Denton Hall, near Newcastle, was said to be haunted by an apparition clad in rustling silks. A literary story of an encounter with this spectre contributed to M. A. Richardson’s Table Book (1842–5) contains brief snippets of what appears to be a genuine local tradition. The narrator to whom the ghost appeared, as an old lady in an old-fashioned flowered satin gown, adds:
In the neighbourhood I found that the house was regularly set down as ‘haunted,’ all the country round, and that the spirit, or goblin, or whatever it was that was embodied in these appearances was familiarly known by the name of ‘Silky.’
This apparition would disturb people asleep at night, seemingly coming to look at them in their beds:
I have heard … that midnight curtains have been drawn by an arm clad in rustling silks; and the same form clad in dark brocade been seen gliding along the dark corridors of that ancient, grey, and time worn mansion …
Similar silk-clad apparitions are found in other mansions and old houses, notably, over the Border in Berwickshire, ‘Chappie’ of Houndwood and ‘Pearlin’ Jean of Allanbank; while in Northumberland there is another ‘Silky’ at Black Heddon.
Silk characterizes the ghost as aristocratic, as silk was expensive and not for the lower orders. The Denham Tracts (1892–5) records the tradition that the profligate Duke of Argyll, while living at Chirton, near North Shields, in the reign of William III, had a mistress who died very suddenly. Neighbouring gossips concluded that she had been murdered, hence her spirit ‘walked’ at night, dressed in brown silk, in a shady avenue.
With the Denton Silky, there was an attempt to account for the haunt by giving the apparition a ‘history’:
There is some obscure and dark rumour of secrets strangely obtained and enviously betrayed by a rival sister, ending in deprivation of reason and death; and that the betrayer still walks by times in the deserted hall which she rendered tenantless, always prophetic of disaster to those she encounters.
Her role as a herald of disaster she has in common with some White Ladies, also often clad in silk.