The Ghost of St Mary's Church, Monkwearmouth, Sunderland
In 1847, St Peter’s Church was the site of what might have become a classic ghost story, except that these events had a very mundane explanation. I have always thought that this is an instructive tale as it shows how witnesses can be mistaken about what they see.
Soon after midnight on 1 October the good folk of Monkwearmouth were awoken by the ringing of the church bells. Tumbling from their beds and running into the streets, the people looked around thining that maybe there was some fire or other emergency that was demanding their attention. Nothing was to be seen, but the bells continued to ring. The people now hurried up to the church.
A woman screamed and pointed up at the tower. “A ghost,” she screamed. “A ghost.” All eyes followed her pointing finger. Sure enough leering down from the small window in the tower was a pale face. A white arm appeared next to the face and waved with what seemed to be hostile intent. Among the crowd was the sexton, who had the key to the church on him. Followed by the braver souls, he marched up to the door and unlocked it. The “ghost” promptly appeared from the base of the tower and dashed out past the startled sexton, scattering the terrified crowd before her. The apparition vanished into the night.
The dramatic events were the talk of Monkwearmouth, but next evening a local man named Walpole went to see the vicar. In tow he had his 12 year old daughter. The man explained that his daughter had been playing a game with her friends the day before and had inadvertently got herself locked in the church when the sexton shut up for the night. After some hours of waiting for somebody to come and rescue her, the girl had decided to ring the bells as a way to summon help. When she had seen all the people arriving and crowding around, the girl had thought that she might be in trouble, so she had fled as soon as the door was opened.
The people in the dark street - this was in the days before street lighting remember - had already been put on edge by the woman who had called out that there was a ghost. So when the young girl had come running out, they had taken her for a phantom. They had seen, in fact, what they had been expecting rather than what was really there.
If Walpole had not got the story out of his daughter, and had not gone to explain to the vicar, yet another ghost story may have been added to the many that exist in Sunderland.
from "Haunted Sunderland" by Rupert Matthews.
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