This is Washington Old Hall in the North East of England, where I myself was born and bred. We have the originals of Washington, Boston, Concord and numerous other locations here which are now more familiar from their more recent incarnations across the water. When settlers arrived on the East Coast of what was to become the USA they obviously wanted to feel a bit more at home.
The Washington dynasty began when William de Hertburn, a knight of Norman descent, arrived in Washington (then called Wessington) some time before 1183 after having swapped his estates in Stockton-on-Tees with the enormously powerful Prince Bishop of Durham. He adopted the name of his new estate and so William de Hertburn became William de Wessington, and eventually this transmogrified into Washington.
The Washington family possessed high social status. They held all rights to hunt on the surrounding land and even hosted King Edward I in 1304 as he was on his way back from up north, dealing with the ever troublesome Scots. The Washington coat of arms is documented since 1346. Of course the English Royalty never suspected that they were nursing an embryo viper at their bosom.
It would certainly have made things a lot easier for me if we had hung on to the colonies for a few hundred years more. I could have simply hopped across the water to take up a post as colonial administrator, waited on hand and foot whilst effortlessly making my fortune in Virginia tobacco or collecting taxes on unrepresented tea bags in Boston.
The senior branch of the Washington family resided here until 1399 when it passed to Eleanor Washington and from her to her daughter and on to the family of Sir William Mallory. By then the Washington family had dispersed, the branch that eventually produced Saint George settling in Lancashire.
Of course if it hadn’t been him it would have been somebody else. If the crooked way had favoured the ancient Acey family instead, the US capital might now be Acey DC.
Joking aside, it’s worth mentioning that the great George himself had little interest in genealogy, saying in a letter to a nephew, ‘I have no solicitude to trace our ancestry,’ and adding that it was of ‘very little moment.’ In fairness, he was quite a busy man at the time and had a few other things needing more urgent attention…
The White Lady
As I was getting my entrance ticket downstairs I met an old man who told me he’d been born in one of the upstairs bedrooms. He led the way up and a small group gathered around him to listen to his tale. He was the sort of chap you don’t really want to stand next to in a bar because he just went on and on and on and on… People started drifting off but I was transfixed (actually my legs had gone numb and I literally couldn’t move), especially when he got to the part about the ghost.
When Stanley – for it was he, born 1929 – was only three years old he was playing at the bottom of the dark oak staircase which led up to his bedroom and looked up to see a lady at the top of the stairs. She glided down the stairs and smiled at him as she passed before passing straight out through the door.
He didn’t think much of it at the time, as the various women living in the Hall often visited each other’s rooms. In fact he asked his mother who it was and she told him it had been an aunt coming to visit her. It was only years later that she revealed that it must have been the White Lady, but she hadn’t wanted to frighten him at the time.
Many years later he’d been standing as an elderly man at the foot of the stone stairs flanked by eagles at the back of the house, having come from his daily visit to the nearby cemetery where his wife was buried, and he saw the White Lady again. Apparently she appears on happy occasions at the Hall such as weddings, and there had been a wedding that day. On the first occasion he saw her, in 1932, she’d appeared to say farewell to the family, who were to move away the following year although they hadn’t known it at the time.
When Stanley’s wife died he had a dream in which his wife told him not to put her into the water, which made no sense to him. But then at her funeral a few days later he saw that her grave was half full of water and he made the gravediggers reluctantly pump it out before lowering her coffin in.
I wandered around the Hall on my own for a good few hours hoping to meet the Woman in White but was disappointed. Unlike many other old houses and castles I’ve been to in England and elsewhere, Washington Old Hall felt comfortable and safe and not at all frightening, and I could even imagine staying there overnight with no trouble at all even though I knew it was haunted.
Compare that with places like the Tower of London or Glamis Castle, which I wouldn’t be caught dead in on my own, especially after dark.