The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana

by Jess Nevins

"How the Third Floor Knew the Potteries" (1863)

copyright © Jess Nevins 2022

“How The Third Floor Knew The Potteries” was written by Amelia B. Edwards and first appeared in All The Year Round (Christmas Number, 1863). Edwards (1831-1892) was an author who became notable in her lifetime as an Egyptologist. During a trip to Egypt she became horrified at the destruction wrought to monuments by looters, and so founded the Egypt Exploration Fund, one of the first major archeological societies. “How The Third Floor Knew The Potteries” is an interesting combination of the ghost story and the murder mystery.

George Barnard, a sober Wesleyan in his late thirties, is the foreman of a pottery factory. He is the man responsible for helping the story’s narrator, a much younger man, get a job at the factory. George is well-liked and well-respected by the factory workers. He is also in love with Leah, a twenty-year-old who is as serious as George, and they are happy together. But one day Louis Laroche, a French painter of porcelain, is hired by the factory owner. Laroche is neat and prim and young-looking and is famous for his works at Sèvres. He has a superior attitude, and George does not at all like him. Nor do children or George’s dog Captain. But Leah is attracted to Louis and believes his promises about taking her to Paris. One night George sends the narrator home early. George says he has work to do and stays at the factory. In the morning George is nowhere to be found, and has not done his work. Days go by and George is not found, but the narrator begins seeing George, or something that looks like George, walking through the factory. Then the narrator sees George (or his double) walk into a furnace, glow, become transparent, and disappear. Eventually the factory owner has the furnace emptied and its ashes examined, and the remains of animal matter is found in them. Laroche is suspected, but no evidence is found to convict him, and he leaves, without Leah.

“How The Third Floor Knew The Potteries” is the superior of Edwards’ “The Four-Fifteen Express.” Both have unusual settings for the ghost story, which is something Edwards handles interestingly. Edwards does not use clichés like a haunted house, but rather more prosaic locations. But the factory location of “Potteries” is less exotic than the snow-covered landscape of “The Four-Fifteen Express.” This leaves the atmosphere of “Potteries” more grounded in real life, which in turn makes the appearance of the ghost more effective. More entertaining, however, and a better authorial choice on Edwards’ part, is the lack of resolution in “Potteries.” The reader thinks they know who killed George, but no definitive answers are given. The reason the ghost appears to the narrator is ambiguous. And Laroche and his peculiarities remain a mystery. He may be a vampire, but the reaction of George and the others to him may be simple dislike. There is no narrative closure, no punishment of Laroche, if he is indeed guilty; George is murdered, his ghost appears, and that’s it. This ambiguity works better, in Edwards’ hands, than a forced ending in which wrongs are righted by authorial fiat.

“How the Third Floor Knew the Potteries” also provides modern readers with an interesting glimpse into labor relations in the early 1860s. Amelia B. Edwards “had a long record of extremely liberal opinions and beliefs. Another biographer...has pointed out her probably communistic sympathies and possible atheism.”1 Edwards’ sympathies were definitely with labor rather than management, and when it came to real-life situations like that faced by George Barnard and the workers in the pottery factory, in which foreign laborers were imported to factories to replace local workers, Edwards sided with local labor rather than the foreign specialists. England, in 1863, when “How the Third Floor Knew the Potteries” was published, seemed to be enjoying the “age of equipoise,”2 a time period that, since its beginning in the early 1850s, had seen a period of relative domestic labor peace, economic prosperity, and general benign confidence about the state of the country. However, beneath this veneer lay a queasy feeling that England had “entered a post-industrial landscape of environmental exhaustion and terminal moral decay,”3 as seen in works like Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend (1864-1865). While there was nothing to hint at the coming “Long Depression” (1873-1896), there was certainly economic uncertainty, and the importation of foreign labor, as in “How the Third Floor Knew the Potteries,” added to the working man and woman’s anxiety. In this respect “How the Third Floor Knew the Potteries” can be seen as a metaphorical warning to Edwards’ working class readers–that these foreign workers taking Englishmen and Englishwomen’s jobs were not just economic threats, but physical ones as well.

Recommended Edition

Print: Stephen R. Jones and R. Chetwynd-Hayes, eds, Tales to Freeze the Blood: More Great Ghost StoriesNew York: Carroll & Graf, 2006.



1 Barbara S. Lesko, “Amelia Blanford Edwards, 1831-1892,” Breaking Ground: Women in Old World Archaeology, Brown University, accessed Jan. 27, 2019,

2 W.L. Burn, The Age of Equipoise: A Study of the Mid-Victorian Generation (London: Routledge, 2016).

3 Kathryn Hughes and Phillip Inman, “‘A landscape of exhaustion and moral decay’–lessons from the ‘lost decade’ of the 1860s,” The Guardian [U.K.], accessed Jan. 27, 2019,