Coach Road, Lightcliffe

The Coach Road is an unsurfaced lane which runs from Wakefield Road just above St. Matthew’s Church at Lightcliffe to Hove Edge but originally it was part of the main highway linking Brighouse and Queensbury. Prior to the 1860s, it was also the principle access to the Crow Nest Estate, today a golf course but which was once the site of a substantial mansion constructed in 1775 by William Walker (who also owned High Sunderland for a time) and later owned by local mill tycoon Sir Titus Salt of Saltaire fame between 1867 and 1876. The house was abandoned after the First World War and ultimately demolished in the mid-1950s. However, the original gateposts to the house can still be seen beside the track.

Today the Coach Road is a rather lonely thoroughfare, bounded on both sides by high walls and dense foliage, especially as it descends towards the bottom of Cliffe Hill. Given its antiquity and atmosphere, it is hardly surprising that it has attracted a reputation for being haunted. The exact nature of the haunting is vague and there are no real stories attached. An article in the Brighouse Echo dated 3rd October 1986 refers to “a headless horseman and… a mysterious white lady, who both only appear while clear weather prevails after midnight”. This is the only reference to these ghosts in print but the headless horseman connection was certainly still present in the oral tradition amongst local children in the late 1990s.

Meanwhile, a former resident of the area, David Van De Gevel recalls walking home one night in the summer of 1962 or 1963 from Hipperholme to his house on the Stoney Lane estate, a journey which passes the junction of Wakefield Road with the Coach Road.  As he neared the old gateposts at the entrance, he observed a faint, unearthly figure garbed in an old-fashioned cloak and hood staring directly at an adjacent high wall. Unnerved by the apparition, he departed from the scene in haste but returned some days later to verify that his sighting could not just have been a trick of the light. However, it was clear that no light fell near that spot, whilst he later discovered that in the Victorian period, the adjacent wall would have been much lower and anybody on the Coach Road could’ve looked out over it.

Headless horsemen and white ladies are both common motifs in English ghost lore but also enigmatic ones. As Owen Davies points out in “The Haunted: A Social History of Ghosts”, the reason for the horseman’s missing head is often obscure and despite their ubiquity in local tradition, accounts of first-hand sightings are rare and they exist mostly as legend only. White Ladies, meanwhile, similarly tend to lack any concrete historical association or back-story. Some folklorists have suggested that based on the concentration of these apparitions at liminal zones such as watery places and connecting highways, they may represent a degraded memory of fairy lore, itself a degraded memory of pre-Christian deities. Doubtless this is fanciful in the case of the Coach Road White Lady herself but it may be how the image originally entered the popular consciousness.

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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. i was a cub scout at the scout hut at the top end of coach raod in the early 80’s, about 81/82 the story of the headless horseman was told to us on bonfire night to keep us from straying to far away.

    regards

    darrell

    • Thanks for that information, Darrell. I wonder if the story was originally invented by the scout masters for that purpose? There’s an example of a haunting at Bradley Woods being used for similar ends.

  2. I distinctly remember tales of a Headless Horseman being told at Hebden Hey scout camp in the 80s.

    Maybe scout masters are responsible for all such tales? 🙂

    • Thanks for your comment, Jamie. I think you are probably right! I’ve recently come across some work by the American folklorist Bill Ellis, discussing the role of summer-camps in creating/preserving folklore in the States and I imagine scout camps perform a similar function in Britain. I may add a bit to the blog post at some point about this.

      I’ve never heard of the headless horseman around Hebden Hey though. I’m surprised they needed to come up with such stuff when they already have the tales of Tom Bell to go at!

  3. iv have heard of the headless horseman and what i was told is that he owned a pub in huddersfield and he was murderd in the celler and his head was cut off and every now and then youl see the steps with blood trailing up them as you see him walk up the steps and mount a horse wich from speaking with others they said the same to me but also told me that he would often ride along coach road and pass through judy woods at the far end as he was on his way to bradford where he knew some one there. the other part i heard was bang on midnight on a surtain night of the year if you stand next to the wall at the far end of judy woods youl hear his horse comeing down the track and if you cross the wall he would chase you.


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