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.