Nether House is thought to be one of the oldest surviving dwellings in Brighouse. A house of the same name is recorded on the site in the Doomsday Book and it is possible the structure seen today retains some features from this house in its fabric. A timber-framed dwelling was erected in 1589, plastered with wattle-and-daub, then cased in stone sometime during the 17th Century (the walls are now an astonishing three feet thick). Considering the religious strife at the time of its construction, it is little wonder that the house contains a priest hole, six by eighteen feet, used to conceal Catholic clergy in the event of a search by pursuivants. Despite its substantial dimensions, it was so well concealed that it was forgotten about and not rediscovered until an investigation by the Halifax Antiquarian Society in 1965.
Although Nether House was a farmstead for most of its history, for a period during the 19th Century it was a coaching inn called The Black Horse. Apple Tree Lane which runs past the cottage may be a sleepy backstreet today but at the time it was part of the main highway towards Brighouse. Tradition claims the Brontë sisters often stopped at the inn on their way to visit friends in Mirfield. A more persistent legend in the district, however, is that the pub was given its name The Black Horse after the steed of a notorious 17th Century highwayman by the name of Will Nevinson who is rumoured to have once hidden there. Nevison is briefly referred to by that serial diarist of the period, the Non-Conformist preacher Oliver Heywood, which suggests that his exploits extended to this part of the country.
Nevison was born in 1639 at Wortley in South Yorkshire but left home as a teenager and fled to Holland where he enrolled in the Duke of York’s army and fought in the Battle of the Dunes on 14th June 1658. He turned to highway robbery after leaving the army, like many former soldiers; starting as a footpad near York, he soon graduated to horseback and was soon the terror of travellers on the Great North Road. Like Robin Hood, Nevison was supposedly an honest robber, who stole only from the rich and often redistributed his spoils to deserving causes. Despite the risk he posed to their clientèle, innkeepers often gave him shelter and stable-boys were the first to warn him of pursuit. Legend claims he was even harboured by a magistrate who lived at Parceval Hall, near Appletreewick in Wharfedale.
Nevison’s most famous feat was an epic ride between Rochester and York, later erroneously attributed to Dick Turpin by the 19th Century novelist, William Harrison Ainsworth. Legend claims that after robbing a man early one morning at Gad Hill in Kent, Nevison crossed the River Thames by ferry, then rode his horse two-hundred miles to York; he arrived in the city just as evening was falling and even greeted the Lord Mayor. When the renowned highwayman was subsequently tried for the Gad Hill robbery, he produced the Lord Mayor to provide his alibi, and because nobody on the jury believed such a long-distance ride was possible in such a short space of time, Nevison was acquitted. Rumour of the feat earned him the nickname “Swift Nicks”—a title supposedly bestowed by King Charles II.
Many other legends attached themselves to Nevison and his hardy horse. For instance, he was supposedly given an enchanted bridle by a cunning-woman who dwelt beside the Ebbing-and-Flowing Well near Giggleswick. This permitted his horse to accomplish remarkable feats of endurance and agility when evading pursuit. The beast is supposed to have jumped over the limestone chasm of Gordale Scar by such magical means, whilst numerous ravines in Yorkshire were dubbed “Nevison’s Leap”. The most famous example is a deep cutting which carries Ferrybridge Road through a hillside in Pontefract; a blue-plaque commemorates the deed and “Nevison’s Leap” is the name of a pub nearby. Another example can be found at Giggleswick Scar above the Ebbing-and-Flowing Well.
As one of the most famous highwaymen in the country at the time, Nevison was regularly inconvenienced by the authorities. Tradition claims that on one occasion he escaped from gaol by pretending to have contracted plague; his body was carried out of the building in a coffin and rumour of his demise spread sufficiently that victims of his next robbery believed him to be a ghost. Although this legend may be apocryphal, we know Nevison spent some time imprisoned at York Castle in 1677. He was tried at the assizes, but after he turned King’s evidence against his accomplices, his sentence was commuted from execution to transportation. The wily highwayman subsequently managed to give his escort the slip en route to Tangiers.
Inevitably, Nevison’s luck did not last forever. Following his return to highway-robbery, he killed a constable named Darcy Fletcher, who’d tried to apprehend him at Soothill near Batley. He was eventually captured on 6th March 1864 at the Three Houses Inn in Sandal Magna near Wakefield. On this occasion, Nevison was tried for murder as well as robbery, and a capital sentence was passed. He was hanged at the Knavesmire gallows near York on 4th May 1684. Nonetheless, he lived on in the memory of the region as a folk hero and the ballad “Bold Nevison” was once commonly sung. Even his relics were preserved: the leg-irons that once restrained the highwayman are displayed at York Castle, and the chair in which he was sitting when he was captured can be seen at St. Helen’s Church in Magna Sandal.