Chester-le-Street Heritage Group
Those who grew up in and around Great Lumley, will no doubt have heard of the terrible murder of Annie Walker. If not, then read on:
The year was 1630, and autumn’s first frosts could be seen glistening on the ground in the moonlight. James Grahame was working late again in his mill. The demand for his flour was relentless, as there had been a good harvest and he was working many hours of overtime to fulfil the numerous requests for flour from his neighbours.
Every evening, he would be working late with only the light from some small oil lamps, milling the grain into white flour, filling the sacks and stacking them in lines ready for collection.
James Grahame was known to be of a generally happy disposition, and could often be heard whistling while he worked. He was certainly not a superstitious man, unlike the majority of the population at that time. He was married to a good woman and work was plentiful. Life for James could not be better.
One night as usual, James was working late, it was past midnight when he perceived a change in temperature, it had quickly got much colder, but there was also an eerie feeling within the mill. Suddenly, out of the corner of his eye, he became aware of the apparition of a young woman standing with blood pouring from severe head wounds. She was young, probably in her early twenties, and was wearing peasants clothes, which were typical of the period.
James now realised he was in the presence of a ghost and with some difficulty managed to enquire what she could possibly want with a poor, hardworking miller.
Her echoing voice replied, “I have been murdered !”, “I am Ann Walker, who lived with your neighbour John Walker”. “He promised to look after me, but I was betrayed by him”. “He said he would send me to a place where I would be cared for, and afterwards I could return as his house keeper”. “I was told to go with Mr. Mark Sharpe a collier, but he murdered me with a pick axe”. “He then threw me down a pit and hid his pick axe under a bank”. “He couldn’t get the blood off his shoes and socks, so he hid them as well”. “If you do not tell about this crime, I will haunt you forever”. Then the apparition vanished.
James Grahame was understandably filled with fear by this paranormal event, but after a sleepless night, decided that he could not tell anyone about his experience with the ghost, not even his good wife. After all who would believe such a tale, especially from someone who was known to ridicule stories of ghosts and goblins.
The Murder of Annie Walker
The "Bloody Tree" on Old Mill Lane, where the murder is said to have taken place.
The trial of John Walker and Mark Sharpe took place in August 1631 at the Assizes Court on Durham Palace Green. Both men pleaded “Not Guilty”.
Sharpe was a collier from Blackburn, Lancashire and was Walker’s best friend and could well have been Walker’s accomplice.
During the trial, Judge Davenport seemingly had sight of an apparition about the shoulders of John Walker. The foreman of the jury also claimed that he saw a child standing upon Walker’s shoulders. Another witness swore under oath that she had seen the likeness of a child on Walker’s shoulders.
As soon as the jury found the prisoners to be guilty, Judge Davenport immediately passed the sentence of death on both men. This was unheard of even in those times, for a Judge to pass sentence on the same day as the trial ended.
John Walker and Mark Sharpe were subsequently hanged, but pleaded their innocence even when standing on the gallows.
It would appear that the minds of the 17th Century Jury and that of the Judge, could have been influenced by their superstitious beliefs of the period and may be the defendants had little in the way of support from their defence council.
The Remains of the Old Mill today.
Some weeks later, Mrs. Grahame had by now become accustomed to her husband returning home from work much earlier, however, he was becoming noticeably more and more sullen. There was no more whistling while he worked and he had become noticeably nervous.
James had been considering what the ghost had said to him. John Walker was indeed a neighbour, a man described as being of good estate, and had recently taken in his niece to be his house keeper. Walker’s wife had died tragically and his niece had arrived to take on the household chores. Suddenly, and without notice it appeared that she had left and no reason had been given by John Walker for her departure. His niece was known to be a attractive girl, aged about twenty five and had given freely of her time to her uncle. She was too devoted, some had said, but this was thought to be just rumour.
One night, a few weeks after the first ghostly encounter, James Grahame was walking home though the wood, a little later than had been usual, when the ghost of the girl appeared to him again, this time demanding more forcefully that he should tell the authorities who had murdered her, or she would haunt him forever. Again James Grahame decided to remain silent. By now he was starting to become noticeably thin and moody.
The next visitation occurred just before Christmas on St. Thomas’s Eve to be exact, when the imminent festivities were the main topic of conversation amongst the locals. This time the demands were even more fierce and threatening, so eventually Grahame relented and agreed to report the murder to the authorities.
The following day, he set off for the local magistrates and after relating the full story an immediate search was ordered of the area where the pit was said to be located. As described, the body of Ann Walker was found and recovered from the pit. By now the body had decomposed, but there was still visible evidence of the five severe head wounds that the ghost had displayed. In addition, the pick axe was also found, together with the blood stained shoes and socks.
John Walker and Mark Sharpe were subsequently arrested and charged with the murder of Ann Walker.
Speculation was rife amongst the locals, Walker was known to have mistreated his wife prior to her death. His niece had become pregnant shortly after her arrival at his house, but she would not say who was responsible, all she would say was “An honourable man will look after me”.
The Public Footpath leading to the Old Mill & the River Wear