I have recently been loaned a booklet with 15 tales of ghosts and terrors in the North of England. It was only on googling some of the places and ‘events’ mentioned that I found that several of the tales had a foundation in fact.
Bellingham, a village on the North Tyne, is situated right at the heart of what was once part of Northumberland's Border Reiving country. The church at Bellingham, dedicated to St Cuthbert is said to have been one of the places where St Cuthbert's body was brought to following the Viking raids on Lindisfarne in the ninth century A.D. In the churchyard a long stone marks a grave associated with a well known piece folklore; `the Legend of the Lang Pack'.
Lee Hall on the banks of the Tyne south of Bellingham was the home of the Ridley family who left their country residence each winter to reside in London. In the winter of 1723 three servants were left to look after the hall with strict instructions not to allow any guests or lodgers into the house.
One afternoon a pedlar arrived at the hall carrying with him an unusually long pack and asked for shelter for the night. Remembering their orders the servants refused the pedlar, but gave him permission to leave the pack while he sought shelter elsewhere.
During the night a young maid called Alice, became suspicious of the pedlar's long pack which had been left in the kitchen of the house. The maid swore she saw the pack move.
She alerted the other two servants. The older man scorned young Alice's suspicion, but the young man not wishing to take any chances fetched his gun and shot at the long pack. A cry was heard and blood began to ooze from the mysterious package.
Inside the lang pack they found the body of a dead man wearing a silver whistle around his neck. The apparent plan was for this man to break free from his package and open the door for fellow accomplices to burgle the household during the night. The servants summoned help from the neighbourhood and many locals came to Lee Hall, bringing with them their guns.
Later that night on hearing a signal on the whistle the gang arrived to be greeted with gunshot from the servants and locals waiting at the hall. Four of the gang fell dead from their horses, the rest fled.
At daylight the following morning the bodies of the four dead men had mysteriously disappeared and the Lee Hall servants were left with the body of the man from the Lang Pack. The rest of the gang was never caught and the identity of the man from the Lang Pack remained a mystery for all time. The body was buried at Bellingham churchyard, where it is said to lie beneath the long stone cut in the shape of a Pedlar's Pack.
It is said that the man from the long pack and the pedlar are often seen hovering around the lane that leads to Lee Hall.
*****An unclassified road from the Northumberland village of Elsdon to Wallington and Morpeth follows the course of an old drove road south eastwards, where it passes the site of Steng Cross, an old medieval guiding post. Near the roadside at Steng Cross stands a gibbet known as Winter’s Gibbet where the body of William Winter had been hung after his execution for murder.
(Photo by Ann Hodgson - CC Attribution - Share Alike License)
In 1791 Margaret Crozier, an elderly widow, lived at the Raw Pele, an ancient tower house, whose thick walls and narrow windows had provided shelter and security families during earlier days when the sounds of raiding horsemen brought terror to young and old like. In the days of the Reivers, to reach the only entrance on the upper floor, it was necessary to let down a ladder to gain entry. Now, in 1791, a stone staircase had been constructed giving easy access to the house.
One day, two peddlars, Jane Clark, with her sister, Eleanor, visited her. Margaret made a number of purchases from their baskets. Impressed by their sales the sisters went on their way and, later in the course of their wanderings, met up with William Winter.
Winter and the whole of his family were well known for their criminal activities. Winter’s father and brother had previously been hanged at Morpeth for theft. Convicted of stealing in 1784, Winter had only recently been released after a long term in the hulks on the Thames
The Clark sisters had much in common with Winter and the women told Winter of their visit to Margaret Crozier’s. They made their simple plans and waited for nightfall. On the night of 29th August 1791 they broke into Margaret’s home. Her body was found the next day.
On August 10th 1792 William Winter, Jane and Eleanor Clark were executed at the Westgate, Newcastle for the murder. Margaret Crozier died of a fracture to the left temple and strangulation although it is often stated that her throat was cut.
The chief witness was an eleven year-old shepherd boy called Robert Hindmarsh Robert was immortalised by Baden Powell in his book "Scouting for Boys" as an example of observation and citizenship. Legend has it that Winter was identified by Hindmarsh from the nail patterns on the soles of his boots.
Winter’s body be sent to Whiskershields Common, near Elsdon, and be hung in chains from the gibbet which now bears his name.
Morbid sightseers soon lost interest when the stench became unbearable. Eventually the corpse was taken down and buried. It was replaced by a carved effigy of Winter’s head. And so it is today, although heads tend to disappear and have to be replaced from time to time. [In the 20th century fiberglass was used]
The site of the body hanging from the gibbet is said be haunted the young shepherd boy whose evidence which largely convicted Winter.
After the murder the Raw Pele was no longer inhabited. What remains is incorporated into the outbuildings of Raw Farm.