Sited on the steep hillside below Southowram and just north of Elland, today Exley straggles almost imperceptibly into Siddal but it is a much older and once distinct community, recorded as early as the 13th Century and featuring tangentially in the narrative of the Elland Feuds. Between 1909 and 1917 it was even home to the incongruous Halifax Zoo and Amusement Park, located in the grounds of the subsequently demolished Chevinedge Manor, from which elephants, bears and wild boar occasionally escaped into the surrounding woodland.
The Exley Park Hotel has been the settlement’s main hostelry since its construction in 1939, when there was little but farmland surrounding it, a far cry from the modern school and sprawl of mid-Twentieth Century social housing which now dominates the locality. The building remains imposing nevertheless, thanks to a design by the prolific and acclaimed Halifax firm of architects Walsh, Maddock and Wilkinson.
The interior of the hotel remained unaltered until substantial renovation work in 1972, the completion of which landlord Jack Carrington used as an opportunity to describe various supernatural occurrences he and his family had experienced during their three and a half year tenure. It seems to be a recurrent theme of pub-based hauntings that they appear in print when trade is slow or the establishment is reopening for business.
In an report in the Evening Courier dated 2nd November 1972, Carrington recalls how mysterious footsteps were often heard in the underdrawing above their daughter’s bedroom, whilst on one memorable occasion he entered the bar early on morning to discover two brass plaques had been thrown several feet from their usual position on the chimney breast, whilst the family dog was stood with her hairs on end, barking frantically in their direction.
Regulars informed Carrington that these occurrences were most probably the work of a spectre known locally as Old Jim or Old Jack, and supposed to be the ghost of a man killed during the construction of the building. No such deaths appear to be recorded and so this may well be another manifestation of the motif of foundation sacrifice, a corrupted remembrance in the folk tradition of a grisly practice designed to ensure the fortune of the structure.
The spirit of Old Jim was witnessed again in 1984 by the 14 year-old daughter of the licensees. It was approximately 6am on the morning of Christmas Day; she was just leaving her bedroom and was about to proceed to the lounge downstairs when the experience occurred. “A figure stood right in front of me…” she recalls, “I could see (him) clearly from the bright moon and street lamps… He just stood there a foot away for what seemed like ages”.
Her description of the figure matched that offered by the pub’s regular customers around that time and certainly sounds like a labourer. “The man I saw was short,” she added, “wearing boots, baggy trousers and braces. His sleeves were rolled up to his elbows and he wore a flat cap on his head. I remember thinking his eyes were very piercing, and they just kept staring straight at me”.
The girl reached out to touch the figure; at first he didn’t move, but as she attempted to repeat the experiment, the apparition vanished into thin air. She never saw him again, but claims that she often felt his presence, especially in a box-room attached to the large back bedroom. She felt that “the atmosphere there was always strained, like there had been some kind of tragedy; a deep sadness of sorts”.