was rubbing my eyes and shaking myself, the clock began to strike. It struck twelve. ‘Ann is never coming home to-night,’ said I. ‘I’ll go to bed;’ and with that the candle-wicks dropped one after another into the hot grease, and began to fry. I snuffed them out, and went to the window to draw the shutters to and bar them, and just as I’d got my hand on one, our old dog that always slept across the door on the porch, set up such a howl as I never heard him give before. You know they say, in our part of the world, a dog’s howl is a sign of death. I don’t believe such stuff, but I thought of the saying, somehow, and it didn’t make me comfortable. I felt angry at the dog, and I was making ready to throw a bit of stick at him, but before I could hurl it from my hand, I saw Ann Frost standing close beside the dog, who was crouching low and shaking all over. ‘The next thing I’d have hit you,’ says I, putting down the stick. ‘You’re late enough to night, what’s happened you?’ For somehow she looked white and strange in the moonlight, and I thought she might have been ill. Then I took my head in from the window and opened the door, and Ann came in across the sill; and I remember just how she stood in the white moonlight, white as snow herself, and how the dog lifted up his head and, trembling all over, howled again—three long, awful howls that made my blood run cold.

“‘Well, Ann, what’s happened you?’ I says again, and I felt stranger than I ever felt before that minute. Queer little prickles flew all over me, as they do when you catch hold of that electric machine some doctors have. And I was frightened—I couldn’t say at what, unless it was the dog. ‘Haven’t you a tongue in your head, Ann?’ says I. ‘What’s the matter?’

“‘The matter, master?’ says she, looking into my eyes. ‘Oh, master, don’t you know I’m dead. The man that killed me is Jack Humphreys, and you’ll find me behind Carston Cliff.’

“‘You’re a pretty sort of dead person,’ says I. ‘I never thought you’d take to drink, Ann. Go to your bed now and I’ll talk to you in the morning when you’re sober.’

“She passed by me as I spoke, and I turned to bar the kitchen door, and when I’d done it she was gone—to her own room, I supposed, and I went to my bed and went to sleep— thinking what a fool I had been to feel half frightened by the howl of a dog and the words of a tipsy woman.

“‘Your fine servant came home crazy drunk last night,’ I said to my wife, when I got up the next morning, ‘and told me she was dead and buried behind Carston Cliff, and that some Jack Humphreys or other killed her.’

“‘But you shouldn’t have sent her away in the dead of night like that,’ says the wife.

“‘I sent her to her bed,’ says I.

“‘She’s never touched it,’ says the wife. ‘She’s not in the house.’

“She was not; and none of us ever saw Ann Frost alive again. She had not been to her mother’s: and they found her body jammed amongst the rocks at Carston Cliff next day. The loaf of bread, and the eggs, and the pat of butter were in the grass. The basket was floating in the water below. They thought she’d fallen over the cliff at first; but the coroner’s inquest showed she’d been murdered for the money she had with her, most likely; and the queerest part is to come. They found that man that did the thing, chiefly through marked money that my wife had paid the girl with, and a ring she had—a gold ring that her sweetheart, who had gone to sea, had given her; and the fellow’s name was Jack Humphreys, and nothing else.

“It’s not for me to say I saw Ann’s ghost,” said Mr. Neal, in conclusion. “I’m bound to believe there’s no such thing as a ghost, for better l’arnt people than I am say so. But what I did see that night is more than I can tell. If it warn’t a ghost, what was it?”

The Spiritual Magazine of Phenomena, Spiritual—Ethereal—Physical, edited by J. Enmore Jones, 1877 pp 83-85

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The reader will have to excuse Mrs Daffodil while she goes to put on a shawl. The story has, surprisingly for one so well-aquainted with the dead, given her the “grues.”


Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after the still-room maid’s decapitation by dumb-waiter in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.


3 thoughts on “Ann Frost’s Ghost: 1820s

  1. Pingback: Old Lisbeth: 1887 | Mrs Daffodil Digresses

  2. smseattle

    Mrs. Daffodil, this story has it all! I just read “Old Lisbeth” and then saw the link to this story. There are so many stories about bad servants — it’s so heartwarming to read two stories about good and faithful servants.


    1. chriswoodyard Post author

      We domestics are “easy targets” for satire and complaint despite heavy lifting, long hours, and capricious or malicious masters/mistresses. One regrets that these good and faithful servants did not end their days in happier circumstances. Many thanks for visiting and for your kind words!
      Best wishes,
      Mrs Daffodil



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