Built in 1863 and opened 2 years later as Gilesgate Militia Barracks, this mock castle style building has been the home to a number of army units. The first claim made is that a ghostly figure of a soldier haunts the courtyard in the spot where his head was blown off by a cannon malfunctioning. This is a story that has become horribly twisted and mixed up over the years, and it’s so bad that even mediums have been known to regurgitate this version during ghost hunts here.
It is a little bit true. I have dived straight into the Durham archives thanks to the Gilesgate Historical Society, and found that there was indeed one soldier that died on this site, but it was actually believed to be a suicide in an old toilet block which once stood on the site of some new build houses beside Vane Tempest Hall. This land was sold off in the 20th Century.
In 1884, these barracks became an isolation hospital for smallpox. Smallpox is one of the oldest diseases known to humans, having been found in Egyptian Mummies and possibly predating human populations. It is a nasty disease that has killed over 300 million people in the 20th Century alone. I can guarantee that many people died during this period, as scientists estimate that 80% of children infected with this disease died. Adults faired slightly better, about half would survive. Symptoms were unpleasant – high temperature, vomiting, macules, rashes, and death.
It’s very difficult to find the exact number of deaths that occurred in here, but over the course of six years that this hospital was in operation, you can guarantee that there would have been a lot. Could the pain and suffering of those that spent their final days clinging onto life before slipping away with huge discomfort be responsible for the ghostly sounds that are heard here?
The voice of a woman has been heard in the hall, humming a song despite nobody else being inside.
On the otherside of the wall behind Vane Tempest Hall, in the woods, there is an abandined graveyard where a lot of smallpox victims were buried. A female ghost is said to also haunt this.
Is this the same female spirit that is regularly seen outside of the hall? One witness claims he was in this graveyard when he saw a whitish figure appearing to glide across the grass. Who is she? Did she die here? Nobody has been able to identify her, but there are theories as to her identity.
Some believe she was once in a relationship with a soldier at the barracks, and upon hearing of her lover’s death at war, she ran to the bridge just outside of the graveyard and threw herself off. Mediums claim her spirit roams the former barracks and is looking for her man. Others believe the legend pre-dates the hall, and was a story passed down from generation to generation by kids who grew up playing in this area.
During WWII, the hall was used once again for military purposes, this time as a lookout for potential German attacks.
Recently the hall has been used as a community centre, but that has not stopped claims of the paranormal. One ghost that is often talked about his that of John, the former caretaker that died in 2005. He spent decades working at Vane Tempest and rarely left the place. His trademark was always to offer to put the kettle on and make people a warm drink – and mysteriously since his death, the kettle in this kitchen has started switching itself on.
The hall is divided into modern office space, and one of the people who works here late at night is Jeremy Clarke. His office is in the old military stable, which became a morgue during the hospital days. He even has a video of a clock moving in his office.