Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Meg O’ Meldon (NZ108855)

The sleepy hamlet of Meldon in the Wansbeck valley a few miles west of Morpeth was once the home of one of the county’s most infamous ghosts, namely, Meg O’ Meldon. As with most such shadowy figures, the story of Meg is based loosely on fact – in this case that of a misery old woman (and suspected witch) by the name of Margaret Selby. There are spectral appearances, tales of misfortune (and good fortune), as well as, of course, hidden treasure...

Margaret was the daughter of William Selby of Newcastle, who was a well-known money lender. She married Sir William Fenwick of nearby Wallington, and brought with her to the arrangement the estate of Meldon. This all happened a long time ago – in and around the late 17th century – and well before the construction of the current John Dobson-inspired effort known today as Meldon Park. Anyway, the only facts that seem to have trickled down to us from these distant days concern the infamy of Meg’s great meanness and avarice. Any income which came her way was greedily hoarded, being stashed away in any number of places across the parish. She was understandably disliked and therefore (of course) branded a witch; and when she and her husband passed into history, stories persisted of caches buried in almost every corner of the district.

Such was her reputation, though, that the locals claimed that her spirit continued to guard over her riches after her demise, wandering from pillar to post, triggering tales of ghostly apparitions aplenty in its wake. Meg’s spirit would travel hither and thither by way of a subterraneous coach road, and she would often be seen on Meldon Bridge in the shape of a little dog – or, indeed, ‘in a thousand forms, lights and colours, flickering over the Wansbeck, or under a fine row of beeches by the river.’ She would sometimes present herself as a mysterious, beautiful woman; or sit in a stone coffin at the site of Newminster Abbey (water from this trough was used to treat warts and other ailments).

Most famously, the ghost of Meg would sit guard over a well near Meldon Tower, where she was thought to have hidden a bull’s hide full of gold. She once enticed a local man to attempt its retrieval at the dead of night, but at the point of success he shouted in triumph, thus breaking the spell and causing the treasure to be dropped and lost forever.

Understandably, any discovery of value in the neighbourhood has been attributed to the legend of Meg. Once, when the ceiling of Meldon schoolhouse gave way, a stash of gold coins issued forth from the attic, sending the pupils into a ‘rich scramble’ for their unexpected windfall. Every time a stash is thus revealed and put to some good, so the spirit of Meg rests ever more soundly. And, though Meldon Well still hides its bag of riches, the ghost of Margaret Selby has long since disappeared from the banks of the Wansbeck.

1 comment:

  1. This story shares many themes in common with the White Lady of Blenkinsopp Castle (and many other northern legends): avarice, witchcraft, a ghostly appearance, hidden tunnels and of course, buried treasure...