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 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.

Pinfold Guest House, Elland Upper Edge

A familiar sight just before the road from Fixby begins its steep descent towards Elland, the building which now operates as the Pinfold Guest House was originally constructed in 1840 as the Black Bull pub. The establishment was forced to close in 1909 by the 1904 Licensing Act, which sought to restrict the number of “beerhouses” across the country and so reduce alcohol consumption. It was then divided into two private dwellings for many years before opening as a bed-and-breakfast. However, despite it being over a century since the Black Bull closed, the pub evidently endures in the local folk memory as the adjacent Pinfold Lane is still sometimes known as Bull Lane by long-term residents of the area.

In the mid-Seventies, Mrs. E. Parker moved with her husband into one of the houses in the building and almost immediately began experiencing uncanny disturbances, which she related to Terence Whitaker for his 1983 book, Yorkshire’s Ghosts & Legends. As soon as they set foot over the threshold, Mrs. Parker claims to have felt a “presence” and on their first night, after retiring to bed, they heard footsteps on the stairs. Her husband was convinced that a burglar must have gained entry and went to investigate, but predictably found nothing. The nocturnal footsteps persisted and were soon accompanied by a mysterious knocking from a certain section of wall in the sitting room, which would often respond to any answering taps.

One night, after they’d been in the house a while, Mrs. Parker had a vivid dream in which a fair-haired woman in a blue dress entered her bedroom and beckoning, led her into the cellars. Here, the apparition pointed to a loose stone in the wall and indicated that she should remove it. Mrs. Parker claimed to have always been afraid of the cellars since moving in and so the following day, her husband accompanied her down and sure enough, they discovered a loose stone in exactly the place revealed by the dream. They realised that the spot lay directly below the area of wall from which they often heard the unexplained knocking at night. Nonetheless, they removed it as instructed and left it abandoned in the middle of the cellar floor.

However, Mrs. Parker soon came to regret acting on the advice of the phantasm in her dream, for the haunting only seemed to intensify. Now, footsteps were heard all the time in the cellar, whilst their dogs would growl at the cellar door and refused to remain in the house alone. Then, one morning when Mrs. Parker was lying late in bed due to sickness, she heard footsteps ascend the stairs and a voice beside her bed say in a pitying tone, “Oh dear, oh dear.” At first, she thought it must have been her husband, thinking his sympathy odd because he rarely showed such an emotion. However, she later discovered that he had spent all morning out of the house, milking the cows.

That was the first incident which led Mrs. Parker to believe that the spirit, or whatever it was, must have some sort of “affinity” for her. Later, when her marriage was experiencing difficulties, she would often sit crying on the stairs where she’d most regularly heard footsteps and would feel a comforting presence envelop her. However, the ghost’s attachment clearly extended to sabotaging her attempts to leave. When Mrs. Parker found that it was all getting too much, a friend called round to offer her a place to stay. At this moment, she claims a coat hanger came hurtling across the room and struck the friend in the face. You suspect that with the constant turnover of guests at a bed-and-breakfast, the spirits will have had to learn to be less clingy.

Published in: on September 10, 2010 at 20:04  Comments (1)  
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Exley Park Hotel, Exley

Sited on the steep hillside below Southowram and just north of Elland, today Exley straggles almost imperceptibly into Siddal but it is a much older and once distinct community, recorded as early as the 13th Century and featuring tangentially in the narrative of the Elland Feuds. Between 1909 and 1917 it was even home to the incongruous Halifax Zoo and Amusement Park, located in the grounds of the subsequently demolished Chevinedge Manor, from which elephants, bears and wild boar occasionally escaped into the surrounding woodland.

The Exley Park Hotel has been the settlement’s main hostelry since its construction in 1939, when there was little but farmland surrounding it, a far cry from the modern school and sprawl of mid-Twentieth Century social housing which now dominates the locality. The building remains imposing nevertheless, thanks to a design by the prolific and acclaimed Halifax firm of architects Walsh, Maddock and Wilkinson.

The interior of the hotel remained unaltered until substantial renovation work in 1972, the completion of which landlord Jack Carrington used as an opportunity to describe various supernatural occurrences he and his family had experienced during their three and a half year tenure. It seems to be a recurrent theme of pub-based hauntings that they appear in print when trade is slow or the establishment is reopening for business.

In an report in the Evening Courier dated 2nd November 1972, Carrington recalls how mysterious footsteps were often heard in the underdrawing above their daughter’s bedroom, whilst on one memorable occasion he entered the bar early on morning to discover two brass plaques had been thrown several feet from their usual position on the chimney breast, whilst the family dog was stood with her hairs on end, barking frantically in their direction.

Regulars informed Carrington that these occurrences were most probably the work of a spectre known locally as Old Jim or Old Jack, and supposed to be the ghost of a man killed during the construction of the building. No such deaths appear to be recorded and so this may well be another manifestation of the motif of foundation sacrifice, a corrupted remembrance in the folk tradition of a grisly practice designed to ensure the fortune of the structure.

The spirit of Old Jim was witnessed again in 1984 by the 14 year-old daughter of the licensees. It was approximately 6am on the morning of Christmas Day; she was just leaving her bedroom and was about to proceed to the lounge downstairs when the experience occurred. “A figure stood right in front of me…” she recalls, “I could see (him) clearly from the bright moon and street lamps… He just stood there a foot away for what seemed like ages”.

Her description of the figure matched that offered by the pub’s regular customers around that time and certainly sounds like a labourer. “The man I saw was short,” she added, “wearing boots, baggy trousers and braces. His sleeves were rolled up to his elbows and he wore a flat cap on his head. I remember thinking his eyes were very piercing, and they just kept staring straight at me”.

The girl reached out to touch the figure; at first he didn’t move, but as she attempted to repeat the experiment, the apparition vanished into thin air. She never saw him again, but claims that she often felt his presence, especially in a box-room attached to the large back bedroom. She felt that “the atmosphere there was always strained, like there had been some kind of tragedy; a deep sadness of sorts”.

Published in: on September 10, 2010 at 19:15  Comments (3)  
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Crawstone Hall, Greetland

The imposing three-gabled edifice of Crawstone Hall stands off Dog Lane, a horribly appropriate name as will become clear. It was constructed in 1631 (and extended in 1700) on the site of an earlier structure known as Swayneroyd, for John Ramsden. His family had been granted the land in 1519 and they endured there until 1763. Today, like many such buildings, the hall has been split into three separate dwellings.

An article from the Calderdale News dated 18th October 1990 describes how in days gone by a former owner of the Hall accepted a challenge to visit his hounds at midnight wearing his everyday clothes rather than his hunting gear. The next morning only his boots were found and the man was never seen again, the implication presumable being that the hounds, failing to recognise their master in unfamiliar attire, wholly devoured him.

It is said that once a year on the anniversary of that night his ghost can be heard stamping along the corridor of the upper floor at the Hall. The story is no doubt apocryphal, however, as it seems incredible that such a grisly death would not appear in the historical record and apart from a cannonball discovered in the grounds in the early 20th Century (suggesting some Civil War involvement), Crawstone’s history is unremarkable.

Published in: on April 5, 2010 at 13:59  Leave a Comment  
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Miscellaneous Elland Hauntings


Of all the settlements along this stretch of the Calder, Elland is amongst the most ancient and as such the one with the richest tradition of what we might call folkloric hauntings, that is tales which first entered the oral traditions centuries ago and now persist primarily as tourist guide fare and folk memory rather than first-hand experience. However, like any other town it also still has its share of more contemporary and arguably rather more prosaic supernatural encounters. Such mundane hauntings, however, make up the bulk of those recorded today.

The first of these pertains to the former Elland Police Station on Burley Street, where according to an Evening Courier article dated 16th October 1974, a dog belonging to one of the constables – a West Highland terrier named Douglas – refused to go up or down a staircase in the building and would act in a hostile fashion in its vicinity. No further story is offered to account for the phenomena, although the reporter speculates whether the dog could be picking up vibes from the multitude of ghosts elsewhere in the town such as “Old Leathery Coit“.

Another largely unremarkable series of events plagued at a house in the Dewhirst Buildings, which lie just off Park Road and were originally constructed in 1905 for workers at the adjacent Valley Mills. In an Evening Courier article dated 15th November 1972, the current occupier Mr. Derek Dewsnap – a pipe worker and apparently a champion coal-carrier at local charity events – reports a haunting which had occurred ever year for the last three around Christmas time, ever since his family had first moved into the house.

The documented events include the mysterious opening of doors within the house overnight whilst the outer door had remained locked; lights inexplicably turning themselves on and off; clothes and cushions found scattered across the room; and mysterious noises in the early hours of the morning. The article reports that Mrs. Dewsnap wished to move house but her husband was convinced that there was no malevolent intent at work. It is coincidental, however, that the article was published just prior to another of Mr. Dewsnap’s coal-carrying marathons.

The Round House, Brighouse

The Round House is a familiar sight to Brighouse shoppers, stood like a watch-house at the furthest limit of the town’s commercial centre, its bowed frontage projecting towards the main thoroughfare. Formerly it used to stand at the junction of Clifton Road and Wakefield Road, once a major crossroads until that artery was severed by the construction of the Ludenscheid Link town bypass in the 1970s. It had been built as pub in 1831, taking advantage of the relative liberalisation of the licensing laws in the Beerhouse Act of 1830. In later years it was named the Round Tavern until its closure at the end of 1999, whereupon it was converted into business premises but the building remains as distinctive as ever.

In a Brighouse Echo article dated 5th April 1996, the landlords at the time claimed the Tavern was haunted. Although the Barracloughs had taken over the pub some twelve months previously, they had only just moved into the upstairs flat when they began to see the apparition of a “small, gaunt-faced man with big eyes and short hair” in the cellars. The spectre was first witnessed by Mr. Barraclough and subsequently by his nine year old son, despite his father never having mentioned the experience. Some of the regulars reported similar sightings when they had used the cellars as a changing room for their pub football team, whilst the previous landlord’s dog had apparently always refused to enter the underground rooms.

The Barracloughs were so unnerved – especially their son, who was said to have been “hysterical and screaming” for hours after his encounter – that they called in local medium Jenny Bibby who sat by candlelight in the cellars and attempted to contact the spirit. She revealed his name was Walter and he had taken his own life in the cells of the former Magistrates’ Court next door (now the Salvation Army building) which must have been adjacent to the Round House cellars. However, she claimed his presence was not malevolent and that he repented of his crimes. Following twenty minutes of prayer, Mrs. Bibby concluded the “atmosphere had changed and the spirit had moved on”.

Published in: on March 22, 2010 at 21:44  Leave a Comment  
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The Globe, Rastrick

The history of the Globe, a prominent hostelry on Rastrick Common, is largely obscure due to a fire at the brewery which destroyed all records. However, it seems to have been converted into a pub from three former residences sometime in the early to mid 19th Century, whilst the suicide of a former landlord who hung himself in the bottle store in the “last century” was certainly well-remembered and a belief persisted that his ghost haunted the pub.

In an article in the Brighouse Echo dated 22nd January 1982, the incumbent landlord Geoff Clayton reports an array of familiar occurrences, such as pictures falling repeatedly from the walls and glasses jumping clear off the shelf. Owners had long attributed such activity to “Old Harry.” Meanwhile, Mr. Clayton’s dog allegedly always exhibited signs of discomfort in the vicinity of the bottle store, growling and bristling its hair.

A couple of weeks following the publication of the article, one Fred Marshall contacted the Brighouse Echo to explain that the suicide had in fact been of his father, Albert Marshall, and it had actually occurred on 17th May 1910. The 83 year old Mr. Marshall did not seem too perturbed by his father’s tragic death being raked up in such a sensationalist fashion, magnanimously declaring, “It is a long time ago now.”

Published in: on March 20, 2010 at 15:06  Leave a Comment  
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