Unlike many other people these days, I still get a newspaper delivered to my home each week. It is not a daily paper and every Wednesday, without fail, the Teesdale Mercury drops through my letterbox and is waiting for me when I get up. It was in this very newspaper title, albeit back in 1870, that I spotted a story about the problems caused by the “Barguest”, sometimes referred to as the “Brag,” fifty years earlier.
The Barguest was a demon or sprite that was known for playing practical jokes on the people of the area, more mischievous than dangerous.
Back in 1820, a retired shopkeeper and his wife moved into a house where they hoped to live out their days in peace and tranquility. The three storey building was spacious, well maintained and had previously served as an inn, with large gardens to the rear. At first the shopkeeper and his wife found the tranquility they had sought in the house with only a minor problem of an infestation of mice. After laying down poison and traps to deal with the mice, the tranquility they sought had returned to their Teesdale home and life returned to normal for them.
Before a week could go by, strange shrieks and muffled cries started being heard at night, followed by taps on the upper floors, far too heavy to be the scratchings of any returning mouse. Having suffered these inexplicable noises for two weeks, the shopkeeper decided to inspect the upper floor thoroughly for signs of any new infestation. None could be found. No windows or chimney openings existed on the upper floor, which could only be accessed by a steep ladder. Even the neighbours were asked if they had heard any noises and they all stated without fail that they had not.
At the time people believed the Barguest roamed the local streets, with many what would be referred to today as ‘pillars of society’, saying they believed they had seen it. The shopkeeper had previously served in the army and made the decision he would wait on the upper floor armed with his musket and nerves of steel. The shopkeeper climbed the ladder, candle in one hand and musket slung over his shoulder. He pushed the hatch-door open to enter the upper floor and held the candle aloft to try and view what had been making the noise above. No sooner had he raised the candle then ‘something’ swooped down on him knocking the candle from his hand and with a terrible scream, something, tried to scratch his eyes out. The shopkeeper fell backwards down the ladder landing heavily on the floor below.
When daylight came, the shopkeeper and his wife packed up their belongings and left the house, never to return. Word spread quickly about what had happened and one old woman was heard to recall that in her grandmother’s day, the inn keeper was suspected of murdering a traveller in the very same room of the house whilst trying to rob him of his money.
The house stood empty for around a year until a gardener noticed the large plot of garden land behind the house and the extremely low rental price of the home itself. He and his wife moved in without a further thought. In fact, he went so far as to mock those who would seek to warn him of the evil within and remained completely unperturbed by the gossip. That is until one night where, coming home later than usual, he found his wife and children around the fire, trembling with fear. The upper floor was back to its noisy self. Determined there was some earthly explanation he took his two eldest sons upstairs stamping noisily on the stairs as they went. He climbed the ladder and threw open the hatch door, just like the retired shopkeep had done so many years earlier. The attack came swiftly and the gardener fell to the floor below with the gardener describing some winged animal as big as a cow having struck him hard. The gardener and his family fled the Teesdale house immediately and vowed not to return to Teesdale.
The house remained empty for so long that the owner almost pulled it down, however, just as he was about to make that decision, a young tradesman and his family to a liking to the house and decided to take up residence. A similar pattern happened. All was well at first, then the noises started again one evening when the tradesman’s wife and the children were at home.
Being a God fearing woman, and living what she believed to be a pure and honest life, she grasped a lantern and made her way up the stairs. Slowly she climbed the ladder and on reaching the top, she flung back the hatch door. Again something with wings swooped upon her, hitting her hand, but she managed to cling on to the lantern. Looking into the room she saw the creature retreat in the light of the lantern to the other end of the room, where a second winged creature was also present. Looking further into the corner of the room, she noticed there was a hole in the roof of the house and realised the ‘winged creatures’ were actually owls from the local colony that roosted at the church. The owls had been entering the house, feeding on the mice that had previously infested the place. The tradesman arranged for the roof to be fixed which brought an end to the strangeness in the upper floor at the house.
It goes to show, not all spooky stories from Teesdale involve ghosts or episodes of high strangeness.