Published December 2022
The Reverend James Gamage, Rector of Sedgefield in County Durham from 1718 to 1747, certainly knew on which side his bread was buttered – and how to keep it that way!
He was a prebend (a canon or member of the Chapter of a cathedral who was paid for administrative services) at Salisbury Cathedral at the same time as he was Rector of St Edmunds Church in Sedgefield. It seems, though, that he spent most of his time at his main home in the small village of White Ladies Aston, in Worcestershire!
One has to wonder how – if! – he managed to take care of the duties of both positions, but he certainly made certain of his remuneration. A dispute about the amount local landowners owed him in tithes which began in 1739 in the High Court was finally settled in in 1741, when the Lord Chancellor not only found in his favour but ordered his opponents to pay his costs too. Just a few years later, in August 1747, he died at the age of 56, which threw his wife Mary into panic because the loss of the tithes, which were due in December, might leave her, if not penniless, at the very least less well-off that she was used to.
What could she do?
She sorted that problem out quickly! She put it about that he had been called away suddenly to Worcestershire while she hid the body in the secret passage which connected the Rectory to the church. Later she came up with the idea of pickling him until after Tithing Day. She obtained a barrel of brandy and dumped him in it and left him there until just before 20th December, Tithing Day, when he was sat in a chair at a table where he could be seen, albeit at a distance, by those who came to make their payments.
The following day she announced he had died suddenly and unexpectedly, and she got a local doctor to sign the death certificate.
Imagine what relief she must have felt. She’d got away with it!
But perhaps the Rev Gamage had more of a conscience than his wife, because strange happenings began to occur in the Rectory and his ghostly figure was said to walk between the house and the church. Some say it was seen in the passage and above ground.
It is said that he was released from his haunting when the Rectory burned down in 1792 but according to others even now he still wanders between the site of the Rectory and St Edmund’s.
Some may see something in the fact that this story happened in Tony Blair’s constituency but I wouldn’t dream of it
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