Ash Grove, Cromwell Bottom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The White Gate Inn, Hartshead

Located beside Leeds Road on the border between Hartshead and Mirfield (not far from Roe Head) the White Gate is perhaps better known today as the adjacent garden centre to which it has lent its name. However, it is also one of the most venerable public houses in the area and whilst its antiquity is not quite as great as the nearby Three Nuns, it was certainly standing in the early part of the Nineteenth Century, when—like so many hostelries in the vicinity—it was well-known to many of the men who participated in the ill-fated Luddite uprising of 1812.

Although it may not be as old as the Three Nuns, the White Gate shares a history of supernatural activity, albeit of a more benign character. The phenomena was reported to the Huddersfield Daily Examiner in 1978 by Alice Barker, who had served as landlady at the pub for the preceding seventeen years. She claimed that the disturbances first came to her attention not long after she moved onto the premises with her family in 1961, starting with the sound of disembodied footsteps ascending and descending the stairs at regular times of day.

Customers and staff also reported hearing the noises when the pub was known to be otherwise empty. The building was frequently searched for intruders and on one occasion the police were called, but nobody was ever found. Mrs. Barker added, “These days the family or the cleaner will often hear a man whistling during the day. We never see anyone. It is a happy tone and seems to be that of a cheerful man, so we don’t think we have cause to be frightened”. The apparition was dubbed the “Old Man” and the family began to refer to the ghost “as if it were a house-guest”.

The only occasion on which the Mrs. Barker admitted to feeling unnerved was when she actually glimpsed the ghost, one evening as the family were about to leave the building to attend a function. She told the Examiner, “I went upstairs to fetch my shoes from my room and saw an old man in a grey suit sat in my chair, warming his feet by the fire. He looked very kind and homely”. Despite the shock of the sighting, the apparition’s appearance confirmed the landlady’s intuition that it was a friendly spirit, who watched over the pub and its patrons.

When Mrs. Barker asked locals if they had any idea what might have caused the haunting, she was told a tale that connected the pub to one of the most notorious incidents in the history of the region. On the evening of April 11th 1812, several hundred Luddites gathered by the Dumb Steeple at Cooper Bridge and marched across Hartshead Moor to destroy the new cropping frames installed at Rawfolds Mill, Cleckheaton. Unfortunately, the proprietor was expecting them and met the attack with full force, utterly routing the ramshackle insurgency.

Following the defeat, many of the retreating Luddites made for sympathetic pubs in the area; a number had been fatally wounded in the attack and died of their wounds in such establishments. Local lore claims that one such individual, having being turned away from the Star Inn at Roberttown managed to stagger on to the White Gate, only to expire on its threshold. However, whilst this is certainly a satisfactory story to account for the haunting, most of those involved in the attack on Rawfolds were young men and so the narrative regrettably fails to tally with Mrs. Barker’s sighting.

Published in: on February 29, 2012 at 13:33  Leave a Comment  
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Robin Hood’s Grave, Kirklees Park (Part Three)

Okay, this entry doesn’t actually contain any new information but that’s because all such material can be found in my recently published book “Grave Concerns: The Follies and Folklore of Robin Hood’s Final Resting Place”! This is doubtless an act of shameless self-promotion on my part but in these days of dwindling marketing budgets, what else is a poor author to do? Plus, if I can’t hawk a book I’ve written on my own blog, where else can I? I hope, however, that many regular readers of this site will find the tome extremely informative and as such, I pray nobody will mind me bringing it to their attention. To purchase a copy, please click here or on the cover image further down the page.

According to a review in Northern Earth Magazine Issue 129, “Kai Roberts unravels a highly tangled skein of fact, folklore, paraphenomena, assumption, reinterpretation, vampirism, ego and propertarianism to seek a single unified theory of Robin Hood’s supposed resting-place in West Yorkshire. It makes for an entertaining read, all backed up by thorough research and organisation of the material”.

And from the March 2012 issue of Valley Life: “Folklore enthusiasts will find much that enlightens and informs in a carefully researched book that examines every fact and fantasy connected with Robin Hood’s death. A little light reading it certainly is not but the reader who persists will, at the close of the last page, be able to claim an encyclopaedic knowledge of a British icon that still intrigues and enthrals to this day.”

Below, you’ll find a chapter breakdown, whilst here’s the blurb from the back cover:

“In the modern era, the narrative of Robin Hood’s death is increasingly one of the least familiar aspects of the outlaw’s legend. It is all too commonly assumed that as Robin Hood is a legendary hero in the vein of King Arthur, there must be numerous sites that claim to be his final resting place. Yet this is not the case. Kirklees Priory in West Yorkshire is the only place that has been repeatedly associated with the outlaw’s grave, in terms of both documentary sources and material remains, over several hundred years.

Studying Kirklees and the various legends to have grown up around it allows us an insight into the reciprocal relationship between people and place. Of particular interest is the extent to which the state of Robin Hood’s grave in the modern era and all the associated disputes have determined the interpretation of the paranormal phenomena witnessed in the vicinity of the site today. In this regard, it is a study in modern myth-making.”

Chapter One

A detailed examination of the narrative of Robin’s death from the earliest medieval ballads to romanticised Victorian sources, observing variations and continuity especially regarding the role of Kirklees Priory and the legendary location of the outlaw’s grave.

Chapter Two

A history of Kirklees Park from its earliest occupation during the Iron Age and Romano-British period, through the life of Kirklees Priory during the Middle Ages, the estate’s subsequent possession by generations of the Armytage baronetcy and its sale in recent years.

Chapter Three

A history of the monument known as “Robin Hood’s Grave”, endeavouring to show that whilst its origins may be shrouded in mystery it is far more than an 18th Century folly and interrogating the reliability of much of what has been written about the site since the 1600s.

Chapter Four

A discussion of how the narrative of Robin’s death and the material presence of a “grave” at Kirklees has been used to support arguments for the outlaw’s historical existence (or otherwise) over the centuries, including some comments on the character’s mythic aspects.

Chapter Five

A history of public interest in the site of Robin Hood’s Grave, from the Armytage’s early exploitation of the site to their disinterest in the late 20th Century and refusal to permit access, resulting in the controversial campaign of the Yorkshire Robin Hood Society.

Chapter Six

A digression chronicling the events at Highgate Cemetery in the early 1970s, in order to provide a valuable comparison with later occurrences at Robin Hood’s Grave and introduce readers to the colourful characters of Bishop Sean Manchester and David Farrant.

Chapter Seven

A study of the reputed paranormal activity around Robin Hood’s Grave, from 17th Century folklore to the range of contemporary reports, with reference to the involvement of the Yorkshire Robin Hood Society and the site’s role in the decades-old Manchester/Farrant feud.

Chapter Eight

An examination of the psychogeogaphical landscape of which Robin Hood’s Grave has become an important part, encompassing Castle Hill, Hartshead Church, the Three Nuns pub, the Brontë family, holy wells, Luddites, dragons, ghosts and a brief history of ley-lines.

Chapter Nine

A survey of folklore pertaining to Robin Hood elsewhere in the Calder Valley, with particular reference to its connection with sites of topographic or prehistoric significance, introducing a tentative hypothesis regarding what this might tell us about the monument at Kirklees.

Chapter Ten

An analysis of the sociological, psychological and folkloric processes which have influenced perceptions of Robin Hood’s Grave, introducing the reader to concepts such as fakelore, legend-tripping and ostension, and the roles they have played in the site’s curious history.

Finally, the acknowledgements were omitted from the book in error. They are published below until such as time as they can be included in a future edition.

For information and advice: Paul Bennett, Anna Best, John Billingsley, Calderdale Libraries, Jon Downes, Corinna Downes, David Farrant, Catherine Fearnley, Barbara Green, Michael Hartley, Anthony Hogg, Gareth J. Medway, Bishop Sean Manchester, Andy Roberts, Paul Weatherhead and West Yorkshire Archive Service.

For moral support and good sense: Jim Firth, Mark Firth, Tom Firth, Patrick Green, Mark Howells, Helen Roberts, Pat & Derek Roberts, Phil Roper, Samantha Rule and Quentin Whitaker.

The Screaming Skull of Sowood House

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Old Corn Mill, Cooper Bridge

Today best-known as a pub and restaurant, the Old Corn Mill is also one of the most venerable locations in the district. There has been a corn mill at that site by the side of the River Calder since the Twelfth Century at least, when it is mentioned in the foundation charter of Kirklees Priory and gifted to the nuns. As with most of the Priory’s holdings following the Dissolution of the Monasteries, it came into the possession of the Armytage family during the Sixteenth Century and remained so for almost five hundred years.

The present building was constructed in 1785, along with two water-wheels to power the milling operations. A fire in 1895 put an end to its use for such purposes, although the building continued to serve various functions until 1947, when severe flooding forced its complete abandonment. Following the death of Sir John Armytage (the last baronet to live at Kirklees Hall) in 1983, several properties belonging to the estate were sold off, the Old Corn Mill amongst them.

In 1988, it was purchased by John Akins who announced his intention to turn the site into a tourist complex including a hotel, restaurant and museum. In view of the proximity of Robin Hood’s Grave, the development was initially supposed to have a Robin Hood theme. Indeed, it was to be called Robin Hood Hamlet. But when the Old Corn Mill opened as a pub and restaurant in 1989, the theme had quietly been scrapped. Some have suggested this was due to pressure from Lady Armytage, who did not want the grave’s location to be publicised.

Then, on 30th March 1990, the Huddersfield Daily Examiner reported on a glut of supernatural activity experienced by the Akins family at their new enterprise. John Akins commented “I heard something walk along the roof of the house and my brother has had his hair pulled and his leg slapped”. His brother James, who worked as assistant bar manager, described a number of nocturnal experiences including being woken by the opening and shutting of doors, footsteps, grinding noises and the sound of a fire being raked out.

Meanwhile, head chef, Samantha Lodge, claimed “About two months ago I was woken up at 2am by the sound of banging. There was the sound of conversation which went on for about ten minutes, followed by the sound of someone dragging something really heavy in the hallway. I didn’t open the door because I didn’t dare”. Bar manageress, Marie Barnes, also reported that gas cylinders in the cellar used for pumping lager would turn themselves on and off, despite being behind two sets of locked doors.

Most suggestive was the experience of dry-stone waller, Eddie Ainley, who had been employed during renovations of the building. He described seeing “a person from the corner of my eye. He was wearing an old smock, a black beret and had a sack around his middle”. The sighting was given credence by a woman who’d lived in an adjacent cottage for over forty years. She had witnessed the ghost herself and believed it to be the spirit of a miller who had reputedly hung himself from a beam in the mill centuries before.

Published in: on May 22, 2011 at 10:59  Comments (1)  
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The Gabble Ratchets

In his Memoranda for 2nd March 1664, whilst living at Coley Hall, Reverend Oliver Heywood wrote: “There is also a strange noise in the air heard of many in these parts this winter, called Gabriel-Ratches (sic) by this country-people, the noise is as if a great number of whelps were barking and howling, and ‘tis observed that if any see them the persons that see them die shortly after, they are never heard but before a great death or dearth.” Heywood is keen to point out, however, “Though I never heard them”.

The phenomenon known variously as the Gabble Ratchets or the Gabriel Hounds was not unique to the lower Calder valley. It was notorious throughout England, although primarily concentrated and surviving longest in the northern counties. The tradition was still familiar to the Cumbrian poet William Wordsworth in 1807. One of his sonnets from that year contains the lines “For overhead are sweeping the Gabriel Hounds / Doomed with the imperious lord, the flying hart / To chase forever on aerial grounds”.

Given the geographical range of the belief, the exact nature of the Gabble Ratchets varied somewhat. In his Notes on the Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties of England of 1879, folklorist William Henderson described them as “monstrous human-headed dogs, who traverse the air, and are often heard although seldom seen.” However, Henderson goes on to add “In the neighbourhood of Leeds the phenomenon is… held to be the souls of unbaptised children doomed to flit restlessly around their parents home”.

In all traditions, they were thought to portend death or disaster. As spectral hounds, they were believed to be hunting the souls of the newly dead. Indeed, the term “Ratchets” may be derived from the Old English word “ræcc”, meaning a dog that hunts by scent. “Gabble” is probably just an onomatopoeic representation of the noise they made. One source from Sheffield informed Henderson that “the sound was exactly like the questing of a dozen beagles on the foot of a race, but not so loud and highly suggestive of ideas of the supernatural”.

It is thought the Gabble Ratchets may be derived from the Celtic Cŵn Annwn (Hounds of the Underworld), mentioned by the Sixth Century Welsh poet, Taliesin. The Cŵn Annwn were similarly imagined as a pack of spectral hounds, led by a black horned figure. Equally, there are correspondences with the Germanic myth of the Wild Hunt, who followed in the wake of the god Woden. The Wild Hunt was also known in some parts of southern England, where it was led by Herne the Hunter or even the Devil himself.

Belief in the Gabble Ratchets was dismissed by learned authorities as long ago as 1686. For instance, Robert Plot, first Professor of Chemistry at Oxford University, believed their infamous cacophony to be nothing more than the cries of migrating geese. An ornithologist writing to Notes & Queries almost two centuries later concurred, identifying them as “bean-geese, coming southwards in large flocks on the approach of winter from Scandinavia. They choose dark nights for their migration and utter a loud and peculiar cry”.

Published in: on May 22, 2011 at 10:58  Leave a Comment  
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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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The Headless Hound of Toothill Hall

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

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

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

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

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

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

James Street, Elland

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

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

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

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

Published in: on September 10, 2010 at 20:19  Leave a Comment  
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