Lots of locations around the UK boast a Grey Lady, a White Lady, or even a Green Lady. Such spectres are usually attached to sad tales of loss and a lot of them are nameless. When I visited Bamburgh Castle some years ago, one of the guides told me they have a Pink Lady. As he understood it, the spectres change colour with the passing of time, making it easier to ‘date’ their age.
I don’t know if that’s true, but Newcastle upon Tyne has its share of spectral figures wandering the corridors of its buildings. There are tales of Grey or White Ladies in the neighbouring county of Northumberland, but the Grey Lady in question inhabits a building right in the city centre.
As we’re finishing off the northern cities series in honour of the Great Exhibition of the North, it seemed apt to go and meet her…
What was the Assembly Rooms for?
In the 18th and 19th centuries, many major cities had assembly rooms. They provided an elegant location for high society to gather for balls and concerts. These venues were one of the few public places that women could visit, although unmarried women needed a chaperone.
Jane Austen and her ilk immortalised the assembly rooms of towns such as Bath. The buildings also hosted “marriage markets” where rich parents tried to marry off their children.
Newcastle’s Assembly Rooms are located in a fabulous Georgian building on Fenkle Street. Designed by William Newton, they opened in June 1776, on Midsummer’s night (surely a magical night, if ever there was one!). The inscription on its foundation stone, laid in 1774, reads “Rooms dedicated to the most elegant recreation”.
In the past, the assembly rooms have hosted concerts by Strauss, Liszt and Rachmaninov. Charles Dickens’ amateur theatre group staged three playlets here. Royal visitors have included Edward VII, George VI, and Elizabeth II.
But who is the Grey Lady?
According to legend, on December 31, 1777, a rowdy group of wealthy men gathered to celebrate the New Year. The drink flowed and the behaviour grew increasingly bawdy. Eventually one of the young men ordered his wife to dance naked for his friends. This being the 18th century, she did as he demanded.
After all, at this point, a wife was little more than her husband’s property.
Sadly the shame and embarrassment were too much for her to bear. She trudged up the stairs to the musician’s gallery in the ballroom and threw herself down to the floor below. This might sound a little melodramatic, but social standing was everything to the upper classes in the 18th century. She clearly felt her reputation would never recover.
It seems a shame that the outcome doomed this humiliated wife to forever spend her days haunting the building that hosted her downfall.
What happened to the Grey Lady?
Staff at the Assembly Rooms report hearing the rustle of a taffeta ball gown. The Grey Lady also often announces her presence with the scent of lavender. The double doors open and close by themselves, despite being too heavy to be blown open.
On Halloween in 2000, unexplained noises and knockings terrorised a radio crew trying to record a special episode about the haunting. Another group of investigators experienced changes in temperature, balls of light that moved on their own, and electronic equipment that turned itself on and off.
The fact she announces her presence with rustling also makes her a form of Silky; a female ghost associated with sound. In some parts of the country, Silkies also do people’s housework for them. This particular Grey Lady just seems to roam around the building.
Research into her identity has proved fruitless and there is no way to substantiate the legend. That said, it would certainly seem that there is a sad lady haunting such an elegant building.
Incidentally, staff report seeing a Grey Lady at the Theatre Royal, too. The most common ‘back story’ says she threw herself off the upper gallery to her death.
Others think she fell by accident; in this version, she thought she’d run away with an actor starring in a play. She turned up at the theatre with her things on the last night, ready to elope. He finally came clean and dumped her, admitting he’d never planned to run away with her at all.
The brave young woman still took her seat in the upper gallery to watch his last performance. As the story goes, she leaned out, as if to touch him, when he came onstage. But instead she fell to her death.
It seems Grey Lady ghosts are inextricably linked with sadness. Ironically, the Assembly Rooms is now a popular wedding venue. Hopefully, the Grey Lady doesn’t get too distressed by happy scenes played out before her!
Do you have any Grey Lady tales in your town? Let me know in the comments!
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