The Haunted Mines of Hartshead-cum-Clifton

Situated atop rich deposits of high-quality black bed coal, the parish of Hartshead-cum-Clifton has a history of small-scale mining operations dating back to at least the Middle Ages. However, for roughly a hundred years between the early Nineteenth and Twentieth Century, the area became home to several much larger commercial mining enterprises. At one point, these collieries employed over five hundred people in the two villages, including boys as young as twelve who had been brought from Scotland or Ireland and were fostered by local families.

In 1838, the colliers of the district formed the Clifton Brass Band as a source of recreation. In his Story of the Ancient Parish of Hartshead-cum-Clifton, Reverend Harold Pobjoy recounts a story that once, for no adequately explained reason, all the Band’s instruments were thrown down an abandoned mine shaft at Gin Pit Hill (named after the horse-worked windless mechanism which brought up the coal), an area just adjacent to Clifton Common today. It was said that on certain nights, village children passing the workings would be terrified by the sound of ghostly music rising from the depths.

Evidently the mining families were a superstitious lot, as the following story from Hartshead Pit vividly demonstrates. This colliery once operated in the vicinity of Soap House Farm from 1861 until 1935 and was one of the largest in the area, employing over two hundred people below ground at the height of productivity in 1908. However, during the National Coal Strike of 1912 it fell silent like all the rest and in order to obtain fuel, the women and children of the surrounding villages were forced to spend their days gleaning coal from the waste tips of the pit.

One day, they had nearly finished bagging up all they could find when twilight began to fall. The Huddersfield Daily Examiner for 16th September 1929 recounts what happened next: “Suddenly a ‘ghost’ appeared at the edge of the tip, mouthing horribly and gesticulating with it shapeless arms. There was a scream, sacks of coal were dropped and the gatherers fled in terror… Half-an-hour later the more intrepid of them gingerly made their way back to the tip and went to retrieve their coal, the results of a day’s work. But it had gone—sacks and everything!”

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Published in: on February 29, 2012 at 13:50  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.”

Rydings Hall, Brighouse

Not to be confused with The Rydings, the grand building nearby in which Brighouse Library and the Smith Art Galley are currently located, Rydings Hall is located on Church Lane below the old church school and now forms part of a doctors’ surgery. However, it was originally built in 1926 as the former St. Martin’s Parish Hall, with money donated by local landowner Richard Woodhouse.

The building was not given the name Rydings Hall until the 1970s upon its acquisition by the Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band, when alternative premises were sought following the demolition of Odd Fellows Hall to make way for the construction of the Ludenscheid Link ring-road. The establishment was formerly rededicated and opened by the Mayor of Brighouse in September 1971.

Rydings Hall served not only as a rehearsal space for the band, but they also renovated it to include a auditorium with the capacity to hold five hundred people, in which to stage their own concerts. The facilities were also rented out to other local groups including Brighouse Children’s Theatre and Brighouse Light Opera Society. By the 1980s, however, dwindling membership and attendance led to the sale of the hall.

Following its conversion into a doctors’ surgery, district nurse Barbara Green recalls that medical staff working in the building out of hours were plagued by disturbances such as doors and windows slamming shut of their own accord when there was no draught, whilst both the balcony of the former auditorium and the cellar kitchen were noted for their unnerving atmosphere. None of the nursing staff would enter the latter room alone.

A number of stories circulated to explain the occurrences, including the unfortunate death of woman on a toilet in the building, and even the ghost of Lancastrian variety performer Jimmy Clitheroe, who was supposed to have once performed at the hall. More sinister, especially considering the building’s use, are tales of the apparition of a black dog, which in British folklore has long been regarded as a harbinger of impending death.

Published in: on June 11, 2010 at 18:34  Comments (2)  
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Ayrton & Cornwell Solicitors, Brighouse

Founded by John Ayrton in 1900, Ayrton and Cornwell was one of the longest established law firms in Brighouse. until its demise in 2008. The business originally occupied a building called Springfield House on Hutchinson Lane but when this had to be demolished to make way for the Ludenshceid Link town bypass in the 1970s, they moved to new premises at 19 Bradford Road in the town centre.

In a Brighouse Echo article date 7th November 2008, senior partner Trevor Cornwell describes how the building had once been haunted by the ghost of a former office clerk named Ernie Green. His spirit is supposed to have departed following the death of his wife, Elsie. However, he may be the “man wearing a frock-coat standing by the counter” witnessed perceived there by local medium Jill Mayer at the time of the article.

Meanwhile, Mary Hartley – a secretary at the firm for twenty-eight years – claims the building has been the scene of disturbances dating back to 1994, including slamming doors, disembodied footsteps on the stairs, clocks changing time, taps turning themselves on and the sighting of a figure in the attic accompanied by a smell of perfume, which led Mrs. Hartley to dub the ghost “Charlotte”.

Published in: on March 24, 2010 at 15:32  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.

G.S. Whiteley & Co. Blacksmiths, Rastrick

Until its closure in 1995, Whiteley’s – which once stood at the junction of Rastrick Common and Ogden Lane – was the last working forge in Calderdale, originally founded in 1860 by the violin-playing George Shaw Whiteley and ownership passed down through successive generations of the family. The main business was tool-making and maintenance for the local quarries, although their most famous work was probably the wrought iron weathervane which still crowns the nearby Church of St. Matthew. The smithy shut down in 1995 following the sad death of then-owner John Snell (Whiteley’s great-great-nephew) at the young age of 38. A buyer could not be found for the business – neighbours had already been complaining about the noise it made – so it had to be demolished lest the buildings become a hazard, and the land sold.

A series of hauntings which would be attributed to “Old George”, the ghost of its founder, began at the premises during the Second World War, when it was owned by Clifford Whiteley (who later recorded the history of the firm in the book A Village Blacksmith). At that time they worked until 7:30 in the evening and the like every other building the forge had to be blacked-out after dark, making for a very claustrophobic atmosphere. Often during such times, Clifford would hear the din of a chisel being sharpened (a distinctive sound by all accounts) in the “top shop” despite knowing that room to be empty and confirming it to be so himself. He later learnt from his father that the “top shop” had been George’s fire and he would often be found sharpening his chisel at the end of the day.

Later, a couple living in a cottage on Ogden Lane adjacent to the smithy reported a break-in at the premises after hearing heavy objects being dragged around in the middle of the night although no evidence of burglary was found. Subsequent residents would hear similar noises and feel a mysterious presence in their bedroom. Activity at the forge itself continued in a fashion consistent with many supposed hauntings, such as objects including ear protectors or tools vanishing and reappearing without explanation. It is alleged that such occurrences finally stopped when John Snell, having unsuccessfully spent a night in the building hoping to catch the spirit at work, finally tired of its mischief and one day loudly declaimed “Uncle George, you have had your fun, now will you please give us a bit of peace.” The presence of the ghost was never noticed again.

Published in: on March 21, 2010 at 12:01  Comments (1)  
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