SPOTLIGHT ON BURSLEM: When dressing up as a ghost could land you in front of the Church Courts

The Bawdy Courts of Lichfield

In September 1627 Robert Simpson donned a white sheet and walked around Burslem, Staffordshire, pretending to be the ghost of a recently deceased local man. Was this, as Simpson claimed, a simple case of trying to frighten an individual or, as the church courts claimed, was it the sign of something much more sinister?

All sides agree that on the 12th September 1627, the same day that local potter John Turner was buried, Simpson ‘in the dark of the night’ put on a white sheet ‘with a knott on the topp or head thereof in the manner of a windinge sheete’ for the purpose of looking like Turner’s ghost but the burning question is why.

Winding-sheet containing corpse, 15th century.
Credit: Wellcome Collection. CC BY

The church court, in a case promoted by William and John Blore of Audley, accuses Simpson and his friend William Edge of…

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