Ellen Royde, Elland

Standing in the uncommonly haunted locale of Elland’s Westgate, Ellen Royde is today utilised as an NHS clinic but for the majority of its history it was home to the Smithies family, a famed line of local worsted manufacturers. They built the house seen today in 1680 although there is speculation it may have been erected on the site of an earlier structure. The name is thought to derive from the elder trees (ellen being an old dialect word for the same) which once covered the land on which it was built. It is interesting to note that elders are rich in folkloric associations, especially with regard to faery activity.

Either way, the house was once well known as the haunt of boggarts. There used to be a scooped out stone in the garden there, dubbed the Boggart Chair. Apparently it was in fact the sundered remains of a church font which had been deposited there by raiders or possibly during the English Civil Wars, but local tradition attributed the hollowed out facade to boggarts wearing away the stone as they sat there waiting to gain entry to the house. No particular record of their activity within the building survives, but doubtless they were intent on causing mischief as is a boggart’s wont.

What is most curious about the story, however, is that an almost identically named building (Ellen Royd, missing the “e”) with an identical tale attached is to be found in the village of Midgley in the upper Calder valley. The similarities are such that is entirely certain that one borrowed the story from the other but it remains an open question not only as to which came first but whether the transposition occurred in the oral tradition or whether it was simply a journalist or local historian who confused the two sites in more recent years.

Old Castle, Elland

Old Castle was a gabled Elizabethan building which once stood in the graveyard at the parish church of St. Mary the Virgin in sight of the east window. It had been inhabited by a rich family but had gradually fallen into disrepair. Indeed, in 1826 it was converted into a inn – somewhat unusually for a building situated on consecrated ground! – but it was pulled down shortly afterwards when population demand necessitated the extension of the churchyard in 1829.

Around 1800 the building was occupied by one Jim Fenton who owned a hauling-horse named Boxer with which he plied his trade hauling boats along the canal. Albert Rinder in A History of Elland tells how one particularly hard winter, the canal was frozen for months on end leaving Jim unable to earn his living and the family grew short of food. As did Boxer who was stabled in the house and would beat his hoofs on the floor boards in hunger.

Driven to distraction by the cries of his children and the din of his horse, Jim decided one night that he would have to go and beg for food at Elland Mill. However, on his route he chanced across a huge boggart and in the confusion of the encounter, the boggart dropped a sack of meal. Despite his terror, Jim was a desperate man and managed to grab the bag and run home to feed his starving family.

Soon the Fenton’s were flourishing, as the boggart’s sack always seemed to contain more meal no matter how much they consumed. When the iron ice-breaking barge finally made it down the canal, Jim took Boxer to assist with the endeavour. The boatmen apparently remarked how unusually well-fed the horse looked considering it had been such a harsh season and asked for a reason, to which Jim allegedly replied “animal magnetism”.

Such a legend amply illustrates the versatility of the boggart epithet. Although as discussed in the entry on Boggart House it typically referred to a household spirit with attributes which ghost-hunters would now ascribe to poltergeist activity, it was used to refer to a wide range of ghostly encounters. The example above is unusual in that the boggart is both visible and described as “huge” when they were typically regarded as diminutive, wizened creatures.

Boggart House, Southowram

Standing all alone at the end of Ashday Lane which runs down from Southowram and overlooking Cromwell Bottom, Boggart House is certainly evocatively located. In an article from the Brighouse Echo dated 11th September 1981, even their bluff local history correspondent “Rowan” is moved to admit “the magnificent sweep of land up to Ashday… (has) a peculiar brooding beauty”. It is also interesting to note that in other columns pertaining to his childhood in the early 20th Century, Rowan refers to this small tributary valley as the “Fairy Glen”. Whether this name suggests any authentic local tradition or just an Edwardian penchant for artificial romanticism is not clear.

Boggart House was originally constructed in the early 19th Century to serve as a gatehouse for Ashday Hall, which stands some little way above it. Ashday Hall itself is a venerable structure, with land connected to the de Astay family first recorded there in 1275. In the 14th Century, the tenancy fell into the hands of the Holdsworth Family and the present Hall was constructed by William Holdsworth between 1713 and 1738. Due to debt, it passed into the hands of the Drake family in 1792 and it was Thomas Drake who in the 1830s improved the estate, erecting the residence today known as Boggart House and an observatory on the hill behind it. Rowan recalls the house standing derelict by the 1920s and remained so until 1961 when it was purchased by Mr. Peter Turner and renovated.

It is uncertain exactly when Boggart House gained a reputation for being haunted. The recollections of Barry Chapman in “Childhood Memories of Southowram Village in the 1950s” suggest it was certainly known to children as such in that decade, whilst an entry in a series entitled “Country Walks Around Brighouse” first published in the Echo by the Brighouse Civic Trust in the early 1970s claims the house “once had a reputation for being haunted.” Equally, the exact nature of the haunting is vague. Speaking in the 1981 Echo article, Rowan blithely describes it as “a house legend claims is shared with spectres, goblins and bogeymen,” whilst Peter Turner revealed that a relative had witnessed a “little man with a ginger beard” in a cupboard and describes “strange noises which I have been unable to trace and lights going on and off for no apparent reason”.

However, perhaps the name of the house suggests an even older provenance. “Boggart” is an ancient Yorkshire dialect word for a capricious household spirit (a cousin of the Scottish brownie) who would help with domestic chores providing they were rewarded with a bowl of milk each night. But if the boggart felt unappreciated it would often take umbrage and start to display poltergeist-like characteristics, whilst several regional folk tales emphasise just how hard they were to get rid of. As a result “boggart” tended to be used idiomatically to describe any sort of unusual activity from the structure of a house settling at night to a horse inexplicably taking fright. Certainly, there are no shortage of boggart place names in the Calder Valley, including a Boggart Chair at Ellen Royde in Midgley, the Boggart Stones above Widdop and Boggart Well near Ogden Reservoir.

Boggart House, Ashday Lane, Southowram