LIKE almost all the old Northumbrian castles and peels, Blenkinsopp has the reputation of being haunted. A gloomy vault under the castle is said to have buried in it a large chest of gold, hidden in the troublous times: some say by a lady whose spirit cannot rest so long as it is there, and who used formerly to appear--though not, that we have heard, for the last four or five decades--clothed in white from head to foot, and so was known as "The White Lady."
About the beginning of this century several of the least ruinous apartments in the castle were still occupied by a hind on the estate and some cotters. Indeed, two or three of them continued to be so down to the year 1820 or thereabouts. The visits of the White Lady seem to have been unfrequent latterly, and for some considerable time they had ceased. One night, however, shortly after retiring to rest, the hind and his wife (so the story goes) were alarmed on hearing loud and reiterated screams coming from an adjoining room, in which one of the children, a boy of about eight years of age, had been laid to sleep. On hastily rushing in to see what was the matter, they found the boy sitting trembling on his pillow, terror-struck and bathed in perspiration. "The White Lady! the White Lady!" he screamed, as soon as he saw them. "What Lady?" cried the astonished parents, looking round the room; "there is no lady here." "She is gone," replied the boy, "and she looked so angry at me because I would not go with her. She was a fine lady, and she sat down on my bedside and wrung her hands and cried sore. Then she kissed me and asked me to go with her, and she would make me a rich man, as she had buried a large box of gold many hundred years since, down in the vault; and she would give it to me, as she could not rest so long as it was there. When I told her I durst not go, she said she would carry me, and she was lifting me up when I cried out and I frightened her away." The hind and his wife, both very sensible people, concluded that the child had been dreaming and at length succeeded in quieting him and getting him to sleep. But for three successive nights they were disturbed in the same manner, the boy repeating the same story with little variation, so that they were forced to let him sleep in the same apartment with themselves, when the apparition no longer visited him. The effect upon the boy's mind however, was such that nothing ever afterwards would induce him to enter into any part of the old castle alone even in daylight.
The legend of the White Lady is not one of those that unsophisticated country people willingly let die; and the belief that treasure lies hidden under the grim old ruin waiting to be disinterred, is probably still entertained by not a few. Indeed, there is hardly a place of the kind, either in this country or any other, regarding which some such impression does not exist. (See Layard on the subject.)
About fifty years since, we are told, a strange lady arrived at the village of Greenhead, and took up her quarters at the inn there. She told the landlady, in confidence, that she had had a wonderful dream, to the effect that a large chest of gold lay buried in the vault of Blenkinsopp Castle, and that she was to be the person to find it. She stayed several weeks, awaiting the return of the owner of the property to ask leave to search; but she either got tired of waiting, or could not obtain permission, and so she went away without accomplishing her purpose, and the hidden treasure, if there be such a thing there, remains for some more fortunate person to bring to the light of day.
Tradition accounts for the alleged hiding of the gold in the following way:--One of the castellans in the middle ages, named Bryan de Blenkinsopp, familiarly Bryan Blenship, was as avaricious as he was bold, daring, and lawless. He was once heard to say, when taunted with being a fusty old bachelor, that he would never marry until he met with a lady possessed of a chest of gold heavier than ten of his strongest men could carry into his castle; and fate, it seems, had ordained that he would keep his word. For, going to the wars abroad, whether to the Holy Land to fight against the Saracens, or to Hungary to oppose the Turks, we cannot tell, and staying away several years, he met with a lady in some far country, who came up to his expectations, courted her, married her, and brought her home, together with a chest of gold which it took twelve strong men to lift. Bryan Blenkinsopp was now the richest man in the North of England; but it soon transpired that his riches had not brought him happiness, but the reverse. He and his lady quarrelled continually--a fact which could not long be concealed; and one day when the unhappy couple had had a more serious difference than usual, Sir Bryan was heard to utter threats, in reply to his wife's bitter reproaches, which seemed to indicate that he meant to get rid of her as soon as he could without any more formality or fuss than if they had merely been "handfasted," that is, pledged to each other for a year and a day. The lady muttered something in return, which could not be distinctly heard by the servants, and so the affair, for the nonce, seemed to end. But a very short time afterwards--possibly the next night--the indignant, ill-used lady got the foreign men-servants who had accompanied her to the castle to take up the precious chest and bury it deep in some secret place out of her miserly husband's reach, where it lies to this day. Accounts differ as to what followed. Some say Sir Bryan disappeared shortly after be discovered his loss; others say the lady disappeared first; but it is affirmed that they both disappeared in a mysterious manner, and that neither of them was ever afterwards seen. It was, moreover, sagely hinted that the lady was "something uncanny,"--in plain terms, an imp of darkness, sent with her wealth to ensnare Sir Bryan's greedy soul. At any rate folks were sure that she was an infidel, for she never went to church, and used on Sundays to sing hymns to Mahoun, or some other false god, in an unknown tongue in her own room.
1 Monthly Chronicle of North-Country Lore and Legend, March 1888, p. 105.