The horrifying true ghost story of Willington Mill, read the accounts of the family that endured one of England's most terrifying paranormal encounters.
When Joseph Procter and his family moved into the mill house in 1835 they paid little attention to rumours that the place was haunted. The house was a pleasant, comparatively new building by a tidal stream in the small Northumberland village of Willington, in England's rugged northeast.
The Procters were a highly respected, devoutly Quaker family. Mr Procter was said to be a man of high intelligence and common sense, he was good to his friends and family and was known for treating his employees well.
However, after little more than a decade, the Procters were driven to leave in a distress, unable to stand any more of the weird and ghostly happenings that plagued them from the day they first arrived at Willington Mill.
Only much later were they to learn that their house had been built on the site of an old cottage, that a terrible crime had been committed there years before, and that a priest had refused to hear the confession of a woman who desperately wanted to unburden her conscience.
So prolific was the haunting of Willington Mill while the Procters lived there that when W T Stead, the writer, and ghost hunter, first pieced together the story in the 1980s, there were still 40 people alive who had actually seen the ghosts.
The hauntings began one night in January 1835, when a nursemaid was putting the children to bed in the second-floor nursery when she heard heavy footsteps coming from a room immediately above.
It was an empty room, never used by the family. At first, the girl took little notice, thinking it must be one of the handymen carrying out a job. But night after night, the sounds continued, getting louder and louder.
Other servants and members of the family also heard them, but when they burst into the room to surprise the "intruder", no one was ever there. They sprinkled meal over the floor, but there were no footprints.
One morning, whilst Mr Procter was conducting family prayers, the heavy steps were heard coming down the stairs, past the parlour, and along the hall to the front door. The family heard the bar removed, two bolts drawn back and the lock turned.
Mr Procter rushed into the hall to find the door open. The footsteps went on down the path. The terrified Mrs Procter fainted. It became increasingly difficult to get servants to stay in the house. Only one girl, Mary Young, whom the family had brought with them from their previous home in North Shields, loyally refused to leave.
There was a period when it seemed as though the whole house had been taken over by unseen people. There were sounds of doors opening, people entering and leaving rooms, bangs, and blows and laboured breathing, the steps of a child, chairs being moved and rustling sounds as if a woman in a silk dress was hurrying by.
Until a certain Whit Monday, the haunting remained entirely by sound. On that day, Mary Young was washing dishes in the kitchen when she heard footsteps in the passage. Looking up she saw a woman in a lavender silk dress go upstairs and enter one of the rooms. That night the noises in the house were worse than anybody had heard before. Two of Mrs Procter's sisters arrived for a visit. The first night, sleeping together in the same four-poster bed, they felt it lift up. Their first thought was that a thief had hidden there, so they rang the alarm and the men of the house came running. No one was found.
On another night their bed was violently shaken and the curtains suddenly hoisted up then let down again several times.
They had the curtains removed, but the experience that followed was even more terrifying. They lay awake half-expecting something to happen when a misty, blueish figure of a woman drifted out of the wall and leaned over them in an almost horizontal position. Both women saw the figure quite clearly and lay there, speechless with terror, as it retreated and passed back into the wall.
Neither of the women would spend another night in the room, one of them even left the house to take lodgings with mill foreman Thomas Mann and his wife.
One dark, moonless night the Manns, their daughter, and their visitors were walking past the mill house after paying a call to their neighbours, when all four of them saw a luminous figure of what appeared to be a priest in a surplice gliding back and forth at the height of the second floor. It seemed to go through the wall of the house and stand looking out of the window.
The focus of the hauntings appeared to be what the Procters called the The Blue Room and in the summer of 1840, they agreed to allow Edward Drury, who specialised in supernatural investigation, to spend a night there. He took with him a friend who refused to get into bed but dozed off in a chair.
Drury later wrote a letter describing what happened. "I took out my watch to ascertain the time and found that it was ten minutes to one," he said.
"In taking my eyes off the watch they became riveted upon a closet door, which I distinctly saw open, and saw also the figure of a female attired in greyish garments, with the head inclining downwards and one hand pressed upon the chest as if in pain. It advanced with an apparently cautious step across the floor towards me. Immediately, it approached my friend, who was slumbering, its right hand extended towards him. I then rushed at it ..."
It was three hours before Drury could recollect anything more. He had been carried downstairs in a state of terror by Mr Procter. Drury had shrieked, "There she is. Keep her off. For God's sake, keep her off!"
The grey lady was seen by others. So were unearthly animals and other startling apparitions. The Procters tried to shield their children from the worst of the haunting, but eventually, they became involved.
One day a daughter told Mary Young, "There's a lady sitting on the bed in mama's room. She has eyeholes, but no eyes, and she looked hard at me."
Then another daughter reported that in the night a lady had come out of the wall and looked into the mirror... "She had eyeholes, but no eyes."
Another child saw the figure of a man enter his room, push up on the sash window, lower it again, then leave.
In 1847 Joseph Procter decided his family could endure no more. They moved away to another part of Northumberland and were never bothered by ghosts again.
The house was later divided into two dwellings and eventually deteriorated into a slum. People continued to hear and see strange things from time to time.
But after the property was refurbished and split up, Willington Mill was never again to know the terrifying days and nights that afflicted the previous Quaker family.
The story of Willington Mill is certainly one of the most unheard, yet fascinating ghost stories coming out of the UK.
Now you have read about the hauntings of Willington Mill, make sure you check out the true story of the poltergeist of Epworth Rectory.