CICELY KIRBY was a pretty young seamstress with many secrets. Too many secrets, for they led to her murder more than 250 years ago and today a small stone, overgrown with ivy, marks the spot where her body was hurriedly buried.

Her spirit is said to still haunt the lane where she fell and she is seen flitting around the site of the town centre hotel where she had her last, fateful, emotionally charged meetings with two of her secret men.

The Northern Echo: The stone in Blackwell Lane which is said to mark the spot where Cicely Kirby was killed in November 1745 and beneath which her body was rediscovered as recently as 1935The stone in Blackwell Lane which is said to mark the spot where Cicely Kirby was killed in November 1745 and beneath which her body was rediscovered as recently as 1935

And from a bridge in the centre of Darlington, a soldier – her secret lover – still jumps into the river with a splash but no ripple as he still goes in search for her after she didn’t make it to their clandestine rendez-vous.

In Darlington, Cicely was believed to be an orphan from up Weardale. She’d come to town to find her way in the world as a young teenager, and Mary Ewbank had taken her under her wing, finding her work in the textile trade and allowing her to lodge in her house beside the Stonebridge.

The Northern Echo: Darlington in 1760 showing St Cuthbert's Church with the seven-arch Stonebridge over the Skerne. Mrs Ewbank's house was next to the bridge on the town side 

In late 1745, Darlington was a meeting spot for King George II’s army as they prepared to take on Bonnie Prince Charlie, the Young Pretender who had invaded from Scotland.

Ten thousand soldiers camped out on the Green Tree Fields while their officers were billeted in the the yards between Skinnergate and High Row as they awaited order to move north.


The Darlingtonians took pity on the shivering soldiers under canvas in November and all the seamstresses were whistling up flannel waistcoats to keep them warm. Mrs Ewbank was hard at work and Cicely, 19, was busy collecting materials, embroidering edges and delivering the completed garments – a job she enjoyed as she found herself surrounded by the soldiers.

She, though, only had eyes for one: Jack Langstraffe of Blackwell, the son of a wealthy farmer who was a local hero as he had dived off Castle Hill into the swollen River Tees to save a man who had been washed off his horse in a flood. They had become lovers until his father had banned Jack from consorting with a lowly, orphan seamstress.

When Bonnie Prince Charlie had invaded, Blackwell was ordered to send six of its sons to join the king’s militia, and Mr Langstraffe had sent Jack to get him out of the way of Cicely’s sweet temptations.

The Northern Echo: Tubwell Row, DarlingtonTubwell Row in the 1890s. The Talbot Inn occupied the two properties on the corner with Post House Wynd that are clearly visible in this picture

But, that November night, in the Talbot Inn, on the corner of Post House Wynd and High Row, where the Duke of Cumberland, the leader of the king’s army, was staying, Cicely found Jack. They exchanged kisses and vows and promised to meet up the following day, away from the hubbub of the crowded pub, in Blackwell Lane.

Her heart full of joy, Cicely skipped out of the Talbot – but on her way, she bumped into another soldier she recognised. To the army, he was known as William Trothie and, although their meeting was fleeting and constrained, to anyone watching, it was clear that they had a deep, emotional bond.


And someone was watching. A third soldier, named Sam Addy. He had had an altercation with Trothie in York and was hell bent on revenge. He sensed that Cicely might be a way to cause trouble for William.

He followed her down Tubwell Row to Mrs Ewbank’s house, where she burbled happily to the older lady about meeting her true love, and he was there the next morning when she left for her secret assignation in Blackwell Lane with Jack.

The Northern Echo: Blackwell Lane, DarlingtonBlackwell Lane today

But she never made it. Jack waited forlornly for hours up near the crossroads where the Blackwell Spar shop is today, but she didn’t show.

Desperate, Jack went in a flustered state to Mrs Ewbank’s house to find her, leading the seamstress to believe there had been a lover’s tiff. When Cicely failed to come home, her inquiries discovered she had last been seen in Blackwell arguing with a soldier, she came to the sad conclusion that she’d hurried on to Hell’s Kettles, the bottomless pits of water on the A167 south of Blackwell, and thrown herself in – as broken-hearted young girls were wont to do.

Next morning, the soldiers moved out, pursuing Bonnie Prince Charlie as he fled back to Scotland, eventually engaging him in battle at Culloden, near Inverness, on April 16, 1746.

The Northern Echo: "The Battle of Culloden" painting by David Morier (between 1746–1765).. Picture: wikipediaThe Battle of Culloden, by David Morier, from wikipedia

It was an easy victory for the king’s forces, the battle lasting less than an hour. Up to 2,000 Scots were slaughtered – the Duke of Cumberland earned the nickname “Butcher” for his treatment of them – whereas the British army lost fewer than a hundred.

But among the broken bodies of the barely alive were all three of the soldiers who had been in the Talbot that November night: Jack, William and Sam. Their injuries were so terrible, they were not expected to live, and so, in immense pain, all three were taken to a makeshift mortuary to die.

As they lay there awaiting the inevitable, at around midnight, a ghostly green glow appeared before them and in it, they could make out the face of the girl they had last encountered in Darlington.

“Oh, Cicely,” cried out Jack, “what happened? I waited hours in Blackwell Lane for you but you never came. I even called at Mrs Ewbank’s house beside the Stonebridge, but you weren’t there either…”

“But,” said Sam Addy, “after what I saw in the Talbot, I thought she was Trothie’s girl, so I followed her for sport…” He confessed he had encountered her in the lane, and when she refused to disclose her relationship to Trothie, he’d pushed her, she’d fallen, smashed her head and had never recovered. He’d returned under the cover of darkness to hurriedly bury her body near the back hedge of Blackwell Grange.

“But,” then said William Trothie, raising himself on a shattered arm, “I am not William Trothie. My real name is Barnaby Kirby – I am Cicely’s brother.” He told how they came from Wolsingham where he’d been a bad lad and had been convicted of, among other crimes, sheep stealing for which he had been sentenced to death. To escape the hangman’s noose, he had fled the dale, changed his name and joined the army. He hadn’t seen Cicely for many years until that chance meeting in the Talbot – and even then, they could barely acknowledge one another for fear of revealing his true identity.

The ghostly green glow disappeared and, amid huge sobs of sorrow and despair, the life ebbed away from the three fallen soldiers.

The Northern Echo: The Duke of Cumberland, known as "Butcher" after the Battle of CullodenThe Duke of Cumberland, known as "Butcher" after the Battle of Culloden

So the only one who made it back to Darlington alive was the Duke of Cumberland, who again feasted at the Talbot in July 1746 as he toasted his butcherous victory on his way south to London.

The Northern Echo: Looking up Tubwell Row from Cicely Kirby's house near the Stonebridge towards the site of the Talbot beneath the town clock. This picture was taken on June 1, 1970, from a similar location to today's front page picture which was taken at least 75Looking up Tubwell Row from Cicely Kirby's house near the Stonebridge towards the site of the Talbot beneath the town clock. This picture was taken on June 1, 1970

Yet Darlingtonians were always aware of a female spectre in the Talbot, dashing through the upstairs rooms as if searching for something forbidden. There was always an unseen presence in Blackwell Lane, and there was constantly talk of a soldier in military uniform who jumped off Stonebridge and disappeared into the Skerne with the noise of a splash but without leaving so much as a ripple on the river’s surface.

The Northern Echo: WORKS: Strengthening of Stonebridge, in Darlington, will begin next monthStonebridge: the noise of a splash, but no ripples

Then, in 1853, workmen widening Blackwell Lane discovered at the hedgefoot a skeleton of what they assumed was a young female, with beautiful teeth. She was bent double, as if hurriedly slung into a pit, and although her clothes had decayed to dust, there was enough to suggest these were the fashions from another century. They marked the spot with a small stone.

The story fascinated Dr Richard Taylor Manson, one of south Durham’s leading medical men and naturalists in the Victorian era, who researched it and published it as a novel in 1886.

And the ghosts kept appearing, keeping the story alive.

In September 1935, council workman Walter Wade made an unexpected discovery.

The Northern Echo: The stone is on the left by the wall in Blackwell LaneThe stone is on the extreme left by the wall in Blackwell Lane

"An excavation in Blackwell Lane has unearthed a human skeleton at a spot near a stone which is supposed to mark the spot of the murder of a girl about 150 years ago," reported the Darlington & Stockton Times, giving no further information.

So it must be true. The soldier still jumps with a splash but no ripple and is believed to be Jack, desperately searching for Cicely at Mrs Ewbank’s house, not knowing she was already dead in a ditch in Blackwell Lane, where a ghostly green glow certainly used to be a well known phenomenon.

And although the last remains of the Talbot were demolished in 1904 and replaced by the North East Bank, staff and customers of Darlington Building Society will soon be able to report if Cicely is still there searching for her forbidden lover and her secret brother…