It was the autumn of 1834 when the Proctors, a Quaker family, began to notice disturbances in their house near Tyneside in northern England. It began with the sound of dull, heavy treading upstairs. Every member of the family complained of hearing footsteps and whistling that could not be accounted for. The sound of a clock being wound could not be explained. Over a six-year period, the intensity of the haunting increased. The stomping of angry footsteps echoed throughout the house, contrasted by faint whisperings. And then there were the apparitions. The white figure of a strange woman was seen in a window by a neighbor, and then seen in other rooms of the house by the Proctors. A disembodied white face appeared over a stair railing, seeming to watch the family.
In one instance, the Proctor family recalled a housemaid complaining of loud footsteps coming from the room above her. Real Ghosts, Restless Sprits and Haunted Places details the incident:
“Joseph Proctor inspected the room that night. Trickery seemed out of the question. The door to the room had been nailed shut for some time; the room’s only window had been boarded up many years before with wooden laths and plaster. Inside the room, the floor was covered with a thin, undisturbed layer of soot, which in itself was proof that not even a mouse had been walking about.”
The Willington Mill was located across the road from the Proctor’s home, separated by the road and a garden. Built in 1880, the mill was used to prepare flour and had originally been a rope factory. The mill foreman, Thomas Mann, had told Proctor of several instances where he had heard someone walking across the mill lawn in the darkness but when he went to investigate, he saw no one. In another instance, Mann witnessed a “glowing woman”peering out the window of the proctor’s house. Mann rushed to get his entire family who witnesses the ghostly woman for a full 10 minutes before she vanished before their eyes.
In another instance, Proctor’s sister, Jane Carr, visited the family’s home and stayed overnight in an upstairs bedroom. She recited how she had heard an enormous sound, like someone winding a large clock. After the noise wound down, her bed began to shake and she clearly heard a sound like that of a heavy sack falling on the floor. Explosive knocks began to pound on her bedstead and she heard the unmistakable sound of shuffling feet moving around her bed.
Soon after Jane Carr’s incident, the ghost began acquiring new powers (a common occurrence in hauntings). It began pounding on the walls of the home and lifting beds in the middle of the night. It manifested itself under the beds of the children and raised their mattresses higher and higher while shrieking and wailing. Soon it began whispering, talking, and materializing in various forms, including the form of a monkey-like creature that attacked one of the children. In one instance, the ghostly entity even produced a doppelganger of one of the children. The entity became more mobile too. It moved from the upstairs to the downstairs rooms. The cook would enter the kitchen in the morning to find the chairs heaped in a large pile and cooking utensils scattered about the room.
In another instance involving Jane Carr, Proctor’s sister:
“One night as she shared a room with Mary Young, the cook, the two women were terrified to hear the bolt in their door slide back, the handle turn, and the door open. As an invisible entity moved across the bed the women shared, the bed curtains began to rustle, and the bedcovers were suddenly lifted and thrown off the bed, revealing the two trembling figures. Both women saw a distinctly dark shadow against the curtains that hung from the bed frame.”
The Proctor’s plight was known throughout the area, and then, as now, there were skeptics who were certain they could explain it all away. On July 3, 1840, Edward Drury, a local doctor, volunteered to spend a night in the house with his colleague, T. Hudson, a young chemist, while the Proctors were away. Dr. Drury armed himself with pistols and waited on the third floor landing, unafraid of what he was sure were mundane house noises. Less than an hour into his vigil, Drury began to hear soft footfalls, then a knocking and an echoing cough. Hudson had fallen asleep. But at about 1 a.m., Dr. Drury watched in horror as a closet door slowly swung open out of which floated toward him the ghostly lady in white. Drury screamed and charged the phantom, succeeding only in tripping over his friend Hudson. What next happened the doctor could not recall. “I have since learned,” he later wrote, “that I was carried downstairs in an agony of fear and terror.”
Some years later the Proctors could stand no more of the ever more violent manifestations and vacated the house in 1847 after 11 years tolerating the paranormal disturbances that invaded their home. Proctor secured a new home for his family in Camp Villa, North Shields. After sending his family and servants ahead of them, Mr. and Mrs. Proctor stayed the last night in the home alone. Their final night was indeed an eventful one.
“The constant sound of heavy thuds prevented them from getting any rest at all. The house echoed with the sound of boxes being dragged down the stairs but the house was empty, save for them. All of their boxes had been moved out earlier that day. Yet they continued to hear footsteps walking across the floors, dragging invisible furniture. The Proctors were, in effect, hearing a ghostly reenactment of all the noises made by the family and their servants as they were engaged in their various moving chores.”
After the Proctors moved out of Willington Mill, residents continued to experience hauntings including a family in 1868 that abandoned the home refusing to ever return. By 1890, the mill was closed and turned into a warehouse while the homestead was divided into apartments. The home was later torn down. As of 2012, the mill had been turned back into a rope factory (Bridon Ropes). Workers at the factory still report paranormal activity.
As for the origin of the entity. At the time there was a story about a woman named Catherine Devore (known as Katy) who worked at the rope factory after it was first built. The woman was killed when her long hair got caught in the machine used to make the ropes. It is said that the ghost of Katy still haunts the mill and surrounding businesses.