Old Castle, Elland

Old Castle was a gabled Elizabethan building which once stood in the graveyard at the parish church of St. Mary the Virgin in sight of the east window. It had been inhabited by a rich family but had gradually fallen into disrepair. Indeed, in 1826 it was converted into a inn – somewhat unusually for a building situated on consecrated ground! – but it was pulled down shortly afterwards when population demand necessitated the extension of the churchyard in 1829.

Around 1800 the building was occupied by one Jim Fenton who owned a hauling-horse named Boxer with which he plied his trade hauling boats along the canal. Albert Rinder in A History of Elland tells how one particularly hard winter, the canal was frozen for months on end leaving Jim unable to earn his living and the family grew short of food. As did Boxer who was stabled in the house and would beat his hoofs on the floor boards in hunger.

Driven to distraction by the cries of his children and the din of his horse, Jim decided one night that he would have to go and beg for food at Elland Mill. However, on his route he chanced across a huge boggart and in the confusion of the encounter, the boggart dropped a sack of meal. Despite his terror, Jim was a desperate man and managed to grab the bag and run home to feed his starving family.

Soon the Fenton’s were flourishing, as the boggart’s sack always seemed to contain more meal no matter how much they consumed. When the iron ice-breaking barge finally made it down the canal, Jim took Boxer to assist with the endeavour. The boatmen apparently remarked how unusually well-fed the horse looked considering it had been such a harsh season and asked for a reason, to which Jim allegedly replied “animal magnetism”.

Such a legend amply illustrates the versatility of the boggart epithet. Although as discussed in the entry on Boggart House it typically referred to a household spirit with attributes which ghost-hunters would now ascribe to poltergeist activity, it was used to refer to a wide range of ghostly encounters. The example above is unusual in that the boggart is both visible and described as “huge” when they were typically regarded as diminutive, wizened creatures.

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