The Phantom Coach of Rastrick House

In 1942, one Miss E. Canziani of Palace Green in Kensington, responded to a survey of phantom coaches in England, conducted by the Journal of the Folklore Society, with information that such an apparition was associated with Rastrick House. Sadly, she either provided no further information or else it was not published, and it is not clear what connection Miss Canziani had with Rastrick. Nonetheless, the phantom coach is an extremely common motif in English ghost-lore—the Folklore Society survey recorded more than sixty examples—and comparison with some of the more extensively documented cases across the country offers a basis for conjecture.

As Folklore Society luminary Christina Hole wrote in her study, Haunted England, “Sometimes it (the phantom coach) comes to fetch away the dying; sometimes… the already dead use it in their perambulations about the roads and fields of their old home… It is always black, and so are the driver and his horses. Often both are headless. It appears suddenly on the roadway and moves very fast and usually without noise… Like most apparitions of its kind, it is an ominous thing to meet, and often serves as a death-omen, for those unlucky enough to encounter it… Sometimes the spirit of an erring human being is condemned to drive between two points in expiation of a sin”.

Considering their attributes and the fact that coaches did not become ubiquitous until the Sixteenth Century, Hole suggests that in many cases, phantom coaches may have been an evolution of an older, pagan belief in the Wild Hunt which thrived across north-western Europe in the early medieval period. This company of demons and unquiet souls once rode furiously through the night skies and to witness the Wild Hunt similarly portended misfortune. As such perhaps the phantom coach associated with Rastrick Hall never had any distinct identity of its own and was simply an anoynmous superstitious motif associated with tragedy, much like the guytrash.

However, Jacqueline Simpson and Jennifer Westwood go on to add, in The Lore of the Land, “The hallmark of phantom coach stories is that, if not anonymous, they are usually attached to landed proprietors against whom some kind of grudge is held”. As such, it may be possible to study the history of Rastrick House to identify the occupant of its coach. It is not clear when the hall itself was built, but probably it was sometime during the Seventeenth Century, for the Rastrick family, who lived there for several generations until 1772. Sadly the building was demolished in the mid-Twentieth Century to make way for the Foxcroft estate; only the gatehouse still stands, on the corner of Field Top Lane.

If the phantom coach was connected to one of the Rastrick family, then the likely candidate seems to be William de Rastrick, who live during the second half of the Seventeenth Century and into the first half of the Eighteenth. Certainly he seems to have been the only member of the Rastrick family to have achieved any measure of notoriety during his tenure of Rastrick House. He is noted in one source as, “a defender of the Protestant church… who spent his great estate in support of the war and King William III”, doubtless referring to the Glorious Revolution of 1688 or the Nine Years War with France (1688-97).

Thus, William de Rastrick was a staunch Anglican—in a district rife with Non-Conformism—who diverted his wealth from local development into a war whose popularity rapidly diminished as it dragged on, and to assist a foreign monarch whose support dwindled significantly following the death of his English wife, Queen Mary II, in 1794. Although we are unlikely ever to know for certain, he seems the most likely candidate to be reviled in the local folk memory and consequently accoutred with a phantom coach following his death. One can only wonder if such a spectral vehicle has ever been seen racing through the precincts of the Foxcroft estate in recent years?

The Devil’s Bargain, Kirklees Priory

In 1872 an poet-cum-antiquary named Stephen Fawcett published a collection of lays called “Bradford Legends”. The style is typical of provincial poesy in the Late Romantic period and rather cloying to modern tastes; however, his contemporaries were more easily impressed and one fellow antiquary refers to Fawcett as “a local poet of considerable power”. The authenticity of the stories he versifies are debatable: although the ballads are clearly his own literary creation, many purport to record genuine folk-narrative from the region. Some of these—such as the Boar of Bradford or Pity Poor Bradford—are familiar from earlier sources and thereby independently verified; many others are unique and have no analogue in surviving sources. As such, it is difficult to affirm their provenance: were they once widely-told local legends which only Fawcett ever documented; or were they entirely a poet’s antiquarian fancy?

Thus, with regard to this tradition connected to Kirklees Priory related by Mr. Fawcett, it is best to remain in that state which John Keats called “negative capability… when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason”. It is not clear whether the narrative had any currency outside Fawcett’s imagination, but let us tentatively accept the possibility that it was a story still told by locals in the 19th Century about the legendary history of Kirklees Priory. It certainly displays many of the hallmarks of an authentic folk-narrative and whilst there was little to be seen of the ruins at Kirkless Priory following its dissolution, its former presence loomed large in the local psyche thanks to the legend of Robin Hood’s death—not to mention the fact that the site’s ecclesiastic history was preserved in the very name “Kirklees”.

The legend starts with a man called John awaiting the witching hour in the priory-church at Kirklees, whereupon he intends to strike a wager with Old Nick himself. Curiously Fawcett refers to the protagonist as “Prior John”, which is problematic because Kirklees was a nunnery rather than a monastery—however it is possible that this detail would’ve been unfamiliar to many locals and nunneries did have their own priest to perform the sacraments from which women were debarred. Fawcett’s account is not especially clear about why Prior John wishes to bargain with the Devil: there is no suggestion that his soul is otherwise imperilled; nor is there initially anything that the priest hopes to win through the deal. Although Prior John subsequently offers his immortal soul as his stake in the tournament, no reason is given why either party should have agreed to the contest in the first place: it is portrayed merely as a testament to John’s holiness.

In typically imperious fashion, Satan himself selects the modes of the duel; and in typically unsporting fashion, he chooses three “weapons” he himself invented: “tippling”, gambling and fighting. John promises that if he loses, then his opponent may claim his soul; however, if the Devil loses, he must release fifty souls from Purgatory. Fawcett claims that during their contest, “the corpse-lights burned red, white and blue; and the abbey’s ghosts gathered, the black game to view”. But despite the fact that Beelzebub had thought to give himself an unfair advantage by insisting upon games of his own invention, Prior John bests him in every one—including the drinking contest, for which the pair booze on malt liquor for seven whole hours and the priest still manages to drink the Devil under the table. Indeed, this finishes Old Nick off and in the throes of his hangover yields the fifty souls to Prior John.

However, Prior John is not done with the fiend and extracts a further guarantee that henceforth all monks will be adept at these three varieties of the Devil’s sport. John then proceeds to explain to his bested opponent, that the only reason a priest such as himself prevailed on this occasion was because he’d surreptitiously greased his hands with holy-water before the games began. In this respect, the story of Prior John’s deal with the Devil at Kirklees is typical of that sub-genre of migratory legends in which the old adversary is outwitted by a pious human. The fact that the story conforms to a common folktale model suggests that, whilst Fawcett may have added some poetic embellishments—such as the abbey ghosts gathering to watch—it is probable that the narrative was a genuine local legend connected with Kirklees at the time. It is simply surprising that it has not been more widely reported.

Published in: on April 1, 2014 at 10:16  Leave a Comment  
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Copley Hall, Copley

This location is somewhat beyond the usual remit for this website; however, I wrote the piece for my forthcoming book, Haunted Halifax & District, but was ultimately unable to include it due to the constraints of the word-limit. Therefore I am publishing it here so that my efforts were not wasted. And Copley isn’t that far beyond the lower reaches of the valley.

Today, Copley is known primarily for its industrial heritage: in 1847, the Akroyd family moved their worsted mill to the site and two years later Edward Akroyd constructed a model village in which to house his workforce, pre-dating the more famous example of Sir Titus Salt at Saltaire by three years. Copley Mill, with its imposing triumphal arch, was demolished in 1975, but the model village endures—a testament to Victorian civic ambition. In recent decades, the area has become a centre for another sort of industry, thanks to the construction of Halifax Building Society’s data centre on land reclaimed from Copley Woods in 1987 (now owned by Lloyds Banking Group).

As such, it is difficult to imagine that Copley was formerly the site of one of the most venerable manors in Calderdale. The early pedigree of the Copley family has been the subject of much speculation and fancy, but it seems the Manor of Copley was already well-established during the Middle Ages. The first Copley Hall may have been erected around 1050, before it was rebuilt by Sir Henry Savile in 1421. As the fortunes of the manor waned in the 18th Century, part of the hall was converted into the Volunteer Arms. Sadly, the pub of that name standing today is not the same building, having been entirely demolished and rebuilt on the site in 1915.

In his 1847 chapbook, Rivers and Streams of Halifax, the local poet, F.W. Cronhelm, records that he gathered “with some difficulty… many years ago, a few fragments of the story (of Copley Hall), from an old crone at Copley Gate”. Cronhelm subsequently turned this tale into a doggerel ballad which tells how sometime in the Middle Ages, Sir Adam de Copley set out to fish for trout in Nun Brook, which ran beside Kirklees Priory, between Brighouse and Mirfield. Whilst there, his attention was captured by one of the young nuns, who eloped with him that night. As the Registers of the Archbishopric of York record that sisters at Kirklees were frequently admonished for “incontinence” during the 14th Century, this does not seem entirely improbable.

Sir Adam kept his mistress hidden in a seven-storey folly tower beside Copley Hall and for a while they were content together. Perhaps at length, however, Sir Adam began to feel uneasy about his sin and seek some atonement, for as Cronhelm records:

“Sir Adam, he took the holy cross,
And died in Palestine;
And lights were seen in the grated tower,
And voices heard lang-syne.
“But other moanings than the wind’s
Still rise on the midnight hour;
And other lights than taper or lamp
Shine from the haunted tower.”

With both tower and hall long gone, it is unlikely that the nun’s ghost walks still, and even the tradition goes unremembered in Copley today. Nonetheless, although Cronhelm doubtless romanticised the story according to a Gothic literary template, it is instructive as an early example of supernatural tradition in Calderdale. The historicity of the episode is probably to impossible to confirm, but if a sister of Kirklees Priory did ever elope with an heir of the Copley family, then eternal unrest would have been her punishment for such apostasy in the popular imagination.

Copyright Alexander P. Kapp and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

The Guytrash, Brighouse

One of the most common motifs in English ghost-lore is the phantom black hound: in North Yorkshire it is known as the barguest; in Lancashire as skriker; in Cumbria as the capelthwaite; in Somerset as the girt-dog; in Devon as the yeth-hound; and—most famously—in East Anglia as Black Shuck. The motif has been exploited extensively in literature: Charlotte Brontë references the belief at a pivotal scene in “Jane Eyre”; Sir Arthur Conan Doyle built an entire novel around the belief with “The Hound of the Baskervilles”; while J.K. Rowling has recently introduced a new generation to such lore through the Grim in “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”.

In the West Riding of Yorkshire, the phantom black hound was known as the guytrash or padfoot—for convenience this former term will be used here. Most towns and villages in the county had a guytrash—sometimes even individual streets could claim their own spectral canine guardian—and Brighouse was no exception. Sadly, however, details of the tradition in the town are sparse: it is only mentioned in passing by Joseph Lucas in “Studies In Nidderdale” and Samuel Dyer in “Dialect of the West Riding of Yorkshire”—published in 1882 and 1891 respectively. Fortunately, however, we can fruitfully reconstruct the legend from comparable traditions elsewhere.

In an unpublished fragment written in 1837, Branwell Brontë describes the guytrash around his home in the Worth Valley as “a spectre not at all similar to the ghosts who were once alive, nor to fairies, nor to demons” which typically appeared as “a black dog dragging a chain”. Another source claims that the guytrash was “the size of a small bear, black with shaggy hair and large eyes like saucers”; it “uttered a roar unlike the voice or any known animal” and walked with a distinctive “shog…shog…shog” sound.

Discussing the tradition in 1888, the antiquary Charles Hardwick notes “when followed by an individual (the guytrash) begins to walk backwards with his eyes fixed full on his pursuer and vanishes at the slightest momentary attention”. He adds that the guytrash was often seen to disappear into rivers and other bodies of water; whilst “at other times he sinks at the feet of the person to whom he appears with a loud splashing noise, as if a heavy stone was thrown in a miry pond”. The antiquary speculates that the dialect name “guytrash” might even be an onomatopoeic representation of this characteristic sound.

The guytrash was a source of considerable dread to the uneducated classes of the 18th and 19th Century and William Harbutt-Dawson noted that in Skipton “nothing more effectively cleared the streets than the report that t’guytrash was out”. If an unwary traveller encountered the guytrash, the fiend would often pursue its victim and sometimes cause bodily harm. Rev. Alfred Easther records the story of an Almondbury resident who was followed by the local guytrash as he was fetching home a pail of milk one evening. As the unfortunate man reached his house, he was seized by a paralysis in his arms and only just managed to get through the door before the beast was upon him.

On other occasions, the guytrash caused no harm itself but appeared as an omen of death or misfortune either for the witness’s family or some local worthy. Charles Hardwick writes, “(the guytrash) generally appears to one of the family from which death is about to select his victim and is more or less visible according to the distance of the event”. As a death-omen, the guytrash is perhaps a descendent of the Gabble Ratchets: an airborne flight of baying hell-hounds whose passage over a house similarly portended the proximity of death. This tradition was probably itself a descendent of pre-Christian traditions such as the Anglo-Saxon Wild Hunt or the Celtic Cŵn Annwn.

Sadly, there is no surviving record to suggest which specific places Brighouse folk once believed to the guytrash to haunt. Typically, however, the most likely places to an encounter such beasts were areas that could be described as “liminal”—i.e. borders, boundaries and thresholds. Folk religion perceived such spaces holistically; liminal regions were not merely physical/geographical borders but also spiritual ones—at which denizens of the Otherworld could cross into our own. Examples in England include gateways, ruins, crossroads, wasteland, churchyards, bridges, wells, parish-boundaries and so forth; all of which attracted rumours of the supernatural over the centuries.

Perhaps the most curious aspect of guytrash-lore is the fact that whilst a large black dog was its favoured incarnation, it was essentially “protean”—i.e. exceedingly variable; readily assuming different shapes or forms. Sometimes it appeared as a goat or a bear, but on other occasions its guise was infinitely more bizarre: Branwell Brontë notes that the Worth Valley guytrash sometimes adopted the aspect of “a flaming barrel bowling across fields”; it was once reported as a rolling woolpack in Almondbury; whilst around Todmorden it was seen as a dirty white rag hanging from a thorn tree—which in a cotton-weaving milltown must have made walking after dark a terrifying undertaking!

Although we do not know which areas of Brighouse the guytrash once haunted, its favoured shape in the town has fortunately been recorded: a local man named Sam Blackburn told Samuel Dyer that in his home town the guytrash appeared as “an evil cow”! Whilst the image of burly mill-workers cowering from supernaturally malevolent cattle may strike some as regrettably Pythonesque, it is scarcely more absurd than the good folk of Elland cowering from a spectral mouse at Long Wall—which as an omen of misfortune was essentially the local variant of the guytrash. Equally, residents of both Cowling and Rochdale were once afraid of a phantom rabbit!

By the late 19th Century, the vast majority of correspondents who related such traditions to industrious Victorian folklorists were adamant that the guytrash was a thing of the past and had been seen for the last time a generation ago or more. Discussing the guytrash than once haunted the outskirts of Bradford, William Cudworth wrote that it “left Horton when the district was incorporated, as it had grown jealous of the policemen”. Other sources claimed that the fiend had retired following the introduction of street-lighting, or because modern agriculture had destroyed the thickets in which it liked to hide. Whatever the reason, few feared molestation by the guytrash anymore.

Granny Hall, Slead Syke

As the name suggests, Granny Hall Lane once ran by an ancient edifice known as Granny Hall. It is unclear exactly when the house was built, but it undoubtedly stood in the first half of the Seventeenth Century, as plasterwork in the master bedroom was noted for bearing the arms of King Charles I, who was executed in 1648. The redoubtable local historian, Joseph Horsfall Turner was born at Granny Hall in 1845, but he survived his birthplace, which was demolished in 1907 to reach a bed of sandstone for quarrying. Rose Gardens, at the junction of Blackburn Road with Granny Hall Lane, roughly marks the site of the house today. Supposedly the cellars were never properly filled in, which why the gardens are now suffering from subsidence.

The former grounds have been entirely smothered by modern housing developments and in 1997, a family with a daughter named Sarah moved into just such one residence in the vicinity of Rose Gardens. Over the following years, the family noticed a degree of low-level poltergeist activity in the house and were aware of a “presence”. However, it was only around 2001 that a potential explanation for these occurrences emerged. By this time, Sarah was seven and she had apparently gained an imaginary friend named Chloe. When her mother interrogated her daughter about Chloe, “She said she was the girl who lived in the big house and pointed to the right of her room in the direction of what is known as Rose Gardens on Granny Hall Lane”.

Even more curiously, Sarah added that “Chloe didn’t go to school and she had long yellow hair in a bow and a white dress over a black dress… (and) boots (with) lots of buttons”. This struck Sarah’s mother as an unusually imaginative invention for her daughter, who suffered from Down’s Syndrome, and following Sarah’s revelations, the poltergeist activity began to intensify. The television began to switch itself on in the middle of the night; objects mysteriously vanished, only to reappear weeks later, or else moved about without any visible agency; whilst one evening, the family returned home early to discover every light in the building had somehow sprung into illumination. Sarah’s mother even began to see Chloe herself, albeit infrequently and as nothing more than a shadow in the window-glass.

Eventually, the family consulted a local historian about the history of the area, who told them all about Granny Hall. He was even able to show them an old photograph, which featured “horse and carriage pulling up in front of it and, in the doorway, a lady with her arm round a young girl, and that was definitely Chloe, by Sarah’s description”. Unfortunately, there does not appear to be any record of a girl named “Chloe” ever living at Granny Hall and it was not a common English name prior to the Twentieth Century. Nonetheless, a ghost by this name continued to make her presence felt to the family until they moved out in 2009, whereupon Sarah’s mother related the story on the website, Brighouse 247. That web-page has now been removed, but thankfully the story can be preserved.

Copyright Humphrey Bolton and licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Licence.

Sterne Bridge, Copley

This location is somewhat beyond the usual remit for this website; however, I wrote the piece for my forthcoming book, Haunted Halifax & District, but was ultimately unable to include it due to the constraints of the word-limit. Therefore I am publishing it here so that my efforts were not wasted. And Copley isn’t that far beyond the lower reaches of the valley.

For centuries, a wooden bridge of this name carried Hollas Lane across the River Calder at the site of an ancient ford. It was named after the landowners, the Sterne family of nearby Wood Hall. Between 1724 and 1730, the young Laurence Sterne, resided at this house in the care of his uncle, whilst attending a local grammar school; he was later to find fame as the author of The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, published in nine volumes from 1759 and now widely regarded as the “first modern novel”. There is record of “a secret chamber and a tradition concerning a ghostly visitor” at Wood Hall, but unfortunately further details have not yet come to light.

Sadly, Sterne Bridge was rebuilt in concrete in 1914 and again in 2012, on a much larger scale, to carry a new road as part of Calderdale Council’s controversial Copley Valley regeneration scheme. Whatever associations this Brutalist edifice might conjure, it is unlikely that Romantic verse is amongst them. Nonetheless, William Wordsworth immortalised a tradition connected with Sterne Bridge in the poem Lucy Gray, composed in 1799 and published the following year in the second volume of Lyrical Ballads. Wordsworth’s literary heir, Matthew Arnold, described the work as “a beautiful success”, whilst the influential critic, A.C. Bradley, thought it showed a “visionary touch”.

The poem describes the last hours of Lucy Gray, a sweet and solitary child who was sent by her father to light her mother home on a snowy December afternoon. But as she descended from the moors, she was overtaken by a blizzard and never met her mother in the town, nor returned home that night. The following day, her parents began a frantic search of the route she would’ve taken; they found her footprints, still faintly visible in the snow, and tracked them down the hillside, to the middle of a wooden bridge where they abruptly disappeared. Wordsworth ends the poem with a characteristically Romantic flourish, suggesting that Lucy’s spirit still haunts that fateful crossing:

“Yet some maintain that to this day
She is a living child;
That you may see sweet Lucy Gray
Upon the lonesome wild.
“O’er rough and smooth she trips along,
And never looks behind;
And sings a solitary song
That whistles in the wind.”

Although Wordsworth does not mention any locations in the poem itself, he later appended a note stating, “It was founded on circumstances told me by my sister, of a little girl who, not far from Halifax in Yorkshire, was bewildered by a snowstorm”. It is likely that Wordsworth’s sister, Dorothy, heard the story as a child living in Halifax. Following the death of their mother in 1778, William was sent to boarding school, whilst Dorothy was entrusted to the care of their mother’s cousin, Elizabeth Threlkeld, who live over a draper’s shop in Southgate. Although she left in 1786, she referred to Halifax as “that dear place which I shall ever consider as my home” and returned to visit “Aunt Betsy” several times over the years. William even accompanied her on one visit in 1807, when they stayed at Mill House in Triangle.

The fact that the setting of Lucy Gray is so closely associated with Sterne Bridge locally suggests the oral tradition which Dorothy Wordsworth communicated to her brother endured in Halifax for many years, independently of the poem. Of course, we might wonder if Lucy’s ghost was part of that tradition, or if it was just a typically Romantic flourish to round off the work. In his later note, Wordsworth adds that Lucy’s body was subsequently discovered in a canal lock nearby, which tends to support the former possibility: a life tragically cut short was often a candidate for post-mortem return in folk-eschatology. Even if it was Wordsworth’s invention, it clearly fed back into the local tradition, as one source mentions “vigils mounted by local residents” at the bridge on wintry December nights.

Copyright Alexander P. Kapp and licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Licence.

Coldwell Hill, Southowram

One day in 1896, labourers quarrying stone around Coldwell Hill—on the north side of Southowram, overlooking the Shibden valley—made an unexpected and macabre discovery. Buried deep beneath the field, they uncovered a stone vault containing an unusually large coffin, and within, the well-preserved skeleton of an adult male with “an exceedingly good set of teeth on the upper jaw”. A plate on the coffin lid bore an inscription informing them that they had stumbled on the resting place of “Jonathan Walsh—Born 1741—Died February 11th 1823—Aged 82 years”.

Although the history of Calderdale is not exactly short of colourful characters, few seem quite so Dickensian as Jonathan Walsh, who once owned the now-demolished Coldwell Hill and Lower Dove House farms at Southowram. A landowner, money-lender and textile manufacturer, Walsh was notorious in the district for his eccentricity, meanness and temper. Caroline Walker, resident at Walterclough Hall during his later years, bluntly refers to him in her diaries as “an old usurer” and “extremely importunate”.

Walsh indulged in frequent bouts of litigation against his neighbours, and was believed to spend at least a hundred pounds a year pursuit of this passion, a considerable sum at that time. It was said that he would “rather spend a pound for law than a penny for ale”. He was also known to ride around the area on a mule, bearing a whip which would be used on anybody who displeased him, whilst his speech was so uncouth and haranguing that Dr. Henry Coulthurst, the esteemed Vicar of Halifax from 1790 to 1817, used to hide if he saw the man coming. The clergy were apparently a favourite target for Walsh’s ire.

Perhaps his animosity towards organised religion accounted for his unusual mode of burial. Rather than choosing to be interred in consecrated ground, he left instructions that he should be laid to rest on his own property. Thus, after his death at a house on Horton Street in Halifax, the pall-bearers set out at midnight, carrying Walsh’s coffin back to his home at Southowram. As he had been a man of some considerable stature—well over six foot tall, by all accounts—it cannot have been an easy task to haul that burden up Beacon Hill, some years before the construction of the Godley Cutting.

Walsh’s inhumation was conducted by candlelight at four o’ clock in the morning, and in further defiance of religious convention, he’d directed that he be buried with his head to the east. The spot he had chosen was in the corner of a field near where Pump Lane meets the ancient holloway variously known as Dark Lane, Magna Via or Wakefield Gate, still a well-used route into Halifax at the time. His wife had previously been buried in the same field; however, Mr. Walsh had also given instructions that he was to be planted in the opposite corner!

The reason Walsh had selected for his grave a spot so close to the former highway seems typical of his perverse character. In 1924 (whilst wondering whether Walsh’s biography had been related to Emily Brontë in 1837 when she taught at Law Hill School nearby), the venerable Halifax historian T.W. Hanson noted: “The old packhorse road passed through his land, and Walsh was provoked many times because the weavers and others would trespass over his fields instead of keeping to the road. Tradition says he was buried close to the road so that his ghost might haunt the travellers”.

Sadly, no sightings of Jonathan Walsh’s irate revenant have been recorded, but it seems inevitable that for some time after his interment, the superstitious locals will have regarded the area with dread, especially as the grave was on unconsecrated ground. For instance, Philip Ahier mentions that during the Nineteenth Century, a stretch of woodland near Kirkburton was avoided by locals, who feared they would meet the ghost of a woman who had received an unconsecrated burial there. Perhaps it was not just the construction of the Godley Cutting which caused Wakefield Gate to fall into disuse…

However, it seems that the local folk Jonathan Walsh so despised had the last laugh. Although Walsh’s land originally passed to his grandson, it was eventually absorbed into the Shibden Hall estate and then leased to the quarrying company, Maude & Dyson. Following the discovery of Walsh’s mortal remains in 1896, the enterprising firm saw no need to respect the dead and instead, placed the bones on public display, charging the spectators two pence each to inspect them. Over the following days, thousands of people visited the grisly attraction, until finally the skeleton was “kicked to pieces by drunkards”.

Curiosities of Barkisland

A Grade 1 listed building, Barkisland Hall is generally regarded as one of the most interesting mansion-houses in the Calderdale region. Although in many respects it is typical of vernacular architecture in the district during the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century (such edifices are often dubbed “Halifax houses”), it has several additional features which make it unique. These include the three-storied F-plan structure, the two orders of fluted columns which frame the doorway, and the rose window above it, believed to be the earliest example of such a detail in the domestic architecture of England.

The Gledhill family had long occupied an earlier house on the site, but the extant building was constructed for John and Sarah Gledhill in 1638. John’s brother, Richard also resided at Barkisland Hall for a short time between its construction and his early death. The Gledhills were noted Royalist supporters during the English Civil Wars, and in the First Civil War (1642-1646), Richard served as Captain of a Troop of Horse under the uncompromising Sir Marmaduke Langdale, earning a knighthood for bravery from the Marquess of Newcastle.

However, Sir Richard’s contribution did not last long, as he was fatally wounded at Hessay, near York, during the fateful Battle of Marston Moor. According to historian Edward Lamplough, writing in 1891, “Gledhill… died in his own house an hour after he succeeded in gaining its shelter. He had received twenty-six wounds”. It is not clear if by “his own house” Lamplough means Barkisland Hall. Travelling the distance from Marston Moor with such grievous injuries seems to preclude it, as does the fact that Sir Richard is buried at the Church of St. Martin on Micklegate in York, rather than locally.

Yet if he had died at the Hall, it might explain why so many generations of Barkisland folk believed his restless spirit haunted the building and its environs. Sadly, accounts of his phantom are vague and by the early Twentieth Century the story seemed to exist as nothing more than a indistinct notion in the local psyche. There are no first or even second-hand accounts of encounters with the revenant, only a brief mention in a newspaper article from 1931, which simply states “Richard Gledhill’s ghost is said to haunt the area around Barkisland Hall”.

In 1636, Richard Gledhill’s sister, Elizabeth, had married another significant local landowner, William Horton, who in addition to Howroyd Hall and Firth House at Barkisland, also took possession of Coley Hall following its sale by Langdale Sunderland to pay the decimation fines imposed on Royalist supporters by Parliament following the Civil Wars. In this capacity the Hortons came to know the Non-Conformist firebrand, Rev. Oliver Heywood, who in periods of adversity often lodged with Captain Hodgson who was tenant at Coley Hall between 1654 and 1672.

Following the extinction of the Gledhill line, the Hortons took up residence at Barkisland Hall and upon the death of Elizabeth, the house was once again associated with supernatural activity. Rev. Heywood records in his diary for 2nd February 1671: “Mistress Horton the owner of this hall were we live died on Thursday night last… she lay from Tuesday to Thursday night speechless, not at all stirred, none were admitted to see her, many things considerable about her, several of the servants were affrighted with a great knocking and variety of music the night before she died”.

Domestic staff employed at Barkisland Hall were accommodated in a separate building erected in 1642 on Stainland Road nearby. By the early Nineteenth Century, this had been converted into a public house called the Griffin Inn and in recent decades, the established has also acquired a reputation for being haunted. The ghosts of an old man sitting by the fire and an old lady dressed in white, carrying a bunch of keys, have been witnessed on several occasions, in the taproom and cold-storage area of the cellar respectively.

As a relatively isolated hilltop village, superstition seems to have endured well into the Twentieth Century in Barkisland. A short distance from the Griffin Inn on Stainland Road stands Stocks House, so called because it was formerly the village lockup and an old set of stocks still survives beside it as a memorial to its former role. At some point it was converted into a private residence and it was probably during this process that a “witch-post” was added to the hearth to deflect the influence of baleful magic known as maleficium.

Chimneys and fireplaces were regarded as a vulnerable location by which witches could gain access to a house and so to the superstitious mind, demanded such apotropaic contingencies. Jacqueline Simpson and Steve Roud explain, “In Yorkshire farmhouses of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, hearths were screened by partitions ending in posts of rowan wood carved with cross-shaped patterns, called ‘witch posts’… Belief in their protective power continued into the 1920s, when Yorkshire builders made new ones when old houses were being rebuilt”.

Meanwhile, Peter Brears notes a further tradition associated with witch-posts, “A crooked sixpence was kept in a hole at the centre of the post. When the butter would not turn you took a knitting needle, which was kept for the purpose in a groove at the top, and with it got out the sixpence and put it in the churn”. Sadly, it is not clear if such a custom would’ve been practiced at Barkisland or exactly when the witch-post was added to Stocks House; whether it was an original feature invested with genuine belief or a later recreation of the vernacular style.

The Black Swan, Brighouse

Known colloquially as the Mucky Duck, the Black Swan is one of the oldest surviving public houses in Brighouse, along with its near-neighbours the Black Bull and the Anchor. It is located on Briggate, just across Anchor Bridge from the town centre, beneath the towering edifice of the former Sugden’s grain silos. Prior to the flour mill’s construction in the late-Nineteenth Century, the land behind the Black Swan was once known as Swan Fields and often played host to Rushbearing in August and the famed Brighouse Pig Fair in October, not to mention a variety of touring attractions such as the infamous Wombwell’s Travelling Menagerie, which passed through the town in December 1870.

The establishment which gave these fields their name (or was it vice-versa?) was originally known as the Black Swan Hotel and possessed three storeys, until the ceiling of the second floor was raised sometime in the Twentieth Century. Like most hostelries in Brighouse, its reputation has gone through many periodic cycles of respectability and, but in the early 1900s it was clearly known as a bawdy house. At the 1903 Brewster Sessions, police objected to an application to renew the pub’s license on account of “the publican habitually employing female musicians”. The license was eventually granted, but only on the condition that no female vocalists were engaged to perform in the building.

In recent years, the pub has gained quite a different reputation. Staff and regulars alike have come to regard the building as haunted following a spate of ghostly sightings since the start of the Twenty-First Century. Bev Jackson, landlady of the pub in the early ’00s often had inexplicable auditory and visual experiences; most dramatically, on mornings, before the pub opened for business, she often witnessed the visage of an elderly gentleman smoking a pipe sat at a table near the door. Her daughter, meanwhile, saw the apparition of a young man walk straight through the pool table and adjacent wall. Regulars suggested it could be the spirit of a former landlady’s son, who’d died of a drug overdose several years earlier.

An informant who worked behind the bar at the Black Swan during the last decade, claims that many members of staff refused to work in the pub alone and especially avoided the cellar, due to its uncanny atmosphere. On one occasion after hours, a barman was working in the basement in the process of closing up, when the door suddenly slammed shut and bolted itself. His fellow employee returned from swilling out a bucket in the yard to discover him beating frantically at the cellar door to be release. He angrily accused the barmaid of shutting him down there as a joke, but she denied it and to their knowledge, they were the only people left in the building.

A spectre known as the “White Lady” has also been seen on a couple of occasions and bar-staff would frequently experience the sensation of a woman brushing past them as they served. Local folklore attributed the phantom to a girl who had worked as a barmaid at the pub in the Nineteenth Century and been engaged in an affair with one of the stable hands. When she fell pregnant and her lover refused to acknowledge her or the child, she hanged herself from a beam on the third-floor of the building. Following the raising of the second-floor ceiling, only a low attic now remains of that upper storey. It is said the renovations were carried out for structural reasons, but perhaps the truth is rather less prosaic.

Published in: on February 29, 2012 at 13:55  Leave a Comment  
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The Haunted Mines of Hartshead-cum-Clifton

Situated atop rich deposits of high-quality black bed coal, the parish of Hartshead-cum-Clifton has a history of small-scale mining operations dating back to at least the Middle Ages. However, for roughly a hundred years between the early Nineteenth and Twentieth Century, the area became home to several much larger commercial mining enterprises. At one point, these collieries employed over five hundred people in the two villages, including boys as young as twelve who had been brought from Scotland or Ireland and were fostered by local families.

In 1838, the colliers of the district formed the Clifton Brass Band as a source of recreation. In his Story of the Ancient Parish of Hartshead-cum-Clifton, Reverend Harold Pobjoy recounts a story that once, for no adequately explained reason, all the Band’s instruments were thrown down an abandoned mine shaft at Gin Pit Hill (named after the horse-worked windless mechanism which brought up the coal), an area just adjacent to Clifton Common today. It was said that on certain nights, village children passing the workings would be terrified by the sound of ghostly music rising from the depths.

Evidently the mining families were a superstitious lot, as the following story from Hartshead Pit vividly demonstrates. This colliery once operated in the vicinity of Soap House Farm from 1861 until 1935 and was one of the largest in the area, employing over two hundred people below ground at the height of productivity in 1908. However, during the National Coal Strike of 1912 it fell silent like all the rest and in order to obtain fuel, the women and children of the surrounding villages were forced to spend their days gleaning coal from the waste tips of the pit.

One day, they had nearly finished bagging up all they could find when twilight began to fall. The Huddersfield Daily Examiner for 16th September 1929 recounts what happened next: “Suddenly a ‘ghost’ appeared at the edge of the tip, mouthing horribly and gesticulating with it shapeless arms. There was a scream, sacks of coal were dropped and the gatherers fled in terror… Half-an-hour later the more intrepid of them gingerly made their way back to the tip and went to retrieve their coal, the results of a day’s work. But it had gone—sacks and everything!”

Published in: on February 29, 2012 at 13:50  Comments (2)  
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