Until about 1820, the old fortress of Blenkinsopp, on the western border of Northumberland, was partly occupied by some poor families.
‘More than thirty years ago,’ says the narrator telling its story in 1845, in two of the rooms lived the ‘hind’ (married farm servant) of the estate with his family. One night, shortly after they had gone to bed, the parents hearing screams rushed into the adjoining room, where they found one of their children, a boy of about eight, sitting up in bed trembling, bathed in sweat and in a state of extreme terror.
‘The White Lady, the White lady!’ – screamed the child, holding his hands before his eyes, as if to shut out an apparition of some frightful object; ‘What lady,’ cried the astonished parents … ‘She is gone,’ replied the boy ‘and she looked so angry at me because I would not go with her. She was a fine lady – and she sat down on my bedside – and wrung her hands and cried sore – then she kissed me and asked me to go with her – and she would make me a rich man, as she had buried a large box of gold, many hundred years since, down in the vault – and she would give it me, as she could not rest so long as it was there. When I told her I durst not go – she said she would carry me – and was lifting me up when I cried out and frightened her away.’
That the castle was haunted by a White Lady the parents had heard from others. However, they persuaded themselves that the boy had been dreaming. But as this happened again on the next three nights, the boy telling the same tale, they moved him and were no longer troubled, though afterwards he dared not enter any part of the castle alone, even in daylight. In 1845, he was still alive and had settled in Canada. He insisted his story was true and at forty would shudder at the recollection ‘as if he still felt her cold lips press his cheek and her wan arms in death-like embrace’.
The belief that there was treasure in Blenkinsopp Castle had been reinforced some years before by the arrival of a strange woman at the neighbouring inn who had dreamed of a chest of gold buried in the vault. She left without finding it, perhaps because she told her hostess the secret, ‘but she … told it to every person in the village, accompanying it with … “dinna ye be speaking o’nt.”’
Although traditionally White Ladies acting as treasure guardians are comparatively seldom accounted for by being given a back-history, a slightly contrived mock-medieval ‘legend’ existed in M. A. Richardson’s day to explain the presence of the ghost. This says that she was the spirit of the mysterious foreign wife of ‘Bryan Blenship’ (Bryan de Blenkinsopp) atoning for hiding her treasure chest from her avaricious husband and ruining their marriage:
Tradition tells us that his lady … must need wander back to the old castle and mourn over the chest of wealth, the cause of all their woe … until some one possessed of sufficient courage shall follow her to the vault, and by removing the treasure, lay her spirit to rest.
Shortly before 1895, news that the ‘Lady’s Vault’ had been found ran like wildfire round the district and large numbers of people flocked to see it. A small doorway had been discovered at the deepest level of the castle, beyond which was a low, narrow passage. The whole place was damp and smelly, and swarmed with meat flies (suggesting the exit of an old garderobe). The only man who dared enter said he came to two flights of steps, the second long and precipitous. As he peered down into the darkness, ‘thick noxious vapours’ extinguished his candle so he had to grope his way back in the dark. Though he made another attempt, he never went down the second staircase and the vault was closed up.