For as long as I could remember, in my first thirteen years of life, there had been a piece of derelict land at the top of Mill Lane in Hebburn, directly opposite the college and which formed a T-junction with the Fire Station at it’s head. There had been an old building on this land and all that remained, underneath a safety cover, was a dark shaft with imposing steps leading down to…..well, none of us knew because no one had the guts to go to the bottom for fear of all sorts of terrible things, such as rats, so big that they could bite your foot off if you stepped anywhere near them; murderers that abducted, tortured and killed children hiding out from police; monsters waiting in lair to snatch any poor, living soul that ventured helplessly into their lair; a series of darker than dark tunnels that led into the bowels of hell itself; or some geet, big spiders!
I’d heard that it had been used as bomb shelter during the raids by the Luftwaffe in the Second World War. The German airforce main target had always been the nearby shipyards, less than half a mile away, on the River Tyne, but, despite using the Monkton Coke Works flame, at the other end of Mill Lane, as a guiding light and secondary target, the Germans apparently never made any direct hits and even seemed to miss the coke works as well! It must have been quite hairy for those pilots, who had little or no fighter back up as it was too far for those planes to fly from bases in Norway, getting shot at by my granda’ and his mates, who manned the gun turrets as part of the home guard. My granda’ always regretted that he wasn’t allowed to go off to fight, but was made to stay and do “essential war work” as a riveter in the shipyards, where he’d worked since he left school at age 14. It haunted him until he died. Anyway, I assumed, in my own mind, because no one provided any information to the contrary, that one stray bomb from these German must have fallen and exploded on this site, thereby explaining it’s ruinous state and it simply became a dangerous playground for kids that looked for alternative exploits to playing football.
In 1982, however, the area was cordoned off and clearing and building work began, so the kids had to look for a different area to explore. I grew up on various council estates but my parents had saved to obtain a mortgage on a small house in 1979. My mam started nursing around that time and her wage combined with my dad’s lot, from his job as an electrician at Westoe Pit, meant that they could start to plan ahead. They first of all looked into emigrating to Canada, where my dad had relations, who’d done financially well for themselves, but my mam didn’t want to move away from Hebburn and her family. The potential excitement, upheaval and sadness of that venture had only just began to fade when they announced that they were going to buy a new house in Hebburn instead. It turned out that the building work on the aforementioned derelict land was a housing project and we were going to live there!
We watched the houses being erected and went to have a look at the small plot of land where our own house was going to be. It still seemed huge in comparison to what we were used to. I knew that my parents had saved and saved for what was their dream of a new home and, although this meant that we had less money to live on, the bonus for me would be my own room away from my brother, who was a nightmare to share with.
A few days before we were due to move in my nana declared that we shouldn’t move into the house at all. She said that we were going to have problems with water and the fact that the house was no. 13 didn’t help matters in her view. She pleaded that we get the number changed to 12b or something like that. Anything but 13! My nana had always read tea leaves, taught to her by her auntie from Donegal in Ireland after she was seen to have ‘the gift’. She would often read tea leaves for friends and family but sometimes just refused to or wouldn’t say anything. A number of predictions she made came true and when she rightly predicted a family death, she stopped. One of my aunties had come to me with my nana at a family party for a chat. She stated that she knew that I knew what they wanted to talk about. The bizarre thing is that she mentioned that I could sense things and had visions about people. That was exactly what I was thinking at that time and for once I felt fairly comfortable with it because they both stated that they knew and assured me that I should embrace it and not be frightened. I was told that it must be passed through the Irish line in the family and I felt quite happy about it at the time. My nana was adamant now, though, that we should not move into this house and that terrible things would happen as well as trouble with water.
On hearing what my nana had to say my dad took the sarcastic view that yeah, ok, we should lose the deposit and not move because of the ranting and lunatic ravings of his mother-in-law. The following day he received a call from the estate agent who stated that there’d been a problem with the water tank in the loft and it had flooded down through the chimney breast and onto the hearth and, as a consequence, stained and ruined the new fireplace and the whole thing would have to replaced. They had no idea what had gone wrong to cause the flood, but we were covered on insurance, with not yet moving in, so didn’t have to worry. The only problem was that we couldn’t move in until that the job was completed and we had to add two days onto the established date. Not overly happy about the situation, my dad laughed and said that my nana had been right all along and that was the end to the problem. It wasn’t!
The same problem happened the day after the fireplace was refitted and the wood surround had to be replaced again. This didn’t further delay the move, but the day before we were due to arrive their was a problem after the plumber had fitted the washing machine and the whole kitchen was flooded. My mam was beginning to despair and we hadn’t even moved in yet. Things settled down as time went on, but there were three more major floods in the house over the years. One was explained due to my brother putting a hosepipe on the taps downstairs with the cold water pressure pushing the hot water back up the pipes and flooding the loft and part of the landing ceiling. One flood was so bad that it came through the loft, into my parents bedroom, through that floor and dripped onto the living room carpet via the main light on the ceiling. The carpet was ruined, the ceilings had to be replaced and new lights had to be fitted as well. My dad actually seemed to blame my nana by this point and he was none too happy when the garden and patio area were flooded with sewage due to a drainage problem. Oh! What fun we had that day! The smell was awful.
We eventually got settled in, despite my mother causing trouble with the neighbours about fences and an absolutely massive tree that she claimed blocked out the day. Things seemed ok! Apart from, that is, my brother complaining that men with black hoods were appearing to stoop over his bed almost every night. My brother was not the type of person that could be trusted for anything. He would take a note out of my mam’s purse, hide it in a bush and then proclaim to find it when out playing, so that witnesses, often my mother included could see that he’d simply found it. He constantly told lies about me to get me into trouble for things he’d done. This would arouse my very short temper, and he knew it, and I would be caught chasing after him or bashing in the bathroom door, the bathroom being his favourite place of sanctuary, which invariably got me into trouble whether I’d committed the original crime or not. Almost every time not! My brother actually came to me after continually being told that he was talking rubbish and telling lies as usual, this knowledge of his character never stopped him or prevented me from falling into his traps, I just never learnt, that this time he was in fact telling the truth. He said that he was terrified at first, especially when black gloved hands appeared above his head out of the wall followed by a black hood. He said that it happened so often that he’d kind of got used to it, but when he willed them to go away they would turn into one small glowing light, seemingly hover for a second and then whizz away, usually towards the wardrobe on the other side of the room. He kept changing the position of his bed in the room so as not to see these strange dark apparitions of hooded men stooped over together in his room. He said that he thought they were monks but wasn’t sure.
I had always felt uncomfortable in the house and often felt that I was being watched. I hated being in by myself and could often sense someone in the landing area near the stairs. I very rarely went into my brother’s room, we’d shared rooms and beds for all of our lives and weren’t going to spend too much time together, especially the way he went on with me. We were like chalk and cheese. He later told me that he’d been constantly jealous of me because I was better than him at every single thing, so that if he could get an edge by getting me into trouble, he would. He seemed to think that I should find that an admirable quality, but I didn’t!
Anyway, I moved out a few years later and went off to university. I started going out with a girl called Helen that I met at a party I’d crashed with a couple of friends. The room was quite dark but someone briefly turned a light on and I found myself looking at this beautiful girl. She looked sophisticated, had stunning dark eyes and light brown,wavy, shoulder length hair. She was wearing an over sized cricket sweater which accentuated her curves and short length blue jeans. The light went straight back out but I still had the vision of her etched into my mind’s eye. Soon after this the girl stood up and walked towards me, she stood next to me and started moving drinks around on the cabinet next to the fireplace as if she couldn’t decide what to have. I, without thinking, as usual, made a comment about there being no Newcastle Brown Ale, so, any drink would have to do but wouldn’t make up for it. She looked at me with what seemed to be total disdain but then she smiled and asked if I was a Geordie. She asked if I would count to ten for her, so I obliged, but she fell about laughing when I reached eight! I couldn’t quite place her accent and asked if she was from Liverpool or Manchester. She was a little upset to be called a Scouser and told me that she was from a small town just outside Stoke on Trent. That sounded like the most exotic place on earth to me at that point! We kept talking all night and I said goodbye as she went for a coat to leave. My mates came straight over to me, they’d been making daft signs and comments all night and had been trying to talk to just about every girl at the party, without success, but this time they asked if I was seeing the girl again. I stated that I hadn’t asked if she’d wanted to see me again.
“You haven’t asked? Are you bloody stupid? She’s been talking to you all night, you didn’t even have to try with her and yet you haven’t asked her out?!!” said one of the lads.
“Erm, no!” was my pathetic reply.
I, actually, at this point in my life, at nineteen years old, had never asked a girl to go out with me at all yet!
I went back into the room and saw that Helen was putting her coat on.
“Go on!” whispered one of my mates.
I felt like Mowgli being ushered on by Bagheera at the end of Disney’s version of “The Jungle Book”. I went up to Helen, who looked up at me and said
“Oh, hello again!” whilst smiling at me, expectantly.
My heart was pounding in my ears as if it had relocated to my head and installed it’s own sound system there. My legs began to shake as I felt the blood inside them defying gravity and draining upwards to feed my, now ready to burst, brain, which, with this surge of far too much blood flooding into it’s chambers, suddenly became drunk on too much of the red stuff, was rendered totally useless and unable to coordinate with the rest of my body, especially my mouth. I somehow, in this moment of absolute terror, just about managed to splutter out
“Err, I err, just wondered, you know, thought I’d ask like, if you’d, emmm, well, like to meet me for a coffee or something, one day next week, maybe?”
“No!” was the reply.
In that split second of hearing that two letter word I felt absolutely, totally crushed and knew I should have just left. This was why I never bothered asking any girls out, because it was so blatantly obvious that they’d not want to be seen with me. All of those horrible feelings that hit the pit of your stomach, suddenly crashed into mine. I didn’t get to utter a single syllable, or even start to turn around in shame and disappointment before she added
“but you can take me for a drink one night instead, if you like!”
I was shocked and astounded. Did I hear correctly? The feeling of utterly hopeless desperation and failure that I always expected and, continually, prepared for, disappeared in a flash, then my heart dropped back into it’s previously designated position and began to smile as wide as the Tyne Bridge. Communication problems hadn’t yet been fixed at this point though.
“Errr, yeah, that’ll be even better, great! How about, erm Monday night or whatever night, err may be, well, you know, err good for you?”
And with that I had the start of a new relationship with a beautiful girl, who wasn’t from Hebburn, Jarrow or even Newcastle and she hadn’t even had to ask me out!
Where was I? Oh yeah! Well, Helen came to stay at my parent’s house for a few days during the following Easter break. I looked forward to taking her around the Northumberland coast, for a drink in Newcastle, shopping at the Metro Centre and just to spend some time with her. My mam made a rule, however, that Helen was to sleep in my bed, sounded good at that point, but I was to sleep in my brother’s bed as he was away for the week with school. Oh well, you can’t have everything I suppose.
The first night that Helen stayed over I sneaked back into my room, when the house had seemed to go be suitably quiet, to spend some time snuggled up and that with Helen, you get the idea, I don’t have to go into detail. We decided, however, that we shouldn’t push our luck too much and agreed that I sneak back to my brother’s room, then, if undiscovered, we could try and have more time together the next night and so on and so forth. I reluctantly went back to bed and settled down knowing I wasn’t going to get straight to sleep. You know how these things work, I don’t have to spell it out! Anyway, I read for a bit, but felt quite uncomfortable and unsettled. I had an awful feeling come over me and it seemed as if I was being watched again. I, eventually, turned the light off and tried to go to sleep, but again, I just didn’t feel right at all. I opened my eyes in the dark and, to my shock and sheer amazement, I could see a man leaning over the bed. He had a large, black hood covering his whole face and seemed to have black hands or was wearing black gloves. He was standing still, bent right over with his hands out in front almost as if he was washing dishes or something similar. A split second later a pair of black gloved hands appeared above my head having suddenly come out of the wall behind me. I jumped up with a start, having almost cacked myself and the images seemed to change into a single, tiny, barely glowing light which moved towards the wardrobe at the other side of the room and then disappeared almost immediately.
Gasping, I put the reading light on and sat up, staying there for a while and trying to get my breathing back to normal. That was what my brother had been describing all along! I started reading again, but couldn’t concentrate. I didn’t turn the light off again, but eventually must have just drifted off to sleep. I mentioned what had happened the next morning to my mam. She looked terrified and annoyed at the same time, because she then stated that I was only saying it to scare her. I told her I wasn’t doing any such thing and that she knew fine well that I didn’t make stories or stupid things up.
The following week, when my brother had returned home, I mentioned the incident to him. He seemed scared at first, but then changed his expression to try and look as if he wasn’t and said
“See, I told you!”
Nothing much more was mentioned and although we did have one or two more floods, badly fitted shower, overflowing tank, overflowing bath and a few more floods with the drains out the back, I didn’t think too much about it. There was always a bad feeling in that house though and I always felt like I was being watched. Maybe that was just the girl next door!
My dad died a few years later and after a while my mother decided to get her bedroom redone. She moved into my brother’s old room while the decorating was going on. One morning, I went over to see what was going on and my mother looked as white as sheet, she often looked white as she was anaemic, but this time she looked as if she’d seen a ghost! She told me that she’s seen the same men in the room, wearing long cloaks with big hoods, bent over the bed as if sorting something out with their gloved hands. She was terrified, refused to go back in and moved into my old room instead. She wanted to get a priest in as she was now convinced that the house was haunted and didn’t feel comfortable. Having always thought that my brother and I had concocted the whole hooded men story to try and frighten her, I can’t see why she’d think I’d have been a part of that, she now admitted that she had seen it herself.
We decided to try and find out more about why this could be happening. After a few visits to the library and chats with my nana we heard that a mill had once stood on the site where our house now was, hence the name of the main street that came off the main junction, Mill Lane. I heard that it wasn’t a normal mill though, it was a water mill or maybe a coal washery, hence the name, Mill Lane. Maybe these men wearing the black heavy hooded wax type coats with gloves did so to protect them from the water. My mother did contact the priest but I don’t know if anything was done. She wanted a full exorcism done on the house, but I doubt if anything would have occurred. I can’t explain why and the whole thing maybe a coincidence, the water works theory may fit in but one thing’s for sure, I was glad to move out of that house and don’t think I’d ever move move into a property with a number 13 again!