Scared to Death

The Fortean Times Unconvention 2011 – billed as the world’s weirdest weekend – returns to London in November.

I’m on the bill for both days (12 and 13 November): on the Saturday I will be speaking about my research into a case of alleged ‘death by supernatural causes’: the death from fright of Sheffield woman Hannah Rallison in 1855, the result – so it was claimed at her inquest – of a close encounter with a ghostly woman in white.

An early image of Spring-heeled Jack, the Terror of London, published in 1838. Jack has been blamed for a number of deaths from 'fright' (Credit: Mike Dash)

The fatal experience will form the centre of my new book project on Victorian ghost stories, appropriately titled Scared To Death. On the Sunday, I’ll be sharing the stage with long-time sidekick Andy Roberts for a talk on cursed stones. This will examine cases where people have linked hauntings and other supernatural experiences with cult stone artefacts such as Celtic stone heads and other stone objects, such as the Hexham Heads and the Tigh nam Bodach shrine in Scotland.

In the meantime, diary columnist Colin Drury has published a pre-Halloween interview with me in my old paper, The Sheffield Star, on my research into the Rallison story. You can follow the link here or read on:

“There are few people more sceptical of the paranormal than media personnel, although they know it will always make a good story,” claims spookologist Andy Owens in his new book, Yorkshire Stories of the Paranormal. And he’s absolutely right…for while The Diary has never yet been told a ghost stories he believes, it’s certainly always worth hearing them, if only for a giggle. It is thus, in that spirit – and to celebrate Fright Night on Sunday and Halloween on Monday – here presented are a trio of South Yorkshire’s most intriguing tales of the unexplained…

Scared to Death on Campo Lane…The background:

There are certain irrefutable facts about the death of Sheffield Mormon Hannah Rallison in Campo Lane, in 1855. She collapsed in front of several people after entering a cellar said to be haunted. She claimed, as she drifted in and out of consciousness, she had seen a ghost. And experts at an inquest could not find a rational explanation for the healthy 48-year-old’s sudden demise.

“This is one of the most fascinating mysteries I’ve come across,” says David Clarke, former Star journalist, author and all-round expert in the unexplained. “What’s intriguing is that, unlike many of these stories, it is all document in newspaper reports and the inquest – but still no one really knows what happened.”

What we do know is that the Campo Lane cellar – below the home of fellow Mormon John Favell – was said to be haunted after John himself claimed he spotted an old woman there. As neighbours gathered to investigate on February 24, Hannah temporarily entered the cellar alone. There, in front of several witnesses, she was seized by terror, shrieked she had seen a ghost and collapsed. She died in her South Street home the next day.

“This was all recorded as fact,” says David, who has researched the incident for an up coming book on Victorian mysteries. “It fascinated so many people it actually ended up being reported in several national newspapers at the time.”

Research by David shows that within a couple of weeks The Sheffield Independent claimed to have found an explanation. “We have been informed,” it said, “that some of the alleged appearances resulted from the operations of a magic lantern by the occupiers of adjacent premises, who knew that Favell and his family were Mormonites, and determined to have a lark at their expense.”

David asks anyone with possible information about Hannah Rallison or the Favells to email

The up-coming book mentioned by Colin is my book project Scared To Death: Victorian Ghost Stories from Yorkshire. The book will include the fruits of 20 years research into the folklore of the county and primary accounts of hauntings sourced from 19th century newspapers.

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1 Response to Scared to Death

  1. Frosted Flake says:


    I am sorry, ladies and gentlemen. That wasn’t very funny, or very nice. I am ashamed of myself for playing so weak a prank and hope you will all consider accepting my sincere apologies.


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