6 Law Lane, Southowram

On 25th September 1948, this terraced cottage in Southowram, also known as Craggan, was the scene of most brutal murder. The seventy year old occupant, Ernest Hargreaves Westwood, was discovered by his neighbour just before noon of that day, lying on his bed with severe head injuries. He was rushed to Halifax Infirmary but died later in the afternoon. The crime outraged the hilltop village. Westwood had been a well-respected member of the community, serving as organist and choir master at the nearby Methodist church and despite having retired from his main career, he continued to work collecting small debts in the district.

Police did not have to wait long to find their culprit, who turned himself in the following Monday pleading “I didn’t mean to kill him. I lost my temper.” The murderer was Arthur George Osborne, a twenty-eight year old originally from Bognor Regis, who’d been living locally for several years. He was recently unemployed, whilst his wife had been committed to Storthes Hall mental hospital in Kirklees. He claimed that the murder was the result of a burglary that had gone wrong and he had only killed Westwood accidentally during a confrontation, striking him on the head several times with the handle of the screwdriver he’d used to effect entry.

During the trial, it emerged that not only was Osborne a murderer, he was also a potential bigamist. A second marriage to a girl in Chichester had been due to take place on the day of the murder but it was cancelled when he failed to appear. Despite a recommendation by the defense that he be charged with the lesser crime of manslaughter, the jury returned a verdict of murder on December 1st. At this time, all such verdicts carried a mandatory capital sentence and whilst the judge appealed for clemency, the Home Secretary saw no reason to make an exception and Osborne was hanged at Armley Jail on December 30th 1948.

The house on Law Lane in which the murder had taken place remained empty for a couple of years after the act, during which time it acquired something of an evil reputation amongst local folk, scarcely surprising for a building with such a macabre history and air of abandonment. When Police Constable Vincent Egan moved into the cottage with his wife in 1950, they were fully aware of its past but remained undeterred. Nonetheless, prior to their subsequent departure from the village in January 1954, Mrs. Egan told the Brighouse Echo of a mysterious disturbance she’d experienced during her first week in the house.

It was a dark and stormy night, as is so often the case in such stories, not to mention in the hilltop village of Southowram. Her husband had gone out to walk his evening beat so Mrs. Egan was alone in the house, which still lacked a “warm, occupied atmosphere”. No sooner had she gone to bed than she her heard a rapping from above her head and from the corner of her eye saw the trapdoor into the underdrawing seemingly rise and fall of it own accord. As it continued to do so, she fled the building to search for her husband. He assured her that it must be a draught but given the reputation of the house, many at the time thought otherwise.

Published in: on September 10, 2010 at 19:25  Comments (12)  
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Elizabeth Rayner, Clifton Woods

Even today, violent death in a small community tends to leave a substantial psychic scar and it is not surprising that a brutal slaying committed in Clifton in the early 19th Century remained ingrained in the folk memory for many decades after the fact. The murder in question occurred sometime between nine o’ clock on the night of New Year’s Eve 1832, when the twenty year old victim, Elizabeth Rayner, was last seen, and three o’ clock on the following day, when her corpse was discovered by three children, including her younger brothers John and Simeon.

According to a report in the Halifax Guardian dated 6th January 1833, the body was found in Clifton Wood, only two hundred yards from her home on Well Lane, a point which some sources locate near where Westgate turns onto Coal Pit Lane. Her throat had been cut, possibly by a left-handed assailant. However, no murder weapon was ever discovered and an inquest held several days later at the Armytage Arms by local magistrate, Sir George Armytage (of Kirklees Hall) established the circumstances of death but failed to identify a culprit.

Despite a reward of £200 being offered for information, nobody was ever prosecuted for the crime. Yet both local and family tradition hints at suspicious circumstances surrounding this failure to bring the murderer to justice, perhaps even a conspiracy. A curious fact of the case is that whilst Liz Rayner was unmarried, she was discovered to be pregnant when they examined the body. Rumours abounded that the identity of the murderer was well known amongst the community but for whatever reason was never officially revealed.

In a recollection of his childhood in Clifton during the late 19th Century, published in the Brighouse Echo on 4th October 1957, local worthy Albert Baldwin relates how many years after the murder, a relative of Liz by the name of Jack Rayner (possibly the brother John who found the body) ran a sweet shop from a cottage on Towngate. He often used to regale customers with the story of the murder and how he recalled hearing a “soughing noise like the squeal of a hare in distress” around the time when the killing must have occurred.

Baldwin explains that the spot near where the body was found was still regarded with anxiety by local folk, many of whom had not the courage to pass by it along Coal Pit Lane after dark. Given that this must have been so many years after the event, it cannot have been from fear that the murderer was still at large, but rather that the spot was considered to be haunted by the unquiet spirit of the murdered girl. He also mentions that a strange sound like the “squeal of a hare in distress” was often heard in the vicinity and regarded with some dread.

Even more curious is an apparition which has been encountered by at least five of the descendants of Elizabeth Rayner’s brother, John, and which was last seen at a house in Bradford Road during the mid-1980s. It is described as tall, cloaked silhouette, not unlike the figure on the Sandeman’s Port logo minus the hat. Given the attire of the figure and its connection with the family, some of the witnesses have speculated whether it might not be the spectre of their ancestor’s murderer, continuing to victimise the Rayner lineage even in death.

Anna Best’s book “Borrowers of the Night: The Clifton Wood Murder” contains a much greater wealth of detail concerning the incident. More information can be found on her blog, whilst her book is available here.

Published in: on August 4, 2010 at 10:03  Comments (1)  
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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”.

The Rastrick Exorcist

Although the principle events in this drama occurred outside the Calderdale region, one of the main players had previously been something of a fixture in the area, namely the Father Peter Vincent who was vicar at the Church of Saint John the Divine in Rastrick between 1963 and 1971. The case and his involvement in it consequently generated a lot of discussion in the local press at the time, and hence it seems worth recounting here.

By 1974, Vincent was the parish priest at the Church of Saint Thomas in Gawber, South Yorkshire and known to be an expert in the art euphemistically described as “deliverance” but more commonly known as exorcism. Thus, he was called in by the Christian Fellowship Group of Osset when one of their members, Michael Taylor, felt he was possessed following an attack he carried out on his wife Christine and an encounter with the devil himself.

On the night of 5th April, Vincent and the Methodist priest Reverend Raymond Smith took Taylor to Saint Thames’ Church in Barnsley, whereupon the performed an intensive exorcism ritual which lasted over seven hours into the following morning. The clerics claimed to have expelled forty demons from Taylor but in light of the events that followed admitted “at least three demons – insanity, murder, and violence – were still left in him.”

Returning to his home in the early hours of the morning and clearly still in a profoundly disturbed state of mind, Taylor proceeded to murder his wife Christine and mutilate her body by reportedly removing her eyes and tongue, practically tearing her face off the skull with his bare hands. He went on to kill the family’s pet poodle and was subsequently found by the police wandering the streets naked and slick with blood, claiming to have no memory of events.

Taylor was found to be suffering from schizophrenia and an inquest declared him criminally insane, confining him to an asylum from which he was released only three years later. Inevitably, the incident sparked a huge controversy concerning the role of exorcism in modern society. In the Church of England, deliverance cases must now first be referred to a panel including a medical psychiatrist, and the Taylor exorcism remains the last acknowledged instance in an Anglican church.

In April 1975 following the conclusion of the inquest, the Brighouse Echo reports that Vincent successor at St. John’s Church, Rev. Ian Walker had performed an exorcism in the Brighouse district on at least one occasion, whilst it seems inevitable that Vincent himself carried out such rites in the area during in his term, considering his reputation as an expert in those matters. However, following the Taylor incident, all exorcism in the Wakefield diocese was banned by the bishop.

Published in: on April 7, 2010 at 15:05  Comments (1)  
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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 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.