Thursday, 2 August 2012

Creepy Cinema in Sunderland

County Durham has one of the most distinguished and distinctive histories of all the English counties. For almost 800 years the Prince Bishop of Durham wielded huge powers over his county. He minted his own coins, ran his own justice system and led his men to battle. Not until 1836, some 90 years after the last Scottish army crossed the border to loot England, did the Bishops lose the last of their power.

These days a chunk of County Durham has been carved out to form part of the artificial county of Tyne and Wear. Many locals – and certainly those of a spectral persuasion – prefer to cling to the old boundaries. This is a place where towns are solidly urban islands set in a sea of rural countryside. It is possible to be in a street of Victorian terraces, turn a corner and walk into a field. Each town and village has its own character and fiercely guarded local pride. The “Mackums” of Sunderland know they are different from the “Monkeyhangers” of Hartlepool; neither would welcome being mistaken for the other. And the people can be as proud of their ghosts as of anything else.

The Empire Theatre in Sunderland is famously haunted – its ghosts featuring with some regularity in the local press. The older of the phantoms goes by the name of “Molly”. She was the stage manager before the Second World War. One night after the show she was walking home with a friend when she said she had to pop back to the theatre to pick up something she forgot. She never came back. The police found a witness who said he saw her in the Dun Cow pub drinking with a Russian sailor. Then she just vanished. No body nor trace of her was ever found. Soon afterwards she returned in spectral form.

A woman who worked at the Empire as a barmaid in the Circle Bar in the 1990s was clearing up one night and heard the doors slam shut. She looked round, thinking it was the manager, and caught a glimpse of a lady in a white dress walking through the archway to the stairs that led to the Top Circle. She knew that no such person should be there, but bravely crept up to the Top Circle to check. It was empty.

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