The Ghosts of North Road Station

A number of ghostly figures are said to haunt the old carriages and walk the hidden recesses of the Head of Steam museum...

The Third Class Carriage Ghost

A depiction of the Third Class Carriage Ghost

On the far platform at North Road station stands a third class carriage built in 1865. There have been several sightings of a young girl dressed in a Victorian costume within this carriage. She is usually seen sitting in the far right compartment at the back of the carriage.

Staff members when closing the museum have often heard strange noises coming from the carriage, including the sound of a child singing and laughing.

The Museum Manager, whilst working late one night in the Waiting Room next to the carriage in 2008, heard heavy knocking noises coming from the carriage. He went over to the carriage to investigate but the noises stopped as soon as he looked inside. It was only when he returned to the Waiting Room that the banging started again.

The Man in the Red Coat

Several children claim to have seen a man in a red jacket in the engine compartment of the Tennant 1463 locomotive. They say he was looking at the various controls within the cab of the engine before disappearing.

The strange story of the Ghost of North Road Railway Station

Around midnight on a cold winter’s night nearly one hundred and fifty years ago, James Durham was the night watchman at North Road Railway Station. Feeling cold, he decided to go down into the porters’ cellar to warm himself in front of the fire and to have something to eat. He went down the steps and had just settled himself on the bench opposite the fire when he was startled by a man coming out of the adjoining coalhouse.

The stranger was dressed in a “cut away coat with gilt buttons, a stand up collar and a scotch cap”. With him was a large black dog. He said nothing but suddenly he threw a punch at the watching James. James hit back but his fist went right through the figure and he skinned his knuckles on the stone wall of the cellar. The man seemed to stagger and the dog attacked James. Then the stranger clicked his tongue and he and the dog returned to the coalhouse. Rubbing his leg where the dog’s teeth had gripped him, James lit his lantern, took a few steps and looked inside the coalhouse but there was no sign of the stranger. He and the dog had vanished into thin air. James was astonished by what had happened but realised that the stranger must have been a ghost. There was no other way to explain what had happened because there was only one door in and out of the coalhouse.

The story of the ghost’s appearance became known in Darlington and Edward Pease, the “father of the railways”, sent for James to ask him about it. He questioned him closely as to whether he might have fallen asleep and dreamed the whole thing but James said he had gone down to the cellar only a minute or two before the figure appeared. He had been a night watchman for several years so he was used to sleeping during the day and staying awake at night. He was quite sure that it had not been a nightmare.

Forty years after James saw the ghost, the Reverend Henry Kendall, Minister of the Congregational Church in Darlington, asked him about what had happened. Kendall had known James for twenty-five years and, in 1890, persuaded him to sign a statement about what he had seen. In it, James described the ghost’s appearance, and said that he had been a night watchman at the Darlington and Stockton railway station for fifteen years. He would go on duty about 8 o’clock at night and finish about 6 o’clock in the morning and he had been employed at the station for about two or three years when he saw the ghost. He also said that he had not drunk alcohol for 49 years.

Kendall was friendly with a man called W.T Stead, who had been the editor of the Northern Echo in Darlington but had moved to London where he was writing a book about ghosts. Kendall was so convinced that James had really seen a ghost that he wrote to Stead and the story appeared in Stead’s book.

In October 1891 Henry Kendall visited North Road Station in the company of an old man who had worked at the station at the time James Durham had seen the ghost. This ex-employee of the railway company remembered that long before James started working at the station, a railway clerk had committed suicide there by shooting himself with a pistol. He showed Kendall where it had happened and said that the clerk’s body had lain in the porter’s cellar before it was taken to the mortuary. He said the clerk’s name was Winter.  He had dressed the same way as James had described and he had owned a black retriever dog. He had left a wife but no children.

And this turned out to be true! A twenty nine year old man called Thomas Munro Winter was employed at the station as a ticket clerk.  His death certificate says that on Tuesday 4 February 1845 he had committed suicide at the railway station. At the coroner’s inquest the verdict was “temporary insanity” and on Thursday 6 February he was buried in St. Cuthbert’s churchyard in Darlington.

James Durham was in his late thirties when he saw the ghost. He had been born in 1817 in Aysgarth in Wensleydale, but moved to Darlington as a young man.  He probably worked as a night watchman at the railway station from about 1852 till 1866. When he left he became a confectioner and by the time he died in 1899 he was quite a wealthy man. He is buried in the churchyard at Aysgarth.

So, as you walk under the footbridge in the museum today, look for the trap door in the wooden floor. Be careful, because this opens into the very cellar where this strange event took place...

Extract taken from 'James Durham and the Ghost of North Road Station Darlington', by Irene Macleod and Olive Howe, 2001.

The Man in Black on the Platform Bridge

A visitor to the museum states that in the 1970s, when the museum platform was derelict, her boyfriend saw the figure of a man and his dog walking over the footbridge. He was seen walking up one set of steps, across the bridge but disappeared whilst walking down the other set of steps. Maybe this is the ghost of Thomas Munro Winter and his dog!

The Phantom Passenger

On a snowy evening in the early 1950’s, the ticket clerk was waiting for the last train of the day. He was at his counter in the Booking Office when he heard the train pull in. He heard the sound of a carriage door open, then someone got out, slammed the door shut and the train pulled away. The sound of footsteps could be heard across the platform and the ticket clerk naturally expected the passenger to walk past his booth but after a few minutes, no one came. He walked out of the ticket office to search for the mystery passenger but the station was deserted. He went to either end of the station to see if someone was trying to avoid paying but the snow on the platform lay untouched.

On Track of Station Ghost - by Mike Hallowell

Mike Hallowell And Darren Ritson

Mike Hallowell and Darren W. Ritson at the entrance to the haunted cellar

Replica Shroud

The cellar as it appears now, containing a replica of the shrouded body of Thomas Winter

Over the years I've visited hundreds of allegedly haunted locations. At some I've received a welcome fit for a king, and at others a less than enthusiastic response. The Head of Steam Museum in Darlington, I have to say, is definitely in the former category.

The museum is situated within the North Road Station, a historic building at the epicentre of the town's rail service. There is a ghost story attached to the premises that has gained almost iconic status in Darlington, and I thought it was about time I got to the bottom of it. Hence, one Sunday morning in February, I went there with my colleague and co-author Darren W. Ritson to find out the true story behind the legend.

The tale revolves around an employee at the station called Thomas Winter who, in February 1845, committed suicide. Winter had been suffering from depression due to a complaint that had been made about him by a rather obnoxious passenger. Consumed by a sense of hopelessness, Winter entered one of the cubicles in the Gents' toilet and shot himself.

Just under a decade later, a watchman employed at the station named James Durham entered a cellar which doubled as both a "bait room" and a coal house. Almost as soon as he walked into the room the man observed a stranger coming out of the coal house, and looked at him keenly.

The man, he noted, was dressed in a smart coat with metal buttons and sported a "Scotch cap". With him he had a large, black Labrador dog. Without warning, the man launched an attack upon Durham. The watchman, quite naturally, fought back and threw a punch at the mysterious assailant.

To Durham's astonishment his fist went right through the man as if he wasn't there and collided with the wall, scraping his knuckles in the process. The stranger then "clicked his tongue" at the dog, and both man and beast walked back into the coal house. Durham, a sturdy character who was not about to let the matter ride, immediately followed. Both the stranger and his canine companion had disappeared.

Durham was a devout man of impeccable character, and those who knew him were in no doubt that his experience had been a genuine one. He had, it was believed, encountered the ghost of none other than Thomas Munro Winter. Curiously, it was this very room where Winter's body had been taken and wrapped in a shroud, just after he killed himself.

The cellar entrance is now bricked up, unfortunately, but a glass panel situated where a trapdoor used to be enabled us to peer down into the room which has essentially remained unchanged for well over a century.

The Museum Manager kindly showed us the entrance to the cellar which, although no longer accessible, still looks the same from the outside as did in the mid-19th century. It was strange to think that we were standing next to the very door which the body of Thomas Winter had been carried through all those years before.