Darlington's last silver screen from the golden age of cinema closed at the end of June. Its audiences have moved on to the multiplex – but what will become of its ghosts?

A paranormal investigation in the Odeon in Northgate is once said to have uncovered 16 spectres in the building, parts of which date back 150 years.

One of the ghosts had such a bad reputation that it could have been Boris Johnson’s deputy chief whip: in Screen 3, the usherettes and cleaners reported having their bottoms pinched on a fairly frequent basis.

Screen 1 was haunted by a black figure that appeared at the end of the evening.

“It would sit in a seat in the middle looking straight at the stage,” says a Memories informant. “When we were locking up, it would be there.”


The Northern Echo: ABC cinema, Darlington.

The first theatre – the Theatre Royal – opened on the site in 1865. It was pulled down in 1873 and replaced by a larger theatre in 1881. Although that theatre burned down in 1883, its shell survived and was restored. It was converted into a cinema in the late 1930s and the main screen was placed on top of the old stage with the orchestra pit and what were probably the dressing rooms hidden away underneath.

They became repositories for junk – and, of course, ghosts.

“There were winding, wooden temporary stairs to get down there – the actors’ changing rooms were in the bowels of the cinema,” says our informant. “It was where we kept the old posters and the letters for the billing that we had to change on the outside of the cinema every week to show what film was on.

“We used to dread going down there, especially on our own, because of the sense you got, because of the atmosphere.

“I was in there by myself one day, all the hairs were standing up on my neck and a voice shouted in my ear. It was a guy who seemed very well spoken, a commanding voice, but an old fashioned voice. It was only one word – “hey” – but it was very forceful.

“I ran as fast as I can.”

It has to be said that such strange tales from the Odeon have reached our ears several times over the years – particularly the one of the bottom-pinching ghosts, even though most self-respecting spooks shy away from having any physical impact on the living.

Have you any spooky stories from the silver screen to share?

The Northern Echo: Pictures to go with a story about the two contrasting cinemas in Darlington. The Odeon cinema on Northgate in the town. Picture: CHRIS BOOTH.

SO how to account for these strange carryings on? This corner of land, bordered on one side by the Cocker Beck and the River Skerne on another was once known as Butt Close, perhaps suggesting that it was where archery practice was carried out.

It was also a bleaching ground – fleeces washed in the Skerne would be laid out in the sun to dry.

It was somewhere in this area that Darlington’s ducking stool was situated at the start of the 17th Century, when there was a national craze for ducking offensive women. It was in Northgate, “behind Mr Robson’s cabinet-making shop”, and in 1615, the “duckstoole” needed five shillings worth of repairs to the “iron pynne and stowpe of wood”.

The Northern Echo:

“The ducking stool, or chair, was at the end of a long pole which worked on an upright post,” explains the historian William Longstaffe in his 1854 history of Darlington. He says that from 1612 to 1622, several women who had been convicted of being “scolds” – of being argumentative and troublesome – were ducked in the pool that was fed by the Skerne. The ducking was supposed to cool the heat in their tongue, and embarrass them into silence.

For instance, in 1619, Dorothy, wife of George Metcalfe, was ducked for being “a common scold to the common nuisance of the neighbours”. However, it obviously did not curtain her scolding activities because in 1622, she was convicted once more of being a common scold and also of perpetrating a “savage attack” upon a market official going about his work. This time she was fined – and that seems to have stopped her offending.

In 1710, George Buck of Sadberge died and left money in his will for two-and-a-half acres of Butt Close to be bought and let out to farmers with three-quarters of the rent going to help poor people in Darlington and a quarter going to the poor in his village. The Bishop of Durham gave a further acre of wasteground, and so Buck’s Close, as it was now called, remained agricultural land as Darlington grew out towards the railway.

The Northern Echo: The Buck Inn, Sadberge, near Darlington, in 1905

The Buck Inn of Sadberge is named after the same George Buck whose charity owned the land on which the cinema was built. Above: the inn in 1905, and, below, as it looked more recently

The Northern Echo: The Buck Inn, Sadberge

In 1864, the trustees of Buck’s charity auctioned the land to developers for £4,555 (about £400,000 in today’s values), and work immediately started on the first theatre.

Does any of this explain any of the hauntings in the cinema?