It is the time of year to catch up with old friends, preferably by a roaring fire and with a glass of vino in hand. Circumstances have kept Bonnie and myself from each others company for the past couple of months, so what better time to catch up and make new plans than in that dead zone between Christmas and the New Year.
It was half way through the second bottle of wine that Bonnie confided in me a very strange experience she had recently.
One day in late November, Bonnie had visited a local museum: Beamish. A large open air site dedicated to the Mining Heritage of the North East, and containing entire buildings and streets transported brick by brick and painstakingly reconstructed on the 300 acre site. After wandering around the homely Edwardian Terraces and the cosy pit cottages with their market gardens, and taken a ride or two on the tram cars, Bonnie found her footsteps leading her towards one of the more remote parts of Beamish: Pockerley Old Hall.
The Old Hall sits nestled amidst a dark copse of trees and is set very much apart from the quaint little town – with all of its touristy hustle and bustle and jolly Edwardian re-enactors. The hall has a remote, older feel to it, emphasised by its situation overlooking the empty shell of a church and the old railway line below it; if you look carefully further down the line you can even see a macabre old gibbet standing amongst the trees.
Unlike most of the other buildings at Beamish, Pockerley Old Hall has always been there – it is mentioned in records dating back to the twelfth century and the existing building has solid defensive sections dating back to the mid fifteenth century, while the plain but elegant farm-house was built in the 1700’s.
Bonnie explained that she was exploring the cramped and low ceilinged chambers of the old hall, milling around with other visitors, when she came to an upstairs room in which the farmer would have lived. Finding the room stifling and unpleasant, she said that she turned towards the window that looked out over the grounds in order to get some air. By the window was an old desk, and nothing more of note.
Suddenly, from the area of the desk a figure of a woman emerged, where no woman had been moments before. Bonnie said she was immediately frozen to the spot by the inexplicable occurence. There was no door or stairwell from which the woman could have appeared, and no possible explanation for her sudden materialization. Bonnie described the figure as being just under 5 foot tall, clad in black, with a long skirt, jacket and shawl, and a hat with a veil – she thought the figure looked like a woman in mourning. She was able to stare through the veil and into the apparitions eyes, and recollects the face of a middle-aged woman staring back at, or perhaps through, her.
So solidly did the woman appear that Bonnie explained it seemed that she was blocking her way, and it was only when the figure melted back into the area near the desk that Bonnie was able to pull herself away and leave the chamber.
I asked her how the experience made her feel, how did she ‘know’ the woman wasn’t ‘real’ and she said that she was gripped by a sense of fear, so much so that her heart was racing and she was shaking. When I asked her if she was alone when this happened, she said, no. Other people were in the room, yet nobody else saw the woman. Bonnie explained that she had to get out of the hall immediately and could not be persuaded to re-enter to ask the curator if there was any explanation of this apparition. (This is not the first odd experience that Bonnie has had, she had a similar unusual encounter when we visited the notoriously haunted Chambercombe Manor in Devon a few years ago.)
I have done a little research and although Beamish does have some hauntings associated with it, none seem to exactly fit this pattern. The closest that I could find related to the Grey Lady of Starling Bridge (near Beamish Hall). She is supposed to have been the daughter of the owner of Pockerley Old Hall, who fell in love with the heir to Beamish Hall. Both families frowned upon the match as the girl was betrothed to another. The tale states that the unwilling bride fled to Beamish Hall on her wedding day and hid from her pursuers in a trunk in the cellar, where (in the best folk-tradition of brides in trunks) she perished, her body not being found for several months.
Her shade is supposed to haunt the bridge near the hall, waiting for her true love, and she has been sighted on several occasions in the past few years….perhaps the grim-faced middle-aged woman in mourning, that Bonnie met with, was the lost brides’ grieving mother….?
Needless to say, we finished the second bottle of wine quite quickly!