The Mysterious Ethel

The Mysterious Ethel, John Lewis, Eldon Square, Newcastle

Bainbridge, Newcastle, 1971
Type : Photograph Medium : Print-black-and-white Description : A photograph of the frontage of Bainbridge’s department store Market Street Newcastle upon Tyne taken in 1971. Shops Collection : Local Studies Source of Information : Bainbridge

Bainbridge, now called John Lewis, is a shop in Newcastle with over one hundred and fifty years of history behind it. However, it is not the old Market Street Bainbridge building that has tales of the supernatural associated with it: rather it is the Eldon Square site that seems to have been active, mostly in the period just after the move to Eldon Square from Market Street.

The ghost seen wandering Bainbridge was that of a Grey Lady: quite literally in this case as she was said to be a little grey old lady often seen in the old restaurant area.

This spectre was reported by a waitress working in the restaurant, who saw a little old lady sitting alone at a table, hat pulled over her eyes and coat buttoned to the top: not an overly strange sight bar the fact that this Grey Lady vanished without a trace!

The ghost of the little Grey Lady became common enough that she was nicknamed ‘Ethel’ by the Bainbridge Catering Partners, and as well as the restaurant one of her other favourite ‘haunts’ was the Catering Partner cloakrooms. Apparently one of the chefs was having a shower one day when his friends decided to play a prank and turn the lights off in the cloakroom. Luckily, the light remained on in the shower cubicle, but when the chef turned around he could make out a white shape moving across the room from the corner towards the toilets. Initially dismissing it as a further prank, the chef in question was dismayed when his friends adamantly denied that they’d staged the ‘ghost’.

Soon afterwards, one of the staff was washing her hands in the ladies’ cloakroom, and found a little old lady dressed in grey beside her. Realising on her way to the door that the lady must be lost, as she was in the staff cloakroom, she turned to offer her help, but found the Grey Lady to be gone…

‘Ethel’ was also regularily seen in the Counting House on a Saturday morning, as well as in the shoe department, her little grey hunched figure glimpsed by many a member of staff on their way out of the stockroom, only to find that she’d vanished a moment later.

However, as Bainbridge settled into its new Eldon Square premises, sightings of the Grey Lady began to diminish, until in 1988, the Bainbridge Chronicle reported, “The Grey Lady has not been seen for many years now. Theories about ghosts about, but if people can leave memories of themselves when they die, who was the Grey Lady? The Restaurant and Shoes Department are almost directly above Prudhoe Street where the Prudhoe Street Mission used to be. Perhaps Ethel was disturbed by the commotion of Bainbridge’s hectic arrival and, once she’d checked that her new neighbours met with her approval, she was content to let Bainbridge be…”

– Originally published as an article in Otherworld North East: Ghosts and Hauntings Explored (Author: Tony Liddell, Publisher: Tyne Bridge Publishing, 2004)

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