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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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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Archaic Stone Heads

These distinctive stone carvings of the human head can be found distributed throughout the South Pennines and represent a unique centuries-old tradition, the exact origins and purposes of which has been the subject of considerable debate amongst folklorists and historians since the custom was first noticed by academia in the mid-20th Century. Lying at the very heart of the region, Calderdale is especially abundant in such images with approximately 150 documented and whilst the upper valley tends to be richer (as is so often the case), prominent manifestations of the art have been recorded on a building at Pinnar Lane in Southowram, on the gateway at Coley Hall and in a courtyard at Shibden Hall, whilst free-standing examples have been uncovered at Shibden, Greetland, Brighouse and Elland.

These carvings have been dubbed “archaic heads” by folklorist John Billingsley (who has written extensively on the subject) to distinguish them from the more obviously representational and finely worked “Classical” head. Archaic stone heads are primarily features of vernacular architecture and whilst they vary in style most appear to be rather coarsely rendered, although this is often a case of deliberate stylisation rather than any lack of skill on the part of the sculptor. Typically, the face is circular or ovoid with relatively flat features, whilst a triangular nose is carved in relief continuous with the eye ridges. Eyes tend to be amygdaliform and lentoid; the mouth a slit or “cigarette hole” lacking lips or teeth. Other characteristics such as the representation of facial hair are occasionally found, whilst some instances are janiform or tri-cephalic.

Common locations to find archaic stone heads on buildings include above doorways and windows and on chimneys, gables and eaves. They are also found on gateways and bridges, occasionally built into field-walls and sometimes buried, especially in the case of the free-standing examples. Their precise function has been the subject of much speculation, but it is generally thought that they are associated with pre-modern concepts of liminality, as they are so often found at threshold locations. As such, they act as boundary guardians and mediators, a physical representation of a tutelary spirit. The fact that many such carvings are found in positions where they are difficult to see supports the theory that they were primarily “magical” devices rather than decorative motifs.

The phenomenon of archaic stone heads first came to public attention in the 1970s when the Director of Bradford Museums Service Sidney Jackson mounted an exhibition of examples he had collected during his tenure. By the time of his death, he had catalogue over 600 instances. Jackson himself dubbed the carvings “Celtic” stone heads, whilst noted Celtic scholar Dr. Anne Ross proclaimed the exhibition represented evidence of a remarkable continuity of tradition in the South Pennines. However, the Celtic designation has been the source of some controversy since Jackson’s exhibition. Certainly Celtic cultures are known to have venerated the image of the head, similarly believing it to possess an apotropaic function and some of the examples uncovered in the region may indeed date to the Iron Age or Romano-British period.

Other examples, however, are much more recent and the tradition was still thriving in Calderdale and surrounding areas up until the 19th Century. Whether this is evidence of a surviving Celtic tradition in the South Pennines as Anne Ross suggests is hard to assess. Some historians such as Ronald Hutton have entirely dismissed the idea of survivals of this nature and antiquity, asserting that many traditions dubbed Celtic by mid-20th Century folklorists are unlikely to be older than the late medieval period. If this hypothesis is correct, then the archaic head represents not a uniquely Celtic icon but one that has arisen in the folk tradition of many different periods and cultures, suggesting a commonality in the collective human psyche which some find just as interesting.

On the other hand, historians base their findings purely on documentary evidence, whilst the whole crux of the folklorists’ arguments is that the oral tradition may have preserved beliefs for centuries before they were written down. Moreover, if archaic stone heads were an isolated phenomenon, then the Celtic theory might not seem so feasible. But the South Pennines is an area teeming with customs for which a Celtic origin can at least be suggested from well-dressing to sacred stones, and there are numerous examples of that other manifestation of head-lore, the screaming skull. It is also relevant that until the 7th Century AD the region formed the heart of Elmet, the last surviving Celtic kingdom in England and that prior to the Industrial Revolution, the area was profoundly isolated from outside influences.

Further support is lent by the justification for the carvings offered by local residents. Some carvings were thought to represent an individual who’d died during the construction of the building on which the image is found, and it has been suggested that this echoes the Celtic practice of foundation sacrifice to ensure the “luck” of the dwelling. A more common explanation is that heads were carved on the building to ward off evil spirits and whilst this is a rather simplistic interpretation of the heads’ liminal tutelary role, it suggests a persistence of the apotropaic function in the local folk memory. As late as 1971 the landlord of the Old Sun Inn in Haworth was advised by one of his regulars to place a carved stone head above the doorway to lay a ghost which was supposedly haunting the establishment.

Ultimately, it will be impossible to “prove” whether such a belief system could have survived for over two thousand years and arguably, it is most prudent to adopt towards the question an attitude of what the poet John Keats called negative capability, whereby you entertain all possible theories without feeling the need to settle on any definitive answer. However, when all the various factors are accounted for, the possibility of an enduring Celtic tradition does not seem so unlikely. There can be no doubt that the design of archaic heads known to date from the 17th Century is remarkably similar to those of heads known to date from the Iron Age, whilst their ritual function has much in common with certain types of magical, pre-modern thinking which were especially characteristic of Celtic culture.

Copyright Kai Roberts

The Fleece Inn, Elland

The Fleece Inn — located amidst the rather incongruous surrounds of 1960s social housing at the top of Elland’s Westgate but in close proximity to both the Long Wall and Ellen Royde — is one of the most historically significant buildings in the district, not to mention one of the most haunted. The structure standing today is a classic 17th Century U-plan building which began life in approximately 1610 as a farmstead called the Great House and it is thought the remains of an even earlier dwelling may be incorporated in its fabric.

The Fleece’s reputation for hospitality stretches back to 1745 when it was still divided into three separate houses and one tenant by the name of George Readyhough provided ale for three thousand troops under General Oglethorpe who were marching to intercept Bonnie Prince Charlie on his return north. However, probably it’s most illustrious guest was Joachim Von Ribbentrop, recorded in the guestbook during the 1920s when he was employed as a travelling wine salesman, some years prior to his more infamous career as the Nazi Party’s Foreign Minister.

In 1782, prior to its conversion to an inn, the building was used as a vicarage by one Reverend Houghton, whilst after 1791 an upstairs room in the establishment was rented out to a particularly odd Nonconformist sect known as the Thumpers, who believed in praising God through jumping up and down. Their frenzied motion caused the floor to shake to such an extent that a chair in the room would also start to leap around and long after the sect had departed, that chair was said still to jump about of its own accord from time to time.

Later in the 19th Century, the Fleece gained a reputation as something of a riotous establishment. A story goes that one market day in Elland, a traveller attempted to defraud a local man who caught him out and chased the cheat back to the inn, where he was lodging. A fight ensued and one of the men was mortally wounded, his blood leaving a stain on the staircase which no amount of scrubbing could ever remove. The staircase and its grisly marking was a prominent feature in the bar for many years but sadly it was destroyed by careless workmen during renovation work in the 1980s.

However, a second memorial to the incident remains in the graveyard of Saint Mary’s Church. The vicar at the time, Rev. Christopher Atkinson, had long complained about the dissolute behaviour permitted at the Fleece by its landlord William Wooler, and so on the headstone of the murdered man, he ordered the following epitaph be inscribed: “Be warned ye thoughtless – ne’er that place frequent / Where sinners meet and revel all the night / And mix not in drunkenness and fight / Frequent it not nor its bad name know / For there lo! I received a fatal blow”.

The narrative of the murder is sometimes cited as the genesis of the Fleece’s most famous phantom, Old Leathery Coit. However, his story is strictly speaking not connected to the inn at all, but to a barn behind it which was demolished sometime in the 1960s. It is also likely that the tale of Leathery Coit, first recorded in print by Lucy Hamerton in her 1901 tome Olde Eland, has a much older provenance than the mid-1800s. The story certainly has all the characteristics of a folkloric haunting and may have been known in Elland for centuries.

Old Leathery Coit was usually described as a headless apparition in a battered leather coat, who would drive a carriage pulled by headless horses from Westgate down Church Lane and Eastgate to Old Earth and back again. At midnight, the doors of the barn behind the Fleece were said to open without human assistance and as he furiously rode out, it would create a sudden rush of wind. Hence, whenever such a gust was felt in the Westgate area during the hours of darkness, local people would comment “There goes Old Leathery Coit”.

Tag Cut, Cromwell Bottom

Prior to the completion of stretch of the Calder and Hebble Navigation canal between Elland and Brighouse in 1808, barges on the River Calder would navigate meanders by temporary “cuts”. Tag Cut at Cromwell Bottom, constructed to provide water access to Elland Stone Mill, was built in 1770 but appears never to have been used. Today, its remains form part of the Cromwell Bottom nature reserve, running just below the railway line and Strangstry Wood.

During the early 20th Century the area was a popular beauty spot but the site was forgotten for many years whilst the area was used as gravel pits and then for landfill. However, the cut still holds water and whilst it has the appearance of being stagnant, there is actually a slow flow which contributes to the diversity of wildlife habitats. It’s one of the most important sites for dragonflies in damselflies in West Yorkshire, with at least ten different species recorded, not to mention herons, kingfishers and a range of flora.

It is certainly an atmospheric place. Due to the area’s history as a landfill site – including for highly alkaline fly-ash produced by the now-demolished Elland Power Station which once stood nearby – the trees cannot put down deep roots in the shallow soil and so appear stunted and unusually contorted. Meanwhile, the water in the cut is tinted orange on account of iron oxide and clay leaching through the soil from old workings at the disused Calder Mine on the hillside above.

It is not known why the cut was never actually used. It may be that it was simply superseded by the Calder and Hebble Navigation. However, a much more sinister possibility is that the area was once haunted by an apparition called Tag, a headless ghost who drove a carriage pulled by a two-headed horse down the length of the cut from a secret passage leading to Elland New Hall. It is even reputed that a room in the hall once went by the name of Tag Chamber.

An article in the Halifax Evening Courier & Guardian dated 6th August 1938 records the experience of one woman who often stayed at New Hall in the early Nineteenth Century. One night she was so disturbed by mysterious crashes emanating from Tag Chamber that she fled the building, believing it to be the sound of Old Tag setting out on his nocturnal travels. Nothing could persuade her to sleep at New Hall again for many years.

Meanwhile, an article in the Brighouse Echo dated 29th October 1971, speculates: “Has anyone seen a headless horseman recently? There is a local legend that such a gruesome apparition can be seen on windy nights galloping past Cromwell Bottom or along Elland Lane at the bottom of Lower Edge. The most likely origin of this tradition is a bitter dispute that occurred some 600 years ago and which has become known as the Elland Feud.”

Such an origin for the tradition would be very satisfactory indeed but on closer inspection it seems unlikely. Whilst New Hall became the home of what remained of the de Eland family after the Feud through marriage to the Saviles, at the time of his murder Sir John de Eland the Younger still lived at Elland Old Hall, sited on the other bank of the Calder to Tag Cut and New Hall, and it thus seems more likely that any such apparition would be associated with Old Hall instead.

Elland Old Hall

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

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

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

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

The Pace Egg Play

Whilst the Pace Egg Play in Calderdale is nowadays confined to the upper stretches of the valley, especially Midgley, Hebden Bridge and Heptonstall, the tradition was recorded in Brighouse, Hipperholme, Elland and Greetland during the 19th Century. The Play, a form of folk drama performed on the streets of such towns by a troupe of local actors annually on Good Friday, is a distinctive version of the Mummers Plays which have been performed across England for centuries during religious festivals, chiefly at Christmas or All Souls Day in many areas. The Pace Egg variant is found primarily in West Yorkshire and Lancashire and is characteristic in occurring at Easter, typically on Good Friday. Indeed, the name “Pace” is a corruption of the Latin word “Paschal” which is a liturgical term for Easter.

The basic structure of the Pace Egg narrative is consistent with mummers plays across the country. The hero, usually portrayed as Saint George, confronts a number of antagonists, represented in the Calder Valley by the Black Prince of Paradine, Hector and the Bold Slasher. George boasts of his prowess in combat but is nonetheless slain or mortally wounded in a duel with the Bold Slasher and subsequently resurrected by the medicine of the Doctor. There are also a number of incidental characters in the drama, including a Fool figure known as in the Calder Valley as Toss Pot, who rejoices when George rises from the dead and generally capers throughout the play. Following the performance, the participants circulate collecting donations from the onlookers.

A number of factors distinguish the Calder Valley version besides the date of its performance. The first is the elaborate costumes and headgear worn. The players are typically attired in red tunics and most uniquely, teetering hats garlanded with flowers, the design and construction of which is a matter of some pride. The second is the performance of the Pace Egg Song sung by the cast at the end of the play, the melody and lyrics of which are unknown elsewhere. Meanwhile, it is recorded that in the 19th Century, the Brighouse and Hipperholme presentation of the play was accompanied by dancing to an air known as the Kirkby Malzeard Sword Dance tune, a tradition which seems to be unique to those settlements in the lower valley and not documented even elsewhere in Calderdale.

The precise origin of Pace Egging is controversial. Throughout most of the 20th Century, folklorists under the influence of Victorian anthropologist Sir James Frazer believed the play to have pre-Christian origins. Prior to the circulation of a standardised text in chapbooks during the 1830s, the script of the play had been passed down orally and it was often assumed that such oral transmission could extend far back into the midsts of time in isolated communities. Moreover, the apparent theme of death and rebirth, echoing the cycling of the seasons, was – according to folklorists in the Frazerian tradition – a form of ritualised sympathetic magic, designed to ensure the continued coming of spring. This interpretation is still believed by many today, often including the players themselves, appearing in their promotional material.

However, more recently scholars such as Eddie Cass in his book The Pace Egg Plays of the Calder Valley have argued that such a reading is fanciful. Although the narrative of the play is thought to be based on a story in Richard Johnson’s 1596 work History of the Seven Champions of Christendom, no reference to the play has been found prior to the early 1700s. Whilst such references suggest it was already well-established by that time and it was not common for earlier commentators to discuss what they perceived as vulgar folk traditions, many social historians now doubt that it existed much before the 18th Century. Rather than a ritual drama, the play is now believed to be a “legitimised wealth transaction,” essentially a socially acceptable form of begging in a form enjoyed by both rich and poor and confined to appropriate times.

Such sober, deflationary accounts of calendar customs are very much in academic fashion at the moment and as academic fashion changes as often as the wind, the truth may be altogether more obscure. Even assuming the play doesn’t significantly pre-date the 18th Century, a continuity of tradition over three hundred years through such upheavals as the Industrial Revolution and two World Wars is not to be sniffed at. Whilst Pace Egging did substantially die out following the Great War, it was successfully revived in Calderdale during the mid-Twentieth Century and endures today. The play was still performed in Brighouse by the Brighouse Children’s Theatre from 1949 but alas faltered during the 1990s. However, in the upper valley it is still going strong in the hands of the pupils of Calder Valley High and should continue for years to come.

Published in: on April 2, 2010 at 21:35  Leave a Comment  
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The Elland Feud

Despite modern certainty of the story’s historical veracity, the cause of the conflict between the de Beaumont and de Eland families and hence the origin of the Elland Feud remains steeped in mystery. Some have speculated that it was an extension of the factionalism resulting from the early 14th Century dispute between the Lacy family, who were the Earls of Pontefract, and the Warren family, who were the Earls of Wakefield. Others have argued that Sir Robert de Beaumont may not have been the “kind and courteous knight” the ballads portray him as and had been a constant thorn in the side of Sir John de Eland the Elder during the 1340s when de Eland was High Sheriff of Yorkshire. Simple power struggles between the sheriff and other influential families would not have been unusual at the time. The de Elands were certainly a dominant force in the region prior to the Feud. Lords of the manor of Elland and occupants of Elland Old Hall since the 11th Century, they owned large tracts of land and enjoyed permission to hunt in Elland Park Wood granted by royal assent from Edward II.

Whatever the reasons for the disagreement between Sir John de Eland the Elder and Sir Robert de Beaumont, sometime around 1340, de Eland gathered a coterie of loyal supporters and marched by night to Crosland Hall at Netherton near Huddersfield, the home of Beaumont. En route, they stopped at Quarmby Hall to kill Sir Hugh de Quarmby and Lockwood of Lockwood, known to be Beaumont’s allies. When they finally arrived at Crosland Hall they found the drawbridge closed so lay in wait until the early morning whereupon it was opened by a servant girl. Eland and his gang rushed in and following a brief struggle, decapitated Sir Robert de Beaumont. Buoyed by their victory, they chose to eat breakfast before departing and forced Sir Robert’s two sons to join them. His eldest son Adam refused to eat and Eland left Crosland Hall warning Adam that his card was marked.

The heirs of Beaumont, Quarmby and Lockwood fled to Towneley in Lancashire where they spent the ensuing years practising combat and plotting revenge. It is thought they harried Sir John de Eland the Elder a number of times during the year 1350, as Eland made his will during this time, but their revenge was not consummated until intelligence reached them that he could be ambushed as he journeyed to preside at the October sheriff’s tourn or wapentake court in Brighouse. Thus, on 28th October 1350, the Beaumont faction lodged with the sympathetic Lacy family at Cromwellbottom Hall, which still stands between Brighouse and Elland. The following morning, they set upon Eland and his party at a place described as the hill between Brookfoot and Lane Head, corresponding to Brighouse Wood Lane today. Sure enough, following an engagement, Eland was separated from his retinue and slain amidst a great “effusion of blood”.

However, whilst the families of Beaumont, Quarmby and Lockwood were now avenged, the bloodshed did not stop there. Following the death of Sir John de Eland the Elder, his killers retreated to the wild Furness Fells between Lancashire and Cumbria. However, they heard news that Sir John de Eland the Younger had assumed his father’s responsibilities and was living happily at Elland Old Hall with his wife and son, whilst petitioning the king to pursue those responsible for his father’s death. Thus, the conspirators returned the following year and on the eve of Palm Sunday, occupied Elland Mill which stood beside the River Calder near Elland Old Hall. The next morning, Eland the Younger and his family attempted to ford the river by the mill dam, where they were ambushed by their enemies firing arrows from the mill. Both Eland and his infant son were struck and mortally wounded, curtailing the Eland line for good.

Upon seeing their final victory, Beaumont, Quarmby and Lockwood fled, with their victim’s servants in hot pursuit. A wounded Quarmby was discovered hiding in a tree in Ainley Woods, where he met his end. It is said Adam de Beaumont successfully escaped the country and pledged himself to that organisation variously known as the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, the Knights Hospitaller or the Knights of Rhodes and was killed fighting heathens in Hungary. Meanwhile, despite there being a warrant circulating for his arrest for his part in the murders of the Elands, Lockwood remained in the district to pursue his affair with a lady of Cannon Hall. He was later betrayed to the under-sheriff and executed. On the other side, the Eland family had been largely destroyed and their estates passed to Sir John Savile of Elland New Hall when he married Isobel de Eland following the murders of her father and brother.

These events were bloody enough to linger in the folk memory of the region for centuries after their occurrence. The first published account was a ballad known as the Beaumont-Watson Transcript, taken from a manuscript borrowed from R.H. Beaumont of Whitley Hall (a descendant of Sir Robert) and included by John Watson in his 1775 History of Halifax. It had probably been written down in 1650 by John Hopkinson, secretary to the early antiquary William Dugdale. Later, a second, older version of the ballad – dubbed the Holroyd-Turner transcript – was discovered in the care of the Holroyd family and published as The Elland Tragedies in 1890 by indefatigable local historian J. Horsfall Turner. Based on a study of the calligraphy and dialect, Turner thought it to date from the 1620s.. It is also believed that there was once a play based on the story which had been preserved by the Armytage family of Kirklees Hall but it is now lost.

The oldest surviving version known today, however, is a prose narrative called The Discourse of the Slaughter of Eland, Lockwood and Quarmby, discovered at Cannon Hall and published in 1944 by Philip Ahier as part of his invaluable series, Legends and Traditions of Hudderfield and Its District. The manuscript is thought to be penned in the hand of the Rastrick antiquarian John Hanson, who is known to have died in 1621 meaning it must have been written somewhat earlier. Nonetheless, it is suspected the ballads would’ve been the original modes of transmission, sung by Tudor minstrels long before they were written down. The first example was probably composed in the 1530s as a cautionary tale designed to be heard by those involved in the Wakefield-Pontefract Feud, a dispute between Sir Richard Tempest and Sir Henry Savile which had led to much bloodshed in the Halifax region around that time.

For years, controversy raged as to the truth of the story. Thomas Wright refused to include it in his 1738 book, The Antiquities of the Town of Halifax in Yorkshire, believing it to be too fanciful. Meanwhile, R.H. Beaumont who had provided the Beaumont-Watson Transcript, also considered it to be little more than legend, claiming the historical record shows that the families had been at peace during the period in question. He cited evidence that they appeared to have “attested each others charters”, the fact of which is still something of a puzzle. However, whilst there is still no documentary evidence confirming the original murders of Beaumont et al by Eland, the Feud’s historical accuracy was largely substantiated by the discovery in 1890 of a writ dated 6th July 1351 condemning “Adam Beaumont, William de Lockwoode and very many other felons indicted of the death of John de Eland, one of the King’s Justices”.

One remaining issue of contention is the precise location of the death of Sir John de Eland the Elder. The ballad recorded in the Holroyd-Turner Transcript describes the spot thus: “beneath Brook Foot a hill there is to Brighouse in the way… From Lane End came Eland then”. As previously mentioned, this corresponds to Brighouse Wood Lane today. However, in an article entitled “The Eland Murders, 1350-1: A Study of the Legend of the Eland Feud,” published in Volume 51 of The Yorkshire Archaeological Journal (1979), J.M. Kaye takes issue with this location on the grounds that in the 14th Century the road between Elland and Brighouse ran via Lower Edge and Rastrick. As late as 1720, a map of the county shows no road on the north bank of the Calder between the two towns and no substantial highway was constructed until the Elland-Obelisk Turnpike in 1815. He also argues that the 1351 writ states the murder occurred “apud Brygghous” (near Brighouse) whilst in the 14th Century Brookfoot was a quite distinct settlement over half a mile away.

Yet Kaye’s contention that the murder could not have occurred where the ballads claim seems to lack any acquaintance with the local topography. Whilst Brookfoot would have been almost a mile distant from the centre of Brighouse then, the ballads state it occurred at Lane Head, on the hill between Brookfoot and Brighouse which is equidistant from the two. Moreover, if there was no road recorded along the north bank of the Calder until after 1720, it would have made little sense for the ballad writer to locate the murder in that place, unless it actually happened there. Routes of some description must have existed in the area as Cromwellbottom Hall is sited on the north bank and if the Eland family enjoyed hunting rights to Elland Park Wood, they would be familiar with the woodland in the area and would probably be quite happy to travel through it, especially as Elland Old Hall was also on the north bank of the Calder so they would’ve been spared crossing the river. Whilst this is not decisive evidence, it is certainly a stronger case than Kaye’s.

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.

Elland Traditions

Today, the practice of mumming or guising is primarily confined to Halloween. However, in earlier centuries it was much more widespread. Writing in 1901, the Elland historian Lucy Hamerton recalled that on New Year’s Eve in her youth “unless we kept our doors locked, our houses were invaded by troops of mummers, who, dressed in various odd costumes and armed with brushes, came to ‘sweep the old year out'”.

Folklorist Bob Pegg records this as a popular tradition in the South Pennines during the 18th and 19th Century. and although Ms. Hamerton does not mention the fact, it is probable that the “sweepers” would demand a few pennies for their trouble once the custom had been enacted. Despite its ritual character, such behaviour was essentially a legitimised form of begging, rather like mummers plays such as the Pace Egg.

Mummers or guisers would’ve been a common site in northern Britain during the 18th and 19th Century at religious festivals, when it was considered acceptable for the poor to solicit alms from their wealthier neighbours. Their outlandish dress and coal-blackened faces were adopted as a disguise, designed to have a liberating effect and permit the wearer to behave in ways which in other circumstances would’ve been frowned upon.

However, such traditions were still regarded as a nuisance by the richer families, as is clear from Hamerton’s quote. Their sinister appearance led to them being regarded with fear by the children of such families and as the daughter of a wealthy physician with a grand house on Westgate, Hamerton would certainly have fallen into this category in her childhood during the 1820s and 1830s.

Meanwhile, a more benign popular tradition in Elland in the 1830s would see youths gathering on public holidays at The Cross in the centre of the town and pair off to stand side by side in as long a double line as could be formed by the numbers participating. Each couple would stand approximately five yards apart, holding a brightly coloured handkerchief or other piece of cloth between them.

At the signal, they would raise their arms so the handkerchiefs were held aloft forming a colourful arch and at a further signal, the rearmost couple would run hand-in-hand down the centre of the two rows beneath the garlands. When they reached the front, they would adopt a new position in the line and the whole process would start again from the back.

It thus formed a sort of running procession, with the outer ranks apparently stationary and a flurry of activity going on at its core. The practice was to travel all the way around the central streets of Elland up Ainley Road and finally return to the starting place at The Cross. The tradition is known as “garland dancing” and was popular in many Pennine mill towns during the Industrial Revolution.

Local mill owners encouraged the dance for the morale and health of their workers, and the event apparently attracted a large number of spectators who would cheer the parade on. It was clearly a very popular display and a writer in the Halifax Guardian in the early 20th Century recalled seeing “the colourful silk handkerchiefs, the girls’ comely forms and vigorous frames” with unsurprising fondness.

Published in: on March 27, 2010 at 22:01  Comments (2)  
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