The rector of Barnack church in the early nineteenth century was the father of the novelist and historian Charles Kingsley, author of The Water Babies (1863), and Charles lived as a child in Barnack rectory. His wife, who edited his papers, tells us that the rectory, a fine old fourteenth-century house, contained a celebrated ghost chamber known as ‘Button Cap’s’. Charles, a nervous and highly sensitive boy, was once moved into this room during an attack of brain fever. For years afterwards, his imagination was haunted by the memory of the weird sights and sounds he experienced. She continues:

‘Of Button Cap,’ he writes in 1864, ‘he lived in the great north room at Barnack. I knew him well. He used to walk across the room in flopping slippers, and turn over the leaves of books to find the missing deed, whereof he had defrauded the orphan and the widow. He was an old Rector of Barnack. Everybody heard him who chose. Nobody ever saw him; but in spite of that, he wore a flowered dressing-gown, and a cap with a button on it. I never heard of any skeleton being found; and Button Cap’s history had nothing to do with murder, only with avarice and cheating. Sometimes he turned cross and played Poltergeist, as the Germans say, rolling the barrels in the cellar about with surprising noise, which was undignified. So he was always ashamed of himself, and put them all back in their places before morning.’

One marvels a little at parents who would put a feverish child in a famously haunted room. ‘But’, says his wife, ‘as he often told his own children … he had seen too many ghosts at Barnack to have much respect for them.’ And Kingsley himself, as an adult, rationalized harmless old Button Cap out of existence:

‘I suppose he is gone now. Ghosts hate mortally a certificated National Schoolmaster, and (being a vain and peevish generation) as soon as people give up believing in them, go away in a huff – or perhaps some one had been laying phosphoric paste about, and he ate thereof and ran down to the pond, and drank till he burst. He was rats!’



Haunted England : The Penguin Book of Ghosts – Written by Jennifer Westwood and Jacqueline Simpson
Copyright © Jennifer Westwood and Jacqueline Simpson 2005, 2008