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**** Lane ghost - Scratching Fanny

**** Lane Ghost

The **** Lane ghost attracted mass public attention in 18th-century England. In 1762 an apartment in **** Lane, a short road adjacent to London's Smithfield market and a few minutes' walk from St Paul's Cathedral, was the site of a reported haunting centred around three people: William Kent, a usurer from Norfolk, Richard Parsons, a parish clerk, and Parsons' daughter Elizabeth.

Following the death during childbirth of Kent's wife, Elizabeth Lynes, he became romantically involved with her sister, Fanny. Canon law prevented the couple from marrying, but they nevertheless moved to London and lodged at the property in **** Lane, then owned by Parsons. Several accounts of strange knocking sounds and ghostly apparitions were reported, although for the most part they stopped after the couple moved out, but following Fanny's death from smallpox, and Kent's successful legal action against Parsons over an outstanding debt, they began again. Parsons claimed that Fanny's ghost haunted his property, and later his daughter. Regular sťances were held to determine "Scratching Fanny's" motives, and **** Lane was often made impassable by the throngs of interested bystanders.

The ghost appeared to claim that Fanny had been poisoned with arsenic, and Kent was publicly suspected of being her murderer, but a commission whose members included Samuel Johnson concluded that the supposed haunting was a fraud. Further investigations proved the scam was perpetrated by Elizabeth Parsons, under duress from her father. Those responsible were prosecuted and found guilty; Richard Parsons was pilloried and sentenced to two years in prison.

The **** Lane ghost became a focus of controversy between the Methodist and Anglican churches and is referenced frequently in contemporary literature. Charles Dickens is one of several Victorian authors whose work alluded to the story and the pictorial satirist William Hogarth referenced the ghost in two of his prints.


In about 175657 William Kent, a usurer from Norfolk, married Elizabeth Lynes, the daughter of a grocer from Lyneham. They moved to Stoke Ferry where Kent kept an inn, and later the local post office. They were apparently very much in love, but their marriage was short-lived as within a month of the move Elizabeth died during childbirth. Her sister Francescommonly known as Fannyhad during Elizabeth's pregnancy moved in with the couple, and she remained to take care of the infant and its father. The boy did not survive long and rather than leave, Fanny stayed on to take care of William and the house. The two soon began a relationship, but canon law appeared to rule out marriage; when Kent travelled to London to seek advice he was told that as Elizabeth had borne him a living son, a union with Fanny was impossible. In January 1759 therefore, he gave up the post office, left Fanny and moved to London, intending to "purchase a place in some public office" in the hope that "business would erase that passion he had unfortunately indulged". Fanny meanwhile stayed with one of her brothers at Lyneham.

Despite her family's disapproval of their relationship, Fanny began to write passionate letters to Kent, "filled with repeated entreaties to spend the rest of their lives together". He eventually allowed her to join him at lodgings in East Greenwich near London. The two decided to live together as man and wife, making wills in each other's favour and hoping to remain discreet. In this, however, they did not reckon on Fanny's relations. The couple moved to lodgings near the Mansion House, but their landlord there may have learnt of their relationship from Fanny's family, expressing his contempt by refusing to repay a sum of money Kent loaned him (about £20). In response, Kent had him arrested.

**** Lane ghost - Scratching Fanny



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