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Willington Mill


Owned by Unthank and Proctor, Willington Mill (Also known as Kitty's Mill) was built in 1805 and was one of the first steam powered corn mills in Europe. It is however the adjacent, yet separate Mill House that is of interest to this website as in the 19th century it developed a reputation as being very haunted. The story of the Willington Mill haunting has been retold many times. Below is an account taken from 1897 and The Haunted Homes and Family Traditions of Great Britain by John Ingram.

'Willington is a hamlet, lying in a deep valley between Newcastle-on-Tyne and North Shields. Thirty years ago it consisted of a parsonage, some few cottages, a mill, and the miller's house. The mill is, or was thirty years ago, a large steam flour-mill, like a factory, and near it, but completely detached, was the miller's house. Messrs. Unthank and Proctor were the proprietors and workers of the mill, aud Mr. Joseph Procter, one of the partners, resided in the house adjoining it. Mr. Procter, a respectable member of the Society of Friends, a man in the prime of life, was married to a lady belonging to the same religious fraternity, and was the father of several young children.

The house in which Mr. Procter resided was built about the beginniug of the present century, and as described by Mr. Howitt in 1847, had nothing spectral in its appearance, although located in a somewhat wild-looking region, just off the river Tyne. The railway runs close by it, and engines connected with coal mines are constantly at work in its vicinity. When rumours as to the miller's residence being haunted began to spread, Mr. Procter, it is alleged, although evidently much troubled by the disturbances in his dwelling, was unwilling to give publicity to his troubles. Apparently this unwillingness wore off eventually, as in course of time Mr. Procter frequently communicated with the Press on matters connected with the singular events at Wellington.

The chief published authority for an account of the haunted house at Willington, would appear to be a pamphlet reprinted in The Local Historian's Table Book, whence Mr. Howitt and Mrs. Crowe derived their particulars, and whence the following statement is chiefly taken.

"We have visited the house in question," says the writer of the pamphlet referred to, " and it may not be irrelevant to mention that it is quite detached from the mill, or any other premises, and has no cellaring under it. The proprietor of the house, who lives in it, declines to make public the particulars of the disturbance to which he has been subjected, and it must be understood that the account of the visit we are about to lay before our readers is derived from a friend to whom Mr. Drury presented a copy of his correspondence on the subject, with power to make such use of it as he thought proper. We learned that the house had been reputed, at least one room in it, to have been haunted forty years ago, and had afterwards been undisturbed for a long period, during some years of which quietude the present occupant lived in it unmolested. We are also informed that, about the time that the premises were building there were reports of some deeds of darkness having been committed by someone
employed about them."

The writer of this account, after alluding to the strange things seen and heard, or said to have been seen and heard, by various persons in the neighbourhood, proceeds to quote the following correspondence which, he remarks, " passed between individuals of undoubted veracity." The copy of the first letter on the subject, written by Mr. Edward Drury, of Sunderland, to Mr. Procter, reads thus:

"17th June 1840. "

"Sir, Having heard from indisputable authority, viz. that of my excellent friend, Mr. Davison, of Low Willi ngton, farmer, that you and your family are disturbed by most unaccountable noises at night, I beg leave to tell you that I have read attentively Wesley's account of such things, but with, I must confess, no great belief; but on account of this report coming from one of your sect, which I admire for candour and simplicity, my curiosity is excited to a high pitch, which I would fain satisfy. My desire is to remain alone in the house all night, with no companion but my own watch-dog, in which, as far as courage and fidelity are concerned, I place much more reliance than upon any three young gentlemen I know of. And it is, also, my hope that if I have a fair trial I shall be able to unravel this mystery. Mr. Davison will give you every satisfaction if you take the trouble to inquire of him concerning me. I am, &c."

In response to this application, Mr. Procter sent the following note :

"Joseph Procter's respects to Edward Drury, whose note he received a few days ago, expressing a wish to pass a night in his house at Willington. As the family is going from home on the 23rd instant, and one of Unthank and Procter's men will sleep in the house, if E. D. feels inclined to come, on or after the 24th, to spend a night (sic) in it, he is at liberty so to do, with or without his faithful dog, which, by-the-bye, can be of no possible use, except as company. At the same time, J. P. thinks it best to inform him that particular disturbances are far from frequent at present, being only occasional, and quite uncertain ; and, therefore, the satisfaction of E. D.'s curiosity must be considered as problematical. Tbe best chance will be afforded by his sitting up alone in the third story till it be fairly daylight, say 2 or 3 a.m.

"Willington, 6th mo. 21st, 1840.

".P. will leave word with T. Maun, foreman, to admit ED."

The Procters left home on the 23rd of June, leaving the house in charge of an old servant, who, being out of place on account of ill-health, was induced to undertake the duty during their absence. On the 3rd of July, Mr. Procter returned home, having been recalled by business matters, and on the evening of the same day Mr. Drury and a companion arrived unexpectedly. After the house had been locked up for the night, every corner of it underwent minute examination on the part of the visitors. The room out of which the apparition was accustomed to issue was found to be too shallow to contain any person. Mr. Drury and his companion were well provided with lights, and satisfied themselves that there was no one in the house besides Mr. Procter, his servant, and themselves.

Some correspondence which subsequently took place between Mr. Drury and Mr. Proctor, with respect to the ill effects of what he did see had had upon the former, and the request of the latter for a detailed account of his visitor's experience, need not be given, as the following letter, copied verbatim, will fully describe what Mr. Drury says he really saw and heard :

"Sunderland, July 13th, 1840.

"Dear Sir,

" I hereby, according to promise in my last letter, forward you a true account of what I heard and saw at your house, in which I was led to pass the night from various rumours circulated by most respectable parties, particularly from an account by my esteemed friend. Mr. Davison, whose name I mentioned to you in a former letter. Having received your sanction to visit your mysterious dwelling, I went, on the 3rd of July, accompanied by a friend of mine, T. Hudson. This was not according to promise, nor in accordance with my first intent, as T wrote you I would come alone; but I felt gratified at your kindness in not alluding to the liberty I had taken, as it ultimately proved for the best. I must here mention that, not expecting you at home, I had in my pocket a brace of pistols, determining in my mind to let one of them drop before the miller, as if by accident, for fear he should presume to play tricks upon me; but after my interview with you, I felt there was no occasion for weapons, and did not load them, after you had allowed us to inspect as minutely as we pleased every portion of the house. I sat down on the third-story landing, fully expecting to account for any noises that I might hear in a philosophical manner. This was about eleven o'clock p.m. About ten minutes to twelve we both heard a noi^c, as if a number of people were pattering with their bare feet upon the floor, and yet, so singular was the noise, that I could not minutely determine from whence it proceeded. A few minutes afterwards we heard a noise, as if someone was knocking with his knuckles among our feet ; this was followed by a hollow cough from the very room from which the apparition proceeded. The only noise after this, was as if a person was rustling against the wall in coming up-stairs. At a quarter to one, I told my friend that, feeling a little cold, I would like to go to bed, as we might hear the noise equally well there ; he replied, that he would not go to bed till daylight. I took up a note which I had accidentally dropped, and began to read it, after which I took out my watch to ascertain the time, and found that it wanted ten minutes to one. In taking my eyes from the watch they became riveted upon a closet door, which I distinctly saw open, and saw also the figure of a female, attired in greyish garments, with the head inclining downwards and one hand pressed upon the chest as if in pain, and the other, viz. the right hand, extended towards the floor with the index finger pointing downwards. It advanced with an apparently cautious step across the floor towards me; immediately as it approached my friend, who was slumbering, its right hand was extended towards him. I then rushed at it, giving, as Mr. Procter states, a most awful yell ; but, instead of grasping it, I fell upon my friend, and I recollect nothing distinctly for nearly three hours afterwards. I have since learnt that I was carried down-stairs in an agony of fear and terror.

"I hereby certify that the above account is strictly true and correct in every respect.

" Edward Drury."

The appearance in print of Mr. Drury's letter naturally created a great sensation. Mr. Procter received a large number of letters in consequence of the publication, many of them, it is alleged, being from individuals in various positions of society, informing him that their residences were, and had long been, subjected to similar disturbances to those alleged to trouble his.

Other instances of the way in which Mr. Procter's house was haunted are recorded by Mr. Howitt. On one occasion another apparition was seen by four witnesses, who were enabled to watch its proceedings for the space of ten minutes. They were on the outside of the building, when they beheld the apparition of a bareheaded man, in a flowing robe like a surplice, gliding backwards and forwards about three feet from the floor, or level with the bottom of the second-story window, seeming to enter the wall on each side, thus presenting the spectators with a side view in passing. " It then stood still in the window, and a part of the figure came through both the blind, which was close down, and the window, as its luminous body intercepted the view of the framework of the window. It was semi-trp-nsparent, and as bright as a star, diffusing a radiance ail around. As it grew more dim, it assumed a blue tinge, and gradually faded away from the head downwards." The foreman, one of the spectators, passed close to the house under the window, and also went up to inform the family, but found the house locked up. " There was no moonlight," says the account, " nor a ray of light visible anywhere about, and no person near."

"One of Mrs. Procter's brothers, a gentleman in middle life and of a peculiarly sensible, senate, and candid disposition," says Mr. Howitt, " assured me that he had himself, on a visit there, been disturbed by the strangest noises. That he had resolved, before going, that if any noises occurred he would speak, and demand of the invisible actor who he was, and why he came thither. But the occasion came, and he found himself unable to fulfil his intention. As he lay in bed one night, he heard a heavy step ascend the stairs towards his room, and someone striking, as it were, with a thick stick on the bannisters as he went along. It came to his door, and he essayed to call, but his voice died in his throat. He then sprang from his bed, and, opening the door, found no one there, but now heard the same heavy steps deliberately descending, though perfectly invisible, the steps before his face, and accompanying the descent with the same loud blows on the bannisters." A thorough search was at once made of the premises, in the company of Mr. Procter, but nothing was discovered that would account for the mysterious noises.

From two young ladies who, whilst on a visit to Mr. Procter's, were annoyed by the apparition, Mr. Howitt received this terrifying account of their experiences: "The first night, as they were sleeping in the same bed, they felt the bed lifted up beneath them. Of course they were much alarmed. They feared lest someone had concealed himself there for the purpose of robbery. They gave an alarm, search was made, but nothing was found. On another night their bed was violently shaken, and the curtains suddenly hoisted up all round to the very tester, as if pulled by chords, and as rapidly let down again, several times. Search again produced no evidence of the cause. The next day they had the curtains totally removed from the bed, resolving to sleep without them, as they felt as though evil eyes were lurking behind them. The consequences of this, however, were still more striking and terrific. The following night, as they happened to awake, and the chamber was light enough for it was summer to see everything in it, they both saw a female figure, of a misty substance and bluish-grey hue, come out of the wall at the bed s head, and through the head-board, in a horizontal position, and lean over them. They saw it most distinctly. They saw it, as a female figure, come out of, and again pass into, the wall. Their terror became intense, and one of the sisters, from that night, refused to sleep any more in the house, but took refuge in the house of the foreman during her stay, the other shifting her quarters to another part of the house."

Among the various forms in which these disturbances were manifested at Mr. Procter's house were, according to the statements made by different persons to Mr. Howitt a noise like that of a pavior with his hammer thumping on the floor; at other times similar noises are heard coming down the stairs; frequently are heard coughs, sighs and groans, as of a person in distress, and sometimes there is the sound of a number of little feet pattering on the floor of the upper chamber when the female apparition has more particularly exhibited itself, and which, for that reason, is solely used as a lumber-room. "Here these little footsteps," says the narrative, "may be often heard, as if careering a child's carriage about, which in bad weather is kept up there." Sometimes, again, it utters the most blood-curdling laughter, whilst it does not even confine itself to making "night hideous," but appears in broad daylight. "On one occasion, a young lady assured me," says Mr. Howitt, " she opened the door in answer to a knock, the housemaid being absent, and a lady in a fawn-coloured silk entered and proceeded up-stairs. As the young lady, of course, supposed it to be a neighbour come to make a morning call on Mrs. Procter, she followed her up to the drawing-room, where, however, to her astonishment, she did not find her, nor was anything more seen of her."

Two apparitions appear to have haunted the house, one in the likeness of a man, as already described, which is luminous, and passes through the walls as if they offered no solid obstacle to it, and which is well known to the neighbours by the name of " Old Jeffrey." The other is the figure of a female in greyish garments, as described by Mr. Drury. She is said to be sometimes seen sitting wrapped in a sort of mantle, with her head depressed and her hands crossed on her lap. "The most terrible fact is that she is without eyes."

After enduring these terrible annoyances for some years, Mr. Procter, apprehensive of the ill effect they might have upon his children, says Mr. Howitt, quitted "Wellington and removed to North Shields, and subsequently to Tynemouth. At neither of these new abodes was he troubled by any similar manifestations. Mr. Procter states that a strange lady, strange to the district, being thrown into a clairvoyant state, and asked to go to the Mill, she described the priest and the grey lady, the two apparitions which haunted it. She also added that the priest had refused to allow the female ghost to confess a deadly crime committed at that spot many years ago, and that this was the troubling cause of the poor woman's apparition.


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Re: Willington Mill

Notes on the Folk-lore of the Northern Counties of England and the Borders by William Henderson (1879)

The steam corn-mill at Willington with its adjacent dwelling-house were built A.D. 1800. In 1806 the premises were purchased by Messrs. Unthank and Procter, the latter gentleman being father to the present owner; and in 1831 Mr. Joseph Procter, the present owner, a member of the Society of Friends, went to reside in the house with his wife. It was not till three years after this that they began to be molested by what is popularly called the Willington Ghost. I may observe at the outset that the house and mill are detached and that there is no cellaring under the former. Both stand on a little promontory bordered on three sides by a watercourse in full view of the Willington viaduct on the Newcastle and Tynemouth Railway.

The first annoyance was from strange and unaccountable sounds. When the servants went in the evening to fasten the garden gate they heard footsteps behind them, but could see no one. Then the master used to hear a noise as of something heavy descending from the roof and falling through floor after floor, with a heavy thump upon each till it reached the bottom of the house. Again there would be a commotion in the kitchen, as if the things in it were moved and thrown about, but on going down stairs the master would be relieved on finding it was “only the ghost,” as the disturber of their peace began to be familiarly called.

One night the peculiar creak and squeaking of a certain water-cart was heard by Thomas Mann, the foreman at the mill, so that he felt sure it was being dragged out of the yard, but on following the noise he saw nothing, and when he returned to the yard the water-cart was standing in its usual place. Again, one day when Mrs. Procter called her nurse a voice answered her from the nursery in the tone too well known in the house, but the room was found to be empty and the woman out of doors. My informant also distinctly remembers, when a child, hearing what he thought to be his nurse moving about in the room, but on entering it no one was there, and the nurse not even in the house. All this reminds us of “Old Jeffrey,” the sprite which haunted Epworth Vicarage during the residence of the Wesley family, and who, like his brother of Willington, has never been satisfactorily accounted for.

On the 2nd of June, 1835, Mr. Joseph Procter detailed the several circumstances I have related to Mr. Parker, of Halifax, by letter, adding, “The disturbances came to our knowledge in the beginning of first month, but had existed some time previously. There were several credible witnesses to the apparition of a woman in her grave-clothes at four separate times outside the house.” Later in the same month, the family being from home, a gentleman from Sunderland, Edward Drury by name, asked and obtained leave to spend a night in the haunted house, which was then left in charge of an old servant. Mr. Drury seems to have had a good deal of curiosity on the subject, though he was sceptical as to anything supernatural in what had taken place. The history of the night is best given in his own words, merely premising that Mr. Procter returned home alone on account of business on the 3rd of July, the very day on which Mr. Drury and his companion, a medical man, arrived in the evening, also unexpectedly. After the house was locked up the two friends examined every corner of it minutely. The rooms on the third story were unfurnished, and the closet whence the apparition issued was too shallow to contain a person. Mr. Drury’s letter to Mr. Procter is as follows:—

Sunderland, July 13, 1840.
DEAR SIR, I hereby, according to promise in my last letter, forward you a true account of what I heard and saw at your house, in which I was led to pass the night from various rumours circulated by most respectable parties, particularly from an account by my esteemed friend Mr. Davison, whose name I mentioned to you in a former letter. Having received your sanction to visit your mysterious dwelling, I went on the 3rd of July, accompanied by a friend of mine, named T. Hudson. This was not according to promise, nor in accordance with my first intent, as I wrote you I would come alone, but I felt gratified at your kindness in not alluding to the liberty I had taken, as it ultimately proved for the best. I must here mention, that, not expecting you at home, I had in my pocket a brace of pistols, determining in my mind to let one of them drop, as if by accident, before the miller, for fear he should presume to play tricks upon me, but after my interview with you I felt there was no occasion for weapons, and did not load them, after you had allowed us to inspect as minutely as we pleased every portion of the house. I sat down on the third story landing, fully expecting to account for any noises I might hear in a most philosophical manner; this was about 11 o’clock p.m. About 10 minutes to 12 we both heard a noise, as if a number of people were pattering with their bare feet upon the floor; and yet so singular was the noise that I could not minutely determine from whence it proceeded. A few minutes afterwards we heard a noise as if some one was knocking with his knuckles among our feet; this was immediately followed by a hollow cough from the very room from which the apparition proceeded. The only noise after this was as if a person was rustling against the wall in coming up stairs. At. a quarter to one I told my friend that, feeling a little cold, I would like to go to bed, as we might hear the noises equally well there. He replied that he would not go to bed till daylight. I took up a note which I had accidentally dropped and began to read it; after which I took out my watch to ascertain the time, and found that it wanted ten minutes to one. In taking my eyes from the watch, they became rivetted upon a closet door, which I distinctly saw open, and also saw the figure of a female, attired in greyish garments, with the head inclined downwards, and one hand pressed upon the chest as if in pain, and the other, that is the right hand, extended towards the floor, with the index finger pointing downwards. It advanced with an apparently cautious step across the floor towards me; immediately as it approached my friend, who was slumbering, its right hand was extended toward him. I then rushed at it, giving at the time, as Mr. Procter states, a most awful yell, but instead of grasping it I fell upon my friend, and I recollected nothing distinctly for nearly three hours afterwards. I have since learnt that I was carried downstairs in an agony of fear and terror.

I hereby certify that the above account is strictly true and correct in every respect.

EDWARD DRURY.

A brother of Mrs. Procter’s, Mr. Dodgson, was also molested. The following narration of his experiences, taken from Howett’s Journal, is attested by the family as perfectly correct. “One of Mrs. Procter’s brothers, a gentleman in middle life, and of a peculiarly sensible, sedate, and candid disposition, a person apparently most unlikely to be imposed upon by fictitious alarms or tricks, assured me that he himself had on a visit there been disturbed by the strangest noises, that he had resolved before going that if any such noises occurred he would speak and demand of the invisible actor who he was and why he came thither; but the occasion came, and he found himself unable to fulfil his intention.

“As he lay in bed one night he heard a heavy step ascend the stairs towards his room, and some one striking as it were with a thick stick the balusters as he went along. It came to his door, he essayed to call, but his voice died away in his throat. He then sprang from his bed, and opening the door found no one there, but now heard the same heavy steps deliberately descending (though perfectly invisible) the steps before his face, and accompanying the descent with the same loud blows on the balusters. He proceeded to the room of Mr. Procter, who he found had heard the sounds, and who also now arose, and with a light they made a speedy descent below, and a thorough search there, but without discovering anything that could account for the occurrence.”
Two sisters of this gentleman, visitors at Willington in the summer of ——, told of their bed being lifted up under them and shaken, and of its curtains being drawn up, after which they saw a female figure emerge from the wall, bend over them, and re-enter the wall. Their terror was great and they refused to sleep in that room again. One sister was moved to a distant part of the house, the other went to the foreman’s house, which was not far off. There she beheld another apparition outside the mill-house, which was also seen by Thomas Mann, the foreman, and his wife and daughter. Mr. Mann, a most respectable person, who had been long employed at the mill, saw it first, and called the others to view it.

The appearance it presented was that of a bare-headed man in a flowing robe like a surplice, who glided backwards and forwards about three feet from the floor, or level with the bottom of the second-story window, seeming to enter the wall on each side and thus present a side view in passing: it then stood still in the window, and a part of the body came through both the blind (which was close down) and the window, as its luminous body intercepted the view of the framework of the window. It was semi-transparent and as bright as a star, diffusing a radiance all around. As it grew more dim it assumed a blue tinge and gradually faded away from the head downwards. The foreman passed twice close to the house under the window, and also went to inform the family, but found the house locked up. There was no moonlight nor a ray of light visible anywhere about, and no person near. Had any magic lantern been used it could not possibly have escaped detection, and it is obvious that nothing of that kind could have been employed in the inside, as in that case the light could only have been thrown upon the blind, and not so as to interrupt the view both of the blind and window from without. The owner of the house slept in that room, and must have entered it shortly after the figure disappeared.

The lifting up of the bed at night as though by some one under it occurred several times.

Investigations were made but to no purpose. On one occasion Mrs. Procter felt it when alone with her little infant and nurse. She told no one but her husband. The next night another person, who had not been told of it, felt the same thing and reported it to Mr. Procter privately. About this time Mrs. Procter was aware one night of a cold hand placed on her chest, though nothing was visible. She was greatly alarmed, and cannot think of it to this day without shuddering. A son of the family, then very young, repeatedly felt his bed raised under him and used to complain that a large dog got under his bed and lifted him up. All this time the constant pattering of little feet was kept up on the floor of the upper room. The servants were in constant terror of strange sights and sounds, and in consequence were often changed.

The family quitted the house altogether in 1847, but for some time previously the disturbances had become less frequent. They passed away altogether during the subsequent occupation of the premises by the clerk and foreman with their wives and children.

I would remind my readers that veracity is a characteristic quality of the Society of Friends, to which Mr. Procter and his family belonged, and will only add that Mr. Procter stated at the time that he could bring forty witnesses to attest the supernatural visitations which marked his residence at Willington.



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