Curiosities of Coley Hall

The earliest references to settlement at Coley are found in the Wakefield Court Rolls in 1277 and 1286, pertaining to land owned there by Sir John de Coldelay, whose surname the word Coley was no doubt corrupted from. Later, in 1326, Brother Thomas Larchier, prior of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem recorded that Henry de Coldelay “held a certain tenement in Coldelay of their house,” which is to say that de Coldelay rented the land from the Knights, for the sum of five shillings per annum. For such a tenure, the de Coldelays would have enjoyed certain privileges including not having to submit their corn to be ground at the mill of the Lord of the Manor, or “do suit at his court”.

The Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, also known as the Knights of Malta or the Knights Hospitaller, were a Christian military order originally established in 1080 to care for sick pilgrims travelling to the Holy Land, their martial designation stemming from the frequent need to provide an armed guard during the Crusades. The Knights were granted an exemption from all but papal authority and from the payment of tithes, whilst they were gifted land across Christendom from which to draw an income. In England, however, all property of the Knights was confiscated during the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1540 whereupon their land at Coley passed to the Manor of Batley.

The 17th Century Nonconformist preacher and diarist Oliver Heywood, who was for a time incumbent at Coley Chapel wrote that Coley was “once a priory in popish times” but whilst the Hospitalalers certainly owned the land, there is no primary historical or archaeological evidence to suggest they actually maintained a community on the site (although neither has it been strenuously sought). However, certain clues do remain in the name of nearby Priestley Green and the preponderance of holy wells in the area, including Helliwell Syke, Lister Well and St. John’s Well which was believed to possess healing powers and can still be found in a field above the hamlet at Coley Hall.

Nonetheless, several remembrances of the Hospitallers’ ownership of Coley do still endure. The patron saint of the Order was John the Baptist and in addition to St. John’s Well, Coley Church (built in 1812 on the site of the earlier 16th Century chapel) is similarly dedicated, whilst preserved inside the church is the original cross from Coley denoting its tenure. It is also interesting to note that John the Baptist was often depicted as a severed head and the gateway to Coley Hall features a particularly fine example of the archaic stone head motif. Although the relief was carved in 1649 more than a century after the Hospitallers had lost the land, that fact does not preclude the persistence of the image in the local psyche.

The land at Coley passed into the hands of the Sunderland family (of High Sunderland) on 29th April 1572 and it is thought that the body of the current Hall was built by Samuel Sunderland around 1640, passing to his nephew Langdale in 1646. During the Civil Wars, Langdale fought for the Royalists as a Captain of a Troop of Horse under the Earl of Newcastle and whilst he was resident at the Hall, it suffered badly from bombardment by passing Parliamentary troops, necessitating the rebuilding of its south frontage. The victorious Commonwealth later imposed a decimation tax on Langdale forcing him to sell Coley along with the family estates at High Sunderland.

In 1657 the new owner William Horton leased the Hall for fifteen years to Captain John Hodgson, who’d fought for the Parliamentarian cause in the Civil Wars. For a period, Hodgson gave refuge there to Oliver Heywood whose uncompromising Nonconformity had seen him driven out as vicar at Coley Chapel, jailed under the Acts of Uniformity in 1659, prosecuted for riotous assembly and twice excommunicated in 1662 and 1685. Heywood’s controversial reputation was such that he was even accused of witchcraft, when John Hanson declared that following a visit to Heywood’s house the wife of one B. Jagger had “got power” over a maid of Anthony Waterhouse, who soon died.

Over the next few hundred years, Coley Hall passed through the hands of a succession of owners until 1961 when it was bought by Richard Pickles who found it in a near-derelict state and set about restoring it. In articles for the Brighouse Echo dated 24th February and 24th March 1962, Mr. Pickles describes experiencing a number of hauntings at the Hall. In one particular room the bed seemed vibrate for no reason and his dog would growl at some invisible presence moving around the room, whilst a motor mechanic working in a garage converted from old stables adjacent to the Hall was the victim of poltergeist activity which saw him showered with soil and stones.

However, it was Mrs. Pickles who witness the apparitions most associated with the Hall when she was confronted by the figure of a Cavalier leaning against the mantle. This experience was echoed by testimony from Mr. G.E. Gudgin, trustee of the estate of the late John Herbert Fletcher whose wife Anne Sunderland had been the last member of that family to reside at Coley. Gudgin recalled being told by Fletcher that on one occasion he had descended for breakfast to find the ghostly figures of two cavaliers in the morning room. A neighbour also recalled Anne Sunderland once showing him a priest-hole in the Hall, where there was a bloodstain reputed to belong to a murdered cavalier found hiding there.

Some have speculated that one of the Cavalier ghosts was that of Langdale Sunderland, expressing his displeasure at the Hall’s later occupancy by his Parliamentarian rivals John Hodgson and Oliver Heywood. However, this doesn’t entirely fit as Langdale dies in 1698, long after Hodgson’s tenancy had ended and ownership of the Hall returned to the Sunderland family in 1775. Nonetheless, the Cavaliers were the most frequently seen spectres, even though there were supposedly others; Anne Sunderland also used to speak of the ghost of a white lady known as Caroline Anne who would appear from the oak panelled bedroom at the top of the main staircase.

13 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hello,
    I would be incredibly grateful for any further information you have about Coley Hall and the Knights Templar. There is a poem about a Bold Cross Knight returning there. Do you think he might have been a de Coldelay? I am a ‘Rishworth’a nd am trying to work out the connections with the family at this time.

    Lisa New Zealand

  2. Ooh, I have to confess that I’m not familiar with the poem but it sounds very intriguing. Could you possibly direct me to it, please? I’m not sure if there is any further information to be gleaned regarding a possible Templar connection. It’s all just speculation born out of the indications of a Hospitaller presence in the area. But as I say in the article, even the evidence for this is thin. No documents have been found to suggest that Coley was anything more than a piece of land they owned (hardly rare) and no archaeological surveys have ever been conducted in the area. Nonetheless, I think the evidence of the local toponymy and the profusion of holy wells suggests some sort of religious community there in the 12th-13th Century.

  3. Interesting. It is probably worth noting that the main church in Halifax, now Halifax Minster is named after John the Baptist, in fact the head of John the Baptist is rumored to be in the minsters foundations.

    The Halifax coat of arms has John the Baptist’s head on, and the name of Halifax possibly came from Holy Head in reference to this.

  4. in 1998 me and my wife were driving near to Coley Hall at around 2pm one sunday and we both saw a Cavalier on horseback, my wife is into horse riding so she always looks out for them on the road.
    We both said at the same time “that was a bloody Cavalier!” “wonder if they are having a do at Shibden?”
    We have always thought it was odd as he actually looked exactly like Cavaliers you see in books/movies etc but was very grubby looking and seem to be a bit odd looking.
    We moved to Scotland in 2002 and now and again we have thought wish we had done some research on our sighting as its always puzzled us lol
    I was born in Halifax (my wife’s from Wyke hence reason we were in that area at the time of sighting)
    Having found this website we would loveto know if he was “real” amazing stuff

    • Many thanks for your comment, Brian, and I’m pleased to hear you’ve enjoyed the website. Your experience reminds me a lot of this encounter near Scammonden: . Arguably yours is a little more explicable given that it was 2pm on a Sunday afternoon and Shibden Hall does often host re-enactors. However, Coley seems to have a strong association with the ghosts of the Civil Wars, so who knows!

  5. As a young boy my father visited coaley hall on a regular basis. The owners Mr and Mrs Fletcher welcomed him with open arms. His visits were cut short but he never knew why. He had a passion for Knights so coaly hall was a magnet. Years past. When my dad came out of the army he visited them and was encouraged to stay longer on this day. In the room was a large fancy chair that he prefered to sit in on his visits. He was asked to sit on another chair that day so he did. He witnessed an apparition appear sitting in the old chair. The gentleman that appeared was wearing long black riding boots old fashioned clothes and he wore his hair very long red and curley he smoked a very long clay pipe. It manifested for only afew seconds then evaporated in to thin air. When he asked them about the bells he used to hear as a child they told him they were from bedrooms upstairs that would ring in the kitchen for service from servants. The bells had been removed befor the Fletchers bought the house. They told my dad when he was a child that it was a phone that only rang a couple of times but yet nobody rose to answer it. They told him many stories and experiences they witnessed over the years of living in Coaley Hall however when he was younger the kept thier experiences private. A room had been bricked up a couple of hundred years ago by the family that owned the house because a family member would not open the door after he escaped from the violence of the war. He was a cowered so they treated him as such. After the Fletchers died he delivered bricks for the new owners. There was a nail in the floor in the main hall that pointed out where the white lady was stabbed and thrown over the balcony there was also a faint stain of blood that hosted the nail. When i was young we would visit the grounds to pick holly at xmas as my father did when he was a boy. My dad Fred Kendall past away 2 years ago in an aged care facility in Australia aged 81 and he still frequently spoke of Coaley Hall and what influence it had on all of our lives.

    • Wow, thank you so much for your comment, Jill. It contains some truly fascinating information and lore I had never come across before which might otherwise have been forgotten in time. I’m currently working on a book called “Haunted Halifax”, to be published by the History Press sometime in 2014. Would you object if I included the material you’ve related? I can leave your father’s name anonymous, or I can credit it full–whichever you’re happiest with. Either way, many thanks again. I’m extremely grateful for such intriguing detail.

    • That’s very interesting Jill Coley certainly has plenty of history and such a lovely building too….I have heard of other Halls etc where they blocked up walls for odd reasons and one in particular was in Sowerby Bridge and not a grand Hall like Coley but a small terraced house which a guy bought and started to restore etc, one day his friend from work called to see how he was going on with the restoration (his 1st visit) and after a short while he pointed out that the front of the building was wider than his front lounge on the outside! well they went and measured outside and sure enough it was approx. 12ft wider.
      The lounge hadn’t been started on yet so they stripped the wallpaper off and tapped on the wall and it sounded hollow in one place, they chipped the plaster off and found a old wooden door and smashed it in with a lump hammer lol when there was a decent sized hole in there he shone his torch and found not only a room but 2 staircases one to a cellar he didn’t know he had and the other went upstairs to another small room approx. size 15ft x 12ft which had no windows but VERY mouldy. So he had a nice surprise and has since restored the home and uses the “extra” room as a office.
      Very strange find but last time I enquired about the house they said its a nice solid house but always feels creepy and their son refuses to be in their alone, maybe its after hearing the story that’s given him the creeps or maybe he’s genuinely not happy there?
      Halifax and districts nearby have plenty of old buildings that must be able to tell a tale…. if only walls could talk eh 😎
      Look forward to your book Kai (make sure you let me know when its available)
      I now live out in the wilds of Scotland in of all things a “haunted” bungalow from 1970’s nothing too frightening but plenty of strange things happen here, enough to scare our builders off the job! lol and the funny thing is our top field is the site of a camp from 1680’s where Scots camped before attacking the castle over the hill so would love to go over it with a metal detector one day.
      Cheers and Thanks again Jill for sharing your information with us.

      • Hi Brian and Kai. I need to appologise and amend my comment about the White Lady. The White Lady manifested at Bolling Hall and was the ghost of Lady Bolling. I spoke to my mum today about the information that i shared with you so she corrected my mistake. My mum was born in Wyke June Kendall (nee) Petty. My dad was born in Shaw Lancishire but grew up in Norwood Green. My mum mentioned a duck pond on the estate of Coaley Hall. As child i remember counting the steps that disapeared down into the murky water there were three. The pond was a mile or so away from the house but the maze of corridores and rooms lead to the house. It was flooded by soldiers to wash out or to drown anyone hiding down there. After the Fletchers died my dad delivered some bricks to the new owners whom were not present that day. My dad thought about a room upstairs that held armour and weapons that he inspected as a child however he was overcome by fear so he dropped off the bricks and left. My mum holds more knowledge and information than i and is interested in helping Kai with information he may need. I was only 10years old when we emmigrated to Australia but i remember the house, the holly and counting the steps of the duck pond. I believe my mum will contact Kai to share information of coaley hall and places in Halifax where mum and dad spent alot of their time. Thankyou Kai and Brian for reading my comments and replying to me. The story Brian mentioned about knocking a wall down and discovering other rooms and staircase gave my mother and i the creeps. It gave us goose bumps.

      • Glad you’re looking forward to Haunted Halifax, Brian. It’s always motivating to know there’s already an audience out there! Don’t worry, I’m sure I’ll be posting a fair bit about it here between now and publication.

        And many, many thanks Jill for asking your mum to get in touch with me with more info. I’m sure she will prove extremely helpful indeed. If she wants to contact me directly by email, my address is moths.galore@gmail,com

        Thanks again to both of you!

  6. Hi everyone. I’m not sure what made me type Coley Hall into Google search tonight, possibly because I was watching Paranormal Witness but my Dad always used to relate an experience he had whilst staying at the Hall in his youth. He’s sadly deceased now, so I can’t ask for any more detailed information, like year etc but what he described will stay with me forever. I always imagined he was maybe twelve or thirteen and given that he was born in 1918, that would put it around 1930, give or take a couple of years. He had been sent to stay there with what he called his ‘Aunt’ (his Father died when he was six and he and his two brothers were sent away to boarding school), although that doesn’t really fit with anything I know about personally. I shall ask my Uncle if he knows anything when he is well enough and get back to you about that. Anyway, on the night in question they were having a meal, during which my Father asked if he could be excused to go to the toilet. He was given a candle and directions and set off. At the bottom of the stairs he fell into step behind the butler, who was carrying a candelabra, so he didn’t require his candle going up but at the top of the flight the butler turned in the opposite direction, so my Father continued where he had been told and afterwards made his way back to the dining room. His ‘Aunt'(?) asked if he’d found his way alright and he said he had but that he had no need of his candle going upstairs as he was following the butler. She looked at him and apparently burst out laughing, saying “but I live here alone”. My Dad said there was no question that the figure didn’t appear as solid as you or I and he never once thought it might be ghostly, as one might imagine. In his eyes it was just a member of staff going about his duties. Do the stairs at Coley Hall split at the top or could you turn in either direction and who might have lived there then? Like I said I shall see if I can get any more information from his last surviving brother and get back to you. Good luck with your book. Kindest regards, Carrie Hellyer (nee Burnet) Incidentally I also live in the north of Scotland. I see a pattern emerging lol

  7. Coley Hall, what a wonderful and mysterious place it is. My family history has taken me back to it. My Gt/Gt/Gt grandfather Elijah Lee lived and raised a family there. He was a tenant farmer/weaver and died there about 1836 and was buried in Coley Churchyard. One of Elijah’s sons Thomas Lee my gt/gt Grandfather was born there too and moved on to farm at Plane Trees farm just a stones throw away.
    I would love to hear from anyone who has further knowledge of the Lee Family at Coley Hall. Does any one know if it is possible to see census returns for Coley Hall, c1841,

  8. I find your stories very interesting . I am a Sunderland and my family originated from Halifax It seems we have a connection with the cavaliar would love to find out more. Chris.

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