The North Hylton area of Sunderland boasts the city’s only castle; the aptly named Hylton Castle, now in ruins. A castle has stood on this spot since 1066, when the Hilton family were awarded land in the area following the Norman Conquest. Rebuilt in stone during the 14th-15th centuries, all that remains today are the magnificent gate house and nearby chapel which was dedicated to St. Catherine of Alexandria in 1157.
Hylton Castle is also home to one of the north-east’s most enduring folk stories, which is well known to school children of the city and beyond. It concerns the life and death of a certain stablehand named Roger Skelton, who is thought to have served the Hylton family in the early 17th century.
There are many strange tales of ghosts and spirits from the north country, both old and new. Some are vengeful to the living, while others haunt buildings and landmarks with no purpose at all. The ghost in this story, known commonly as Nelly the Knocker, was allegedly once a common sight in the fields near Haltwhistle, today a small town in the southern reaches of Northumberland and not far from Hadrian’s Wall.
On a farm near the village of Haltwhistle there was a field in which stood a large stone. As far as memory could recall, this rock had been haunted by a spirit in the shape of a melancholy lady dressed in loose grey clothes. Every night, so it is said, she could be seen knocking feebly at the stone, and it is because of this the locals named her Nelly the Knocker. Nelly was a harmless type of ghost; she did no one any harm and so no one took any notice of her, save a mention or two when they passed by the field after nightfall – “Oh, there’s old Nelly at her knocking again!”.
Today, I worked at my city’s most haunted library. It’s located in the old Washington village some way out of town, in a house which was converted into a library quite a few years ago. It’s literally just a few yards from Washington Old Hall (see above), the ancestral home of the family of George Washington (yes, that George Washington), and also just over the road from a rather resplendent church.
I’ve heard so many stories about this tiny library before that it was not without a little amount of morbid curiosity that I went to work this morning. Last summer, someone swore to me that she had been on her own upstairs in the non-fiction section when she heard the floorboards creak; as if someone was walking over them. Then, she heard a loud metallic ring, as if someone was dragging something along the length of the cast iron radiator. Of course, there was no one there.
Apparently, a medium visited the building a while back and said that she had sensed an old man, sitting on a chair in the office. Another colleague even swears he was tapped on the shoulder from behind, and turned to see no one there. This phantom is allegedly the ghost of a man who worked in local studies, and which has also on occasion graced the local pub two doors up. Most of this was related to me by my co-worker, who happily told me that she herself had not seen a ghost, but admitted that ‘it does feel spooky up there sometimes’.