A ghost story, part 2 – by FAED


Greatly to my surprise, instead of doing as I had suggested, the ghost raised its right hand, and placed the tips of the fingers on its ear, then on its mouth, and finally pointed to where its stomach had been. To an ordinary spectator, I suppose this action would have suggested that the ghost meant to say that it was hungry, but being well versed in the sign language of the deaf and dumb, I at once recognised that the ghost, meant to signify that it could not speak or hear. So I rapidly spelt on my fingers to it the same question I had previously asked, when the spectre replied by spelling somewhat stiffly on its fingers the story of its woes. I had some little difficulty in following what was said, owing to several of the ghost finger-bones being absent, occasioning a slight difficulty in forming the vowels of the alphabet with the readiness which is produced by the full complement of digits, but on the whole I gained a pretty clear idea of what the thread of the story was. Briefly, it seemed that the ghost was the shade of a deaf and dumb person, who departed this life some sixty years ago, through having unduly exerted himself in riding his hobby-horse from “Brighthelmstone to Hands Crosse” in the unparalleled time of ten hours. “precious mugs you must have been in those days” I remarked at this point. The ghost gave me a spectral clout, and proceeded to add that having become disembodied in the very house in which I was then, he had been doomed to haunt it ever since, until he should meet with some mortal possessing the requisite knowledge to understand his dactylology, and by enabling him to tell his story, free him to go to rest and moulder comfortably away.

“Well,” I said on my fingers, when he had finished, “I must say that you might have had the consideration to come at a time when I wasn’t so beastly tired, and not interrupt my legitimate rest with your trumpery history.”

“Look!” replied the ghost, “you shall be rewarded,” and he beckoned me with his hand towards the door. I gave him to understanding that if my reward was dependent upon getting out of bed I would much rather waive all claim; but he was imperative, so I slipped on my shoes and followed him down the stairs – how cold it was! – down, down to the deepest dungeon – I should say cellar – where were ranged row upon row of jars of jam, which I remembered that Mors Cutitt and Tilly had been potting the previous day. “Does the old humbug mean to reward me with some of Mrs. Cutitt’s jam?” I thought to myself. But no, it seemed not, for the spectre stopped and pointed into a dark corner, where he directed me to lift up a piece of loose flooring, and I saw an old bag such as plumbers use to carry their odds and ends in, lying beneath the boards. Stooping down, I opened the bag, and could scarcely believe my own eyes, but yes, there they were, glittering, shining, chinking gold pieces; the bag crammed full of them! when I had quite satisfied myself that they were genuine, I asked the ghost of that was to be my reward? He assented, and signalled me that I should find them there in the morning, and that the only thing that was required to lay his shade was that I should shake hands with him. “Shake hands with you, and will you then vamoose?” I asked. “For ever” replied the spirit. “Then tip us your fin,” I replied, and we exchanged an impalpable shake, when the apparition immediately vanished, and I was in darkness…

(From the “Deaf and Dumb Magazine” No 201, June 1881, Vol IX: 87-88.)

A ghost story, part 1 – by FAED

I suppose I had been melodiously snoring for about an hour, when I was awaken by a touch which seemed to be a cross between the dab of a jelly-fish, the tickle of a feather, and a strong draught from a window.

Sleepily opening my eyes, I beheld an object standing by the bed side which I at once recognised as a Ghost of the first water. Growling to myself something about “dashing those mutton chops which I had had for tea”, I turned over and endeavoured to resume the slumber which had been so unwelcomely disturbed. but it seemed that my nocturnal visitant was determined not to be put off, for again the spectral touch was drawn across my face, and at last I saw that I was in for a regular interview with the departed spirit, so, putting a good face on the matter, I sat up in bed carefully propped the pillows up behind me with a view of obtaining as great a degree of comfort as was compatible with the existing circumstances, and settling myself as cosily as I could, took a good look at the ghost.

A rather out-of-condition ghost it was, I thought, looking decidedly the worse for worse for wear; its spectral garments, through which the furniture of the room was clearly discernible, were in a high state of ventilation, whilst its bones were not at all perfect, several ribs being missing on one side, and others here and there being only prevented from falling asunder by sundry buts of string with which they were tied to the larger bones. But what made this an unique specimen amongst the tribe was, that it was seated on a spectral machine, whose peculiar shape I at once recognised as the ghost of an old hobby-horse.

Having taken stock of the spectre, I addressed it somewhat sharply, “Now then, what the blank do you want here? look sharp, ‘cos I’m jolly sleepy.” Then it suddenly occurred to me that I should be unable to hear any oral reply, so I added “But look here, old son, I’m stone deaf, so you must write what you want to say. Just put your hand in my left hand coat pocket there, and you’ll find a lead-pencil and piece of paper.


(From the “Deaf and Dumb Magazine” No 201, June 1881, Vol IX: 86.)


This week, I started creating content for the book that will eventually come out of this project.

Right away, I hit a huge problem.

One of the central ideas of the book is ‘Deaf space’, so one of the first things that the book needs to do is explain what Deaf space is, and then establish a way to talk about it throughout.

… and that’s tricky when I use the term ‘Deaf’ but I’m talking about a time well over 150 years ago, where a ‘community of more or less signing deaf people’ existed just as it does today, but where it was constituted quite differently, and where the signed, spoken and finger-spelled conventions of language and culture were quite different from ours.

St Saviour’s didn’t only cater to sign language users. It catered to all those who were audiologically deaf or wanted a visual service in some way. Sure, most of them signed, but some don’t appear to have done. Some learned sign there. Some probably didn’t.

I could talk about ‘visual spaces’ – but that seems very mechanical. ‘Visual’ doesn’t carry the same weight of culture and long-term knowledge. Nor do they have the idea of ‘identity’ or ‘belonging’.

And I can’t really talk about ‘deaf’ spaces – that would be wrong for too many reasons, particularly since it was a language issue and not audiology that brought about the church anyway.

And I can’t talk about ‘sign language spaces’ – because there is more than just language at play. Many deaf non-signers came to St Saviour’s, and had more in common with the signing deaf people there than they did with the hearing. And many hearing people there signed, and it’s clear that St Saviour’s wasn’t a place aimed at them.

I got around this in my PhD by referring to people who were ‘DEAF’ – in other words, I used Deaf people’s own sign for DEAF, as a way to refer to ‘other people who are the same = DEAF’. It was a word from inside the Deaf community.

That works OK in an academic thesis, but in a book for public consumption… it’s much more difficult.