Coldwell Hill, Southowram

One day in 1896, labourers quarrying stone around Coldwell Hill—on the north side of Southowram, overlooking the Shibden valley—made an unexpected and macabre discovery. Buried deep beneath the field, they uncovered a stone vault containing an unusually large coffin, and within, the well-preserved skeleton of an adult male with “an exceedingly good set of teeth on the upper jaw”. A plate on the coffin lid bore an inscription informing them that they had stumbled on the resting place of “Jonathan Walsh—Born 1741—Died February 11th 1823—Aged 82 years”.

Although the history of Calderdale is not exactly short of colourful characters, few seem quite so Dickensian as Jonathan Walsh, who once owned the now-demolished Coldwell Hill and Lower Dove House farms at Southowram. A landowner, money-lender and textile manufacturer, Walsh was notorious in the district for his eccentricity, meanness and temper. Caroline Walker, resident at Walterclough Hall during his later years, bluntly refers to him in her diaries as “an old usurer” and “extremely importunate”.

Walsh indulged in frequent bouts of litigation against his neighbours, and was believed to spend at least a hundred pounds a year pursuit of this passion, a considerable sum at that time. It was said that he would “rather spend a pound for law than a penny for ale”. He was also known to ride around the area on a mule, bearing a whip which would be used on anybody who displeased him, whilst his speech was so uncouth and haranguing that Dr. Henry Coulthurst, the esteemed Vicar of Halifax from 1790 to 1817, used to hide if he saw the man coming. The clergy were apparently a favourite target for Walsh’s ire.

Perhaps his animosity towards organised religion accounted for his unusual mode of burial. Rather than choosing to be interred in consecrated ground, he left instructions that he should be laid to rest on his own property. Thus, after his death at a house on Horton Street in Halifax, the pall-bearers set out at midnight, carrying Walsh’s coffin back to his home at Southowram. As he had been a man of some considerable stature—well over six foot tall, by all accounts—it cannot have been an easy task to haul that burden up Beacon Hill, some years before the construction of the Godley Cutting.

Walsh’s inhumation was conducted by candlelight at four o’ clock in the morning, and in further defiance of religious convention, he’d directed that he be buried with his head to the east. The spot he had chosen was in the corner of a field near where Pump Lane meets the ancient holloway variously known as Dark Lane, Magna Via or Wakefield Gate, still a well-used route into Halifax at the time. His wife had previously been buried in the same field; however, Mr. Walsh had also given instructions that he was to be planted in the opposite corner!

The reason Walsh had selected for his grave a spot so close to the former highway seems typical of his perverse character. In 1924 (whilst wondering whether Walsh’s biography had been related to Emily Brontë in 1837 when she taught at Law Hill School nearby), the venerable Halifax historian T.W. Hanson noted: “The old packhorse road passed through his land, and Walsh was provoked many times because the weavers and others would trespass over his fields instead of keeping to the road. Tradition says he was buried close to the road so that his ghost might haunt the travellers”.

Sadly, no sightings of Jonathan Walsh’s irate revenant have been recorded, but it seems inevitable that for some time after his interment, the superstitious locals will have regarded the area with dread, especially as the grave was on unconsecrated ground. For instance, Philip Ahier mentions that during the Nineteenth Century, a stretch of woodland near Kirkburton was avoided by locals, who feared they would meet the ghost of a woman who had received an unconsecrated burial there. Perhaps it was not just the construction of the Godley Cutting which caused Wakefield Gate to fall into disuse…

However, it seems that the local folk Jonathan Walsh so despised had the last laugh. Although Walsh’s land originally passed to his grandson, it was eventually absorbed into the Shibden Hall estate and then leased to the quarrying company, Maude & Dyson. Following the discovery of Walsh’s mortal remains in 1896, the enterprising firm saw no need to respect the dead and instead, placed the bones on public display, charging the spectators two pence each to inspect them. Over the following days, thousands of people visited the grisly attraction, until finally the skeleton was “kicked to pieces by drunkards”.

The Brighouse Magus

The man who would one day sign himself Dr. B.E.J. Edwards, was born Bodgan Edward Jastrzebski in 1860, the son of a Polish immigrant to Halifax. Always a promising scholar, he qualified in medicine from the University of Edinburgh in 1884. It is possible that during his time there he rubbed shoulders with Arthur Conan Doyle who was three years his senior, whilst he almost certainly studied under Dr. Joseph Bell, the inspiration for Doyle’s most famous creation, Sherlock Holmes.

Shortly after qualifying, he changed his surname to Edwards, finding his Polish moniker a hindrance to his medical career. After several years serving as a house surgeon at Halifax Infirmary, he established a general practice, initially operating from 138 Elland Road at Brookfoot, where he resided with his new family. The house stood at the bottom of Freeman’s Woods opposite North Cut and whilst the row was demolished in the 1960s, its ivy-swathed ruins are still visible from the roadside.

Brookfoot at the time was a thriving community, with its own Methodist chapel, Co-op store, school and an abundance of pubs. One such establishment, The Woodman, stood on the corner of North Cut, opposite Edwards’ practice. An outbuilding there often functioned as an impromptu morgue for the bodies of suicides dredged from the Calder, an act for which the riverbank at Brookfoot was notorious. It seems inevitable that as the village doctor, Edwards will have been called to attend such incidents.

Edwards’ career went from strength to strength and in 1895, he was appointed Medical Officer of Health for Southowram (which at that time included Brookfoot). By 1901, he had moved to larger premises at 46 Bradford Road and later took the role of Medical Officer for Brighouse, Clifton and Hartshead. During the First World War, he established military hospitals at Longroyde in Brighouse and Boothroyd in Rastrick, for which he was awarded an MBE in 1920. He died in 1923, following a short illness.

Edwards’ was tirelessly active in a number of organisations during his lifetime, including the St. John’s Ambulance Brigade, the Boys Brigade and the Scouts. He also had many more esoteric interests. For instance, he was a Master of Brighouse Masonic Lodge (No. 1301) and with his brother, Louis Stanley Jastrzebski, founded the Bradford branch of the Theosophical Society. Perhaps his most interesting association, however, was with that legendary and influential occult fellowship, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.

The Golden Dawn (as it is commonly abbreviated) was founded in 1887 by three Freemasons and Rosicrucians, Dr. William Robert Woodman, Dr. William Wynn Westcott and Samuel Liddell Mathers. It was an initiatory society, which claimed to be the continuation of an ancient tradition descended from the original medieval Rosicrucians in Germany. This heritage was supposedly guaranteed by its foundation charter, the Cipher Manuscripts, although these documents later proved to have been forged.

Nonetheless, even if the manuscripts were forged, they were clearly the work of an accomplished occult scholar and laid the groundwork for an intoxicating, unified system of ritual magick. The Golden Dawn’s synthesis of the various strands of the Western Mystery Tradition was so comprehensive and compelling that it remains the basis of much occultism today, incorporating Hermeticism, Qabalah, Freemasonry, Tarot, Enochian magic, astrology, alchemy, astral projection and much more.

The Isis-Urania Temple was founded in London in 1888 and it quickly became a dominant influence in both the Victorian occult revival and the entire intellectual culture of the following decade, part of an outpouring of fin-de-siècle decadence memorably dubbed the Yellow Nineties. The society spread rapidly, establishing temples in Edinburgh, Weston-super-Mare and Bradford within the year. The latter was founded by Baildon watchmaker, Thomas Henry Pattinson, in rooms at the Alexandra Hotel, formerly on Great Horton Road.

The Order’s most famous members were undoubtedly the poet W.B. Yeats and the libertine Aleister Crowley (later dubbed “the wickedest man in the world” by the British press for his exploits), whilst a host of lesser-known writers passed through its ranks, including Arthur Machen, Algernon Blackwood and Edith Nesbit. The Golden Dawn was also significant in the proto-feminist movement, with women such as actress Florence Farr and theatre manager Annie Horniman taking prominent roles in the organisation.

Dr. B.E.J. Edwards joined the Golden Dawn in October 1888, making him one of the earliest members of the Horus Temple in Bradford, and adopted the motto “Deus Lux Solis” (meaning “God is the only light”). He quickly rose through the hierarchy of the society and was initiated into the grade of Adeptus Minor on 25th February 1893. As such, Edwards was now a member of the Second Order, responsible for directing the teachings of the junior First Order members.

Achieving this grade required a considerable degree of occult study, which presumably took place at his home in Brookfoot. Edwards was clearly a very learned individual; in addition to his medical degree, he was a noted authority on ancient Egyptian civilisation and an accomplished linguist, who translated many documents from hieroglyphics, Assyrian and Sanskrit. It is evident that a polymath of Edwards’ capabilities would’ve been an asset to the Horus Temple, and he was eventually appointed Praemonstrator, responsible for doctrinal teaching.

During the period 1892-3, the Horus Temple was riven by internal dissent, which forced first Annie Horniman, then Dr. Wynn Westcott and finally Samuel Mathers to travel from London to intervene. The affair resulted in the temporary resignation of T.H. Pattinson as Imperator, to be replaced by Dr. Wynn Westcott, and the expulsion of F.D. Harrison, who had served as Praemonstrator. When matters had settled down again, Pattinson resumed his former role, whilst Dr. Edwards was appointed to replace Harrison.

The original incarnation of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn came to an end at the turn of the century for a number of reasons, including the forced resignation of Dr. Wynn Westcott under pressure from the establishment; a number of public scandals which had exposed the society to ridicule; and dissatisfaction with the appointment of Florence Farr to preside over the Order in Britain whilst Samuel Mathers was living in France. Correspondence from 1900 shows that apathy had set in amongst the Horus Temple members.

The Horus Temple finally disbanded in 1902, when T.H. Pattinson, along with Dr. Edwards, began to focus on a Higher Degree of Freemasonry known as the August Order of Light, Otherwise Called the Mysteries of Perfection of Sikha (Apex) and the Ekata (Unity), influenced by Hindu mysticism and the Royal Oriental Order of Sat B’hai. The Garuda Temple was established in the cellars of a pub at 81 Kings Parade in Bradford, with a membership largely cannibalised from the now defunct Horus Temple.

Although, the Order had originally been founded in 1881 by Dr. Maurice Vidal Portman, a former governor of the Anderman Islands, Pattinson and Edwards extensively revised and augmented its doctrines. In this capacity Edwards became one of the most highly regarded Masonic scholars of the early Twentieth Century. Following his death in 1923, the Order published a memorial book titled “Masonic Secrets and the Ancient Mysteries” celebrating his contribution, which numbered the writer Rudyard Kipling amongst its subscribers.

For more information on the activities of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and the August Order of Light in West Yorkshire, please see my blog post here.

Published in: on May 22, 2011 at 10:58  Comments (3)  
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Round Hill, Rastrick

Rising barely fifty feet above the surrounding terrain, Round Hill can scarcely be called a hill in any meaningful sense. Nonetheless, its satisfyingly conical profile and topographic prominence make it a well-known Rastrick landmark and whilst its relative height may not be significant, its summit still stands at six hundred feet above sea-level and affords extensive panoramic views across the surrounding Pennine landscape.

Its remarkable contour has generated much speculation over the years as to whether it is a natural feature or a human construction. In his 1868 work, Huddersfield: Its History and Natural History, Charles Hopkirk confidently asserts that it is certainly artificial, yet only twenty-five years later in A History of Brighouse, Rastrick and Hipperholme, J. Horsfall Turner just as assuredly opines that it is “perfectly natural”.

Local feeling tended towards the former hypothesis, with suggestions as to its origin ranging from a medieval motte to a prehistoric tumulus, perhaps the burial site of some ancient king. Some flints were allegedly once found on its slopes but there has never been any archaeological excavation to determine the site’s true provenance. Modern orthodoxy is that it’s a natural phenomenon, caused by an outlying band of Greenmoor Rock, a Carboniferous sandstone, atop older sedimentary layers.

Writing in 1943, Philip Ahier thought it natural and attributed the local belief otherwise to confusion with a definite earthwork of established antiquity nearby known as Castle Hill, which had yielded some cremation urns and Roman coins. This formerly stood near the area of Rastrick known as Top o’ the Town. The site was first recorded in 1669 but by the time John Watson wrote The History and Antiquities of the Parish of Halifax in 1775, it had been entirely plundered for stone.

Whatever its origin, over the centuries Round Hill has remained a focal point for the local community. Summer fairs often used to take place in the surrounding fields, whilst it was tradition to gather wood for Bonfire Night blazes from the birch trees which once lined its flanks. Beacons have even been lit on its summit on several occasions, whilst both a cross and a flagstaff stood there as late as the mid-Twentieth Century.

Today, Round Hill rises behind Rastrick Cricket and Athletic Club, who set up there in 1868, and its slopes often prove very useful as an unofficial stand for the spectators. A ring of rhododendron bushes encloses the summit, planted there in 1912 by a local schoolmaster to prevent erosion. However, the top remains devoid even of grass despite many attempts to turf it over the years, presenting a classically bald summit to emphasise its lofty aspect.

Published in: on August 4, 2010 at 09:40  Comments (5)  
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The Greetland Altar

In 1597, two workmen by the names of Thomas Miles and Thomas Halliwell dug up a Roman altar behind a house called Thick Hollins (now identified as Bank Top Farm) in Greetland. It was recorded by William Camden in the 1600 edition of his monumental topographical work Britannia, in which he memorably writes “At Greetland in the toppe of an hill whereunto there is no ascent but of one side, was digged up this votive altar.” A contemporary account by John Hanson, an officer of the Manor of Wakefield mentions further “diverse” finds nearby but does not elaborate.

Following its discovery, the altar was kept by local justice of the peace, Sir John Savile, at nearby Bradley Hall for no great length of time, before somehow making its way into the collection of a Cambridgeshire antiquary around 1600 so that by 1732, it was recorded standing neglected in the church at Cunnington in that county. It was subsequently donated to Trinity College at the University of Cambridge and stood in the vestibule of its library until it was moved to its present home at the University’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology during the 1960s.

An inscription upon the altar, written in abbreviated Latin as was the custom, reads “To the goddess Victoria Brigantia and to the Deities of the two Emperors, Titus Aurelius Aurelianus gave and dedicated this altar for himself and his family, while he himself was mater of the sacred rites in the third consulship of Antonius and the second of Geta.” This dates the altar to some time between 205 and 208 AD and represents a rare instance of Geta’s name surviving on a monument, for in 212 AD he was murdered by his brother and co-emperor Caracalla and all references to him were effaced.

It is one of only eight altars dedicated to the goddess Brigantia known in Britain, three of which also come from West Yorkshire and the other four from Hadrian’s Wall. Brigantia was the tutelary mother goddess of the Brigantes tribe, the Celtic Britons who occupied most of northern England during the Romano-British period. It was also the name given to their kingdom. Hence, it is certain that the goddess Brigantia would have been the primary deity worshipped by native inhabitants of the Lower Calder Valley during that period, and probably representative of a tradition extending back into the Iron Age.

Although no direct traditions concerning the goddess have survived, here she is associated with the Roman goddess of victory, Victoria, according to a custom known as “interpretario romana”, whereby local deities were incorporated into the Roman pantheon in order to assist the integration of the Empire with native populaces. This suggests a warlike aspect. Elsewhere, however, she is associated with Minerva, indicating she also fulfilled a pastoral and artistic role. It is thought she was also a northern English manifestation of the goddess Brigid, whose legends have survived in later Celtic sources from Ireland.

The discovery of the altar at Greetland has led some commentators to speculate that the area might have been the site of the lost Roman station of Cambodunum. The outpost is mentioned in the Antonine Itinerary, a register of over two hundred roads in the Roman Empire dating from the early 3rd Century AD, as located between Manchester and Tadcaster, although the distances given are erroneous, leaving its precise location mysterious. Some believed it was the fort at Slack, above Huddersfield some three miles south of Greetland, but recent excavations have shown that site had been abandoned by 125 AD.

In his 1732 work, Britannia Romana, John Horsley writes “Such altars as these, I think, are never found but where a Roman settlement has been… The Roman station of Cambodunum… has been upon that rivulet which runs by Greetland bridge into the Calder.” However, Dr. John Watson in his seminal 1775 work The History and Antiquities of the Parish of Halifax disagrees, saying that he has searched the area thoroughly and failed to find any further trace of Roman remains. As Watson was a curate at nearby Ripponden, he would surely have had much opportunity for such investigations.

The controversy has continued to rage over the centuries and it has still not been settled. That successive excavations at Bank Top have failed to uncover any Roman finds indicative of a habitation is frequently cited as evidence against the theory. However, as the historian Donald Haigh points out, Horsley suggests that Cambodunum would’ve stood in the valley below Bank Top at the confluence of the Black Brook with the River Calder, as the junction of valleys near water sources was favoured for such sites, rather than on the hilltop itself. However, at present, no excavation has ever tested this theory.

Published in: on June 11, 2010 at 18:53  Comments (11)  
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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.

Horley Green Spa, Shibden

In a small copse on the flanks of the Shibden Valley, no great distance from the Godley Cutting, stands an incongruous building with a Classical facade and some forty yards above it, a three-storey Georgian-style edifice. These structures are the legacy of a spa resort popular in the 18th and 19th Century which exploited a natural mineral spring in the hillside, known as one of the strongest in the country. A variety of medicinal benefits were claimed for it and it’s recorded that people travelled from miles around to take the waters.

The spa house itself was built circa 1780 by landowner James Drake (although it is interesting to speculate whether its use for healing had an older provenance as a holy well). Local physicians such as Dr. Robert Alexander would recommend its use to treat a range of complaints including diabetes, poor circulation and digestive complaints. Such was draw of the resort, Upper Spa House had to be constructed around a decade later to accommodate the growing number of visitors coming from across the north of England.

Dr. Thomas Garnett of Harrogate visited the establishment in 1790 and subsequently published the pamphlet “Experiments and Observations on the Horley Green Spa, near Halifax” in which he observed, “The Horley Green water is quite pellucid – sparkles when poured out of one glass into another – and has a sharp, aluminous, styptic taste, not unlike ink. The taste is not unpleasant when the water is taken from the springhead and drank immediately; but if taken only a few yards from the source its taste is more disagreeable”.

The popularity of the spa in the late 18th Century was clearly short-lived and it had apparently fallen into dereliction by 1840. However, the Victorian craze for hydrotherapy led to its restoration in 1840 by Dr. William Alexander, grandson of its earlier champion Dr. Robert Alexander. The reopened spa also included a bath-house for full immersion in the waters, enclosing the spring in a trough 14 x 12 feet long and 3.5 feet deep. The floor of the trough was flagged, beneath which there was a course of cobbles to further aid filtration.

Alexander published his own pamphlet titled “The Horley Green mineral water: its new chemical analysis and medicinal uses”, in which he somewhat unsurprisingly declared “I unhesitatingly affirm that the Horley Green Spa possesses a very strong claim to be regarded as a powerful tonic and chalybeate”. Analysis of the water at the time found it held a constant temperate of 48.5°F and contained “carbonic acid gas, nitrogen, sulphate of iron, sulphate of lime, sulphate of magnesia, chloride of calcium and aluminium”.

It is not recorded how many years the site operated under William Alexander’s guidance but inevitably, the spa fell into dereliction again once modern medicine had largely discredited the efficacy of hydrotherapy treatments. The building was restored sometime in the late 20th Century as a domestic residence, despite containing a limited number of rooms. The spring itself was discovered choked with stones but owner Philip Reid stated his intention to maintain the spa, albeit for historical rather than commercial purposes.

Published in: on April 24, 2010 at 13:37  Comments (2)  
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Nether House, Hove Edge

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.


Hal of Kirklees

“Hal” was a generic term in days gone-by for an individual with learning disabilities and sometime in the early 18th Century, Sir George Armytage of Kirklees Hall befriended just such a person and gave him a position at the hall as a jester, for despite his affliction he was said to possess a sharp wit. It is sometimes said that his surname was Pierson and sometimes Wormald but both local historians J. Horsfall Turner and H.N. Pobjoy seem satisfied that he was a historical figure, living sometime around 1730.

Despite the patronage of Sir George, many of the other servants at the Hall would frequently torment Hal with a variety of practical jokes. On one occasion Robbie the estate carpenter told Hal that if he placed a half-crown in a hole, it would magically multiply. The jester complied and later, Robbie sneaked back and exchanged the coin for coppers, knowing Hal did not grasp the relative value of different coins. Hence Robbie’s victim was initially pleased with the outcome but when Hal discovered he’d been tricked, he swore he would get his revenge.

For a while Hal contented himself with hiding Robbie’s tools but one evening when the carpenter failed to turn up for dinner, people noticed that Hal seemed unusually pleased with himself. When questioned, he claimed to have hidden Robbie’s head under the wood shavings, “and when he wakens he’ll be troubled to find it!” The shocked servants rushed to the workshop and sure enough, discovered a decapitated body with its head concealed beneath a pile of shavings. Still failing to understand that he had killed Robbie, Hal attempted to reattach them.

Hal was tried for murder at York but was acquitted on the grounds of “weak-mindedness” and returned to the care of Sir George. However, finally cognisant of what he had done, Hal was never the same again. He was often found weeping by the beck and refused to go near the carpenter’s shop or touch an edged tool. The guilt of the experience prematurely aged him and he supposedly died a grey-haired man aged only thirty. However, his memory was kept alive in the phrase “worse than Hal of Kirklees” which for many years was a popular local dismissal for foolishness.

The Rastrick Exorcist

Although the principle events in this drama occurred outside the Calderdale region, one of the main players had previously been something of a fixture in the area, namely the Father Peter Vincent who was vicar at the Church of Saint John the Divine in Rastrick between 1963 and 1971. The case and his involvement in it consequently generated a lot of discussion in the local press at the time, and hence it seems worth recounting here.

By 1974, Vincent was the parish priest at the Church of Saint Thomas in Gawber, South Yorkshire and known to be an expert in the art euphemistically described as “deliverance” but more commonly known as exorcism. Thus, he was called in by the Christian Fellowship Group of Osset when one of their members, Michael Taylor, felt he was possessed following an attack he carried out on his wife Christine and an encounter with the devil himself.

On the night of 5th April, Vincent and the Methodist priest Reverend Raymond Smith took Taylor to Saint Thames’ Church in Barnsley, whereupon the performed an intensive exorcism ritual which lasted over seven hours into the following morning. The clerics claimed to have expelled forty demons from Taylor but in light of the events that followed admitted “at least three demons – insanity, murder, and violence – were still left in him.”

Returning to his home in the early hours of the morning and clearly still in a profoundly disturbed state of mind, Taylor proceeded to murder his wife Christine and mutilate her body by reportedly removing her eyes and tongue, practically tearing her face off the skull with his bare hands. He went on to kill the family’s pet poodle and was subsequently found by the police wandering the streets naked and slick with blood, claiming to have no memory of events.

Taylor was found to be suffering from schizophrenia and an inquest declared him criminally insane, confining him to an asylum from which he was released only three years later. Inevitably, the incident sparked a huge controversy concerning the role of exorcism in modern society. In the Church of England, deliverance cases must now first be referred to a panel including a medical psychiatrist, and the Taylor exorcism remains the last acknowledged instance in an Anglican church.

In April 1975 following the conclusion of the inquest, the Brighouse Echo reports that Vincent successor at St. John’s Church, Rev. Ian Walker had performed an exorcism in the Brighouse district on at least one occasion, whilst it seems inevitable that Vincent himself carried out such rites in the area during in his term, considering his reputation as an expert in those matters. However, following the Taylor incident, all exorcism in the Wakefield diocese was banned by the bishop.

Published in: on April 7, 2010 at 15:05  Comments (1)  
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Daisy Croft, Brighouse

The cottages at Daisy Croft, named after a corn mill which had stood on that site beside the River Calder since the Norman period, were probably already a couple of hundred years old when they were demolished in 1905 to make way for the Brighouse Assembly Rooms and they would once have adjoined the Anchor Inn and faced the Black Swan in Queen Anne’s Square. Sadly this formerly thriving area between Brighouse and Bridge End is today little more than a traffic thoroughfare and car-park in the shadow of the derelict silos of Sugden’s Mill. But in July 1887, Daisy Croft was the location of a curious and macabre episode in Brighouse social history.

At the time, the cottage Number 23, was occupied by Mrs. Sykes and her teenage son, who’d moved into the dwelling a couple of years previously. One day whilst the boy was cleaning in an upstairs room, his attention was drawn to a small vent hole in the ceiling. Squeezing himself through the narrow aperture into the void beyond, amidst the darkness and centuries’ accumulated detritus he was soon startled to run his hand over something which felt very much like bone. Unnerved, he hurriedly returned to the light of the room below, carrying his discovery with him and sure enough, on closer inspection he realised he’d found a human arm and leg bone.

A local physician, Dr. Bond, was summoned and concluded they belonged to the right side of a young human female. He also speculated from the state of preservation that when they were concealed, they probably still had human flesh upon them. The discovery and Bond’s subsequent conjectures caused a great stir in the town. Rumours circulated that it was the skeleton of a young woman who’d disappeared some years previously and that when she was found, she was still wearing a jewelled ring on her bony finger. The frenzy was stoked by the fact that Mrs. Sykes began to display the bones in the cottage and charged admittance to see them, attracting hundreds of visitors per day until the police removed the remains for reburial.

Subsequent investigation revealed, however, that the truth was less grisly than many had supposed at the time, although no less bizarre. It transpired that in the early 19th Century the cottage had been used as the surgery of one Doctor Hopkinson. He was regarded in his day as a specialist in a number of diseases but he was also known for having a drink problem and a morbid sense of humour. Some of the older people in the town recalled that he kept a human skeleton in his consulting room and when he was under the influence of alcohol, would delight in using it to terrify his young and elderly patients. Unsurprisingly, the police concluded the bones were most likely to have been left there by Hopkinson, maybe by accident or maybe as some further practical joke from beyond the grave.

The exhibition of human remains was evidently a common practice in Brighouse during the late 19th Century. An article in the Brighouse Echo dated 18th July 1952 records that more than half a century previously a coffin had been unearthed during quarrying at Southowram.  It contained the skeleton of a local landowner named Dan Maude, who’d died at least fifty years before that, leaving instructions that he was to be buried on his own land. The bones were exhumed and placed on public display, with local people charged two-pence each to view the macabre spectacle. However, it is recorded that it was “eventually kicked to pieces by drunkards”. One doubts the outcome would have been any different had the skeleton been displayed in the district in more recent times.