Crook Hall (Durham, England)

Date: Tue, 01 Feb 2000 08:27:31 +0000
From: Chris Huff (C.J.Huff@durham.ac.uk)
To: obiwan@ghosts.org
Subject: Another offering from the UK

Hi there,

I have been meaning to post another article, since the Washington Old HAll piece,or two from my casebook onto your page…so here goes.

This one is a small local Hall in the Durham area, it is pretty much unknown and is open to the public.

ttfn

Chris

CROOK HALL. DURHAM. (CO. DURHAM)
Situated: To the north of Durham, near the River Wear.

Crook Hall outside the City of Durham was originally an open hall built in 1286 and has had subsequent renovation and rebuilding through the centuries resulting in Jacobean and Georgian extensions to the earliest foundtations. The area upon which Crook Hall is situated was originally a part of the lands belonging to Sydgate Manor and it is recorded that Gilbert de Aikes granted his land at Sydgate to Aimery son of Aimery the Archdeacon of Durham at sometime around 1200 AD, Aimery de Talboys was Archdeacon from 1198 to 1214 AD. The earliest mention of Crook Hall would appear to be in conjunction with the name of Thomas Billingham in 1425, although it is believed that the hall was named after one Peter de Croke who owned the property in the early 14th century.

Of the original medieval hall only the central great hall and adjacent screen passage remain to give a date of the 13th century. The Solar has been demolished, it’s site is now a part of the gardens, and the wall of the great hall filled where doorways through once existed. The screen passage links the older part of the building to the Jacobean parts of the building. It is in this part of the hall that the haunted staircase is to be found, today this ancient flight of old wooden steps ascends to the ceiling where it abruptly stops. Access to the upper floor is gained via a more recent external stair in a circular tower. It is down the blocked off stairs that the ghost of a White Lady is supposed to walk or glide.

There are supposed to have been numerous sightings through recent centuries although the haunting has remained mostly in a local oral and undocumented tradition. In one peculiar tale, a banquet had been prepared and laid out on tables in the haunted room, but as the guests moved into the screen passage they are supposed to have heard a soft rustling sound from the room. This was immediately followed by a loud crash which was, as they found out when they looked in the room, the resultant noise of the tables and dishes having been upturned onto the floor. The ghost of the white lady was blamed.

In 1991 Andy Owens, a member of ASSAP, contacted John and Mary Hawgood who had lived at the hall since 1979. They were kind enough to recount some encounters with the White Lady which they had experienced. Mary Hawgood was convinced that the ghost was that of the neice of Cuthbert Billingham, although there seems to be no evidence to support this contention, and related that the ghost was said to walk down the “haunted stairs” on Saint Thomas’ Eve (20th December). Having restored part of the old hall, the youngest daughter of the house saw the ghost and was reported to be quite scared by the experience. In 1989 Mary Hawgood was sleeping in the “Medieval” bedroom when she awoke at 2 am to see the figure of a woman whom she described as: “wearing a long dress, and I saw her outline as she was bathed in a pool of light – or rather was outlined aginst it. I did speak to her but she didn’t reply”.

Other occurances at the hall were also reported by Mary Hawgood, mainly that during the perod of their occupation they had noticed the loss of a sigificant number of knives from the kitchen. As the kitchen had been modernised there was little chance of the knives simply slipping down the backs of old drawers or cupboards.

The Hall was opened to the public at certain times of the year by the present owners Keith and Maggie Bell in 1998. In conversation with Mrs Bell in August 1998, she revealed that although the family had not seen the apparition of the White Lady there have been some unaccounted noises heard in the area of the haunted room. From their bedroom (referred to earlier as “The Medieval Bedroom”) Mr Bell has awoken to hear the sounds of someone ascending the tower staircase, he immediately thought of burglars. The sounds continued on past the minstrels gallery landing and up a now long gone staiway to a room at the top of the house: now an empty space. The sounds of footsteps and the dragging of objects have also been heard. At times there is a definite unease about the haunted room although the two children do not seem to notice this.

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