Restless spirits throw in the towel

Nunnington Hall near Helmsley, where it is said you can hear the swishing of the Proud Lady’s skirts going up the stairs (Picture from The National Trust)

As I have mentioned before, as well as being a writer, I conduct house viewings for an estate agency and am sometimes asked whether it bothers me going alone to empty houses to meet complete strangers. Over hundreds of viewings I’ve never been in any situation that has made me fear for my safety. Today we are very diligent about vetting the people we allow to view properties, and of course we have mobile phones, so calling for help and tracking our whereabouts is somewhat easier.

Having said that, I was at a property the other day, and some strange and inexplicable goings on have been giving me pause for thought. The Victorian house has been occupied by the same family for many years and is full of dark wood furniture, knick-knacks and collectibles and still maintains many period features. It really is a beautiful house. I conducted viewings with two couples, after which I checked all the rooms to make sure everything was in order, that the lights were turned off and all windows and doors were locked. And then I went home.

A few days later, I had a call from the office. The owner’s daughter was asking if I had any idea why the towels, which had been neatly folded on the beds, were messed up and thrown on the floor. I replied that when I left there was nothing out of place. However, when she had returned to the property, the towels had been tossed on to the floor, and a chair had mysteriously been moved. Neither of us had any idea how this had happened, or who might be responsible. We are the only people who hold keys.

She then explained that there was a family tale that the house was inhabited by a poltergeist. She also said that a family friend was so concerned about the spooky happenings that she refused to go upstairs.

Here in Yorkshire, we have a plethora of tales about hauntings, some of which I have written about before, as did my dad on many occasions, and our county capital is described as the one of the most haunted cities in the world. But a poltergeist is different to your average ghost in as much as they are supposed to be able to cause physical and audible disturbances. The word comes from the German meaning ‘noisy spirit’ and they are reputed to be able to throw objects, move chairs, slam doors, talk, scream and turn lights on and off. Most are deemed to be mischievous rather than dangerous, although there are tales of particularly malevolent spirits.

Yorkshire’s most infamous poltergeist is believed to inhabit 30 East Drive, Pontefract. The family that occupied the nondescript council house in the 1970s suffered what they described as ‘non-stop’ happenings. The last straw came when their 12-year-old daughter was witnessed being dragged upstairs. The family moved out, and the house was left empty, yet despite this, to this day neighbours report hearing noises and bangs coming from it.

Other notorious Yorkshire poltergeists include the Proud Lady of Nunnington Hall near Helmsley, whose full dress skirts can be heard swishing up the stairs and she is said to have been responsible for books flying off shelves. Mary Ingram, who died at Temple Newsham House near Leeds after being attacked by highwaymen, is blamed for inexplicable noises and carpets rippling up of their own accord. Ripley Castle’s Henry and Mary Ingilby, who both died of childhood leukaemia in the 19th century, have been blamed for moving furniture, turning paintings back to front and for stealing candlesticks, only to replace them several years later. Cinemas and theatres are a hotbed for poltergeist activity, and in Darlington, both the Hippodrome (former Civic Theatre) and the now closed Odeon cinema had numerous reports of noises, voices, flickering lights, flapping curtains and even bottom-pinching.

I wonder if you have ever experienced poltergeist activity? I’d love to hear your stories (Contact me by emailing this paper, or through my contact age at

I’m due back at the spooky house next week, which I will enter with a bit more trepidation this time. And if I witness any ghostly goings on, I will certainly let you know.

Read more at Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug

This column appeared in the Darlington and Stockton Times on 14th and Ryedale Gazette and Herald on 12th April 2023

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