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.

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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Witchcraft in 17th Century Northowram

It remains a source of debate amongst scholars as to why the main phase of witch persecution in England occurred during the 16th and 17th Century. Many of the most infamous episodes occurred around then, including the Pendle and Berwick witch trials or self-styled “witchfinder-general” Matthew Hopkins’ reign of terror in East Anglia. The natural assumption is that belief in witchcraft is associated with scientific ignorance and superstition, yet rational thought was far more developed at this point in history than it had been during the medieval period, when hysteria over witches was considerably less pronounced.

Numerous factors have been invoked to explain why witchcraft became such an issue at this time. As with all historical processes, socio-economic dynamics are an obvious driving force and many accusations of witchcraft were certainly borne out of both rivalry between competing landowners or class resentment. Such allegations were an effective way of claiming the property of a neighbour or by which a poor member of the community could exact revenge on one of the emergent middle class families who had failed to show appropriate charity.

However, these influences were similarly present during the Middle Ages and cannot adequately explain why witch hysteria grew more pronounced during later centuries. What sets the 16th and 17th Century apart seems to be the religious strife which swept through England in this period with the Reformation, Counter-Reformation and Civil Wars. The theological foundations of these revolutions generated a more intense religiosity amongst the general populace, begetting movements such as Puritanism, for whom the Devil was very real indeed, and a febrile atmosphere of paranoia and mistrust between opposing denominations.

The work of the Reverend Oliver Heywood makes an excellent case study in this regard. Heywood, a fascinating and formidable character, is regarded as one of the leaders of Nonconformism (an umbrella term for religious groups who rejected state worship) in northern England during the 17th Century. He spent much of his career based in the Coley and Northowram area, although he travelled widely across the surrounding district, with one source estimating that he would regularly clock up over ten thousand miles in a year. He also kept extensive diaries which are now regarded as a crucial source of social, religious and local history.

Heywood was born in Bolton in 1630 and graduated from Trinity College, Cambridge in 1647 at the age of seventeen. By 1650, he was the Nonconformist minister of the old church of St. John the Baptist at Coley, which he ran along Presbyterian lines. He was not impressed by what he perceived as the immoral behaviour of the local populace, writing “Oh, what rioting, rebelling, gluttony, drunkenness, abominable beastly luxury, lechery scarce heard of among the heathen.” This severe, disapproving attitude inevitably made him many enemies in the parish, who snubbed his sermons and even tried to disrupt provisions to him.

The religious authorities were also disturbed by Heywood’s activities and in 1659 he was briefly jailed for contravening the Act of Uniformity, which required all clergymen to use a standard English prayer book, and in 1662 he was excommunicated for the same offence. Following this, he lodged briefly with the former Parliamentarian officer, Captain John Hodgson, at Coley Hall before being forced back to Lancashire by the Five Mile Act of 1665, which forbade excommunicated ministers from preaching within five miles of their former parish.

This legislation was repealed in 1672, whereupon Heywood returned to Northowram to found a Presbyterian chapel by royal license. During this period, he lived at Northowram House which was also used at their place of worship. However, his license was revoked in 1674, whilst in 1685 his persistence earned him yet another excommunication, fine and brief spell in jail for “riotous assembly”. With the succession of James II and the Act of Toleration, he was finally able to build a congregation unhindered. The Heywood Chapel opened in 1688 at Northowram (where the United Reform church stands today) and he preached there until his death in 1702.

From Heywood’s diaries, it is clear that witchcraft was much feared by his congregation, especially the practice of “maleficium” (the use of magic to cause harm). Heywood was regularly consulted on these matters by sympathisers from across the surrounding region. In October 1665, for instance, he was called to Wakefield to see a “possessed” youth by the name of Nathan Dodgson. The boy was often seized by bursts of anger so violent several strong men could not restrain him or fits in which he would fall into a catatonic state. When he recovered he often claimed to have seen the apparition of the woman believed to be bewitching him.

In February 1672, Heywood travelled to Ripponden to the funeral of Richard Hoyle’s fourth son, who had succumbed to a mysterious illness thought to have been wrought by witchery, whilst he records in his diaries of February 1674 that a local man named Joseph Hinchcliffe hanged himself after he was accused of being a witch. However, despite Heywood’s Puritan inclinations, he remained sceptical of many such accusations and it is true that by the late 17th Century, whilst witch hysteria was still rife amongst the general populace, learned authorities tended to dismiss it as superstitious fancy.

In May 1683, a local member of his Northowram congregation by the name of Judith Higson sought his advice concerning her twelve year old son. The child was stricken with a strange distemper which left him swollen and insensible. One Dr. Thornton had informed the family that the illness was not natural and rather than prescribe medicine, recommended a cake mixed from wheatmeal, horseshoe stumps and the boy’s urine and hair. The doctor claimed this would break the power of his possessor and cause the witch to reveal herself. Heywood, however, was having none of it and recommended that Mrs. Higson pray and fast for her son’s recovery.

Nor was Heywood himself exempt from allegations of witchcraft and it exemplifies how the religious friction of the period was fertile ground for breeding such hysteria. As a radical Nonconformist preacher, who believed that private faith alone was sufficient for salvation rather than adherence to the religious laws of the state, Heywood must have appeared to many pious Anglicans, and indeed certain rival Nonconformist sects, as the very agent of the Devil. Accusing religious dissenters of witchcraft was a common response to unfamiliar forms of worship, not to mention an effective way of limiting their influence and competition.

Thus, during a gathering at the Rastrick house of rival minister by the name of John Hanson, somebody referred to only as N.C. is recorded as commenting that people dare not approach Heywood’s house for fear of witches. A rumour was abroad that the wife of B. Jagger had been seen leaving Heywood’s residence one Sunday night, during which time she was supposed to have “got power” over a maid of Anthony Waterhouse. The servant girl was soon “distempered and strangely taken” and in her delirium claimed to see the apparition of Jagger’s wife. She died within a fortnight.

Published in: on September 10, 2010 at 20:11  Leave a Comment  
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Rose Cottage, Hove Edge

Incongruously located amongst modern bungalows and even a nearby council estate, Rose Cottage at Hove Edge between Brighouse and Lightcliffe dates from around 1837 and was once known as Catherine Slack Cottage, after the street onto which its white-washed walls back. In a Brighouse Echo article dated 12th April 1996, the owner of the house Karen de Ruyter tells of a series of hauntings to have occurred in the house during her family’s otherwise happy four year occupancy.

The strange happenings began as soon as they moved in, when a number of plants she had left in the middle of the floor after unpacking were discovered mysteriously arranged around the house the following morning. Mrs. de Ruyter goes on to describe feeling cold spots in the house, even at the height of summer whilst workmen have mentioned feeling uncomfortable when left alone there and the family cats would often suddenly arch their backs and begin spitting at thin air.

More tangibly, Mr. de Ruyter claims to have woken one morning to see a small old lady, stooped and dressed in archaic clothes, standing at the foot of the bed before suddenly vanishing, whilst Mrs. de Ruyter witnessed an old man in the garden who similarly disappeared after a matter of seconds. The family’s researches failed to uncover any possible explanation for the haunting, although the house survived a fire once in its history and local gossip claims witches formerly lived there.

Published in: on March 28, 2010 at 15:45  Comments (5)  
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