Guest writer ELAINE KELLY, from Spectre Detectors, takes us to five of Bishop Auckland in County Durham’s most haunted places
Bishop Auckland is an ancient and historic market town, which has been the seat for country residence of the Prince Bishops and the official home of the Bishop of Durham since the 12th century. The earliest known reference to Bishop Auckland itself is as a gift of a Bishop’s borough given to the Bishop of Durham as a gift by King Canute in around 1020.
Bishop Auckland is also home to the magnificent Auckland Castle, the official country residence of the Prince Bishops for centuries and still the official home of the Bishop of Durham. Surrounding the beautiful Auckland Castle is the Bishop’s Deer Park.
From Roman times, the area now known as Bishop Auckland was suggested to have been used as a lookout post for the Roman fort of Vinovium (Binchester Fort), that was located on the key Roman road of Dere Street and built in about 79 AD above the north bank of the River Wear. Bishop Auckland was to become an important market town.
On Newgate Street once stood the Eden Theatre, managed for several years by Arthur Jefferson, the father of Stan Laurel. At the turn of the century, Arthur Stanley Jefferson was baptised in St. Peters Church and went to school at King James I Grammar School – he later left for America and changed his name to Stan Laurel.
The Hippodrome Bingo Hall, Bishop Auckland
The hall was originally opened as a cine-variety theatre in 1909. It was used as a cinema from the outset and converted into a bingo hall in 1960. Originally, both live entertainment and films were shown indicating that the building was of the cine-variety form of theatre, but by 1914, the building was already mainly used as a cinema and was renamed The Hippodrome Picture House.
When it opened, the Hippodrome Theatre was the biggest auditorium in the town seating 1800. Even though it is now a bingo hall, the hippodrome still has many of its original features including the stalls and the stage behind the bingo screen.
Over the years many members of staff have seen the Grey lady. She is usually seen very early in the morning when the building is being cleaned and prepared for the day. Also the bingo boards go off as if someone has won but there is no one there.
We have been lucky enough to investigate the hippodrome a few times now and have indeed encountered the Grey lady, who we believe was an actress called Eleanor, the young boy called James and the angry spirit in the cellar. He chose not to show himself but did try to destroy our CCTV camera.
On our investigations we encountered a young boy called Derrick, who used to help out when it was a cinema. There was a very tall man on the top floor that isn’t open to the public. There was a very small boy called James and an angry spirit in the cellar.
We picked up on Florrie who was a singer and we picked up on Stan, could this be Stan Laurel who lived in Bishop Auckland?
The Merry Monk
The Merry Monk is a 17th century inn with a very strange hidden secret. The Monk has a tunnel that is believed to have once linked to Auckland Castle. This tunnel was supposedly used to transport mead that the monks had brewed and was recently opened by the owners.
For many years the pub was called The Sportsman, but because of the heritage of the building it was changed to The Merry Monk. Many people don’t know about the religious links and where the name originates from.
The Roman road of Dere Street passes by The Merry Monk and the remains of ‘Vinovia’ Roman Fort can be visited nearby.
The staff and owners of the pub say that temperatures plummet in the cellar and that they often get the feeling of being watched. They have a log book of the sightings at the pub and it includes many sightings of a monk.
The landlord was sceptical when he first took over the pub but admits that there are a lot of unexplained things that happen. We investigated the pub and did indeed meet a couple of priests. One of the team had a rosary bead around their wrist and this started to move rapidly. We also had a wooden cross placed in the fireplace in the bar and it was knocked off violently. We were also shown one of the monks being captured by Roman soldiers and violently flogged and burned at the stake. Marks were left on one of the teams back and they looked like lashings.
The Kings Café. Bishop Auckland
This former hall was altered in 1902 and re-opened as the Kings Hall. It was altered again in 1914 and re-opened at Christmas 1914 as the Kings Café and Cinema. The building also contained a ballroom, bookshop and tea-room. Seating was provided for 1,028 in stalls and circle levels. The proscenium was 24 feet wide and there was a stage for variety performances.
By 1937 the Kings Hall was listed with a seating capacity of 950. It was taken over by the Newcastle based Essoldo Cinemas chain in 1947, and they closed the cinema in 1960. Later the building became an Auction/Sales room. The auditorium and ballroom have since been demolished and the front of the building (now missing its upper floors) and former foyer space and other rooms survive, the ground floor is still in use by BASE.
A wooden staircase leads to what would have been ‘The ballroom’ but what now leads to the open air. Another wooden flight of stairs leads to the building’s third floor, which looks like a little living area. Inside this room there is a little tunnel, with a doorway which was used within the war as a look out. You can step outside onto a flat roofed area.
There was a photograph taken by another paranormal team that was thought to be Stan Laurel. There were reported sightings of a large male presence and a very uneasy feeling within the building.
When we investigated the building we did in fact make contact with a strong male presence near to the steps of the ballroom, we also encountered a spirit of a lady on the lower floors and a little white dog.
We also caught a couple of photos that looked like Stan Laurel (whose fathers theatre was only across the street) and of Oliver Hardy.
The Fifteas Vintage Tearooms
The tea rooms are situated in the marketplace. It was a private school called The Mount School and was purpose built in 1873 but the school was established in 1864 and it closed in the 1960s. It’s a fabulous building steeped in history but also has a tragic past, a teacher had fallen from the top floor window and had died because of her injuries.
The staff and the owners of the Tea Rooms had experienced seeing movement out of the corner of their eye. They have also seen a figure in the kitchen watching them many times. The spirits didn’t bother them and they don’t ever feel threatened.
When we investigated the building we picked up on many spirit links, some of them from when it was a school. We also picked up on a lady who was very sad, she was supposed to marry a soldier but he didn’t make it back from the war.
We also picked up on a child that had drowned in the river nearby, a reverend that had lots to do with the school. He used to do the RE lessons and take the pupils to the castle on a Sunday. We caught a photograph of a lady wearing a high necked dress and a man wearing a turban.
No.17 Bistro, Bishop Auckland
This fantastic building has always stood proud opposite Bishop Auckland General Hospital at Bishop Auckland but it wasn’t until the end of 2018 that I had ever set foot inside.
There’s very little history of the building but we have been given a map that includes the building and it’s dated 1856. It is situated right opposite the workhouse which then became the hospital. I have been told that the building used to be a printers, I have a copy of a photo with the gazette sign outside and it was a general dealers.
It has been given a new lease of life by the current owners and has gone from being quite dark and dingy to fresh and inviting. I knew when I went for a night out there that there was a ghostly presence and I was intrigued.
I contacted the owners about an investigation and he invited us along. He told us that he had a couple of spirits that like to let themselves known, a man and a child. The gentleman that is seen in the bistro likes to just sit at the back and mingle with the customers. Some people just think he’s a customer, he shows himself so clearly and looks very much alive.
The landlady told me that she feels that he is very protective over the staff and if anyone does anything wrong, then he makes himself known.
During our investigation we were aware of a few gentlemen, one of them was very protective of the building, which fits with what the landlady had told me, one was a joiner and the owners confirmed that there was a joiners workshop at the back of the premises, and one was a miner.
We were also aware of two little girls, One linked to the building and another from the workhouse over the road. They shouldn’t have been friends because of the differences in status but they were and used to sneak out to meet.
Bishop Auckland Snooker Club
There is very little history about Bishop Auckland Snooker Club, as it doesn’t seem to be a very old building. We do believe that at one time it was a garage but have found very little to confirm this.
But, the area of which the snooker club is situated is steeped in history. Nearby, were murders, prostitution, the police station and is very central within the town.
A figure has seen walking around the building and the sound of the snooker balls being clattered have been heard many times. We have quite a lot of photographic evidence of figures that have been captured there.
Over the past few years we have investigated the snooker club numerous times, and have always had experiences of the paranormal. During the last visit, we believe that we were communicating with the mother of Stan Laurel, whose name was Margaret and she told us that she worked at a theatre ‘just out the back’. And through our equipment lots of Stan’s family members were named.
We also linked with a few people who had died through tragic accidents, even murder. And we also believe that Mary Ann Cotton, an infamous Victorian serial killer, came through to talk. Mary Ann was arrested and taken to the police station which was very close by. She also used to drink in the Sun Inn pub which was also in the same area.
We also linked with a man called Charlie, who seemed to be a bit of a rough character. But area had lots of pubs and brothels.
In 1877, there was a newspaper article about an alley in Finkle Street, which was described as hell upon earth and had villainous looking people always there and fighting and robbing was a common occurrence.