Anthony Errington (1778-1848): Habits, Culture and Belief (Part 2)

“After prayer he gave me the Book to Kiss with a promise of secrecy until; that should be fulfilled which was shown to him in a vishon, which he had to reveal to none but me.” (33)

An 1843 color illustration of ‘Marley’s Ghost’ from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

Sometime during the 1790s, Anthony introduces the supernatural when his colleague William Rodgers tells him about a vision that he had experienced: “when the Barriers was worked off in the later part of the High Main seam that wee was in, the seam below would be to sink to, and that then their would be Hevey Misfoturnes.” (33) William explained that their would be “Hevey Misfotunes,” (33) but that Anthony and others would escape, whilst many would die though. As his memoir was written in 1820, Anthony may have added this in relation to the pit disaster of Heaton Colliery in 1815, where 75 men died. These prophecies were sacred to whoever witnessed them. William’s was clearly very personal to him as he only told Anthony about it, telling him, “never to speak on that until it was fulfilled.” (33) This suggests it was believed that if the prophecy was spoken about, their supposed good luck may have been jinxed or there was the possibility that they would be seen as mad.

Ayear after Anthony’s marriage to Ann Hindsmarsh (1798), husband and wife claimed that they witnessed a spirit in their home which terrified them. Whilst Anthony was at Hollihill Pit, Ann witnessed a spirit wearing a blue dress. (46) Not long after this, Anthony witnessed the ghost in its terrifying form:

The fire was dull and I lit the candle to get super. After washing I went to lock the door. On turning round, I saw the figure of a tall slender woman dressed in scie blue silk which walked into the garden and Disapeared.” (46)

The visions and prophecies that Anthony tells us about were incredibly vivid and realistic to him. One explanation is that in the 19th century, ghost literature was becoming very prevalent in popular culture, especially with female authors. Melissa Makala quotes:

The ability to imagine is vital to both the author of the ghost story and the reader of the story; each person must give way to the unknown, the ‘empty space’ as Shelley calls it, to experience the full impact of a supernatural tale.” (Makala, 3, 2013)

Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’. 1818.

Anthony’s own supernatural experiences share a synergy with this quote. Through the mysteries of existence that surrounded him, it was easy to succumb to supernatural fantasies that were subconsciously imagined or believed through the influence of others. When writing about them, Anthony almost writes with a fictional approach, in a style that is different to other parts of his memoir and that might have been influenced by storytelling at the time. Instead of a straightforward method, he alternatively decides to create a story behind situations by adding descriptions that create tension for the reader. Although this is the case, it is clear that Anthony did believe what he was writing down, the imaginations at the time could take over the reality. For example, Anthony applied for and moved to a new house the next day which shows the reality of their fear and the vulnerability of merging reality and imagination.

A letter from William Thew, wrote before he died in the pit. It read: “Fret not, dear mother, for we were singing while we had time, and praising God. Mother, follow God more than ever I did”

These visions carried on through to the latter stages of Anthony’s life, with two occurring on the Newcastle Moors. Anthony describes a moment with his friend John Stewart, “We had a drink of Ale and passed away the evening,” and later, “we met 2 women with hoods on, one man before, 4 bearers and pall and Corps, one man behind… We stood off on one side and counted 43 corps. We walked forward and the last 2 or 3 came swimming over the hedge.” (80) This happened some time in 1815, around the time of the disaster at Heaton Colliery. At the time, some people believed that many of the people trapped below were still alive but in reality, 75 lives were claimed pretty much straight away. (80) These events must have continuously had a psychological effect on workers like Anthony, knowing that they had to descend into a mine only the next day. Heavy alcohol intake is a common occurrence in the memoir and this may have had an effect on the barriers of reality and imagination. It was potentially an act of escapism from the continuous loss of life experienced in the pits.

Once again, after a drinking session with John and after the bodies of the Heaton disaster were buried, they saw a large group of men who, “esended over a hill and went out of sight. Wee waited to see them rise the other hill…Nothing their.” (82) There are many reasons for the inclusion of these experiences in Anthony’s memoir, including the growing popularity in supernatural literature was very influential at the time.  Anthony walked over dark moors and homes will have been dimly lit, creating the perfect aesthetics for terror. This literature may have also been an influence on Anthony’s style of writing. He could have added fictional elements to his memoir in order to add creativity to his writing and therefore, suspense for the reader. On the other hand, these haunting visions could have been a dark reality for Anthony, he moved house for example and drank heavily which could have a been a simple explanation for the surety of his ghostly experiences. One thing is certain though, Anthony did believe in all of it, along with many others within his community. It was a common part of the culture to share stories and prophecies, and the more their imaginations wandered, the more real it became.

 

 

 

Work Cited:

Errington, Anthony. Coals And Rails: the autobiography of Anthony Errington, a Tyneside colliery waggonway-wright. 1776 – c. 1825. Written between 1823 and about 1830. 1:231.

Makala, Melissa Edmundson. “Introduction.” Women’s Ghost Literature in Nineteenth-Century Britain, 1st ed., University of Wales Press, 2013, pp. 1–21.

 

Images Used:

An 1843 colour illustration of ‘Marley’s Ghost’ from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol – https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/why-cant-ghosts-let-go-of-the-victorian-era

Frankenstein, Mary Shelley – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frankenstein

William Threw Letter- http://www.ncl.ac.uk/library/services/education-outreach/outreach/mining/heaton.php

 

 

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