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?

The Devil’s Bargain, Kirklees Priory

In 1872 an poet-cum-antiquary named Stephen Fawcett published a collection of lays called “Bradford Legends”. The style is typical of provincial poesy in the Late Romantic period and rather cloying to modern tastes; however, his contemporaries were more easily impressed and one fellow antiquary refers to Fawcett as “a local poet of considerable power”. The authenticity of the stories he versifies are debatable: although the ballads are clearly his own literary creation, many purport to record genuine folk-narrative from the region. Some of these—such as the Boar of Bradford or Pity Poor Bradford—are familiar from earlier sources and thereby independently verified; many others are unique and have no analogue in surviving sources. As such, it is difficult to affirm their provenance: were they once widely-told local legends which only Fawcett ever documented; or were they entirely a poet’s antiquarian fancy?

Thus, with regard to this tradition connected to Kirklees Priory related by Mr. Fawcett, it is best to remain in that state which John Keats called “negative capability… when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason”. It is not clear whether the narrative had any currency outside Fawcett’s imagination, but let us tentatively accept the possibility that it was a story still told by locals in the 19th Century about the legendary history of Kirklees Priory. It certainly displays many of the hallmarks of an authentic folk-narrative and whilst there was little to be seen of the ruins at Kirkless Priory following its dissolution, its former presence loomed large in the local psyche thanks to the legend of Robin Hood’s death—not to mention the fact that the site’s ecclesiastic history was preserved in the very name “Kirklees”.

The legend starts with a man called John awaiting the witching hour in the priory-church at Kirklees, whereupon he intends to strike a wager with Old Nick himself. Curiously Fawcett refers to the protagonist as “Prior John”, which is problematic because Kirklees was a nunnery rather than a monastery—however it is possible that this detail would’ve been unfamiliar to many locals and nunneries did have their own priest to perform the sacraments from which women were debarred. Fawcett’s account is not especially clear about why Prior John wishes to bargain with the Devil: there is no suggestion that his soul is otherwise imperilled; nor is there initially anything that the priest hopes to win through the deal. Although Prior John subsequently offers his immortal soul as his stake in the tournament, no reason is given why either party should have agreed to the contest in the first place: it is portrayed merely as a testament to John’s holiness.

In typically imperious fashion, Satan himself selects the modes of the duel; and in typically unsporting fashion, he chooses three “weapons” he himself invented: “tippling”, gambling and fighting. John promises that if he loses, then his opponent may claim his soul; however, if the Devil loses, he must release fifty souls from Purgatory. Fawcett claims that during their contest, “the corpse-lights burned red, white and blue; and the abbey’s ghosts gathered, the black game to view”. But despite the fact that Beelzebub had thought to give himself an unfair advantage by insisting upon games of his own invention, Prior John bests him in every one—including the drinking contest, for which the pair booze on malt liquor for seven whole hours and the priest still manages to drink the Devil under the table. Indeed, this finishes Old Nick off and in the throes of his hangover yields the fifty souls to Prior John.

However, Prior John is not done with the fiend and extracts a further guarantee that henceforth all monks will be adept at these three varieties of the Devil’s sport. John then proceeds to explain to his bested opponent, that the only reason a priest such as himself prevailed on this occasion was because he’d surreptitiously greased his hands with holy-water before the games began. In this respect, the story of Prior John’s deal with the Devil at Kirklees is typical of that sub-genre of migratory legends in which the old adversary is outwitted by a pious human. The fact that the story conforms to a common folktale model suggests that, whilst Fawcett may have added some poetic embellishments—such as the abbey ghosts gathering to watch—it is probable that the narrative was a genuine local legend connected with Kirklees at the time. It is simply surprising that it has not been more widely reported.

Published in: on April 1, 2014 at 10:16  Leave a Comment  
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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.

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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26 Bowling Green, Stainland

Long term resident of Stainland, Albert Paradise, described a supernatural experience at his old home in the village which was recorded in both Terence Whitaker’s 1983 tome, Yorkshire’s Ghosts & Legends, and an article in the Evening Courier dated May 17th of the same year. The cottage in question (originally built in 1705), where Mr. Paradise had once resided with his father, has sadly now been demolished. Today, the site of the former cottage is marked only by grass and trees.

At the time of the incident, which occurred on New Year’s Eve 1956, Mr. Paradise had lived in the cottage since his birth in 1920. He explains that his father had a fear of gas and electricity and refused to allow their installation, meaning that during the winter months it was his custom to retire to bed early and listen to classical music on an old accumulator-powered radio set. New Year’s Eve 1956 was no different, although his father had recently died and he was alone in the house.

The night was clear so he left his curtains open to allow in the moonlight, which illuminated a picture hanging above the fireplace opposite his bed. Quite suddenly, Paradise recalls “A face seemed to appear in the frame of the picture and then, to my absolute terror, a figure appeared, as if walking out of the fireplace from the house next door… His face was ghastly white. He had sunken eyes and long, flowing hair, which was as white as his face.” The figure was also playing the violin, appearing to shake his head in time to the music on the radio.

Unsurprisingly, Paradise fled the room. He only experienced minor subsequent incidents such as the sensation of a presence several nights later, but after the fireplace was bricked up, there was no further trouble at all. However, the original manifestation sounds to have had much in common with a hypnagogic experience, a threshold state of consciousness in which artefacts of a dream intrude on waking perception, especially considering the apparent symbiosis between the apparition and the music Paradise was listening to.

Published in: on September 10, 2010 at 19:56  Comments (4)  
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Brookfoot House, Brighouse

The site where Brookfoot House once stood is a lonely, desolate place, seldom visited and often overlooked. This is hardly surprising given how inaccessible the area is. The ruins lie in a tract of dense, overgrown woodland on the steep hillside between Brookfoot Lane running up to Southowram and the industrial estate which clutters the bottom of the Walterclough Valley opposite the Red Rooster. Little remains of the substantial structure today for but the odd tumbledown wall and the course of its foundations, all swathed in nettles and ivy. Nonetheless, the land has not been used for any other purpose in almost a hundred years and you can still sense its absence, a potent testament to the power of entropy and decay.

The industrial estate which stands in the valley bottom is perhaps the only surviving remnant of its Victorian heritage, for there has been activity there since Joseph Richardson founded Brookfoot Dye Works on the site in 1870. It is unclear exactly when Brookfoot House was built. A house stood on the site in the 1830s, occupied by a stone merchant named Samuel Taylor but it was either enlarged or entirely rebuilt by Richardson in 1879, who lived there until his death in 1885. The business passed to Thornton, Hannam & Marshall in 1894 and the house was subsequently occupied by a senior partner of that firm, David Hannam Thornton and his family until the 1920s when it was allowed to fall into dereliction.

Brookfoot House must have been an impressive building in its day, a late Victorian mansion complete with ballroom, billiard room and ornamental gardens. It is scarcely surprising that the ruins of such an imposing edifice in such a solitary place should have left a profound psychic impression and there is a palpable atmosphere in the woods around the site today. It is noticeable that no birds sing in the trees there and the place always feels cold and dank, even in summer. Meanwhile, local children exploring the area have reported seeing a shadowy lone figure in Victorian garb pacing on the terrace where the house once stood and the clatter of hoofs nearby, perhaps from phantom horses on the now overgrown driveway.

High Sunderland, Shibden

A vast castellated edifice festooned with grotesque carvings, perched high atop a hillside overlooking the Shibden Valley, High Sunderland must have been an imposing sight. It was surely one of the most remarkable buildings in Calderdale. Descriptions and surviving photographs of the hall make it seem the very epitome of the Gothic mansion so it is hardly a surprise that ghost stories attached themselves to such a place. Indeed, every rambling pile in the valley has probably had a good haunting attached to it at some stage in its history. But aside from the idiosyncrasy of the building itself, High Sunderland and its spectre are significant in having most likely been the inspiration for not only the eponymous dwelling in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights but also one of the most memorable episodes in the novel (a degree of verisimilitude entirely lacked by the better-known candidate, Top Withens).

A house is first recorded at High Sunderland in 1274 and the Sunderland family not long after that. The elaborate façade which so dominated the valley was probably an older medieval timber-framed structure encased in stone, completed in either 1587 for Richard Sunderland or in 1629 for his grandson Abraham. This building was justly famed for its crenellations and ornately carved stonework, including a veritable bestiary of grotesques and numerous Latin inscriptions. One such engraving over the south door bore the legend, “This place hates negligence, loves peace, punishes crimes, observes laws, honours virtuous persons”; whilst another over a window on the south front read “May the Almighty grant that the lineage of Sunderland may quietly inhabit this seat, and maintain the rights of their ancestors free from strife until an ant drink up the waters of the sea, and a tortoise walk around the whole world”.

Despite such entreaties, the history of the hall was not a particularly happy one. It slipped from possession of the Sunderland family in 1646 during the Civil Wars when the Parliamentary forces imposed a decimation tax on Langdale Sunderland for his role fighting for the Royalists as Captain of a Troop of Horse under the Earl of Newcastle, forcing him to sell the family estates. Over the centuries it passed through a succession of owners and by the early 20th Century it had been divided into separate tenements. During the 1940s mining activity in the area caused substantial subsidence and the house was declared unsafe. The owner at the time attempted to sell it to both the Halifax Corporation and the Bronte Society, but the cost of repair was estimated to be greater than the value of the property itself and so it was demolished in 1951, a sad end for such a singular and significant building.

High Sunderland’s Wuthering Heights connection dates to 1838, when Emily Brontë found work as a teacher at Law Hill School in Southowram, little over a mile from where High Sunderland stood. Although Emily’s time at Law Hill was not a happy one, it seems she was fond of the landscape – which had much in common with her beloved Haworth – and would often ride around the district, making it certain that High Sunderland was known to her. In the opening chapter of her famous novel, when Mr. Lockwood first approaches Wuthering Heights, he observes “a quantity of grotesque carvings lavished over the front…a wilderness of crumbling griffins and shameless little boys above the principal door,” a description which perfectly corresponds to the doorway at High Sunderland. It has also been ascertained that the floor-plan of the building had much in common with Brontë’s portrayal of the interior layout of Wuthering Heights.

If the correspondence between the floor plan of the real and imaginary building was indeed more than a coincidence that suggests Emily must have been a guest at High Sunderland on at least one occasion. Doubtless on just such a visit she would’ve been regaled with the ghost story, later recorded by R. Thurston Hopkins in his 1953 volume, Ghosts Over England. It tells how anybody sleeping in a certain room in the hall would awake in the dead of night to hear footsteps along the corridor outside and a fumbling at the door. Once the door had proved secure, the rattle of the handle would be followed some moments later by a tap at the window and if a person was brave enough to look out, they would see a disembodied hand rap against the glass several times before a peal of hideous laughter was heard. It was said the hand had once belonged to an “estimable and virtuous lady” unjustly accused of infidelity by her husband, who had then cut off the appendage in a fit of jealousy.

The story bears more than a passing resemblance to Mr. Lockwood’s ghostly dream in Chapter 3 of Wuthering Heights, when unable to return to his home at Thrushcross Grange due to a storm, he is forced to spend the night at Wuthering Heights. “I heard also the fir-bough repeat its teasing sound… it annoyed me so much that I resolved to silence it, if possible; and I thought I rose and endeavoured to unhasp the casement. The hook was soldered into the staple… ‘I must stop it, nevertheless!’ I muttered, knocking my knuckles through the glass, and stretching an arm out to seize the importunate branch; instead of which, my fingers closed on the fingers of a little, ice-cold hand! The intense horror of nightmare came over me. I tried to draw back my arm, but the hand clung to it, and a most melancholy voice sobbed, ‘Let me in — let me in!’ ‘Who are you?’ I asked, struggling, meanwhile, to disengage myself.  ‘Catherine Linton,’ it replied shiveringly.”

The fields and lanes in the vicinity of High Sunderland in the hours around midnight were also reputed to be the haunt of a phantom white horse. A reference to this in the Evening Courier in April 1973, along with speculation that the apparition was largely folkloric and had not been seen by anybody in living memory, prompted a response from a Robert Whitehead of Illingworth who believed that he and his wife might have witnessed it twenty years previously when they had been walking home one night along Claremount Road towards Godley Bridge. He claims they saw a white horse running down the middle of the road and fearing that it could prove a danger to traffic, contacted the police. However, despite the squad car taking little time to arrive and proceeding to conduct a thorough search of the surrounding streets, Mr. Whitehead recalls that the horse was never found, having apparently vanished into thin air.

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.

Elland Old Hall

Formerly located on the north bank of the River Calder above Elland Bridge, Elland Old Hall was demolished in an act of municipal vandalism to make way for the A629 Elland bypass (also fatuously called the Calderdale Way) in 1976, despite a building having stood on the site since the Norman Conquest. The first edifice known as Elland Old Hall was a cruck-framed structure later encased in stone, founded in the 12th Century by Leising de Eland. It was the seat of the Eland family for over two centuries until the line was extinguished in the Elland Feud and their estates passed to the Savile family of Elland New Hall. The house was extensively rebuilt during the 18th and 19th Century but according to Hopkirk’s 1868 work Huddersfield: Its History and Natural History, some of the 13th Century structure was still incorporated in the fabric, especially in the kitchen area. By the time of its demolition, the Hall had been divided into three separate dwellings.

A couple of hauntings are attributed to the Hall. The first concerns the kitchen fireplace with its 1778 date-stone which, bizarrely, would move about, according to an old woman who lived in that part of the house. The second involves a strange vacancy or secret room in the westerly wing of the house; a pentagonal space with sides of four to six feet long extending from the foundations to the roof, without doors, windows or any other means of access. Local tradition held both that a ghost was imprisoned within and that it was the entrance to a secret passage leading beneath the River Calder to St. Mary’s Church. Other subterranean passages were rumoured to run to Elland New Hall and Clay House at Greetland. An attempt to access the room was made in 1944 but these efforts were defeated by walls some four-foot thick. One presumes that its secrets were finally revealed when the Hall was demolished.

Another story concerning the Hall tells of how during the time of Edward the Confessor, Wilfred de Eland gave hospitality to a young Norman by the name of Hugh Beaulay who’d been caught in a thunderstorm. However, the stranger lingered at the Hall for some time whilst he pursued the affections of Eland’s wife. When Eland became aware of this treachery, he challenged Beaulay to mortal combat. With the help of the faithless wife, Beaulay triumphed but as Eland lay dying, he dipped his hand in his own blood and flung it at Beaulay’s face, cursing him “As thou hast won this heritage by bloodshed, so shall it go from thee and thy house.” Beaulay subsequently married Eland’s widow and took possession of his estates, assuming the title of de Eland. However, it was said all his descendants were marked with three red spots on their forehead, as a memorial of the blood hurled by Wilfred de Eland at the face of his murderer.

Sadly, this story is quite probably apocryphal. As a historical account it is inaccurate, as the name Wilfred de Eland does not appear in any of the Eland family genealogies and it is unlikely that the family existed during the time of Edward the Confessor. As a legend, it is equally suspicious. It only appears in Thomas Parkinson’s 1888 work Legends and Traditions of Yorkshire (Second Series) and no mention of it is to be found elsewhere. This does not necessarily mean that the story did not circulate orally but given the amount of interest in the Elland Feud over the years, it seems odd that no other sources recorded such a colourful tradition. Doubtless the story was intended to provide further background to the Feud, in which the Eland family did indeed lose their ancestral estates through bloodshed. However, whether it represents an authentic legend attached to those events or whether it’s simply an example of a 19th Century antiquarian exercising poetic license is uncertain.

Bradley Wood and Shepherds Thorn Lane

Bradley Wood is a forty-five acre tract lying in the triangle of hillside between the River Calder, Huddersfield Road and the M62. The land in this area was once owned by the monks at Fountains Abbeys in North Yorkshire, who established a bloomery (a specialised type of iron working) in the woods here. In later centuries, like so many places in the region, the landscape was exploited by small-scale open-cast mining and these were briefly reopened in the General Strike of 1926 by locals eager to secure fuel supplies at a time when they were extremely scarce. However, since 13th June 1942 the woods have been home to the West Yorkshire County Scout Campsite, possessing an extensive range of accommodation and facilities which has seen it visited by scouting organisations from across the world.

On Shepherds Thorn Lane which runs down to meet Bradley Wood from Huddersfield Road, it is possible still to see the arched cellar of an old packhorse inn. Such an inn would once have been a well-frequented watering hole on the main route over the Scammenden Moors to Lancashire and a Brighouse Echo article dated 6th August 1982 tells how it was once the favourite haunt of a local girl who often enjoyed dalliances with the packhorse drivers there. However, the landlord of the inn also had designs on the girl and in a fit of jealousy, murdered her in the very cellars whose vault can still be seen. Thus, her restless spirit, the White Lady of Bradley Wood, still haunts that spot today. However, the story’s apparent efficacy in keeping scouts in bed after lights out may lead you to suspect its authenticity.