Coldwell Hill, Southowram

One day in 1896, labourers quarrying stone around Coldwell Hill—on the north side of Southowram, overlooking the Shibden valley—made an unexpected and macabre discovery. Buried deep beneath the field, they uncovered a stone vault containing an unusually large coffin, and within, the well-preserved skeleton of an adult male with “an exceedingly good set of teeth on the upper jaw”. A plate on the coffin lid bore an inscription informing them that they had stumbled on the resting place of “Jonathan Walsh—Born 1741—Died February 11th 1823—Aged 82 years”.

Although the history of Calderdale is not exactly short of colourful characters, few seem quite so Dickensian as Jonathan Walsh, who once owned the now-demolished Coldwell Hill and Lower Dove House farms at Southowram. A landowner, money-lender and textile manufacturer, Walsh was notorious in the district for his eccentricity, meanness and temper. Caroline Walker, resident at Walterclough Hall during his later years, bluntly refers to him in her diaries as “an old usurer” and “extremely importunate”.

Walsh indulged in frequent bouts of litigation against his neighbours, and was believed to spend at least a hundred pounds a year pursuit of this passion, a considerable sum at that time. It was said that he would “rather spend a pound for law than a penny for ale”. He was also known to ride around the area on a mule, bearing a whip which would be used on anybody who displeased him, whilst his speech was so uncouth and haranguing that Dr. Henry Coulthurst, the esteemed Vicar of Halifax from 1790 to 1817, used to hide if he saw the man coming. The clergy were apparently a favourite target for Walsh’s ire.

Perhaps his animosity towards organised religion accounted for his unusual mode of burial. Rather than choosing to be interred in consecrated ground, he left instructions that he should be laid to rest on his own property. Thus, after his death at a house on Horton Street in Halifax, the pall-bearers set out at midnight, carrying Walsh’s coffin back to his home at Southowram. As he had been a man of some considerable stature—well over six foot tall, by all accounts—it cannot have been an easy task to haul that burden up Beacon Hill, some years before the construction of the Godley Cutting.

Walsh’s inhumation was conducted by candlelight at four o’ clock in the morning, and in further defiance of religious convention, he’d directed that he be buried with his head to the east. The spot he had chosen was in the corner of a field near where Pump Lane meets the ancient holloway variously known as Dark Lane, Magna Via or Wakefield Gate, still a well-used route into Halifax at the time. His wife had previously been buried in the same field; however, Mr. Walsh had also given instructions that he was to be planted in the opposite corner!

The reason Walsh had selected for his grave a spot so close to the former highway seems typical of his perverse character. In 1924 (whilst wondering whether Walsh’s biography had been related to Emily Brontë in 1837 when she taught at Law Hill School nearby), the venerable Halifax historian T.W. Hanson noted: “The old packhorse road passed through his land, and Walsh was provoked many times because the weavers and others would trespass over his fields instead of keeping to the road. Tradition says he was buried close to the road so that his ghost might haunt the travellers”.

Sadly, no sightings of Jonathan Walsh’s irate revenant have been recorded, but it seems inevitable that for some time after his interment, the superstitious locals will have regarded the area with dread, especially as the grave was on unconsecrated ground. For instance, Philip Ahier mentions that during the Nineteenth Century, a stretch of woodland near Kirkburton was avoided by locals, who feared they would meet the ghost of a woman who had received an unconsecrated burial there. Perhaps it was not just the construction of the Godley Cutting which caused Wakefield Gate to fall into disuse…

However, it seems that the local folk Jonathan Walsh so despised had the last laugh. Although Walsh’s land originally passed to his grandson, it was eventually absorbed into the Shibden Hall estate and then leased to the quarrying company, Maude & Dyson. Following the discovery of Walsh’s mortal remains in 1896, the enterprising firm saw no need to respect the dead and instead, placed the bones on public display, charging the spectators two pence each to inspect them. Over the following days, thousands of people visited the grisly attraction, until finally the skeleton was “kicked to pieces by drunkards”.

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.

Bradley Wood and Shepherds Thorn Lane

Bradley Wood is a forty-five acre tract lying in the triangle of hillside between the River Calder, Huddersfield Road and the M62. The land in this area was once owned by the monks at Fountains Abbeys in North Yorkshire, who established a bloomery (a specialised type of iron working) in the woods here. In later centuries, like so many places in the region, the landscape was exploited by small-scale open-cast mining and these were briefly reopened in the General Strike of 1926 by locals eager to secure fuel supplies at a time when they were extremely scarce. However, since 13th June 1942 the woods have been home to the West Yorkshire County Scout Campsite, possessing an extensive range of accommodation and facilities which has seen it visited by scouting organisations from across the world.

On Shepherds Thorn Lane which runs down to meet Bradley Wood from Huddersfield Road, it is possible still to see the arched cellar of an old packhorse inn. Such an inn would once have been a well-frequented watering hole on the main route over the Scammenden Moors to Lancashire and a Brighouse Echo article dated 6th August 1982 tells how it was once the favourite haunt of a local girl who often enjoyed dalliances with the packhorse drivers there. However, the landlord of the inn also had designs on the girl and in a fit of jealousy, murdered her in the very cellars whose vault can still be seen. Thus, her restless spirit, the White Lady of Bradley Wood, still haunts that spot today. However, the story’s apparent efficacy in keeping scouts in bed after lights out may lead you to suspect its authenticity.

Phantom Hitch-Hiker, Brighouse

The stretch of the A644 (the length of which runs all the way to Denholme Gate) between Brighouse and Hipperholme is known as Halifax Road and represents one of the main routes for traffic heading from Brighouse to Halifax. A frequently noisy and dusty prospect, it is not the most auspicious location for a paranormal experience, yet according to Stephen Wade’s Haunting In Yorkshire it was the scene of a quite common supernatural encounter, although the writer fails to give any detail as to exactly where along its course the incident occurred.

Wade describes a “Halifax man” who was driving home one Sunday morning following an emergency plumbing job whereupon he saw a pedestrian with long hair and a checked shirt walking beside the road. The walker stuck his thumb out to hitch a lift, before quite suddenly turning and stepping into the road directly in front of the vehicle. The driver expected to hear a sickening thud as he ploughed into the seemingly suicidal individual. However no such impact came and when he stopped his car to investigate found no evidence of any collision or even that anybody was walking in the vicinity.

This story is a variation on the classic “phantom hitch-hiker” motif, a modern folkloric trope which is unique in its global ubiquity and its durability. A subset of the “road ghost” classification of hauntings, such spectral travellers were reported long before the invention of the motor car and will doubtless survive it. Whilst this differs from the classic account – in which the hitck-hiker is picked up and remains in the vehicle for some time before suddenly vanishing, often leaving some token of its identity which later proves its ghostly nature – it nonetheless bears a number of similarities.

Whilst phantom hitch-hiker tales remain one of the most commonly related types of ghost story in the modern age, they are often unattributed and frequently take the form of a “friend of a friend story,” otherwise dubbed an “urban legend”. The account recorded by Wade adheres to these criteria, with the identity of the “Halifax man” remaining anonymous and very little detail given regarding the precise location or date of the event. It is accordingly difficult to ascertain whether the story represents a true first-hand report or simply the transmission of a folkloric icon.

Assuming that it is an eye-witness account, there is telling evidence when Wade quotes the Halifax man as saying, “I was tired… red-eyed… I could have imagined it all” as the story bears all the hallmarks of a hypnagogic experience. Hypnagogia is the liminal state between waking and dreaming when the boundaries between the two become blurred, an altered state of consciousness in which vivid, profoundly realistic hallucinations can occur. Sleep deprivation can often lead to individuals slipping into such a state unnoticed whilst performing routine activity and consequently, in recent years hypnagogia has become a favoured explanation for the psychological validity of sightings of ghosts and UFOs .

Published in: on March 20, 2010 at 22:26  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

Coach Road, Lightcliffe

The Coach Road is an unsurfaced lane which runs from Wakefield Road just above St. Matthew’s Church at Lightcliffe to Hove Edge but originally it was part of the main highway linking Brighouse and Queensbury. Prior to the 1860s, it was also the principle access to the Crow Nest Estate, today a golf course but which was once the site of a substantial mansion constructed in 1775 by William Walker (who also owned High Sunderland for a time) and later owned by local mill tycoon Sir Titus Salt of Saltaire fame between 1867 and 1876. The house was abandoned after the First World War and ultimately demolished in the mid-1950s. However, the original gateposts to the house can still be seen beside the track.

Today the Coach Road is a rather lonely thoroughfare, bounded on both sides by high walls and dense foliage, especially as it descends towards the bottom of Cliffe Hill. Given its antiquity and atmosphere, it is hardly surprising that it has attracted a reputation for being haunted. The exact nature of the haunting is vague and there are no real stories attached. An article in the Brighouse Echo dated 3rd October 1986 refers to “a headless horseman and… a mysterious white lady, who both only appear while clear weather prevails after midnight”. This is the only reference to these ghosts in print but the headless horseman connection was certainly still present in the oral tradition amongst local children in the late 1990s.

Meanwhile, a former resident of the area, David Van De Gevel recalls walking home one night in the summer of 1962 or 1963 from Hipperholme to his house on the Stoney Lane estate, a journey which passes the junction of Wakefield Road with the Coach Road.  As he neared the old gateposts at the entrance, he observed a faint, unearthly figure garbed in an old-fashioned cloak and hood staring directly at an adjacent high wall. Unnerved by the apparition, he departed from the scene in haste but returned some days later to verify that his sighting could not just have been a trick of the light. However, it was clear that no light fell near that spot, whilst he later discovered that in the Victorian period, the adjacent wall would have been much lower and anybody on the Coach Road could’ve looked out over it.

Headless horsemen and white ladies are both common motifs in English ghost lore but also enigmatic ones. As Owen Davies points out in “The Haunted: A Social History of Ghosts”, the reason for the horseman’s missing head is often obscure and despite their ubiquity in local tradition, accounts of first-hand sightings are rare and they exist mostly as legend only. White Ladies, meanwhile, similarly tend to lack any concrete historical association or back-story. Some folklorists have suggested that based on the concentration of these apparitions at liminal zones such as watery places and connecting highways, they may represent a degraded memory of fairy lore, itself a degraded memory of pre-Christian deities. Doubtless this is fanciful in the case of the Coach Road White Lady herself but it may be how the image originally entered the popular consciousness.