But we started to tell a ghost story - one of the best attested on record - and we have been lured from our intention by Chester-le-Street church. We will begin it at once, therefore, and relate it in the words of Webster, in his work on Witchcraft.
"About the year of our Lord 1632, near unto Chester-in-the-Street, there lived one Walker, a yeoman of good estate and a widower, who had a young woman to his kinswoman, that kept his house, who was by the neighbours suspected of indiscretion, and was, towards the dark of the evening, one night, sent away with one Mark Sharp, who was a collier, or one who digged coals under the ground, and one that had been born in Blakeburn-hundred, in Lancashire, and so she was not heard of for a long time, and no noise or tattle was made about it.
"In the winter time after (her disappearance), one James Grahame, or Grime (for so in that country they call them), being a miller, and living about two miles from the place where Walker lived, was one night alone very late in the mill, grinding corn; and about twelve or one o'clock at night he came down the stairs from having been putting corn in the hopper; the mill doors being shut, there stood a woman upon the midst of the floor, with her hair about her ears, hanging down, and all blood stained, with five large wounds in her head. He, being much affrighted and amazed, began to bless himself, and at last asked her who she was and what she wanted. To which she said, 'I am the spirit of such a woman who lived with Walker. . . . I was one night late sent away with one Mark Sharp who, upon a moor (naming a place that the miller knew), slew me with a pick, such as men dig coals withal, and gave me these five wounds, and after threw my body into a coal-pit hard by, and hid the pick under a bank; and his stockings and shoes being stained with blood, he endeavoured to wash them, but seeing the blood would not forth, he hid them there. And the apparition further told the miller that he must be the man to reveal it, or else she must still appear and haunt him. The miller returned home very sad and heavy, but spoke not one word of what he had seen, but eschewed as much as he could to stay in the mill within night without company, drinking thereby to escape the seeing again of that frightful apparition. But notwithstanding, one night when it began to be dark, the apparition met him again, and seemed very fierce and cruel, and threatened him that if he did not reveal the murder she would continually pursue and haunt him. Yet for all this he concealed it till St. Thomas's eve, before Christmas, when being, soon after sunset, walking in his garden, she appeared again, and then so threatened and affrighted him that he faithfully promised to reveal it next morning. In the morning he went to a magistrate, and made the whole matter known, with all the circumstances, and diligent search being made, the body was found in a coalpit, with the five wounds in the head, and the blood-stained shoes and stockings, in every circumstance as the apparition had related it to the miller. Whereupon Walker and Mark Sharp were both apprehended, but would confess nothing. At the following assizes they were arraigned, found guilty, condemned, and executed."
Webster is not the only person who relates this singular trial. Dr. Henry more mentioned it in his "Volurnen Philosophicum," and communicated it to Dr. Glanvil for his "Sadducisinus Triumphatus," with the additional testimony of a Mr. Sheplierdson and Mr. Lumley, of Lumley, an old gentleman who knew the persons implicated well, and was present at the trial. The name of the girl was Anna Walker, that of the judge, Davenport, who gave sentence the same night that the verdict was delivered, a thing never done before in Durham. Surtees says that the deposition of Grime the miller is deposited in the Bodleian Library, in Tanner's MSS. The matter was well known and much talked of at the time.
The condemned men steadily persisted in declaring their innocence, even at the foot of the gallows, and it was entirely on the evidence of Grime and his ghost that they were executed. Who shall say that they were not innocent? No one seems to have doubted Grime's story of the ghost, or suspected that he may have been cognisant of the murder, or even have had something to do with it, and thus sought a means of securing his own safety.
This is, we believe, almost the only instance of the evidence of a ghost being taken in a court of justice. Webster declares it to be "one of those apparitions and strange incidents which cannot be solved by the supposed principles of matter and motion, but which do evidently require some other causes, above or different from the visible and ordinary course of nature, effects that do strangly exceed the power of natural causes, and may for ever convince all atheistical minds."
If we are to give credence to Grime's story, and to believe that a ghost did haunt him and reveal the secret of Anne Walker's fate, we should be obliged to agree with Webster's opinion. But one would like to read the trial, for the sake of seeing how the twelve "good men and true" were induced to accept so fully the singular story of the miller's apparition.