East Denton Hall
East Denton Hall is a Grade I listed building dating from the early 17th century and is the residence of The Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle. Built by Anthony Errington in 1622, his family lost the estate after siding with the King during the English Civil War. Eventually it became the property of Edward Montagu and his wife Elizabeth. Elizabeth Montagu (Born 2 October 1718 – Died 25 August 1800) was a famous writer and social reformer and the couple would spend the summer months at Denton Hall whilst Edward would manage his estates and coal mines in the area.
‘A Topographical Dictionary of England’ (1848), confirms that ‘Denton Hall, built on the site of a residence of the monksof Tynemouth, is a venerable mansion in the Elizabethan style, standing near the high road from Newcastle to Carlisle, and surrounded by lofty trees. Mrs.Elizabeth Montague, distinguished for her Essay on theWritings and Genius of Shakspeare, resided here, and was here visited by Garrick, Johnson, Beattie, and othereminently gifted men’
I am unsure whether Denton Hall had a reputation of being haunted before the death of Elizabeth Montagu, but during the 19th century there are stories of the building being haunted by an apparition referred to as Silky.
John Ingram in ‘The Haunted Homes and Family Traditions of Great Britain’(1897), gives the following account. ‘A considerable portion of the following account of Denton Hall is derived from notes and information kindly furnished to us by William Aubone Hoyle, Esquire, the present occupant of the famous old mansion. From Mr. Hoyle’s description we learn that the Hall is situated a few miles distant from Newcastle-on-Tyne, on the Carlisle road, and close to the site of the old wall of Severus. It is a venerable building, standing on a gentle eminence, embosomed in trees. Its time-worn aspect amply confirms the antiquity it boasts of; records carrying its history back to the very beginning of the sixteenth century being extant; but the original building was far older. It is said to have been built of stones taken from the old Roman wall. The east and west fronts, partially overgrown with ivy, are of a very picturesque aspect; the exterior of the edifice is a plain but interesting example of a manorial residence of the Tudor period, with that excessive solidity characteristic of ancient dwellings near the Border. It has been stated that many of the windows, especially those near the ground, formerly resembled narrow arrow-slits, rather than apertures for the admission of light and air, but nothing about the Denton Hall of to-day affords the slightest evidence of such having ever been the case.
About a century ago, while the old Hall was in the occupancy of the famous Mrs. Montagu, the interior underwent a destructive process of modernizing, being fitted up in the George the Third style, and many of its antique characteristics hidden or disfigured. The original windows still remain, divided into three, four, or five lights, by stone mullions, whilst some of the old carved fire-places preserve their original appearance, one in the kitchen being seventeen feet wide.
This old Hall, which for several generations was the mansion-house of the lords of the manor in which it stands, is approached by a short avenue of fine old trees. It does not boast a very extensive prospect, but is surrounded by pretty gardens. The traces of a moat are stated to have been once discernible, but no vestige of it now remains. In this antique house and its grounds, says Mr. Hoyle, “we tread on ground which once knew footsteps yet more venerable than those of its builders. History and tradition indicate this spot as once occupied by the ministers of religion, and there is good reason to believe that a chapel was maintained here by the Monks of Tynemouth, when they were lords of this fair estate. Traces of a chapel and cemetery have been found in the gardens, and a carved baptismal font is still preserved.” As is usual with nearly all antique buildings once used for ecclesiastical purposes, tradition assigns underground communications to Denton; a passage having existed formerly, so it is asserted, between the Hall and the Priory, by means of which the monks could quit and return to their convent, on business or pleasure, without being exposed to public observation. In the lower garden, supposed to have served as a cemetery for the monks, have been found at intervals stone coffins and other relics of its former occupants ; and in digging for the formation of the pleasure garden to the south of the Hall, steps, supposed to lead to a vaulted chamber, were disclosed.
Records of families connected with the Hall extend back to the time of Edward the Second, in the ninth year of whose reign John de Denton obtained from the King a grant of certain lands. He died before 1325, but his descendants for some generations held possession of the surrounding property. In 1380, the manor of Denton was assigned, by the King’s license, to the Prior and Convent of Tynemouth, a small lien only being held by the original family. Shortly after the Reformation the property is found to be in the hands of the Erringtons, a family connected by marriage with, and descended from the Dentons. The Erringtons took an active part in the affairs of the country; one of them, Lancelot Errington, aided by his nephew Mark, by a ruse capturing Holy Island Castle on behalf of James Stuart, the old Chevalier, in the Rebellion of 1715. Denton next passed into the hands of a family named Rogers, and the last of this race dying without issue, in 1760, it became the property of the well-known Honourable Edward Montagu and the residence of his equally celebrated wife, the famous Mrs. Elizabeth Montagu. This lady resided chiefly at Denton Hall, or Castle as it was then frequently styled, until her death there in 1800, when it became the property of her nephew, Matthew Montagu, afterwards Lord Rokeby, in the possession of whose descendants it still remains.
Mrs. Montagu, whose literary talents and beauty were the frequent themes of her contemporaries, and whose society and conversation were eagerly sought for by them, is recorded by Mr. W. Aubone Hoyle to have “resided long at Denton Hall, and during her lifetime caused it to be the resort of the celebrated men of that period: Dr. Johnson, Goldsmith, Garrick, Sir Joshua Reynolds, and other persons of renown were her guests. A gloomy chamber, rendered still more gloomy by tradition pointing to it as the especial haunt of the spirit of Denton Hall, is called ‘Dr. Johnson’s Chamber’ but from its window is beheld a pleasant landscape of field, pasture, and wood, whilst to the right some gigantic sycamores throw up their broad green foliage. A shady walk beneath lofty and venerable trees is seen from the window and is known as ‘Johnson’s walk’ in consequence of the great lexicographer having been fond of its studious seclusion. An old bookcase and desk used by the learned moraliser during his visits to Denton Hall still remain in the house.
“On the demise of Mrs. Montagu, some large boxes filled with letters were left in the attics, and these letters,” Mr. Hoyle records, on his father entering the house, were found to have been burnt by the woman in charge. “On questioning the female Vandal as to her motives for the act, she replied, Indeed, we found them very useful, very, for the fires and such like; and they could not be very valuable, there were too many of a sort for that! A vast there were; a vast from one, Mr. Reynolds!”
For two or three years after the death of Mrs. Montagu the house remained empty, till Richard Hoyle, Esq., of Swift Place, in the West Riding of Yorkshire, took up his residence there, and there his descendants have continued to reside, notwithstanding the fact that their possession of it is disputed, or rather shared, by a supernatural being. That Denton Hall is the abode of this mysterious guest is firmly believed in, even at the present time, not only by the vulgar folk, but by persons of superior education and social rank, we learn from indisputable evidence.
The spirit of Denton Hall not only makes known its presence by sound, but also, at times, by sight. It is a benevolent spirit, apparently, and the old pitmen of the last century are stated to have averred that more than once they have been warned by it to fly from impending danger in the mine. “Examples, supported by credible testimony,” remarks our informant, “are not wanting, in which apparitions have fulfilled some office of warning or mercy to beings yet amongst the living; and such seems to be the mission of this spirit. It takes the form of a woman dressed in a white silk dress of antique fashion, and is commonly called ‘Silky’ although also known as ‘Old Barbery’; but what being of other days, returned from the regions of silence, or what its object, are questions of mystery, perhaps never to be solved. A dim tradition only remains of a lovely girl falling a victim, by strangling, to the fury of a jealous sister.
“Silky’s haunts are not confined to any particular room, although two rooms especially have a ghostly reputation. She has been seen flitting along the passages, up the stone stair-cases, and outside the house in the shady walks. On one occasion, to the terror of an old nurse, she stood silently in the doorway, barring the entrance; on another, she seized the hand of a sleeping inmate of the house, in the middle of the night, and drew it towards her, leaving a touch that was felt with pain for days. A death in the family, however distant, or a warning of good or ill fortune, is frequently marked by her sudden appearance, apparently indiscriminately, to anyone in the house; or the same occasions are marked by unearthly noises. It was but lately (1884) that Silky was heard, apparently dragging something through two unoccupied rooms, down a flight of stairs, to a window which was flung open.
“Instances have occurred,” says our correspondent, “of visitors having been so frightened as never to have returned to the house; a notable instance having occurred about fifty years ago, when two sisters of Macready, the famous actor, who were guests, came down one morning to breakfast, and requested to be sent from the house at once, declaring they would never revisit it. They could never be persuaded to confess what it was that had terrified them.
“On another occasion the door of a bed-room has been noiselessly thrown open, and Silky has rustled into the middle of the room, with a warning arm extended. Silky has rarely been heard to speak, never by any of the present inmates of the Hall; but tradition tells of a visitor being addressed and warned about eighty years ago; and the villagers around Denton have stories of a voice heard at night, of a voice warning them, whenever sickness or death was at any of their doors, and this they attribute to the kindly spirit of Silky.”
The tradition of the visitor who was addressed and warned at Denton Hall, may have reference to the account recorded in Moses Richardson’s Table Book of Remarkable Occurrences. From that work we learn that the lady to whom the spirit spoke told her experiences to Mr. Thomas Doubleday, by whom it was communicated to the work mentioned. The account given in the Table Book has evidently undergone some editorial revision, and bears more trace of the romancist’s art than of the amateur’s diction. Somewhat abridged, the story ascribed to the lady is as follows:
“A day or two after my arrival at Denton Hall, when all around was yet new to me, I had accompanied my friends to a bal] given by a gentleman in the neighbourhood, and returned heartily fatigued, though much delighted. At this time I need not blush, nor you smile, when I say that on that evening I had met, for the second time, one with whose des- tinies mv own were doomed to become connected, and that his attentions to me from that period became too marked and decided to be either evaded or misunderstood.
“I think I was sitting upon an antique carved chair, near to the fire, in the room where I slept, busied in arranging my hair, and probably thinking over some of the events of a scene doomed to be so important to me. Whether I had dropped into a half slumber, as most persons endeavour to persuade me, I cannot pretend to say; but on looking up for I had my face bent towards the fire there seemed sitting on a similar high-backed chair on the other side of the ancient tiled fire-place, an old lady, whose air and dress were so remarkable that to this hour they seem as fresh in my memory as they were the day after the vision. She appeared to be dressed in a flowered satin gown, of a cut then out of date. It was peaked and long-waisted. The fabric of the satin had that extreme of glossy stiffness which old fabrics of this kind exhibit. She wore a stomacher. On her wrinkled fingers appeared some rings of great size and seeming value ; but, what was most remarkable, she wore also a satin hood of a peculiar shape. It was glossy like the gown, but seemed to be stiffened either by whalebone or some other material. Her age seemed considerable, and the face, though not unpleasant, was somewhat hard and severe and indented with minute wrinkles. I confess that so entirely was my attention engrossed by what was passing in my mind, that, though I felt mightily confused, I was not startled (in the emphatic sense) by the apparition. In fact, I deemed it to be some old lady, perhaps a housekeeper, or dependant in the family, and, therefore, though rather astonished, was by no means frightened by my visitant, supposing me to be awake, which I am convinced was the case, though few persons believe me on this point.
“My own impression is that I stared somewhat rudely, in the wonder of the moment, at the hard, but lady-like, features of my aged visitor. But she left me small time to think, addressing me in a familiar half-whisper and with a constant restless motion of the hand which aged persons, when excited, often exhibit in addressing the young. ‘Well, young lady,’ said my mysterious companion, ‘and so you ‘ve been at yon hall to-night! and highly ye’ve been delighted there! Yet if ye could see as I can see, or could know as I can know, troth! I guess your pleasure would abate. ‘Tis well for you, young lady, peradventure, ye see not with my eyes’ and at the moment, sure enough, her eyes, which were small, grey, and in no way remarkable, twinkled with a light so severe that the effect was unpleasant in the extreme: ‘ ‘Tis well for you and them,’ she continued, ‘that ye cannot count the cost. Time was when hospitality could be kept in England, and the guest not ruin the master of the feast but that’s all vanished now : pride and poverty pride and poverty, young lady, are an ill-matched pair, Heaven kens! ‘My tongue, which had at first almost faltered in its office, now found utterance. By a kind of instinct, I addressed my strange visitant in her own manner and humour. ‘And are we, then, so much poorer than in days of yore?’ were the words that I spoke. My visitor seemed half startled at the sound of my voice, as at something unaccustomed, and went on, rather answering my question by implication than directly: ‘Twas not all hollowness then,’ she exclaimed, ceasing somewhat her hollow whisper; ‘the land was then the lord’s, and that which seemed, was. The child, young lady, was not then mortgaged in the cradle, and, mark ye, the bride, when she kneeled at the altar, gave not herself up, body and soul, to be the bondswoman of the Jew, but to be the help-mate of the spouse.’ ‘The Jew!’ I exclaimed in surprise, for then I understood not the allusion. ‘Ay, young lady! the Jew,’ was the rejoinder.’ ‘Tis plain ye know not who rules. ‘Tis all hollow yonder! all hollow, all hollow! to the very glitter of the side-board all false ! all false! all hollow! Away with such make-believe finery! ‘And here again the hollow voice rose a little, and the dim grey eye glistened. ‘Ye mortgage the very oaks of your ancestors I saw the planting of them; and now ’tis all painting, gilding, varnishing and veneering. Houses call ye them ? Whited sepulchres, young lady, whited sepulchres. Trust not all that seems to glisten. Fair though it seems, ’tis but the product of disease even as is that pearl in your hair, young lady, that glitters in the mirror yonder, not more specious than is all, ay, all ye have seen to-night.
“As my strange visitor pronounced these words, I instinctively turned my gaze to a large old-fashioned mirror that leaned from the wall of the chamber, ‘Twas but for a moment. But when I again turned my head, my visitant was no longer there! I heard plainly, as I turned, the distinct rustle of the silk, as if she had risen and was leaving the room. I seemed distinctly to hear this, together with the quick, short, easy footstep with which females of rank at that period were taught to glide rather than to walk; this I seemed to hear, but of what appeared the antique old lady I saw no more. The suddenness and strangeness of thi3 event for a moment sent the blood back to my heart. Could I have found voice I should, I think, have screamed, but that was, for a moment, beyond my power. A few seconds recovered me. By a sort of impulse I rushed to the door, outside which I now heard the footsteps of some of the family, when, to my utter astonishment, I found it was locked! I now recollected that I myself locked it before sitting down.
“Though somewhat ashamed to give utterance to what I really believed as to this matter, the strange adventure of the night was made a subject of conversation at the breakfast-table next morning. On the words leaving my lips, I saw my host and hostess exchange looks with each other, and soon found that the tale I had to tell was not received with the air which generally meets such relations. I was not repelled by an angry or ill-bred incredulity, or treated as one of diseased fancy, to whom silence is indirectly recommended as the alternative of being laughed at. In short, it was not attempted to be concealed or denied that I was not the first who had been alarmed in a manner, if not exactly similar, yet just as mysterious; that visitors, like myself, had actually given way to these terrors so far as to quit the house in consequence; and that servants were sometimes not to be prevented from sharing in the same contagion. At the same time they told me this, my host and hostess declared that custom and continued residence had long exempted all regular inmates of the mansion from any alarms or terrors. The visitations, whatever they were, seemed to be confined to new-comers, and to them it was by no means a matter of frequent occurrence.
“In the neighbourhood, I found, this strange story was well known; that the house was regularly set down as ‘haunted,’ all the country round, and that the spirit, or goblin, or whatever it was that was embodied in these appearances, was familiarly known by the name of Silky.’
“At a distance, those to whom I have related my night’s adventure have one and all been sceptical, and accounted for the whole by supposing me to have been half asleep, or in a state resembling somnambulism. All I can say is, that my own impressions are directly contrary to this supposition ; and that I feel as sure that I saw the figure that sat before me with my bodily eyes, as I am sure I now see you with them. Without affecting to deny that I was somewhat shocked by the adventure, I must repeat that I suffered no unreasonable alarm, nor suffered my fancy to overcome my better spirit of womanhood.
“I certaiDly slept no more in that room, and in that to which I removed I had one of the daughters of my hostess as a companion; but I have never, from that hour to this, been convinced that I did not actually encounter something more than is natural if not an actual being in some other state of existence. My ears have not been deceived, if my eyes were which, I repeat, I cannot believe.
“The warnings so strongly shadowed forth have been too true. The gentleman at whose house I that night was a guest has long since filled an untimely grave! In that splendid hall, since that time, strangers have lorded it and I myself have long ceased to think of such scenes as I partook of that evening the envied object of the attention of one whose virtues have survived the splendid inheritance to which he seemed destined.
“Whether this be a tale of delusion and superstition, or something more than that, it is, at all events, not without a legend for its foundation. There is some obscure and dark rumour of secrets strangely obtained and enviously betrayed by a rival sister, ending in deprivation of reason, and death; and that the betrayer still walks by times in the deserted Hall which she rendered tenantless, always prophetic of disaster to those she encounters. So has it been with me, certainly; and more than me, if those who say it say true. It is many, many years since I saw the scene of this adventure; but I have heard that since that time the same mysterious visitings have been more than once renewed; that midnight curtains have been drawn by an arm clothed in rustling silks; and the same form, clad in dark brocade, has been seen gliding along the dark corridors of that ancient, grey, and time-worn mansion, ever prophetic of death or misfortune.”