In the second volume of M. A. Richardson’s Table Book (1844) appears what is said to be a popular story ‘of which the occurrences happened about forty years ago’, and which, or so said the people telling it, had ‘the credible testimony of living and faithful witnesses’.
A farm steading situated near the borders of Northumberland, a few miles from Haltwhistle, was occupied at the period to which we refer, by a family of the name of W—k—n. In front of the dwelling house, and at about sixty yards’ distance, lay a stone of vast size, as ancient, for so tradition amplifies the date, as the flood. On this stone, at the dead hour of the night, might be palpably discerned, a female figure, wrapped in a grey cloak, with one of those low crowned black bonnets, so familiar to our grandmothers, upon her head, incessantly knock! knock! knocking, in a fruitless endeavour to split the impenetrable rock … From this … she gained the name of ‘Nelly the Knocker.’
The inhabitants of the house grew accustomed to the noise at night and Nelly was no trouble to them otherwise. Richardson records that ‘the relater of these circumstances states, that on several occasions, she has passed Nelly at her laborious toil, without evincing the slightest perturbation.’
However, two of the farmer’s sons were then approaching manhood, and one of them suggested that, as Nelly was evidently signalling the presence of hidden treasure, they should blast the stone to get to it. This they did, and their labours were rewarded with a cluster of urns containing gold. They had sent the maidservant off on a needless errand so no one should know about their find, which they managed to keep secret for many years, people attributing their steadily increasing prosperity to good management of their lucky farm.