Willington Mill

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  1. Ian Topham says:

    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.


    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.