The one-legged ghost of Sunderland

THIRTIES SCENE: Sunderland at around the time the one-legged ghost was haunting Northumberland Street - here is nearby Blandford Street.
THIRTIES SCENE: Sunderland at around the time the one-legged ghost was haunting Northumberland Street - here is nearby Blandford Street.
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AS Wearside celebrates Halloween we uncover the mysterious tale of a one-legged Sunderland ghost.

STRANGE night-time noises had caused many a sleepless night for the residents of 53 Northumberland Street over the years.

THIRTIES SCENE: Sunderland at around the time the one-legged ghost was haunting Northumberland Street - here is the Garrison Field.

THIRTIES SCENE: Sunderland at around the time the one-legged ghost was haunting Northumberland Street - here is the Garrison Field.

But by 1932 the heavy footsteps and repeated wall banging had become just too much for Joseph Clinton and his wife to cope with.

“The creepy noises would sound out between 11.30pm and midnight each night,” said historian Sharon Vincent, of Sunderland Antiquarian Society.

“It sounded to the couple as if someone was walking up the stairs with one boot on and one boot off - but there was nobody there!

“Once the footsteps reached the landing, the wall banging would start. After that, the footsteps would retreat back down the stairs again.”

THIRTIES SCENE: Sunderland at around the time the one-legged ghost was haunting Northumberland Street.

THIRTIES SCENE: Sunderland at around the time the one-legged ghost was haunting Northumberland Street.

Mrs Clinton became so fed up with noises that she even asked her neighbours if any were cleaning their carpets at night. The answer was “No.”

Once that line of enquiry had been ruled out, the couple were forced to put the noises down to cats. But their new theory proved wrong as well.

“One night, as Mrs Clinton was fetching water from the tap in the yard, she caught sight of what she believed to be a ghost,” said Sharon.

“The silent figure appeared to be a man wearing an overcoat. Terrified, the woman dropped the water and ran inside.”

As tales of the Northumberland Street ghost started to spread, so the Echo featured the story - sparking supernatural interest town-wide.

“The Clintons revealed to the paper that, as Catholics, they didn’t believe in the spirit world,” said Sharon.

“But, as the problem had now become so bad, they had begun to think there was no other explanation for the racket but supernatural activity.

“Indeed, the rapping had been so loud one night that the walls of the house started shaking - making it impossible for Joseph to get any sleep.”

Eventually, the Clintons were forced to stay with relatives just to get some peace - leaving the other tenants of No. 53 to cope with the noises.

One upstairs resident, John Roper, revealed he “distinctly” heard footsteps on the stairs as he waited up for his wife to return home from hospital.

Upon further questioning from an Echo reporter, the frightened chap revealed he had initially thought it was his wife - but discovered no-one there.

“The noise seems to be caused by a man with a wooden leg – a heavy noise with one foot or stump and a softer noise with the other foot,” he added.

Another tenant, who opted to remain anonymous, revealed he had tried “to make a joke” of the noises at first - but now believed they were supernatural.

“The other night the rapping on the wall was enough to shake it down,” said the man, who had been living at the address for the past 12 months.

“Then it seemed as if somebody got hold of the door and shook it violently before it went stumbling away down the stairs again.

“I have been all through the war and served in a submarine, but I could not for my life have opened the door that night and gone out onto the landing.”

Finally, in February 1936, a concerned friend of Mr and Mrs Clinton asked a spiritualist to visit the house and help clear the place of restless spirits.

“The ghost revealed to the medium that his name was John Henry Turner, and that he had been wrongfully accused of a crime in his lifetime,” said Sharon.

“Apparently he had committed suicide as a result of this accusation, and now he was stuck on earth - forever searching for a woman called Annie.

“Annie, he said, would be able to help him clear his name - and only then could he rest in peace.”

Records fail to reveal if the chat with the medium help put the ghost’s mind at rest, but it appears he quietened down after his antics hit the headlines.

“We will never know if John Henry found his Annie. We can only hope he did, and that he was finally able to rest in peace,” added Sharon.

•Northumberland Street ran east-west between Crow Tree Road and Union Street. It was demolished at a time of slum clearances and town centre regeneration.

Wearside Halloween traditions

•Bobbing for apples – though mention is made in the 1930s of trying to spear them with a fork, instead of trying to take a bite out of the floating fruit and thereby avoiding a dunking!

•Hanging scones on string from the ceiling at chin height. They scones were thickly smothered in treacle and the objective was to take a bite out of them without using your hands to steady the scone.

•An old name for October 31 was Nutcrack-Night. Roasting chestnuts was still popular in the 1930s, though many tried to roast them on the bars of their gas and electric fires.

•It was the custom on Nutcrack Night for girls to consult the nuts when choosing a future husband. Three chestnuts were named after the girl and her suitors and placed on the bars of a fire grate. The nut that jumped or cracked represented an unfaithful lover and the one that burned well represented devotion. If the girl’s chestnut burned well too, it meant a happy ending for them both.