Black Heddon

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  1. Ian Topham says:

    Re: Black Heddon
    According to The Haunted Homes and Family Traditions of Great Britain
    By John Ingram (1897)

    Black Heddon, a quiet village near Stamfordham, in Northumberland, acquired an unenviable notoriety some fifty years or so ago, on account of a troublesome spectre by which it was haunted. The supernatural being, whose pranks so disturbed this picturesque but secluded place, was known as " Silky," on account of its silken and rustling attire. It is a strange but by no means unparalleled circumstance, that spirits bearing the same name, and endowed with similar characteristics, have rendered untenantable the once famed manor house of Chirton, as well as many other ancient English dwellings. Although Eicharclson, in his Table-Book of Traditions, asserts that " Silky " has now disappeared from Black Heddon, and has ceased her manifold methods of annoying its inhabitants, this scarcely seems borne out by facts, if our information may be relied on. The tradition of her vagaries was too deeply impressed upon the locality to be quite eradicated in one generation or so.

    " Silky," although occasionally manifesting herself, or itself, in various shapes and ways, has a marked predilection for making herself visible in the semblance of a female dressed in silken attire.

    Many a time, when one of the more timorous of the community had a night journey to perform, has he, unawares and invisibly, been clogged and watched by this spectral tormentor, who, at the dreariest part of the road, the most suitable for thrilling surprises, would suddenly break forth in dazzling splendour. If the person happened to be on horseback, a sort of exercise for which " Silky" evinced a strong partiality, she would unexpectedly seat herself behind him, " rattling in her silks." Then, after the enjoyment of a comfortable ride, with instantaneous abruptness, she would dissolve "into thin air," leaving the bewildered horseman in blank amazement.

    At Belsay, two or three miles from Black Heddon, the spectre had a favourite resort. It was a romantic crag, finely studded with trees, under the gloomy shadow of which she loved to wander all the live-long night. Here often has the Delated peasant beheld her dimly
    through the sombre twilight, as if engaged in splitting great stones, or hewing, with many a stroke, some stately monarch of the grove. Whilst he thus stood and gazed, he would suddenly hear the howling of a resistless tempest rushing through the woodland, while to the eye not a leaf was seen to quiver, nor a spray to bend.

    The bottom of this crag is washed by a picturesque hike or fish-pond, at whose outlet is a waterfall, over which a venerable tree, sweeping its shadowy arms, adds to the impressiveness of the scene. Amid the complicated and contorted limbs of this tree " Silky " possessed a rude chair, where she was wont, in her moodier moments, to sit, rocked by the winds, enjoying the rustling of the storm through the woods, or the rush of the cascade during the pauses of the gale. This tree, so consecrated by the terrors of the vicinity, was carefully preserved through the care of the late proprietor, Sir Charles M. L. Monk, Bart.*, of Belsay Castle, and, though no longer tenanted by its ghostly visitant, it yet spreads majestically its time-hallowed canopy over the mysterious spot, and still, in memory of its spectral occupant, bears the name of " Silky’s Seat/’

    " Silky ” exercised a marvellous influence over the brute creation. Horses which would appear to possess a discernment of spirits superior to man, at least are more sharp-sighted in the dark were in an extraordinary degree sensitive to her presence and control. Having once perceived the effects of her power, she seems to have had a perverse pleasure in meddling with and arresting them in the midst of their labours. When this misfortune occurred there was no ordinary remedy brute force could devise to make the restive beast resume the proper and intended direction. Expostulation, soothing, whipping, and kicking were all exerted in vain. The ultimate resource, unless it might be her whim to revoke the spell in the interim, was Witchwood or rowan tree, an antidote of unfailing efficacy in this as in all similar cases.

    One night, an unfortunate farm-servant was the selected victim of her mischievous frolics. He had to go to a colliery at some distance for coals, and it was late in the evening before he could return. i{ Silky" waylaid him at a bridge, henceforth called " Silky’s Brig," lying a little to the south of Black Heddon, on the road between that place and Stamfordham. Just as he had arrived at the " height of that bad eminence " the keystone, horses and cart became fixed and immovable ; and in that melancholy plight might man and beast have continued, quaking, sweating, and paralysed, till morning light, had not a neighbouring servant come up opportunely to the rescue, carrying some of the potent Witch-wood with him. On the arrival of this seasonable aid the charm was effectually broken, and in a short time both man and coals reached home in safety.

    " Silky " was wayward and capricious, but at length her erratic course came to an end. She abruptly disappeared. It had been long surmised, by those who paid attention to the matter, that she was the troubled phantom of some person who had died miserably, in consequence of being overtaken by mortal agony before she was able to disclose the whereabouts of a great treasure she was in possession of, and on that account could not lie still in her grave. About the period referred to, a domestic female servant, being alone in one of the rooms of a house at Black Heddon, was frightfully alarmed by the ceiling above suddenly giving way, and the dropping from it, with a prodigious clash, of something black, shapeless, and uncouth. The servant did not stop to scrutinize an object so hideous and startling, but fled to her mistress, screaming at the pitch of her voice, " The devil ‘s in the house ! The devil ‘s in the house ! He ‘s come through the ceiling ! " With this terrible announcement, the whole family were speedily convoked, and great was their consternation at the idea of the foe of mankind being amongst them in a visible form. In this appalling extremity, a considerable time elapsed before anyone could brace up courage to face " the enemy," or be prevailed on to go and inspect the cause of the alarm. At last the mistress, who happened to be the most stout hearted, ventured into the room, when, instead of the personage on whose account such awful apprehensions were entertained, a great dog’s skin lay on the floor, black and hideous enough forsooth, but filled with gold. The house where this occurred was, at the time, occupied by the Hepples, respectable yeomen of the place; their descendants were still the proprietors of it in 1844, and, it is said, had acquired a very considerable sum from " Silky’s" long hidden treasure.

    After this, " Silky " was neither seen nor heard, is the opinion of the narrator of the above circumstances. " Her destiny was accomplished, her spirit laid, and she now," according to this informant, "sleeps as peacefully and unperturbed as the degenerate and unenter- prising ghosts of more recent times."