First brought to the public attention by Terence Whitaker in his 1983 book Yorkshire’s Ghosts and Legends, the haunting of this cottage in Rastrick has become one of the most famous in the region, having subsequently been picked up by the local press and written about extensively in other books on the paranormal such as Andy Owen’s Yorkshire Stories of the Supernatural. Perhaps it’s because unlike so many hauntings recorded in the local news and preserved in this blog, the case has a number of satisfactory manifestations which go far beyond the typical, prosaic “poltergeist” activity so often cited.
The house is thought to have been erected in 1690 on the site of an old travellers’ inn and the haunting started some two years after Peter and Marilyn Auty moved in, in November 1974. It began with primarily auditory phenomena, such as a high pitched whistling which endured throughout the day, audible over the television, and a succession of bangs and thuds vibrating across the living room ceiling. Perhaps the most curious example, however, was the mysterious overnight ringing of a broken bell missing its clapper which even disturbed their neighbours on successive.
Mrs. Auty first witnessed a visible presence in the living room and again when she was cleaning the staircase. It took the form of a swirl of grey mist coalescing and gliding about before suddenly vanishing. This remained the most common manifestation over the years, whilst much activity was recorded around the staircase in particular. Mrs. Auty’s sister allegedly refused to climb it alone due to the sensation of being watched. The stairs are a relatively recent addition to the house and it is thought there was once a room in the space over which they were built.
On another occasion, one evening at about eight o’clock when Mr. Auty was alone in the house, he saw a cowled figure pass through the living room before his eyes and straight through a solid stone wall. He also added that the figure was cut off at its knees, which is interesting considering that he claimed to have recently raised the level of the floor in that room, leaving the old floor preserved beneath it. Meanwhile, neighbours reported seeing a similar strange figure stood at an upstairs window when the Auty’s were known to be on holiday.
Other occurrences have included the couple hearing their names called in an apparently distressed tone and pictures swaying from side to side on the wall without any obvious draught to disturb them. However, the only indication of any hostility from the presence came when Mrs. Auty was about to leave the house to catch a bus, only to feel a sharp pain at the back of her neck and suddenly find herself sitting on the floor. When she finally made it to the bus stop she learnt that she’d missed the bus by twenty minutes and could not account for the intervening time.
The figure moving across the lounge, cut off at its knees, recalls the famous apparition of Roman centurions marching along the route of buried Roman road seen in the cellars of the Treasurer’s House in York. It suggests that the haunting may not be a sentient presence but rather a event recorded by the fabric of the building and preserved as image which replays itself over and over again. Such a hypothesis is known as a “residual haunting” or “stone tape theory” and has been popular amongst parapsychologists since it was first proposed by T.C. Lethbridge in 1961.
In 2011, Chelsea Bushby, resident of No. 212, the property next door but originally part of the same building, was plagued by mysterious phenomena similar to that experienced by the Autys. This included the sound of the broken bell and a noise like running footsteps along the upstairs landing. She also witnessed an apparition she described as having “very dark features and longish but mangy patchy stubble and very tired puffy eyes… He had no hat on but a dark thick collar”. Perhaps significantly, Ms. Bushby had no previous knowledge of the building’s haunted history.