By April Howard
You are attending a banquet, an evening of wine and laughter held at a beautiful and historic house. You, along with your friends and family, are moving into a medieval passage from an exquisitely laid out banquet hall, when you hear a gentle rustle, like leaves blowing idly in the wind or the long dress of a woman whirling through the air.
Then there is a crash, loud and piercing; it is the sound of destruction. You feel your heart beating in your chest, your throat dries up, and you, like all the guests, rush to the hall to see what all the noise was. The tables are overturned, food and drink destroyed and then out of the corner of your eye you see an unfamiliar figure. A woman with ivory skin and a long white gown is seen by all the guests leaving the hall, a flickering figure whose presence surges through the room, until no one dares move.
This sighting of the White Lady of Durham’s Crook Hall is perhaps the most convincing local ghost story. She is said to be the niece of Cuthbert Billingham, who inherited the hall in 1615. He was a temperamental character, once cutting off Durham’s water supply in a fit of anger. On Crook Hall’s website it is stated that, rumour has it, he murdered the White Lady in one of his rages.
There is something in ghost stories which never fails to capture our imagination and creates a vivid fear within us. Perhaps it is the thought
of there being more beyond this life, traces of long-lost people never quite leaving this realm, that means we still long to hear creepy stories of discontented spirits who walk among the living.
With Halloween approaching, I became interested in the prevalence of ghostly legends in Durham. As a medieval city, Durham has naturally cultivated a reputation as a prime location for paranormal activity. There are many ghost stories that contribute to the allure and mystery
Crook Hall’s White Lady is among the most haunting of them. In 1989, the then co-owner of Crook Hall, Mary Hawgood, was asleep in bed and awoke at 2am to see a figure of a woman. Hawgood described the figure as wearing a long dress and her outline as being illuminated by a pool of light. The White Lady is said to descend the wooden staircase (no longer usable by the living) in the Jacobean room every St Thomas’ Eve on 20th December.
Take advantage of living in a city steeped in so much fascinating, yet creepy, history
I find ghost stories such as these both endlessly interesting and worrying. The empathy and sadness felt when reading such stories as a woman murdered by her cruel and short-tempered uncle, is lost in the excitement of the supernatural. The thrill of these ghost stories is found in the adrenaline created by a possible sighting, such as the one the guests at the banquet witnessed. The conversion of sad stories into ghost stories is a deadener, a means of dehumanising the dead.
Nonetheless, the world of ghosts and ghouls is an exciting and irresistible one. Take advantage of living in a city steeped in so much fascinating, yet creepy, history. Perhaps visit one of the haunted spots such as Crook Hall or Durham Castle, or go on a ghostly walk. There are plenty of chances to come into contact with the paranormal, if you dare.
Photograph by Steinar Engeland via Unsplash