Nether House, Hove Edge

Nether House is thought to be one of the oldest surviving dwellings in Brighouse. A house of the same name is recorded on the site in the Doomsday Book and it is possible the structure seen today retains some features from this house in its fabric. A timber-framed dwelling was erected in 1589, plastered with wattle-and-daub, then cased in stone sometime during the 17th Century (the walls are now an astonishing three feet thick). Considering the religious strife at the time of its construction, it is little wonder that the house contains a priest hole, six by eighteen feet, used to conceal Catholic clergy in the event of a search by pursuivants. Despite its substantial dimensions, it was so well concealed that it was forgotten about and not rediscovered until an investigation by the Halifax Antiquarian Society in 1965.

Although Nether House was a farmstead for most of its history, for a period during the 19th Century it was a coaching inn called The Black Horse. Apple Tree Lane which runs past the cottage may be a sleepy backstreet today but at the time it was part of the main highway towards Brighouse. Tradition claims the Brontë sisters often stopped at the inn on their way to visit friends in Mirfield. A more persistent legend in the district, however, is that the pub was given its name The Black Horse after the steed of a notorious 17th Century highwayman by the name of Will Nevinson who is rumoured to have once hidden there. Nevison is briefly referred to by that serial diarist of the period, the Non-Conformist preacher Oliver Heywood, which suggests that his exploits extended to this part of the country.

Nevison was born in 1639 at Wortley in South Yorkshire but left home as a teenager and fled to Holland where he enrolled in the Duke of York’s army and fought in the Battle of the Dunes on 14th June 1658. He turned to highway robbery after leaving the army, like many former soldiers; starting as a footpad near York, he soon graduated to horseback and was soon the terror of travellers on the Great North Road. Like Robin Hood, Nevison was supposedly an honest robber, who stole only from the rich and often redistributed his spoils to deserving causes. Despite the risk he posed to their clientèle, innkeepers often gave him shelter and stable-boys were the first to warn him of pursuit. Legend claims he was even harboured by a magistrate who lived at Parceval Hall, near Appletreewick in Wharfedale.

Nevison’s most famous feat was an epic ride between Rochester and York, later erroneously attributed to Dick Turpin by the 19th Century novelist, William Harrison Ainsworth. Legend claims that after robbing a man early one morning at Gad Hill in Kent, Nevison crossed the River Thames by ferry, then rode his horse two-hundred miles to York; he arrived in the city just as evening was falling and even greeted the Lord Mayor. When the renowned highwayman was subsequently tried for the Gad Hill robbery, he produced the Lord Mayor to provide his alibi, and because nobody on the jury believed such a long-distance ride was possible in such a short space of time, Nevison was acquitted. Rumour of the feat earned him the nickname “Swift Nicks”—a title supposedly bestowed by King Charles II.

Many other legends attached themselves to Nevison and his hardy horse. For instance, he was supposedly given an enchanted bridle by a cunning-woman who dwelt beside the Ebbing-and-Flowing Well near Giggleswick. This permitted his horse to accomplish remarkable feats of endurance and agility when evading pursuit. The beast is supposed to have jumped over the limestone chasm of Gordale Scar by such magical means, whilst numerous ravines in Yorkshire were dubbed “Nevison’s Leap”. The most famous example is a deep cutting which carries Ferrybridge Road through a hillside in Pontefract; a blue-plaque commemorates the deed and “Nevison’s Leap” is the name of a pub nearby. Another example can be found at Giggleswick Scar above the Ebbing-and-Flowing Well.

As one of the most famous highwaymen in the country at the time, Nevison was regularly inconvenienced by the authorities. Tradition claims that on one occasion he escaped from gaol by pretending to have contracted plague; his body was carried out of the building in a coffin and rumour of his demise spread sufficiently that victims of his next robbery believed him to be a ghost. Although this legend may be apocryphal, we know Nevison spent some time imprisoned at York Castle in 1677. He was tried at the assizes, but after he turned King’s evidence against his accomplices, his sentence was commuted from execution to transportation. The wily highwayman subsequently managed to give his escort the slip en route to Tangiers.

Inevitably, Nevison’s luck did not last forever. Following his return to highway-robbery, he killed a constable named Darcy Fletcher, who’d tried to apprehend him at Soothill near Batley. He was eventually captured on 6th March 1864 at the Three Houses Inn in Sandal Magna near Wakefield. On this occasion, Nevison was tried for murder as well as robbery, and a capital sentence was passed. He was hanged at the Knavesmire gallows near York on 4th May 1684. Nonetheless, he lived on in the memory of the region as a folk hero and the ballad “Bold Nevison” was once commonly sung. Even his relics were preserved: the leg-irons that once restrained the highwayman are displayed at York Castle, and the chair in which he was sitting when he was captured can be seen at St. Helen’s Church in Magna Sandal.


Rose Cottage, Hove Edge

Incongruously located amongst modern bungalows and even a nearby council estate, Rose Cottage at Hove Edge between Brighouse and Lightcliffe dates from around 1837 and was once known as Catherine Slack Cottage, after the street onto which its white-washed walls back. In a Brighouse Echo article dated 12th April 1996, the owner of the house Karen de Ruyter tells of a series of hauntings to have occurred in the house during her family’s otherwise happy four year occupancy.

The strange happenings began as soon as they moved in, when a number of plants she had left in the middle of the floor after unpacking were discovered mysteriously arranged around the house the following morning. Mrs. de Ruyter goes on to describe feeling cold spots in the house, even at the height of summer whilst workmen have mentioned feeling uncomfortable when left alone there and the family cats would often suddenly arch their backs and begin spitting at thin air.

More tangibly, Mr. de Ruyter claims to have woken one morning to see a small old lady, stooped and dressed in archaic clothes, standing at the foot of the bed before suddenly vanishing, whilst Mrs. de Ruyter witnessed an old man in the garden who similarly disappeared after a matter of seconds. The family’s researches failed to uncover any possible explanation for the haunting, although the house survived a fire once in its history and local gossip claims witches formerly lived there.

Published in: on March 28, 2010 at 15:45  Comments (5)  
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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.