The Phantom Coach of Rastrick House

In 1942, one Miss E. Canziani of Palace Green in Kensington, responded to a survey of phantom coaches in England, conducted by the Journal of the Folklore Society, with information that such an apparition was associated with Rastrick House. Sadly, she either provided no further information or else it was not published, and it is not clear what connection Miss Canziani had with Rastrick. Nonetheless, the phantom coach is an extremely common motif in English ghost-lore—the Folklore Society survey recorded more than sixty examples—and comparison with some of the more extensively documented cases across the country offers a basis for conjecture.

As Folklore Society luminary Christina Hole wrote in her study, Haunted England, “Sometimes it (the phantom coach) comes to fetch away the dying; sometimes… the already dead use it in their perambulations about the roads and fields of their old home… It is always black, and so are the driver and his horses. Often both are headless. It appears suddenly on the roadway and moves very fast and usually without noise… Like most apparitions of its kind, it is an ominous thing to meet, and often serves as a death-omen, for those unlucky enough to encounter it… Sometimes the spirit of an erring human being is condemned to drive between two points in expiation of a sin”.

Considering their attributes and the fact that coaches did not become ubiquitous until the Sixteenth Century, Hole suggests that in many cases, phantom coaches may have been an evolution of an older, pagan belief in the Wild Hunt which thrived across north-western Europe in the early medieval period. This company of demons and unquiet souls once rode furiously through the night skies and to witness the Wild Hunt similarly portended misfortune. As such perhaps the phantom coach associated with Rastrick Hall never had any distinct identity of its own and was simply an anoynmous superstitious motif associated with tragedy, much like the guytrash.

However, Jacqueline Simpson and Jennifer Westwood go on to add, in The Lore of the Land, “The hallmark of phantom coach stories is that, if not anonymous, they are usually attached to landed proprietors against whom some kind of grudge is held”. As such, it may be possible to study the history of Rastrick House to identify the occupant of its coach. It is not clear when the hall itself was built, but probably it was sometime during the Seventeenth Century, for the Rastrick family, who lived there for several generations until 1772. Sadly the building was demolished in the mid-Twentieth Century to make way for the Foxcroft estate; only the gatehouse still stands, on the corner of Field Top Lane.

If the phantom coach was connected to one of the Rastrick family, then the likely candidate seems to be William de Rastrick, who live during the second half of the Seventeenth Century and into the first half of the Eighteenth. Certainly he seems to have been the only member of the Rastrick family to have achieved any measure of notoriety during his tenure of Rastrick House. He is noted in one source as, “a defender of the Protestant church… who spent his great estate in support of the war and King William III”, doubtless referring to the Glorious Revolution of 1688 or the Nine Years War with France (1688-97).

Thus, William de Rastrick was a staunch Anglican—in a district rife with Non-Conformism—who diverted his wealth from local development into a war whose popularity rapidly diminished as it dragged on, and to assist a foreign monarch whose support dwindled significantly following the death of his English wife, Queen Mary II, in 1794. Although we are unlikely ever to know for certain, he seems the most likely candidate to be reviled in the local folk memory and consequently accoutred with a phantom coach following his death. One can only wonder if such a spectral vehicle has ever been seen racing through the precincts of the Foxcroft estate in recent years?

Advertisements

The Headless Hound of Toothill Hall

Set in extensive grounds at the junction of Toothill Lane and Huddersfield Road, a building was first recorded at Toothill Hall in the 16th Century and the Toothill family as early as the 1300s. The name of the area derives from the Old English for “look-out hill”, suggesting human activity had existed there since before the Norman Conquest. It certainly makes a fine site for a watch post, commanding extensive views up and down the lower Calder valley. Although it seems likely that the Toothill family were the founders of the Hall, it has been occupied by a diverse succession of people over the centuries and the current edifice was constructed by Quaker philanthropist Thomas Firth in 1823 and later, divided into two in 1957.

In Legends and Traditions of Huddersfield and Its District, Philip Ahier recounts a curious legend associated with Toothill Hall and the surrounding area. He was told that during the English Civil Wars, it was home to a young cavalier who was in love with a daughter of Newhouse Hall, located just over a mile away on the other side of Felgreave Wood at Sheepridge. This girl, Sybil Brooke, was held to be a great beauty and had many suitors in the locality, but only the cavalier of Toothill found his affections reciprocated. However, her father did not approve of the match, despite also supporting the Royalist cause in the Civil Wars, and so forbade the lovers from meeting, confining his daughter to the Hall.

Nonetheless, the young cavalier was determined and devised a means by which he and his beau could communicate still. He would attach a message to the neck of his hound, who then sped through the woods by moonlight to be met by Sybil at the kitchen window of Newhouse Hall. The girl would then send him back to his master with a message in return. This method proved successful for a period of time, but one fateful night the hound discovered not Sybil Brooke at the kitchen window, but her enraged father. Such was his anger, he took his sword and with a single blow, cleaved the dog’s head from its body, slicing the letter it carried in two in the process. The hound then turned tail and scampered headless through the woods.

Upon hearing of the fate of his faithful messenger, the Toothill cavalier is supposed to have been so incensed that he changed sides in the Civil Wars, swearing his allegiance to Oliver Cromwell and the Parliamentarians, just to spite the Newhouse patriarch. Meanwhile, on moonlit nights in autumn, the apparition of a headless hound is still said to roam through Felgrave Wood and back to Toothill Hall. Anybody who witnesses this phantom is supposed to suffer grave misfortune. This aspect of the legend has much in common with the widespread “black dog” motif in English folklore, known variously as black shuck, barguest, guytrash and skriker. Hence, it may be that the story was grafted on to explain a much older folkloric tradition in the area.

A variation on the legend appears in the mid-19th Century, when a phantom dog with the head and beard of a man was believed to haunt Felgreave Wood (today bisected by the A641 between Bradley Bar and Huddersfield). A woman named Elizabeth Haigh is reported to have fallen into a deep swoon upon witnessing the monstrosity and was not found until the following morning. Ahier suggests that the origin of this adaptation may lie in Felgreave Wood’s reputation at the time for plentiful game, especially pheasant and hare. The gamekeepers probably traded on the existing legend to deter poachers, and to reinforce it further may have taken to donning furs and crawling on all fours through the undergrowth.

Although Newhouse Hall lies firmly within Kirklees and the Colne Valley and so beyond the remit of this site, due to its connection with the Toothill legend it seems worth recounting here that the Hall also has its fair share of ghosts. Following the brutal intervention of her father, tradition claims that Sybil Brooke lost her reason and pined away in the upper rooms of the house, which her ghost still stalks to this day. Maids in the 19th Century claimed to hear the rustle of silk along the corridors at night and one often complained of being “clutched by an unseen hand”. Meanwhile, in one particular bed in an upper chamber, guests were often disturbed by a thing that crouched heavily on the legs of the sleeper, only to disappear as soon as a light was kindled.

Round Hill, Rastrick

Rising barely fifty feet above the surrounding terrain, Round Hill can scarcely be called a hill in any meaningful sense. Nonetheless, its satisfyingly conical profile and topographic prominence make it a well-known Rastrick landmark and whilst its relative height may not be significant, its summit still stands at six hundred feet above sea-level and affords extensive panoramic views across the surrounding Pennine landscape.

Its remarkable contour has generated much speculation over the years as to whether it is a natural feature or a human construction. In his 1868 work, Huddersfield: Its History and Natural History, Charles Hopkirk confidently asserts that it is certainly artificial, yet only twenty-five years later in A History of Brighouse, Rastrick and Hipperholme, J. Horsfall Turner just as assuredly opines that it is “perfectly natural”.

Local feeling tended towards the former hypothesis, with suggestions as to its origin ranging from a medieval motte to a prehistoric tumulus, perhaps the burial site of some ancient king. Some flints were allegedly once found on its slopes but there has never been any archaeological excavation to determine the site’s true provenance. Modern orthodoxy is that it’s a natural phenomenon, caused by an outlying band of Greenmoor Rock, a Carboniferous sandstone, atop older sedimentary layers.

Writing in 1943, Philip Ahier thought it natural and attributed the local belief otherwise to confusion with a definite earthwork of established antiquity nearby known as Castle Hill, which had yielded some cremation urns and Roman coins. This formerly stood near the area of Rastrick known as Top o’ the Town. The site was first recorded in 1669 but by the time John Watson wrote The History and Antiquities of the Parish of Halifax in 1775, it had been entirely plundered for stone.

Whatever its origin, over the centuries Round Hill has remained a focal point for the local community. Summer fairs often used to take place in the surrounding fields, whilst it was tradition to gather wood for Bonfire Night blazes from the birch trees which once lined its flanks. Beacons have even been lit on its summit on several occasions, whilst both a cross and a flagstaff stood there as late as the mid-Twentieth Century.

Today, Round Hill rises behind Rastrick Cricket and Athletic Club, who set up there in 1868, and its slopes often prove very useful as an unofficial stand for the spectators. A ring of rhododendron bushes encloses the summit, planted there in 1912 by a local schoolmaster to prevent erosion. However, the top remains devoid even of grass despite many attempts to turf it over the years, presenting a classically bald summit to emphasise its lofty aspect.

Published in: on August 4, 2010 at 09:40  Comments (4)  
Tags: , ,

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)  
Tags: , , ,

214 Thornhill Road, Rastrick

First brought to the public attention by Terence Whitaker in his 1983 book Yorkshire’s Ghosts and Legends, the haunting of this cottage in Rastrick has become one of the most famous in the region, having subsequently been picked up by the local press and written about extensively in other books on the paranormal such as Andy Owen’s Yorkshire Stories of the Supernatural. Perhaps it’s because unlike so many hauntings recorded in the local news and preserved in this blog, the case has a number of satisfactory manifestations which go far beyond the typical, prosaic “poltergeist” activity so often cited.

The house is thought to have been erected in 1690 on the site of an old travellers’ inn and the haunting started some two years after Peter and Marilyn Auty moved in, in November 1974. It began with primarily auditory phenomena, such as a high pitched whistling which endured throughout the day, audible over the television, and a succession of bangs and thuds vibrating across the living room ceiling. Perhaps the most curious example, however, was the mysterious overnight ringing of a broken bell missing its clapper which even disturbed their neighbours on successive.

Mrs. Auty first witnessed a visible presence in the living room and again when she was cleaning the staircase. It took the form of a swirl of grey mist coalescing and gliding about before suddenly vanishing. This remained the most common manifestation over the years, whilst much activity was recorded around the staircase in particular. Mrs. Auty’s sister allegedly refused to climb it alone due to the sensation of being watched. The stairs are a relatively recent addition to the house and it is thought there was once a room in the space over which they were built.

On another occasion, one evening at about eight o’clock when Mr. Auty was alone in the house, he saw a cowled figure pass through the living room before his eyes and straight through a solid stone wall. He also added that the figure was cut off at its knees, which is interesting considering that he claimed to have recently raised the level of the floor in that room, leaving the old floor preserved beneath it. Meanwhile, neighbours reported seeing a similar strange figure stood at an upstairs window when the Auty’s were known to be on holiday.

Other occurrences have included the couple hearing their names called in an apparently distressed tone and pictures swaying from side to side on the wall without any obvious draught to disturb them. However, the only indication of any hostility from the presence came when Mrs. Auty was about to leave the house to catch a bus, only to feel a sharp pain at the back of her neck and suddenly find herself sitting on the floor. When she finally made it to the bus stop she learnt that she’d missed the bus by twenty minutes and could not account for the intervening time.

The figure moving across the lounge, cut off at its knees, recalls the famous apparition of Roman centurions marching along the route of buried Roman road seen in the cellars of the Treasurer’s House in York. It suggests that the haunting may not be a sentient presence but rather a event recorded by the fabric of the building and preserved as image which replays itself over and over again. Such a hypothesis is known as a “residual haunting” or “stone tape theory” and has been popular amongst parapsychologists since it was first proposed by T.C. Lethbridge in 1961.

In 2011, Chelsea Bushby,  resident of No. 212, the property next door but originally part of the same building, was plagued by mysterious phenomena similar to that experienced by the Autys. This included the sound of the broken bell and a noise like running footsteps along the upstairs landing. She also witnessed an apparition she described as having “very dark features and longish but mangy patchy stubble and very tired puffy eyes… He had no hat on but a dark thick collar”. Perhaps significantly, Ms. Bushby had no previous knowledge of the building’s haunted history.

Published in: on April 2, 2010 at 15:19  Comments (1)  
Tags: , ,

The Dumb Steeple, Cooper Bridge

Situated by the side of a busy junction at Cooper Bridge, where the A62 between Huddersfield and Liversedge bisects the A644 between Brighouse and Mirfield, the Dumb Steeple is a millstone grit column, approximately fifteen feet high, topped by a ball-shaped finial. It originally stood at the centre of the crossroads but was moved to its current location when the traffic grew too heavy in the 1980s.

Some 19th Century antiquarians such as J. Horsfall Turner fancifully argued that the name “dumb steeple” represents a corruption of the phrase “doom steeple”, so called because it once marked the boundary of Kirkless Priory, within which “doomed” men could claim sanctuary. Anybody who managed to reach it would be safe from the law for forty days after which they could choose to surrender themselves to the secular authorities for trial or be exiled from the country, never to return on pain of death.

An connected but equally unlikely explanation for the name is that it could be a corruption of the Latin phrase Domini Stapulus, meaning the Lord’s Steeple. However, the theory that it marked an ecclesiastic boundary is not universally accepted, as there is no evidence that Kirklees Priory was ever accorded sanctuary rights.

The monument itself only dates from the 18th Century (although it may have been a replacement for an earlier structure) and the most prosaic suggestion is simply that it was once a boundary marker, delineating the convergence of the parishes of Clifton, Mirfield and Hartshead. It seems that prior to the 19th Century it was referred to simply as the Obelisk, lending its name to the Elland & Obelisk Turnpike Road, constructed in 1815 and a now demolished house nearby, Obelisk Grove.

It is recorded that a common local reply to anybody who asked why it was called the Dumb Steeple was “Because it says nowt!” This supports the rather more probable  suggestion that it is called dumb because it lacks what you would expect to find in most steeples–namely a bell. A similar play-on-words may be behind the best known tradition attached to the obelisk: that either the whole column or just its finial revolves three times when it hears the bells of Hartshead church strike midnight. The joke is that because it cannot “hear” anything, these miraculous revolutions are never actually performed.

Arguably the most fanciful, and the most difficult to prove theory concerning the obelisk’s origin, is that the 18th Century structure replaced a much older standing stone or menhir which could’ve stood there since prehistoric times. The theory was mooted by Harry Speight in an article for the Yorkshire Weekly Post on the ground that other such ancient monoliths in the West Riding are colloquially referred to as Dumb Steeples, although further evidence of such nomenclature is difficult to find.

It has also been suggested that it may have been dubbed Dumb Man’s Steeple by local folk following the disastrous Luddite rally which took place there in 1812, described below. The name certainly doesn’t seem to have been used until after this event.

On the night of 11th April 1812, the Dumb Steeple was used as the meeting place of a contingent of Luddites who were gathering to march to Cartwright Mill at Rawfolds near Cleckheaton to attack the new cropping machines which they believed were a threat to local employment at a time when life was already hard due to the privations inflicted by the Napoleonic Wars. These events were subsequently dramatised by Charlotte Brontë in her novel Shirley, based on the diaries of her father Patrick Brontë who was the vicar at St. Peter’s Church, Hartshead at the time.

Doubtless the massed Luddites would’ve made a fearsome bunch. There were up to 150 men present, many with their faces blackened and carrying weapons such as hammers or muskets. It is little surprise, therefore, that one of their number lost his nerve and fled the scene just before the contingent began their march across Hartshead Moor towards their target.

The man who ran was a youth by the name of Rayner and his house was situated near St. Matthew’s Church at Rastrick. He must have been an exceptionally athletic individual, because he is alleged to have left the assembly at the Dumb Steeple at 11:40pm and have made it back just in time to hear the clock at St. Matthew’s strike midnight. As this occurred, the sexton was just leaving for the night and both men counted thirteen chimes, remarking on it to each other.

This could be interpreted as a sign of ill-omen portending the disaster which was about to befall the Luddites at Rawfolds or as the sexton said at the time, simply that the Brighouse clockmaker Old Skelton – who had been working on the mechanism earlier in the day – had failed to set it correctly. Nonetheless, this chance meeting and the singular event of the thirteen chimes was to prove instrumental in deciding Rayner’s future.

The Luddite attack on Cartwright Mill went ahead as planned. However, the mill-owner had been expecting them due to a build-up of smaller incidents in the prior weeks and weapons being stolen around the district. Consequently, the mob found the mill fortified and defended by armed workers and militiamen. They was driven back and at least two Luddites were so badly injured in the skirmish that they died of their wounds in the Star Inn at Roberttown.

Many others were forced to hide out in the aftermath, for fearing that the insurrection could spread, local authorities led by Huddersfield’s Squire Radcliffe were determined to purge the district of Luddism and saw the attack on Cartwright Mill as the perfect opportunity to do so. Consequently, a number of those involved were rounded up and after a trial in York where they stood accused of trying to demolish the mill, fourteen men were sent to the gallows at York Castle on 16th January 1813.

It is said that Rayner was named by those arrested as also having been present at the rally and so he too was brought up before the court. However, he informed the judge that he had been in Rastrick at the strike of midnight on the night of the attack. The sexton was called to corroborate his story, and even the clockmaker Old Skelton to offer expert testimony that the clock would indeed have struck thirteen that night as Rayner claimed. The judge was already aware that the Luddites had moved from the Dumb Steeple at 11:45pm and concluded that no man could have travelled between Cooper Bridge and Rastrick in that time.

His conclusion makes you wonder if Rayner’s remarkable fitness really had really allowed him to cover a distance of two to three miles in between fifteen and twenty minutes, thus unwittingly saving his life, or whether the story had been manufactured with the sympathetic sexton to give him a convincing and watertight alibi.

Rastrick Constitutional Club

Established in 1897, Rastrick Constitutional Club on Church Lane (also known as the “Top Club”) was conceived as a more upmarket working men’s club and like many such institutions, one of its primary attractions was the snooker room, which was located upstairs above the landlord’s living quarters. A Brighouse Echo article dated 25th April 1974 describes how the room was once the source of mysterious and possibly ghostly noises.

The haunting began around Christmas 1973, when landlord Roger Hart heard footsteps on the floor above his living room after he had closed the club for the night. Thinking it must be a burglar, he went to investigate, taking his Labrador for protection. However, the dog cowered at the bottom of the steps and refused to ascend, leaving Hart to go up alone. When he entered the room and turned on the lights, he found the room deserted.

The footsteps were heard on successive occasions following that first incidence by several other members of the family, including non-residents. It apparently sounded exactly as if somebody was pacing around the snooker table. Most curiously, to reduce noise overhead, Hart fitted a carpet over the tiled floor in the snooker room. However, whilst the sound of ordinary customers was almost entirely cut out, the spectral footsteps continued as ever.

The Harts were at a loss to account for the reasons for the haunting. According to long-term members, no supernatural activity had ever been recorded there before. However, one individual speculated that the happenings maybe connected to the disturbance of graves at the nearby site of the demolished Crowtrees Methodist Church by roadworks, which occurred at the same time the haunting is alleged to have begun.

Published in: on March 27, 2010 at 21:35  Leave a Comment  
Tags: ,

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.

Toothill Grove, Rastrick

Once located at the top of Toothill Lane, the now demolished Toothill Grove was built in 1805 and enlarged ten years later. By the Edwardian period the house was occupied by the Eastwood family and in 1910 it was the scene of a tragedy when Olive Eastwood, the popular daughter of the family, was discovered dead in the summer house, having taken her own life. Some weeks previously she had fallen from her bicycle and suffered a concussion which resulted in bouts of depression, leading the inquest returned a verdict of “suicide whilst the balance of the mind was disturbed”.

For many years after her death, until the demolition of the house in the 1960s, the girl’s ghost was believed to haunt Toothill Grove. The story was given credence by the fact that a blind appeared always to be drawn in one of the upstairs windows, said to be that of the bedroom of the dead girl, now never used. However, in an article for the Brighouse Echo date 18th August 1995, local history correspondent “Rowan” assures readers that it was in fact merely a dummy window installed for the purposes of symmetry and there was nothing behind the blind at all.

Although this is a somewhat prosaic and effectively debunked story, it illustrates how local tragedies and seemingly mysterious old buildings can quickly enter local folklore. The article in the Echo was prompted by an inquiry from a reader who had heard the house was haunted in his childhood but had no idea of the story behind it. Had Toothill Grove not been demolished it would probably still today have enjoyed a reputation as a “haunted house” in the oral tradition of local children, even without an attached narrative. All neighbourhoods have such buildings after all.

However, belying this prosaic naturalistic explanation, are the experiences of the woman who currently occupies a house built on the site of Toothill Grove. During alteration work, she discovered a concealed room behind the bathroom wall, since which time she has heard mysterious knockings in that part of the house and often seen a grey shadow in the corner of the room or on the staircase. She now wonders if the position of her bathroom might correspond with the former position of the bedroom in which Oliver Eastwood committed suicide.

 

Published in: on March 21, 2010 at 17:18  Comments (4)  
Tags: , , ,

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)  
Tags: ,