For Halloween we are looking at ghost stories from one of our most haunted museums – Head of Steam – Darlington Railway Museum. The museum is housed in the original North Road Station, built in 1842 on the Stockton and Darlington Railway line. It is often featured on the UKs most haunted railway stations. So, what is it about this building that is so haunting?
North Road Station in the 1860s showing carriages lined up outside the station ready to drop off and collect passengers. Image courtesy of Head of Steam – Darlington Railway Museum.
The Stockton and Darlington Railway was the first steam powered passenger railway in the world, and it launched Darlington as a railway centre from the earliest days of travel. In 1827 the first station was built on the line to house goods being brought to and from the town, but it was unsafe for passengers and in 1842 North Road Station was built as a passenger station. A ticket clerk employed in the new station was twenty-nine-year-old Thomas Munro Winter.
On Tuesday 4th February 1845, Winter committed suicide by shooting himself whilst at the station. The coroner’s inquest concluded that his death was a result of ‘temporary insanity’. Unfortunately, we don’t know what drove Winter to take his own life, but it has been suggested that a passenger had complained about him and this worried him a lot.
Sketch showing two men wheeling the body of Thomas Munro Winter out of the toilet block, were he shot himself with a pistol, to the porters cellar where his body was left ready to be collected by the coroner. Image courtesy of Head of Steam – Darlington Railway Museum.
Nearly a decade later, James Durham, a night watchman at the station went to the porter’s cellar to warm himself by the fire. However, on entering the cellar he spotted an intruder wearing a ‘cut away coat with gilt buttons, a stand-up collar and a scotch cap’. The intruder was accompanied by a black dog and went to punch James but James being quicker threw a punch back. His fist went straight through the intruder and his knuckles scraped along the cellar wall.
The intruder set his dog on James to attack and clicking his tongue he and the dog went into the coal cellar next door. James had no injuries from the dog attack and lighting his lantern went into the coal cellar to find the stranger. No one was there. There was only one way in and out of the cellar, so where did the intruder go? Was this the ghost of Thomas Munro Winter?
The toilets at the station were built on top of the original toilet block site, where Thomas Munro Winter shot himself in 1845. Image courtesy of Head of Steam – Darlington Railway Museum.
James Durham’s story of that night became famous in Darlington and Edward Pease met him to check out his story for himself. Durham was an experienced watchman, insisted he hadn’t been dreaming, nor had he been drinking as he was teetotal.
Forty years later Durham retold his story to his long-time friend Reverend, Henry Kendell, who made him sign a statement to say his story was true.
The story was sent to William Thomas Stead, ex editor of the Northern Echo and editor of the Pal Mall Gazette in London, who wrote it into his book on the supernatural, cementing the story into history.
Sometime later, Rev Henry Kendell visited North Road Station with an ex-railwayman who worked at the station with James Durham.
The ex-railwayman remembered that before he and James worked at the station a man named Thomas Munro Winter had committed suicide by shooting himself with a pistol and that his body was temporally housed in the porter’s caller. He also recalled Winter having a black dog.
The cellar where James Durham met with the ghost of Thomas Munro Winter is now visible via a glass window in the floor, where the story is brought to life for visitors to the museum. Image courtesy of Head of Steam – Darlington Railway Museum.
James Durham worked at North Road Station from around 1852 to 1866 leaving to become a successful confectioner. He died in 1899, famous as the man who first saw the ghost of North Road Station. Since then, the ghost of Winter has been seen on numerous occasions, so has his black dog.
To find out more about William Thomas Stead see our blog on him here. Also visit the Head of Steam – Darlington Railway Museum website to find out how to visit the museum and go ghost exploring for yourself!