Exploring Local Heritage with Young People
The Strange Case of
Maria Morgan and the Pen Museum
Report by the Local History Team at St. Paul's School for Girls
A woman robbed of her rights...
A secret meeting place...
A coffin - with a missing corpse...
A headless ghost....
It is said that the ghost of Maria Morgan haunts the house in Regent Street, in Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter, where she once lived with her husband Joseph.
In the Warstone Lane cemetery, there is a grave marked "Maria Morgan." When the grave was dug up, a woman's corpse was found inside. But tests showed it could not be Mary Morgan. (She was the wrong age.)
So what happened to her?
An old box was recently discovered, buried in the cemetery catacombs. It contained documents and artefacts, including letters, which tell us more about her life and mysterious death...
Maria (née Jackson) was married to Joseph Morgan. He owned a pen factory (located in what is now the Pen Museum).
A letter in Maria's hand shows us that she felt that her husband had stolen her ideas and designs - and the business should really be hers!
She writes: "I fight that the rights of women will prevail against the patriarchal society". She calls on the women workers in the factory to join her in her struggle.
There is also a note in which she tells her husband: "I know what you did and I won't let you get away with it." She plans to make him suffer, "just as you did to me".
In another letter addressed to the women workers in the pen factory, Maria invites them to a secret meeting in the cemetery catacombs. She says it is an opportunity for them all to change their futures...
There are also secret notes on scraps of paper, which can only be read when a light is shone on them. One is signed "Maria" and addressed to "6004." It reads:
Hopefully the plan has worked, and all of the ladies have decided to join us.
A note signed by "6004" warns her that "something fishy is going on" (see image).
And another one reads: "I think they found out but I don't know."
It seems, indeed, that the plot was foiled. There is a letter signed by someone called "Thomas" and addressed to Joseph Morgan, which warns him that his wife held a secret meeting at 12 midnight the day before.
This man seems to know all about the women's plans, to fight for their rights, and even get paid the same wage. Perhaps he spied on the meeting? He tells Joseph: "Surely she needs to be stopped!"
We can only speculate what Joseph did when he found out. Suffice to say that Maria Morgan never opened her own pen factory...
But this extraordinary story does not end there!
It was rumoured that Joseph murdered Maria - and that he was haunted by her ghost. We know that he suffered a breakdown and ended his days in the Birmingham City Asylum.
In the box that was found in the cemetery, there is a curious and macabre note - evidently in Maria's handwriting - which reads: "Even though I am dead, my soul will live on forever." It is signed "MJ - Maria."
There is also a story that the Pen Museum is haunted by the headless ghost of a female worker, whose head was cut off in an accident when her hair caught in some machinery.
We know that the Pen Museum was the site of Joseph Morgan's pen factory. There has been speculation that the "headless ghost" was, in fact, Maria Morgan's friend, who wrote messages to her with the code name "6004." It has even been suggested that her death was no accident, but another act of revenge by Joseph Morgan!
We do know that the American writer Irving Washington lived for a time in a house nearby - where he wrote "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" about a headless ghost. Perhaps he was inspired by the story of the ghost in the Pen Museum?
The image shows a Victorian print, depicting the ghost of the Pen Museum.
DISCLAIMER: The events and characters on this page have been made up. Everything else, of course, is true.
You can find out more about the real history of the Pen Museum here: https://penmuseum.org.uk/