A GHOST with claws for fingers once frightened the living daylights out of a pitman in Bishop Auckland.

While he was lying in bed smoking his pipe, the ghost appeared at a spot in his bedroom where a tragedy seemed to have occurred in the past. The ghost inspected one specific floorboard, then it turned its attention to the pitman’s dog which was lying in a basket before looking into the blazing fire and peering up the chimney.

Then, most unexpectedly, it jumped straight through the bedroom window, shattering the glass and breaking the frame.

The poor pitman, reported The Northern Echo 150 years ago this month, fled and was so scared that he was unable to return to his home.

And, said the Echo, a previous resident had had such profoundly unsettling experiences in the house that she had lost her sense of reason.


All of this – which was in The Northern Echo in December 1871 and so must be true – happened in Corn Close in Bishop, and we’ve spent the last couple of weeks trying to work out the scene of this haunting.

Helen Morton has solved the mystery. She has found a couple of documents from 1883 in the Durham County Record Office in which a parcel of land in High Bondgate, including Corn Close and the Edgar Memorial Hall, was placed in a trust.

“In the very early days of the town, buildings grew up in the Bondgates and the Market Place, then began to creep down Newgate Street, then a little way up Tenters Street and along West Road,” says Bishop Auckland historian Barbara Laurie. “This left the area between Bondgate and Tenters Street still agricultural – probably, in fact, still growing corn.

“That semi-enclosed area seems to have been known as Corn Close until it got built on.”

The Northern Echo: High Bondgate, Bishop Auckland. All the properties on the right were bult on the haunted Corn Close

High Bondgate, Bishop Auckland. All the properties on the right were bult on the haunted Corn Close. Picture: Tom Hutchinson

In the 1850s and 1860s, a warren of streets and yards was built on Corn Close, all of which were replaced in the 1970s by the bus station.

Has anyone spotted a ghost with claws for fingers terrorising the waiting passengers?

The Northern Echo: The bus station in 1984 on the site of Corn Close. Picture: Tom Hutchinson

The bus station in 1984 on the site of Corn Close. Picture: Tom Hutchinson


The Northern Echo: Edgar Hall, Bishop Auckland, courtesy of Tom HutchinsonEdgar Hall, Bishop Auckland, courtesy of Tom Hutchinson

WHEN the Edgar Memorial Hall was built on Corn Close in 1883, it was said to be “in the heart of the roughest portion of the town of Bishop Auckland”.

The hall was dedicated to William Edgar, who was one of those men who had “done so much towards making the present greatness of the British Empire”, according to the North Eastern Gazette when the hall opened.

The paper said that in 1829, Mr Edgar had “tramped with a bag of tools on his back and a few coppers in his pocket” from his native Durham to install a staircase in Bishop Auckland and he had stayed in the town.

“He worked industriously at his trade for some time, till, by his energy, his temperance, and thriftiness, he accumulated enough capital to enable him to commence business for himself in the joinering and cabinet-making line,” said the paper.

Mr Edgar then went into building. Perhaps his most notable work is St Anne’s Church in the Market Place which he built in 1846 to 1848 on the site of a medieval chapel.

The Northern Echo: Bishop Auckland Town Hall, as adapted by architect John Johnson with a balcony and a new-look

clocktower. In this postcard view, which is postmarked May 1905 from New Shildon, Jane Shaw is running Shaw's Temperance Hotel on the ground floor of the

Bishop Auckland Town Hall with St Anne's Church, as built by Mr Edgar, beside it

He lived in a large house nearby and became one of the most influential men in the town.

“His dying wish was that with his great wealth the remaining members of his family should always, with a wise discretion, look after the true interests of the poor,” said the Gazette.

“Scarcely had the members of his family turned their backs on his grave than the gifted and accomplished young wife of Mr Charles' Smith Edgar (his son) was struck down by that great enemy of the human race, consumption, and her young life ebbed slowly, but peacefully, away while yet it was scarce begun.”

And so the £2,500 Edgar Memorial Hall was built for both of them.

A Gothic building, it had three classrooms and a soup kitchen on the ground floor, and above was a mission hall which could hold 600 people.

Bishop Joseph Barber Lightfoot performed the opening ceremony on February 16, 1883.

Said the Gazette: “In the presence of a large audience of the principal and most influential inhabitants of the town, his lordship, in a few impressive sentences, declared the Edgar Memorial Hall opened in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.”

The other ghost, the one with claws for fingers, was not mentioned at the opening ceremony, even though it had been terrorising the area just a few years earlier.

In its later years, the hall was used as a tax office and as a base for the Church Lads’ Brigade before it was cleared in the 1970s along with all the houses that had been built on top of Corn Close. The bus station opened in the early 1980s on its site.

The name Edgar wasn’t lost with the demolition of the hall as Edgar Grove, off Etherley Lane, now carried it on.

AFTER the story of the ghost with claws for fingers comes another remarkable tale from The Northern Echo of exactly 150 years ago this week.

“An elopement from a colliery not a hundred miles from Black Boy has afforded no scant food for the gossips of the locality,” said the Echo, launching itself into the gossip.

The Black Boy colliery was in the Dene Valley, a couple of miles east of Bishop Auckland, near the pit villages of Eldon and Close House.

A pitman, said the Echo, had lived for many years happily with his lawful wife, with whom he had no children, and in recent times he had transferred his affections to “a servant girl many years her junior who, although, living at Bishop Auckland, he has not wearied in paying her frequent visits.

“Through the influence of his wife, they had a little money invested in a building society, and this our hero had withdrawn and, all things being arranged, he one evening sent his unsuspecting wife on some trifling errant to a neighbour’s house, and during her temporary absence packed up what clothes he thought fit and took his departure.

“On the return of the truthful wife she found her love-bird had flown, but to where wasm and still remains, a mystery, but it has since been ascertained that the girl who received his favours is also non est.”

Non est appears to be short for a Victorian Latin legal phrase, non est inventus, meaning “is not found”. In other words, she too was gone.

The Echo’s report finishes: “The faithless husband has generously left the furniture to his wife who, we are given to understand, will do nothing desperate should he never again return.”