St. Helen’s Well, Stainland

The eastern portion of the hilltop village of Stainland, above Elland, is known as Holywell Green, on account of St. Helen’s Well, a renown healing well the sad remnants of which can be seen beside Station Road. The well stood near a former Catholic chapel also dedicated to St. Helen, which by the 18th Century had been converted into a private dwelling, although a carved cross was still built into its walls.

In 1597, a charity inquiry recorded “St. Ellen Chapel, Stainland” as already “decayed”, suggesting it was probably abandoned during the Reformation earlier that century. The well itself was first recorded in print by Dr. John Watson in his 1775 work “The History and Antiquities of the Parish of Halifax”, in which he also mentions record of a Henry de Sacro Fonte de Staynland (Henry of the Sacred Well of Stainland) living in the area in the 13th Century.

It is likely that the chapel was dedicated for the well, rather than the other way round as St. Helen was a popular patron of holy wells in Britain, and seems to have been imposed on those wells which already had a reputation for sanctity long before the coming of Christianity. The exact traditions of the well have been lost, although Watson records that Catholics were still making pilgrimages to it in the late 18th Century.

The Victorian fashion for spa-waters saw a resurgence in the popularity of the well, when crowds would gather at  such springs on the morning of Spaw Sunday (the first Sunday of May) to “take the waters” for therapeutic purposes. As a result of this revival, a spring beside Station Road was restored in 1843, although a late 19th Century woodcut shows that by that period it had once more been left to fall into ruin.

Today, this well is something of a pitiful prospect. Whilst it was again restored in 1977 and still stands today, the spring itself has long since dried up due to building work in the area lowering the water table. It is now little more than a trough used for flowers, whilst the views it once commanded across the valley have been disfigured by an ugly estate of modern bungalows. A hostelry named Holy Well Inn still stands nearby.

Curiously, however, there is no historical basis for the original holy well at the extant 1843 site, despite the name of this part of the village. Local antiquarian J.A. Heginbottom argues that the original site is more likely to have been just over half a mile away at Helen Hill Farm on Jagger Green Lane in the valley below. Here, there is a stone cistern with three compartments dating from approximately the late 18th Century, still fed by a spring rising nearby.

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Curiosities of Coley Hall

The earliest references to settlement at Coley are found in the Wakefield Court Rolls in 1277 and 1286, pertaining to land owned there by Sir John de Coldelay, whose surname the word Coley was no doubt corrupted from. Later, in 1326, Brother Thomas Larchier, prior of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem recorded that Henry de Coldelay “held a certain tenement in Coldelay of their house,” which is to say that de Coldelay rented the land from the Knights, for the sum of five shillings per annum. For such a tenure, the de Coldelays would have enjoyed certain privileges including not having to submit their corn to be ground at the mill of the Lord of the Manor, or “do suit at his court”.

The Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, also known as the Knights of Malta or the Knights Hospitaller, were a Christian military order originally established in 1080 to care for sick pilgrims travelling to the Holy Land, their martial designation stemming from the frequent need to provide an armed guard during the Crusades. The Knights were granted an exemption from all but papal authority and from the payment of tithes, whilst they were gifted land across Christendom from which to draw an income. In England, however, all property of the Knights was confiscated during the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1540 whereupon their land at Coley passed to the Manor of Batley.

The 17th Century Nonconformist preacher and diarist Oliver Heywood, who was for a time incumbent at Coley Chapel wrote that Coley was “once a priory in popish times” but whilst the Hospitalalers certainly owned the land, there is no primary historical or archaeological evidence to suggest they actually maintained a community on the site (although neither has it been strenuously sought). However, certain clues do remain in the name of nearby Priestley Green and the preponderance of holy wells in the area, including Helliwell Syke, Lister Well and St. John’s Well which was believed to possess healing powers and can still be found in a field above the hamlet at Coley Hall.

Nonetheless, several remembrances of the Hospitallers’ ownership of Coley do still endure. The patron saint of the Order was John the Baptist and in addition to St. John’s Well, Coley Church (built in 1812 on the site of the earlier 16th Century chapel) is similarly dedicated, whilst preserved inside the church is the original cross from Coley denoting its tenure. It is also interesting to note that John the Baptist was often depicted as a severed head and the gateway to Coley Hall features a particularly fine example of the archaic stone head motif. Although the relief was carved in 1649 more than a century after the Hospitallers had lost the land, that fact does not preclude the persistence of the image in the local psyche.

The land at Coley passed into the hands of the Sunderland family (of High Sunderland) on 29th April 1572 and it is thought that the body of the current Hall was built by Samuel Sunderland around 1640, passing to his nephew Langdale in 1646. During the Civil Wars, Langdale fought for the Royalists as a Captain of a Troop of Horse under the Earl of Newcastle and whilst he was resident at the Hall, it suffered badly from bombardment by passing Parliamentary troops, necessitating the rebuilding of its south frontage. The victorious Commonwealth later imposed a decimation tax on Langdale forcing him to sell Coley along with the family estates at High Sunderland.

In 1657 the new owner William Horton leased the Hall for fifteen years to Captain John Hodgson, who’d fought for the Parliamentarian cause in the Civil Wars. For a period, Hodgson gave refuge there to Oliver Heywood whose uncompromising Nonconformity had seen him driven out as vicar at Coley Chapel, jailed under the Acts of Uniformity in 1659, prosecuted for riotous assembly and twice excommunicated in 1662 and 1685. Heywood’s controversial reputation was such that he was even accused of witchcraft, when John Hanson declared that following a visit to Heywood’s house the wife of one B. Jagger had “got power” over a maid of Anthony Waterhouse, who soon died.

Over the next few hundred years, Coley Hall passed through the hands of a succession of owners until 1961 when it was bought by Richard Pickles who found it in a near-derelict state and set about restoring it. In articles for the Brighouse Echo dated 24th February and 24th March 1962, Mr. Pickles describes experiencing a number of hauntings at the Hall. In one particular room the bed seemed vibrate for no reason and his dog would growl at some invisible presence moving around the room, whilst a motor mechanic working in a garage converted from old stables adjacent to the Hall was the victim of poltergeist activity which saw him showered with soil and stones.

However, it was Mrs. Pickles who witness the apparitions most associated with the Hall when she was confronted by the figure of a Cavalier leaning against the mantle. This experience was echoed by testimony from Mr. G.E. Gudgin, trustee of the estate of the late John Herbert Fletcher whose wife Anne Sunderland had been the last member of that family to reside at Coley. Gudgin recalled being told by Fletcher that on one occasion he had descended for breakfast to find the ghostly figures of two cavaliers in the morning room. A neighbour also recalled Anne Sunderland once showing him a priest-hole in the Hall, where there was a bloodstain reputed to belong to a murdered cavalier found hiding there.

Some have speculated that one of the Cavalier ghosts was that of Langdale Sunderland, expressing his displeasure at the Hall’s later occupancy by his Parliamentarian rivals John Hodgson and Oliver Heywood. However, this doesn’t entirely fit as Langdale dies in 1698, long after Hodgson’s tenancy had ended and ownership of the Hall returned to the Sunderland family in 1775. Nonetheless, the Cavaliers were the most frequently seen spectres, even though there were supposedly others; Anne Sunderland also used to speak of the ghost of a white lady known as Caroline Anne who would appear from the oak panelled bedroom at the top of the main staircase.

The Three Nuns, Cooper Bridge

Although the current building is not the original, a hostelry by this name has stood on the site for centuries and enjoys something of a rich history. The original structure was built in 1497 and following the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536 it gave refuge to Katherine Grice, Joan Leverthorpe and Cecilia Topcliffe, the last three nuns at Kirklees Priory, from whom the establishment’s name was later taken. A local tradition claims Grice was seduced by one of Henry VIII’s commissioners and upon discovering she was pregnant, she committed suicide by drowning herself in the adjacent stream known as Nunbrook.

It is said that Oliver Cromwell stayed at the inn in 1644 en route to his victory at the Battle of Marston Moor, whilst in 1812 it was used as a meeting place by Luddites prior to their ill-fated assembly at the nearby Dumb Steeple and the subsequent attack on Rawfolds Mill. A collection of their weapons was discovered hidden in the ceiling in the 1920s. Sadly, despite its venerable history, the building was allowed to fall into dereliction and it was entirely rebuilt in 1939. The foundations of the original Three Nuns now lie hidden beneath the car park of the current one. Certain fixtures and fittings were transferred, however, including much of the oak panelling.

On 15th June 1985, the Evening Courier reported on a series a supernatural disturbances experienced by workmen during renovation work at the pub. Site manager Ian Thompson was troubled by doors mysteriously opening and shutting and the sound of feet descending the cellar stairs whilst he knew himself to be alone in the building. He told the newspaper: “I went into the cellar. It’s always cool down there but on that occasion there was a strange sort of chill about the place”. An architect reported a similar experience, whilst a plumber working in the cellar experienced a shadowy figure pushing past him, resembling a woman with a veil over her head.

The workmen attributed the disturbances to a carved ram’s head, part of the oak panelling of the original pub, which they’d discovered concealed behind plastering and removed for the duration of the renovation work. Mr. Thompson commented: “It has very strange eyes. They are almost human”. The whole affair was dismissed by the landlord Glyn Ashley, however, who said: “Frankly I don’t believe there is a ghost – it’s all in the mind. My wife and I have lived here for nine months and we haven’t heard a thing. The theory is that it’s all to do with the ram’s head but as far as I know that was a motif used by Ramsdens (a brewery) before the pub was taken over by Tetleys.”

The ram’s head was returned to its rightful position once the renovations were complete. However, the paranormal phenomena at the establishment clearly persisted as a new landlord was forced to carry out an exorcism in 1991, whilst Stephen Wade reports on more recent occurrences in Haunting In Yorkshire, such as a guest who “insisted he was being watched by a tall grey figure with a beard.” Similarly Kenneth Goor in Haunted Leeds mentions “Customers often complain of an old man who laughs at them, but when they complain to the management about his behaviour he disappears”. Goor also refers to continued poltergeist-like activity and cold spots in the pub.

In addition to the ram’s head, the supernatural manifestations at the Three Nuns have been associated with the unhappy spirit of the suicide, Katherine Grice, or even the Kirklees Prioress who bled Robin Hood to death and has been blamed for apparent vampiric activity in the vicinity of the outlaw’s grave, approximately half a mile from the pub. It has also been suggested that the building lies on a ley line – a conduit of mystical energy – which ran through Robin Hood’s grave and the Alegar Well at Brighouse. Leys are often associated with concentrations of supernatural phenomena, but they have been dismissed as pseudo-science by many sceptical investigators.