Scout Hall, Shibden Valley

An ancient and gaunt building situated on the western slopes of the upper Shibden valley, Scout Hall is exactly the sort of building you expect to come with a ghost story attached. Although there has been a building on the site since the early 14th Century, the current structure was erected by notorious local clothier John Mitchell in 1681. Three stories high and a riot of different architectural styles, it is said to have 52 windows (one for each week of the year) and 365 panes (one for each day). Yet despite being one of the most aesthetically interesting buildings in the area, it has been uninhabited for many years. In the 1959 West Riding edition of his Buildings of England series, Sir Nikolaus Pevsner described it as “a half-derelict place in the deserted English countryside” and it currently appears on English Heritage’s Buildings at Risk register.

John Mitchell was certainly a curious character. A gentleman silk-merchant, he was known to organise horse races on the nearby moors and was fond of hunting, as a bas-relief above the main entrance of the Hall attests. He would often disappear for several days on end, only to be discovered asleep in some cosy thicket in the hills and hence he dubbed himself as “hedge baronet”. He was clearly also a hedonistic sort, riling the outspoken Non-Comformist preacher Oliver Heywood, who wrote in his diary, “Mr. John Mitchell of Scowt, the last week of Christmas to season his New House kept open house, entertaining all-comers, had fearful ranting work, drinking healths freely, had forty-three dishes at once, I have scarce heard the like in our parts, his wife was a musician. Lord put a stop.”

Heywood’s wish was granted when Mitchell died at the young age of 37. The man had been obsessed with building flying machines, and boasted that he would one day “fly with the steadiness and velocity of an eagle”. Local tradition records that he was killed in just such a flight attempt from a nearby hill. In Ghosts Over England, R. Thurston Hopkins writes that a phantom flying machine is still sometimes said to be observed overhead in the Shibden valley, followed by a resounding clangour, much like some “heavy contraption falling from a great height on rocks”. Meanwhile, several previous tenants of the Hall have complained of witnessing strange shapes drifting through the rooms and have been disturbed by uncanny noises in the night. In its current state, you can well believe it.

Published in: on March 23, 2010 at 17:02  Comments (11)  
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11 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. when I first came across it I thought it was an old work house

    • It certainly does have that look about it. Despite its undoubted architectural significance and well-appointed situation, I’m not convinced it’s particularly pleasing on the eye. Too austere and uniform.

  2. I used to play in it as a child bout 9-12 years old, thats over 50 years ago. very dangerous inside floors and stairs damaged. Highland cattle outside more scary though.

    • I used to play in it in the 60s, we had rope swings in the woods. I think Johny Alan had it but not sure.

  3. It appears to have been a children’s playground in the 50’s. I lived in the valley from 1944 to 1977 on and off and Scout Hall was like a magnet to us.

  4. I think it is a beautiful old building and if I had the money I would buy it and do it up – but with the ghost thing I might not live in it myself!!

    • My thoughts exactly, Linda! If ever I win the lottery…

  5. My dad and his mates used to play in here as kids in the 50s when noone lived there. He told me of a time they were in the bottom floor all the upper floors were timber but there were none . There was a set of stone steps going up to nothing with a door at the top. One day they were in there being noisy and the was door opened by a lady in old style maids costume she shouted to them t9 keep quite or theyd get her in bother .my dad said it scared the life out of him and his mates and they scarpered .ive been to it a few times and it does have a feel to it

  6. IS SCOUT HALL the one you can see from theroad as you drive through Queensbury from Cathrine slack on your right hand side. if so me and my sister and friends used to play in there in the late 60s early 70s

    • No that’s upper shibden hall . Scout hall is down Lee Lane next to the ski slope .you can see it from the other side of the valley from salter Lee.

  7. I remember when we were removing diseased trees near Scout Hall and we had a clear view of the renovation work going ahead. Great to see someone investing in our historical buildings.

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