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The Ghost of Lady Gerard

A view of a painting cropped to show a lady's deep blue silk dress with her hands in her lap, one flower in hand.

For many centuries the ghost of Lady Gerard, sometimes called Jerrett, has been said to haunt Darlington Town Centre. Her story is quite possibly the most famous ghost story in the town. For Halloween this year we are going to relay the bloody story of Lady Gerard and see if it holds up to historical scrutiny.

Painting of a three story mansion with a red roof an triangle attic windows.

Painting of the Bishops Palace in Darlington, 1813. The building sat where Darlington Town Council buildings are now, after being turned into a workhouse in 1703. Image courtesy of Darlington Centre for Local Studies. 

Where Darlington Town Hall sits now was once the impressive Prince Bishop of Durham’s Palace. Built between 1153 and 1195 the building was an impressive three stories high, towering over the landscape with a view across the river Skerne and an underground passage linking it to St Cuthbert’s Church. This was the seat of the Bishop of Durham in Darlington and was used for centuries as one of his many homes in the county.

During the English Civil War, 1642 to 1651, Parliamentarian soldiers are said to have burst into the palace and demanded money from Lady Gerard who was residing there at the time. Lady Gerard refused to hand over anything of value and, upon seeing a fancy ring on her finger, the soldiers grabbed her and tried to force the ring off. When this didn’t work, one of the men cut off her arm with his sword, taking the lifeless limb and ring with them as they made their getaway. Leaving Lady Gerard to her fate, she is said to have slumped forward, leaving a bloody handprint on the wall, dying from blood loss not long afterward.

The foundations of the Bishops Palace were uncovered during and archaeological dig in 2013. The foundations of the Bishops Palace were uncovered during an archaeological dig in 2013. Image courtesy of Darlington Centre for Local Studies. 

From that time on various inhabitants of the palace have reported hearing her silken skirts rustling as she wanders about, a figure has been seen hovering above the Skerne River with only one arm, and when in 1703 the palace was turned into a workhouse the paupers, reported many instances of seeing Lady Gerard. The workhouse servants often had their bedclothes pulled from them, the cook was forever hearing a tune being played on the copper pans hung up, and Lady Gerard was said to have always attended every birth and death in the workhouse. One time it was reported that a particular workhouse inmate was so ill, that Lady Gerard made them a cup of coffee to ease their suffering.

But it wasn’t just in the workhouse Lady Gerard was seen to be making mischief and letting her presence be heard. Young children employed by Pease’s Woollen Mill a short distance away often told of how Lady Gerard would appear before them as they walked to work and scare them. The prevailing theory was that Lady Gerard wasn’t very happy that a mill had been built close to her home.

In 1870, Richard Luck bought the palace and the workhouse residents moved to a purpose-built institution on Yarm Road. Luck had no intention of keeping the palace and demolition work began. During the demolition Luck was said to have found the bloody handprint left by Lady Gerard on the day she died, perfectly intact. But what was more disturbing was the close encounter with Lady Gerard herself noting that –

Luck demolished the entire palace by 1878 and in its place built a respectable residential square. This in turn was replaced by the Darlington Town Hall in the 1960s. Since the palace’s demolition, the sightings of Lady Gerard have been few and far between, with the last being in the 1930s. Since then, most people have agreed that she has retired to haunt the underground passage that once connected the bishop’s palace to St Cuthberts Church which still exists to this day.

Who was Lady Gerard?

According to the legend Lady Gerard was the daughter of the Prince Bishop of Durham, John Cosin. She married Sir Gilbert Gerard, the Constable of Billingham, and was supposedly living or staying in her father’s palace during the civil war.

A black and white engraving of a man staring at the viewer with black eyes and sharp facial features. He is wearing a white collar draping over his shoulders with a black waist coat, and a black hat.

John Cosin, Prince Bishop of Durham from 1660 to 1672. Supposedly the father of Lady Gerard. Image in the Public Domain.

Does this live up to historical scrutiny? 

This is a brilliant story, one that has been told by Darlington residents for hundreds of years. But is there any truth in it? Well, we have done some digging in the historical records, and sorry to say the story doesn’t seem to fit with the actual historical events. According to the legend Lady Gerard is the daughter of Prince Bishop John Cosin, famed for his intellectual skill, who held the post from 1660 – 1672. Already this doesn’t fit with the story as the soldiers are said to have killed Lady Gerard between 1642 and 1651. Archaeological digs done in 2013 confirmed that the palace had been damaged during this time as part of the civil war conflict.

However, John Cosin didn’t own the palace at that time and the bishop before him never married and had no daughters. Cosin did have a daughter who married Gilbert Gerard, Constable of Billingham, but she didn’t die until 1680. It is possible that the story is true and facts have become hazy throughout the centuries but if a woman did die at the Darlington Prince Bishops Palace due to some violent civil war soldiers, then she was of no relation to Cosin or Gerard. Who she could be is a mystery!