One of the greatest joys of paranormal research is discovering historical tales that appear to defy rational explanation – particularly, as with the infamous ‘Lady in Black’ Cheltenham ghost – when there are many attested accounts and information to apparently back up the paranormal stories.
One of the oddest accounts that I’ve come across is a historical account of paranormal activity from the 17th century, known as ‘The Lumley Ghost’, or sometimes as ‘The Chester Le Street Ghost’. While, at first glance, the tale has the aura of a fictional drama, this account was well-documented at the time and relayed in several books over subsequent years.
So, let’s go back to 1831 in the county of Durham and a village known as Lumley. Living here at this time was a man called John Walker. John was a widower and – much to the consternation of the local villagers – now shared his home with a much-younger, female relative called Anne Walker. Naturally, rumours abounded concerning their true relationship and, for whatever personal reasons, it became common knowledge that Anne had fallen pregnant.
At this point, Mark Sharp – a miner originally from Lancashire – enters the scene; a friend and colleague of John Walker, Sharp appears to have had earned a reputation for the more violent sides of life. Anne Walker was dispatched to a nearby Aunt’s house, while no doubt the village resounded with gossip concerning her plight and future. At some point, Mark Sharp visited Anne’s aunt and persuaded her that – on John Walker’s orders – a family home had been located for Anne, well out of the district and away from nosey villagers. As John was a Yeoman and considered of good standing, the Aunt helped Anne to pack and soon Mark and Anne had left the area.
Two weeks later, John Grime – a local fuller ( someone who worked in a mill with cloth) – left his workplace at midnight, some six miles away from Lumley. As he did so he encountered the apparition of a young woman. According to historical accounts of this case, as noted in ‘The History and Antiquities of the County Palatine of Durham’:
‘In the winter-time after, one James Graham or Grime, (for so in that country they call them) being a miller, and living about 2 miles from the place where Walker lived, was one night alone very late in the mill, grinding corn; and about 12 or 1 o’ the clock at night, he came down the stairs from having been putting corn in the hopper; the mill doors being shut, there stood a woman upon the midst of the floor, with her hair about her head, hanging down, and all bloody, with five large wounds on her head. He being much affrighted and amaz’d, began to bless himself; and at last, ask’d her who she was, and what she wanted? To which she said, I am the spirit of such a woman, who lived with Walker, and being got with child by him, he promised to send me to a private place, where I should be well look’d to, till I was brought to bed, and well again; and then I should come again and keep his house. And accordingly, said the Apparition, I was one night late sent away with one Mark Sharp, who, upon a moor, naming a place that the miller knew, slew me with a pick, such as men dig coals withal, and gave me these five wounds, and after threw my body into a coal-pit hard by, and hid the pick under a bank; and his shoes and stockings being bloody, he endeavoured to wash ‘em; but seeing the blood would not forth, he hid them there. And the Apparition further told the miller, that he must be the man to reveal it, or else that she must still appear and haunt him.’
Unsure about what to do next – and not wishing to upset John Walker, a man of power and authority, John Grime decided to keep things to himself. Apparently, this did not go down well with the spirit of Anne.
‘The miller returned home very sad and heavy, but spoke not one word of what he had seen, but eschewed as much as he could to stay in the mill within night without company, thinking thereby to escape the seeing again of that frightful apparition. But notwithstanding, one night when it began to be dark, the apparition met him again, and seemed very fierce and cruel, and threatened him, that if he did not reveal the murder, she would continually pursue and haunt him; yet for all this, he still concealed it until St. Thomas’s eve before Christmas; when being, soon after sunset, walking in his garden, she appeared again, and then so threatened him, and affrighted him, that he faithfully promised to reveal it next morning.’
Now suitable terrified, John Grime went straight to the authorities and told his tale. In checking out his story, poor Anne’s body was discovered precisely where the spirit had mentioned, along with some bloodied clothing belonging to John Walker. Walker and Sharp were duly arrested and, despite their stout refusal to admit to murder, they were soon on trial. When found guilty, both men still declined to admit any form of guilt, right up to the point where they were quickly executed.
On one hand, this appears to be a convincing case of a vengeful spirit returning from death to condemn her killers. This certainly wouldn’t be the first of its type. However, could there be other reasons; perhaps more Earthly? Might this be a case of using the paranormal to cover up a heinous murder? John Grimes was able to tell the authorities exactly where Anne’s body was located. Could this be because he himself had committed the murder and used a supernatural tale as the perfect alibi. It has to be taken in account that this is 1631 – tales of witchcraft and the occult were prominent.
Indeed, several rumours circulated at the time about events within the court room, including two specific tales that Anne’s ghost had appeared directly before the judge. Another witness claimed to have seen the spirit of a child standing on the shoulders of John Walker in court. Despite many separate accounts of Anne’s demise, there is still plenty of room for speculation. The only certainty is that the story itself would adorn the pages of any paranormal fiction novel.