Although the current building is not the original, a hostelry by this name has stood on the site for centuries and enjoys something of a rich history. The original structure was built in 1497 and following the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536 it gave refuge to Katherine Grice, Joan Leverthorpe and Cecilia Topcliffe, the last three nuns at Kirklees Priory, from whom the establishment’s name was later taken. A local tradition claims Grice was seduced by one of Henry VIII’s commissioners and upon discovering she was pregnant, she committed suicide by drowning herself in the adjacent stream known as Nunbrook.
It is said that Oliver Cromwell stayed at the inn in 1644 en route to his victory at the Battle of Marston Moor, whilst in 1812 it was used as a meeting place by Luddites prior to their ill-fated assembly at the nearby Dumb Steeple and the subsequent attack on Rawfolds Mill. A collection of their weapons was discovered hidden in the ceiling in the 1920s. Sadly, despite its venerable history, the building was allowed to fall into dereliction and it was entirely rebuilt in 1939. The foundations of the original Three Nuns now lie hidden beneath the car park of the current one. Certain fixtures and fittings were transferred, however, including much of the oak panelling.
On 15th June 1985, the Evening Courier reported on a series a supernatural disturbances experienced by workmen during renovation work at the pub. Site manager Ian Thompson was troubled by doors mysteriously opening and shutting and the sound of feet descending the cellar stairs whilst he knew himself to be alone in the building. He told the newspaper: “I went into the cellar. It’s always cool down there but on that occasion there was a strange sort of chill about the place”. An architect reported a similar experience, whilst a plumber working in the cellar experienced a shadowy figure pushing past him, resembling a woman with a veil over her head.
The workmen attributed the disturbances to a carved ram’s head, part of the oak panelling of the original pub, which they’d discovered concealed behind plastering and removed for the duration of the renovation work. Mr. Thompson commented: “It has very strange eyes. They are almost human”. The whole affair was dismissed by the landlord Glyn Ashley, however, who said: “Frankly I don’t believe there is a ghost – it’s all in the mind. My wife and I have lived here for nine months and we haven’t heard a thing. The theory is that it’s all to do with the ram’s head but as far as I know that was a motif used by Ramsdens (a brewery) before the pub was taken over by Tetleys.”
The ram’s head was returned to its rightful position once the renovations were complete. However, the paranormal phenomena at the establishment clearly persisted as a new landlord was forced to carry out an exorcism in 1991, whilst Stephen Wade reports on more recent occurrences in Haunting In Yorkshire, such as a guest who “insisted he was being watched by a tall grey figure with a beard.” Similarly Kenneth Goor in Haunted Leeds mentions “Customers often complain of an old man who laughs at them, but when they complain to the management about his behaviour he disappears”. Goor also refers to continued poltergeist-like activity and cold spots in the pub.
In addition to the ram’s head, the supernatural manifestations at the Three Nuns have been associated with the unhappy spirit of the suicide, Katherine Grice, or even the Kirklees Prioress who bled Robin Hood to death and has been blamed for apparent vampiric activity in the vicinity of the outlaw’s grave, approximately half a mile from the pub. It has also been suggested that the building lies on a ley line – a conduit of mystical energy – which ran through Robin Hood’s grave and the Alegar Well at Brighouse. Leys are often associated with concentrations of supernatural phenomena, but they have been dismissed as pseudo-science by many sceptical investigators.