Until its closure in 1995, Whiteley’s – which once stood at the junction of Rastrick Common and Ogden Lane – was the last working forge in Calderdale, originally founded in 1860 by the violin-playing George Shaw Whiteley and ownership passed down through successive generations of the family. The main business was tool-making and maintenance for the local quarries, although their most famous work was probably the wrought iron weathervane which still crowns the nearby Church of St. Matthew. The smithy shut down in 1995 following the sad death of then-owner John Snell (Whiteley’s great-great-nephew) at the young age of 38. A buyer could not be found for the business – neighbours had already been complaining about the noise it made – so it had to be demolished lest the buildings become a hazard, and the land sold.
A series of hauntings which would be attributed to “Old George”, the ghost of its founder, began at the premises during the Second World War, when it was owned by Clifford Whiteley (who later recorded the history of the firm in the book A Village Blacksmith). At that time they worked until 7:30 in the evening and the like every other building the forge had to be blacked-out after dark, making for a very claustrophobic atmosphere. Often during such times, Clifford would hear the din of a chisel being sharpened (a distinctive sound by all accounts) in the “top shop” despite knowing that room to be empty and confirming it to be so himself. He later learnt from his father that the “top shop” had been George’s fire and he would often be found sharpening his chisel at the end of the day.
Later, a couple living in a cottage on Ogden Lane adjacent to the smithy reported a break-in at the premises after hearing heavy objects being dragged around in the middle of the night although no evidence of burglary was found. Subsequent residents would hear similar noises and feel a mysterious presence in their bedroom. Activity at the forge itself continued in a fashion consistent with many supposed hauntings, such as objects including ear protectors or tools vanishing and reappearing without explanation. It is alleged that such occurrences finally stopped when John Snell, having unsuccessfully spent a night in the building hoping to catch the spirit at work, finally tired of its mischief and one day loudly declaimed “Uncle George, you have had your fun, now will you please give us a bit of peace.” The presence of the ghost was never noticed again.