The Phantom Coach of Rastrick House

In 1942, one Miss E. Canziani of Palace Green in Kensington, responded to a survey of phantom coaches in England, conducted by the Journal of the Folklore Society, with information that such an apparition was associated with Rastrick House. Sadly, she either provided no further information or else it was not published, and it is not clear what connection Miss Canziani had with Rastrick. Nonetheless, the phantom coach is an extremely common motif in English ghost-lore—the Folklore Society survey recorded more than sixty examples—and comparison with some of the more extensively documented cases across the country offers a basis for conjecture.

As Folklore Society luminary Christina Hole wrote in her study, Haunted England, “Sometimes it (the phantom coach) comes to fetch away the dying; sometimes… the already dead use it in their perambulations about the roads and fields of their old home… It is always black, and so are the driver and his horses. Often both are headless. It appears suddenly on the roadway and moves very fast and usually without noise… Like most apparitions of its kind, it is an ominous thing to meet, and often serves as a death-omen, for those unlucky enough to encounter it… Sometimes the spirit of an erring human being is condemned to drive between two points in expiation of a sin”.

Considering their attributes and the fact that coaches did not become ubiquitous until the Sixteenth Century, Hole suggests that in many cases, phantom coaches may have been an evolution of an older, pagan belief in the Wild Hunt which thrived across north-western Europe in the early medieval period. This company of demons and unquiet souls once rode furiously through the night skies and to witness the Wild Hunt similarly portended misfortune. As such perhaps the phantom coach associated with Rastrick Hall never had any distinct identity of its own and was simply an anoynmous superstitious motif associated with tragedy, much like the guytrash.

However, Jacqueline Simpson and Jennifer Westwood go on to add, in The Lore of the Land, “The hallmark of phantom coach stories is that, if not anonymous, they are usually attached to landed proprietors against whom some kind of grudge is held”. As such, it may be possible to study the history of Rastrick House to identify the occupant of its coach. It is not clear when the hall itself was built, but probably it was sometime during the Seventeenth Century, for the Rastrick family, who lived there for several generations until 1772. Sadly the building was demolished in the mid-Twentieth Century to make way for the Foxcroft estate; only the gatehouse still stands, on the corner of Field Top Lane.

If the phantom coach was connected to one of the Rastrick family, then the likely candidate seems to be William de Rastrick, who live during the second half of the Seventeenth Century and into the first half of the Eighteenth. Certainly he seems to have been the only member of the Rastrick family to have achieved any measure of notoriety during his tenure of Rastrick House. He is noted in one source as, “a defender of the Protestant church… who spent his great estate in support of the war and King William III”, doubtless referring to the Glorious Revolution of 1688 or the Nine Years War with France (1688-97).

Thus, William de Rastrick was a staunch Anglican—in a district rife with Non-Conformism—who diverted his wealth from local development into a war whose popularity rapidly diminished as it dragged on, and to assist a foreign monarch whose support dwindled significantly following the death of his English wife, Queen Mary II, in 1794. Although we are unlikely ever to know for certain, he seems the most likely candidate to be reviled in the local folk memory and consequently accoutred with a phantom coach following his death. One can only wonder if such a spectral vehicle has ever been seen racing through the precincts of the Foxcroft estate in recent years?

Copley Hall, Copley

This location is somewhat beyond the usual remit for this website; however, I wrote the piece for my forthcoming book, Haunted Halifax & District, but was ultimately unable to include it due to the constraints of the word-limit. Therefore I am publishing it here so that my efforts were not wasted. And Copley isn’t that far beyond the lower reaches of the valley.

Today, Copley is known primarily for its industrial heritage: in 1847, the Akroyd family moved their worsted mill to the site and two years later Edward Akroyd constructed a model village in which to house his workforce, pre-dating the more famous example of Sir Titus Salt at Saltaire by three years. Copley Mill, with its imposing triumphal arch, was demolished in 1975, but the model village endures—a testament to Victorian civic ambition. In recent decades, the area has become a centre for another sort of industry, thanks to the construction of Halifax Building Society’s data centre on land reclaimed from Copley Woods in 1987 (now owned by Lloyds Banking Group).

As such, it is difficult to imagine that Copley was formerly the site of one of the most venerable manors in Calderdale. The early pedigree of the Copley family has been the subject of much speculation and fancy, but it seems the Manor of Copley was already well-established during the Middle Ages. The first Copley Hall may have been erected around 1050, before it was rebuilt by Sir Henry Savile in 1421. As the fortunes of the manor waned in the 18th Century, part of the hall was converted into the Volunteer Arms. Sadly, the pub of that name standing today is not the same building, having been entirely demolished and rebuilt on the site in 1915.

In his 1847 chapbook, Rivers and Streams of Halifax, the local poet, F.W. Cronhelm, records that he gathered “with some difficulty… many years ago, a few fragments of the story (of Copley Hall), from an old crone at Copley Gate”. Cronhelm subsequently turned this tale into a doggerel ballad which tells how sometime in the Middle Ages, Sir Adam de Copley set out to fish for trout in Nun Brook, which ran beside Kirklees Priory, between Brighouse and Mirfield. Whilst there, his attention was captured by one of the young nuns, who eloped with him that night. As the Registers of the Archbishopric of York record that sisters at Kirklees were frequently admonished for “incontinence” during the 14th Century, this does not seem entirely improbable.

Sir Adam kept his mistress hidden in a seven-storey folly tower beside Copley Hall and for a while they were content together. Perhaps at length, however, Sir Adam began to feel uneasy about his sin and seek some atonement, for as Cronhelm records:

“Sir Adam, he took the holy cross,
And died in Palestine;
And lights were seen in the grated tower,
And voices heard lang-syne.
“But other moanings than the wind’s
Still rise on the midnight hour;
And other lights than taper or lamp
Shine from the haunted tower.”

With both tower and hall long gone, it is unlikely that the nun’s ghost walks still, and even the tradition goes unremembered in Copley today. Nonetheless, although Cronhelm doubtless romanticised the story according to a Gothic literary template, it is instructive as an early example of supernatural tradition in Calderdale. The historicity of the episode is probably to impossible to confirm, but if a sister of Kirklees Priory did ever elope with an heir of the Copley family, then eternal unrest would have been her punishment for such apostasy in the popular imagination.

Copyright Alexander P. Kapp and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Granny Hall, Slead Syke

As the name suggests, Granny Hall Lane once ran by an ancient edifice known as Granny Hall. It is unclear exactly when the house was built, but it undoubtedly stood in the first half of the Seventeenth Century, as plasterwork in the master bedroom was noted for bearing the arms of King Charles I, who was executed in 1648. The redoubtable local historian, Joseph Horsfall Turner was born at Granny Hall in 1845, but he survived his birthplace, which was demolished in 1907 to reach a bed of sandstone for quarrying. Rose Gardens, at the junction of Blackburn Road with Granny Hall Lane, roughly marks the site of the house today. Supposedly the cellars were never properly filled in, which why the gardens are now suffering from subsidence.

The former grounds have been entirely smothered by modern housing developments and in 1997, a family with a daughter named Sarah moved into just such one residence in the vicinity of Rose Gardens. Over the following years, the family noticed a degree of low-level poltergeist activity in the house and were aware of a “presence”. However, it was only around 2001 that a potential explanation for these occurrences emerged. By this time, Sarah was seven and she had apparently gained an imaginary friend named Chloe. When her mother interrogated her daughter about Chloe, “She said she was the girl who lived in the big house and pointed to the right of her room in the direction of what is known as Rose Gardens on Granny Hall Lane”.

Even more curiously, Sarah added that “Chloe didn’t go to school and she had long yellow hair in a bow and a white dress over a black dress… (and) boots (with) lots of buttons”. This struck Sarah’s mother as an unusually imaginative invention for her daughter, who suffered from Down’s Syndrome, and following Sarah’s revelations, the poltergeist activity began to intensify. The television began to switch itself on in the middle of the night; objects mysteriously vanished, only to reappear weeks later, or else moved about without any visible agency; whilst one evening, the family returned home early to discover every light in the building had somehow sprung into illumination. Sarah’s mother even began to see Chloe herself, albeit infrequently and as nothing more than a shadow in the window-glass.

Eventually, the family consulted a local historian about the history of the area, who told them all about Granny Hall. He was even able to show them an old photograph, which featured “horse and carriage pulling up in front of it and, in the doorway, a lady with her arm round a young girl, and that was definitely Chloe, by Sarah’s description”. Unfortunately, there does not appear to be any record of a girl named “Chloe” ever living at Granny Hall and it was not a common English name prior to the Twentieth Century. Nonetheless, a ghost by this name continued to make her presence felt to the family until they moved out in 2009, whereupon Sarah’s mother related the story on the website, Brighouse 247. That web-page has now been removed, but thankfully the story can be preserved.

Copyright Humphrey Bolton and licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Licence.

Curiosities of Barkisland

A Grade 1 listed building, Barkisland Hall is generally regarded as one of the most interesting mansion-houses in the Calderdale region. Although in many respects it is typical of vernacular architecture in the district during the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century (such edifices are often dubbed “Halifax houses”), it has several additional features which make it unique. These include the three-storied F-plan structure, the two orders of fluted columns which frame the doorway, and the rose window above it, believed to be the earliest example of such a detail in the domestic architecture of England.

The Gledhill family had long occupied an earlier house on the site, but the extant building was constructed for John and Sarah Gledhill in 1638. John’s brother, Richard also resided at Barkisland Hall for a short time between its construction and his early death. The Gledhills were noted Royalist supporters during the English Civil Wars, and in the First Civil War (1642-1646), Richard served as Captain of a Troop of Horse under the uncompromising Sir Marmaduke Langdale, earning a knighthood for bravery from the Marquess of Newcastle.

However, Sir Richard’s contribution did not last long, as he was fatally wounded at Hessay, near York, during the fateful Battle of Marston Moor. According to historian Edward Lamplough, writing in 1891, “Gledhill… died in his own house an hour after he succeeded in gaining its shelter. He had received twenty-six wounds”. It is not clear if by “his own house” Lamplough means Barkisland Hall. Travelling the distance from Marston Moor with such grievous injuries seems to preclude it, as does the fact that Sir Richard is buried at the Church of St. Martin on Micklegate in York, rather than locally.

Yet if he had died at the Hall, it might explain why so many generations of Barkisland folk believed his restless spirit haunted the building and its environs. Sadly, accounts of his phantom are vague and by the early Twentieth Century the story seemed to exist as nothing more than a indistinct notion in the local psyche. There are no first or even second-hand accounts of encounters with the revenant, only a brief mention in a newspaper article from 1931, which simply states “Richard Gledhill’s ghost is said to haunt the area around Barkisland Hall”.

In 1636, Richard Gledhill’s sister, Elizabeth, had married another significant local landowner, William Horton, who in addition to Howroyd Hall and Firth House at Barkisland, also took possession of Coley Hall following its sale by Langdale Sunderland to pay the decimation fines imposed on Royalist supporters by Parliament following the Civil Wars. In this capacity the Hortons came to know the Non-Conformist firebrand, Rev. Oliver Heywood, who in periods of adversity often lodged with Captain Hodgson who was tenant at Coley Hall between 1654 and 1672.

Following the extinction of the Gledhill line, the Hortons took up residence at Barkisland Hall and upon the death of Elizabeth, the house was once again associated with supernatural activity. Rev. Heywood records in his diary for 2nd February 1671: “Mistress Horton the owner of this hall were we live died on Thursday night last… she lay from Tuesday to Thursday night speechless, not at all stirred, none were admitted to see her, many things considerable about her, several of the servants were affrighted with a great knocking and variety of music the night before she died”.

Domestic staff employed at Barkisland Hall were accommodated in a separate building erected in 1642 on Stainland Road nearby. By the early Nineteenth Century, this had been converted into a public house called the Griffin Inn and in recent decades, the established has also acquired a reputation for being haunted. The ghosts of an old man sitting by the fire and an old lady dressed in white, carrying a bunch of keys, have been witnessed on several occasions, in the taproom and cold-storage area of the cellar respectively.

As a relatively isolated hilltop village, superstition seems to have endured well into the Twentieth Century in Barkisland. A short distance from the Griffin Inn on Stainland Road stands Stocks House, so called because it was formerly the village lockup and an old set of stocks still survives beside it as a memorial to its former role. At some point it was converted into a private residence and it was probably during this process that a “witch-post” was added to the hearth to deflect the influence of baleful magic known as maleficium.

Chimneys and fireplaces were regarded as a vulnerable location by which witches could gain access to a house and so to the superstitious mind, demanded such apotropaic contingencies. Jacqueline Simpson and Steve Roud explain, “In Yorkshire farmhouses of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, hearths were screened by partitions ending in posts of rowan wood carved with cross-shaped patterns, called ‘witch posts’… Belief in their protective power continued into the 1920s, when Yorkshire builders made new ones when old houses were being rebuilt”.

Meanwhile, Peter Brears notes a further tradition associated with witch-posts, “A crooked sixpence was kept in a hole at the centre of the post. When the butter would not turn you took a knitting needle, which was kept for the purpose in a groove at the top, and with it got out the sixpence and put it in the churn”. Sadly, it is not clear if such a custom would’ve been practiced at Barkisland or exactly when the witch-post was added to Stocks House; whether it was an original feature invested with genuine belief or a later recreation of the vernacular style.

Ash Grove, Cromwell Bottom

Although it has now been converted into a desirable block of residential apartments, many long-term residents of the area will recall this imposing building on Elland Road standing derelict for many decades, looking like the very archetype of the haunted house. The mansion had been constructed around 1820 by John Rawson, originally of Stoney Royd House in Halifax (and whose family gave their name to the Rawson Arms which once stood nearby and now houses the offices of W.T. Knowles & Son Clay Pipe Works) but following a succession of illustrious owners, it fell into disuse sometime in the mid-Twentieth Century, possibly as the consequence of a fire.

By the 1980s, the external façade had been blackened by smoke from the surrounding industry, the windows were all shattered and the roof had rotted away, giving the house a gaunt, skeletal appearance. Within, plasterwork was crumbling and the staircases decayed. Yet despite this advanced state of dilapidation, Ash Grove was listed as a Grade 2 “building of special architectural interest” in 1983 and a succession of schemes were subsequently put forward for its renovation. Plans to redevelop it variously as a hotel, restaurant and old-people’s home all fell through and the mansion house was finally converted into a number of self-contained apartments in 1994.

A former occupant of one of the flats revealed that several residents of Ash Grove and even the landlord have witnessed the ghost of a gentleman at the bottom of one of the stairwells. Only thought to be have seen by other men, he would nod in acknowledgement as he passed by and then vanish. This part of the building also frequently smelled of Woodbine cigarettes, although nobody living there was known to smoke the brand. Woodbines were especially popular amongst soldiers during the First World War. In this regard, it may be instructive that Lieutenant Geoffrey Otho Charles Edwards, who had been born at Ash Grove in 1876, was killed in action in 1916.

Meanwhile, the largest apartment at Ash Grove today occupies what would formerly have been the servants’ quarters and seems to be haunted by an invisible bestial manifestation. The former resident reported: “You would feel things brush against your leg and hear the distinctive noise of our antique footstool moving across the wooden floor most nights. I would never stay over night or be left alone in that house ever again after what happened in my last month living there—I was laid awake in bed around 8.30pm reading… when something jumped on the end of the bed, circled around my feet and laid down, imprint was visible. I went to stay at a friends that night”.

Published in: on February 29, 2012 at 13:46  Comments (2)  
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Roe Head, Hartshead

Situated in the hinterland between Hartshead and Mirfield, Roe Head lies on the very eastern edge of this site’s geographical remit, but still arguably within Calderdale (when that title is used to mean a topographic rather than administrative region). The location has excellent views back up the valley towards Brighouse and down the River Colne towards Huddersfield, making it a very desirable situation for a grand residence. A house was first constructed on the site in 1666 on land purchased from the Armytage’s Kirklees estate (which it still adjoins), but the current three-storied building dates from 1740. It has seen a number of uses of the years, but it’s most famous incarnation was from 1830 until 1838, when it was leased to Miss Margaret Wooler’s School for Girls.

Like the neighbouring village of Hartshead, Roe Head is renowned for its connections to the Brontë family. Possibly owing to happy memories of his curacy at St. Peter’s Church twenty years earlier—not to mention the excellent reputation of the institution—Rev. Patrick Brontë chose to send his eldest surviving daughter to Miss Wooler’s academy for tuition between 1831 and 1833. There were never more than ten pupils during Charlotte’s time at the school, lending the place a close-knit, familial atmosphere, and by all accounts, she was very happy there. It was at Roe Head that Charlotte met her close friends Mary Taylor and Ellen Nussey, whilst she bonded with Miss Wooler to such an extent that the headmistress gave the girl away at her wedding in 1854.

Indeed, Charlotte was evidently so happy at Roe Head that in 1835, only two years after she’d left as a pupil, she returned as a teacher. Her salary allowed her sister Emily to attend the school, but the ever-delicate future author of Wuthering Heights only lasted three months before she was forced to return to Haworth due to homesickness. The youngest sister, Anne, replaced her and remained as a pupil at the school until 1837, when she fell seriously ill with gastritis and was forced to return to Haworth. Charlotte left her job as a teacher at Roe Head shortly thereafter. However, her time at the school evidently made quite an impression and well-acquainted her with the topography of the Calder and Spen Valleys, providing the inspiration for her 1849 novel, Shirley.

During Charlotte’s tenure at Roe Head, it seem that the building had a reputation for being haunted, something first mentioned in print by Elizabeth Gaskell in her 1857 Life of Charlotte Brontë. She writes “The number of pupils… ranged from seven to ten; and as they did not require the whole of the house for their accommodation, the third story was unoccupied, except by the ghostly idea of a lady, whose rustling silk gown was sometimes heard by the listeners at the foot of the second flight of stairs.” It is not clear whether tales of the haunting predated the establishment of the school and sadly, no accompanying story to account for the phantom seems to have survived either. Some have wondered, however, if this idea of a mysterious presence in the attic might have influenced Charlotte when she was writing Jane Eyre.

Charlotte’s close friend and fellow Roe Head pupil, Ellen Nussey, added a little further information in memoirs published in 1871. “The tradition of a lady ghost who moved about in rustling silk in the upper stories of Roe Head had a great charm for Charlotte. She was a ready listener to any girl who could relate stories of others having seen her; but on Miss W. hearing us talk of our ghost, she adopted an effective measure for putting out belief in such an existence to the test, by selecting one or other from among us to ascent the stairs after the dimness of evening hours had set in, to bring something down which could easily be found. No ghost made herself visible even to the frightened imaginations of the foolish and the timid; the whitened face of apprehension soon disappeared, nerves were braced, and a general laugh soon set us all right again.”

When Ellis Chadwick visited Roe Head for his book In the Footsteps of the Brontës, published in 1914, he reported that the owners at that time had not experienced any supernatural activity. However, the spirit has evidently returned in recent years. Today, Roe Head is a school once more, run by the Hollybank Trust for disabled children. In 2009, Syrie James also visited the establishment whilst researching her novel, The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë, but her findings were quite different to those of Mr. Chadwick almost a century earlier: “The Director of the school took my me up into the spooky, rambling attic and told us old legends of the Ghost of Roe Head. He and others have seen strange apparitions, including an inexplicable, icy presence which haunted the main hall.”

The Screaming Skull of Sowood House

Constructed in 1631 by the prosperous Whitley family of Northowram, Sowood House in Coley is an imposing edifice typical of many buildings erected in the region during the Seventeenth Century. By 1968, the house had fallen into a dilapidated condition and its new owner, Mr. Frank Drury, set about renovating it. During this process, workmen stumbled across a mysterious iron box concealed in the brickwork behind a chimney. Upon opening it, they made the macabre discovery of a human skull, prompting an investigation by the West Yorkshire Police to ensure that it was not evidence of a recent murder.

Forensic examination of the skull, however, revealed that it dated to the Seventeenth Century and was probably placed in the chimney when the house was built, as “protection against witches”. That period saw an effusion of such superstitious beliefs and countless objects have been discovered in buildings of the time, bricked up in threshold locations such as chimneys or roofs for talismanic purposes, including shoes, horse skulls and witch bottles. Mummified cats were particularly popular in the Calderdale area, with instances recorded at Slead Hall in Brighouse and the now demolished Mitre Hotel in Halifax.

Human remains are much rarer and more significant. This was confirmed by a letter published in the Evening Courier on 5th September 1968 from an eighty year old Southowram woman: “I remember my mother telling me about the skull over seventy years ago. She said the skull was found in an iron box in the chimney breast. It was taken to Coley and buried in the churchyard. Afterwards the house began to be haunted by cries of ‘Where is my head?!’ When, on the advice of the vicar, it was replaced in the chimney the cries ceased. My great-grandfather was a churchwarden of St. John’s, Coley and was present when the skull was put back”.

This places the Sowood House skull in that class of relics known as “guardian skulls” or more luridly, “screaming skulls”. In all cases, their legend is the same. The skull protects the house and family from malign influences and preserves their prosperity, as long as it is treated with due respect. But if it is slighted in any way, or removed from the house, misfortune and paranormal activity invariably ensue. The supernatural aspect typically manifests as uncanny auditory disturbances, hence the term “screaming skull”. Such troubles always persist until the skull is returned to its rightful position in the house.

There are several famous examples of guardian skulls throughout the country, including those at Calgarth Hall in Cumbria, Burton Agnes Hall in East Yorkshire, Tunstead Farm in Derbyshire and Wardley Hall in Lancashire. The Sowood House skull has been overlooked until recently and whilst it lacks the developed legend of other examples, it is rendered interesting due to the wider usage of images of the human head for apotropaic purposes in Calderdale during the Seventeenth Century, such as the archaic stone head at Coley Hall nearby. Sadly there is no record of what became of the skull following the police investigation of 1968.

For more information on the Sowood House skull, please refer to my extended article in Northern Earth Magazine, Issue 124 available here.

The Headless Hound of Toothill Hall

Set in extensive grounds at the junction of Toothill Lane and Huddersfield Road, a building was first recorded at Toothill Hall in the 16th Century and the Toothill family as early as the 1300s. The name of the area derives from the Old English for “look-out hill”, suggesting human activity had existed there since before the Norman Conquest. It certainly makes a fine site for a watch post, commanding extensive views up and down the lower Calder valley. Although it seems likely that the Toothill family were the founders of the Hall, it has been occupied by a diverse succession of people over the centuries and the current edifice was constructed by Quaker philanthropist Thomas Firth in 1823 and later, divided into two in 1957.

In Legends and Traditions of Huddersfield and Its District, Philip Ahier recounts a curious legend associated with Toothill Hall and the surrounding area. He was told that during the English Civil Wars, it was home to a young cavalier who was in love with a daughter of Newhouse Hall, located just over a mile away on the other side of Felgreave Wood at Sheepridge. This girl, Sybil Brooke, was held to be a great beauty and had many suitors in the locality, but only the cavalier of Toothill found his affections reciprocated. However, her father did not approve of the match, despite also supporting the Royalist cause in the Civil Wars, and so forbade the lovers from meeting, confining his daughter to the Hall.

Nonetheless, the young cavalier was determined and devised a means by which he and his beau could communicate still. He would attach a message to the neck of his hound, who then sped through the woods by moonlight to be met by Sybil at the kitchen window of Newhouse Hall. The girl would then send him back to his master with a message in return. This method proved successful for a period of time, but one fateful night the hound discovered not Sybil Brooke at the kitchen window, but her enraged father. Such was his anger, he took his sword and with a single blow, cleaved the dog’s head from its body, slicing the letter it carried in two in the process. The hound then turned tail and scampered headless through the woods.

Upon hearing of the fate of his faithful messenger, the Toothill cavalier is supposed to have been so incensed that he changed sides in the Civil Wars, swearing his allegiance to Oliver Cromwell and the Parliamentarians, just to spite the Newhouse patriarch. Meanwhile, on moonlit nights in autumn, the apparition of a headless hound is still said to roam through Felgrave Wood and back to Toothill Hall. Anybody who witnesses this phantom is supposed to suffer grave misfortune. This aspect of the legend has much in common with the widespread “black dog” motif in English folklore, known variously as black shuck, barguest, guytrash and skriker. Hence, it may be that the story was grafted on to explain a much older folkloric tradition in the area.

A variation on the legend appears in the mid-19th Century, when a phantom dog with the head and beard of a man was believed to haunt Felgreave Wood (today bisected by the A641 between Bradley Bar and Huddersfield). A woman named Elizabeth Haigh is reported to have fallen into a deep swoon upon witnessing the monstrosity and was not found until the following morning. Ahier suggests that the origin of this adaptation may lie in Felgreave Wood’s reputation at the time for plentiful game, especially pheasant and hare. The gamekeepers probably traded on the existing legend to deter poachers, and to reinforce it further may have taken to donning furs and crawling on all fours through the undergrowth.

Although Newhouse Hall lies firmly within Kirklees and the Colne Valley and so beyond the remit of this site, due to its connection with the Toothill legend it seems worth recounting here that the Hall also has its fair share of ghosts. Following the brutal intervention of her father, tradition claims that Sybil Brooke lost her reason and pined away in the upper rooms of the house, which her ghost still stalks to this day. Maids in the 19th Century claimed to hear the rustle of silk along the corridors at night and one often complained of being “clutched by an unseen hand”. Meanwhile, in one particular bed in an upper chamber, guests were often disturbed by a thing that crouched heavily on the legs of the sleeper, only to disappear as soon as a light was kindled.

James Street, Elland

Today, the stretch of James Street towards Elland town centre is no longer a predominantly residential district, the Victorian working-class terraces long since demolished and replaced by modern industrial units. However, in the late 19th and early 20th Century it would’ve been packed with housing. Landowner James Langdale built an extensive number of affordable homes in this area during the 19th Century, the evidence of which still survives on many of the surrounding streets. Indeed, James Street and others nearby were named after him or members of his family.

An article in the Halifax Courier and Guardian dated May 15th 1933 records an interesting ghost flap on the street which had started on Friday May 3rd, when residents were first disturbed by a terrifying moaning sound between the hours of half past eleven at night and three o’ clock the following morning. The sinister cacophony repeated itself between exactly the same hours on Tuesday 14th and again on Friday 10th. It evidently caused a great deal of consternation amongst the local residents, many of whom reported being unable to sleep until it was over, whilst one woman was so unnerved she required smelling salts.

The sound was described by Mrs. Perks of 28, James Street as “not like a dog or an owl or an electric hooter. It is a long moaning sound that makes you wonder if someone’s in pain somewhere. With it happening at night it makes it sound worse, whatever it is, and the worst of it is not knowing where it comes from or what it is.” Another told the newspaper reporter, “You can smile, but you’d be flaied if you heard it.” Several residents attempted to go in search of the source of the disturbance at night but nobody found anything and whilst the police had been informed, they had not reached any conclusions.

However, the initial account generated much discussion in the pages of the Halifax Courier & Guardian, with one editorial column wondering if the sounds might not be connected to one of Elland’s plethora of phantoms such as Old Leathery Coit. Meanwhile, a letter published in the paper on May 19th indicates that on the two nights following the report a great crowd of “ghost layers” gathered in the vicinity of James Street. This started with local children at around seven o’clock and then later, as midnight approached, dozens of adults, including a motorcyclist who patrolled the block. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the sounds were not heard again.

Published in: on September 10, 2010 at 20:19  Leave a Comment  
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Pinfold Guest House, Elland Upper Edge

A familiar sight just before the road from Fixby begins its steep descent towards Elland, the building which now operates as the Pinfold Guest House was originally constructed in 1840 as the Black Bull pub. The establishment was forced to close in 1909 by the 1904 Licensing Act, which sought to restrict the number of “beerhouses” across the country and so reduce alcohol consumption. It was then divided into two private dwellings for many years before opening as a bed-and-breakfast. However, despite it being over a century since the Black Bull closed, the pub evidently endures in the local folk memory as the adjacent Pinfold Lane is still sometimes known as Bull Lane by long-term residents of the area.

In the mid-Seventies, Mrs. E. Parker moved with her husband into one of the houses in the building and almost immediately began experiencing uncanny disturbances, which she related to Terence Whitaker for his 1983 book, Yorkshire’s Ghosts & Legends. As soon as they set foot over the threshold, Mrs. Parker claims to have felt a “presence” and on their first night, after retiring to bed, they heard footsteps on the stairs. Her husband was convinced that a burglar must have gained entry and went to investigate, but predictably found nothing. The nocturnal footsteps persisted and were soon accompanied by a mysterious knocking from a certain section of wall in the sitting room, which would often respond to any answering taps.

One night, after they’d been in the house a while, Mrs. Parker had a vivid dream in which a fair-haired woman in a blue dress entered her bedroom and beckoning, led her into the cellars. Here, the apparition pointed to a loose stone in the wall and indicated that she should remove it. Mrs. Parker claimed to have always been afraid of the cellars since moving in and so the following day, her husband accompanied her down and sure enough, they discovered a loose stone in exactly the place revealed by the dream. They realised that the spot lay directly below the area of wall from which they often heard the unexplained knocking at night. Nonetheless, they removed it as instructed and left it abandoned in the middle of the cellar floor.

However, Mrs. Parker soon came to regret acting on the advice of the phantasm in her dream, for the haunting only seemed to intensify. Now, footsteps were heard all the time in the cellar, whilst their dogs would growl at the cellar door and refused to remain in the house alone. Then, one morning when Mrs. Parker was lying late in bed due to sickness, she heard footsteps ascend the stairs and a voice beside her bed say in a pitying tone, “Oh dear, oh dear.” At first, she thought it must have been her husband, thinking his sympathy odd because he rarely showed such an emotion. However, she later discovered that he had spent all morning out of the house, milking the cows.

That was the first incident which led Mrs. Parker to believe that the spirit, or whatever it was, must have some sort of “affinity” for her. Later, when her marriage was experiencing difficulties, she would often sit crying on the stairs where she’d most regularly heard footsteps and would feel a comforting presence envelop her. However, the ghost’s attachment clearly extended to sabotaging her attempts to leave. When Mrs. Parker found that it was all getting too much, a friend called round to offer her a place to stay. At this moment, she claims a coat hanger came hurtling across the room and struck the friend in the face. You suspect that with the constant turnover of guests at a bed-and-breakfast, the spirits will have had to learn to be less clingy.

Published in: on September 10, 2010 at 20:04  Comments (1)  
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