Lots of locations around the UK boast a Grey Lady or a White Lady. Such spectres are usually attached to sad tales of loss and a lot of them are nameless.
Newcastle upon Tyne is no different. 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.
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. They 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 were celebrating 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 humiliation was too much for her. She threw herself from the musician’s gallery in the ballroom. 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.
What happened to the Grey Lady?
Staff at the Assembly Rooms have heard 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 on 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.
Do you have any Grey Lady tales in your neighbourhood? Let me know in the comments!
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