Christmas Eve is a magical time in folklore – one tale is that on this night animals are given the power of speech.
It is a popular time for ghost stories too. The most famous is of course A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens.
This moral festive story became popular and performed across the country. In the book Scared to Death by David Clarke, there is mention of a showing in Sheffield, at the Music Hall on Boxing Day 1876. It boasted the original Peppers Ghost, invented by an engineer from Liverpool, Professor Pepper.
This was a 3D illusion made by hiding an actor in the pit below the stage, and lighting him so his image reflected onto a sheet of glass, unseen by the audience. This gave the projected likeness a transparent effect.
It is easy to imagine people leaving the music hall, bemused by the amazing effect, perhaps as incredible to them as the best digital animation is to us now. Maybe they were spooked by the show, wondering how it was done as they walked out into the streets of Sheffield, dimly lit by gaslamps and echoing to the sound of horses and the bells of the parish church.
The area near the church (now Sheffield Cathedral) had its own eerie tales and any abroad that night may have been thinking of the ‘barghast’ or goblin, said to lurk on Campo Lane, or another ‘ghost’ there - mentioned in the newspaper in 1876 – but later discovered to be a shadow from a magic lantern, cast on the wall of a so-called haunted house.
The people leaving the bright music hall after being entertained by Dickens, however, probably had celebrations on their mind. No doubt the more fortunate wound their way home to a slice of goose and a glass of punch, sipped from glasses reflecting the flickering candlelight, toasting a hopefully ghost free night!