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”.

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.

Old Castle, Elland

Old Castle was a gabled Elizabethan building which once stood in the graveyard at the parish church of St. Mary the Virgin in sight of the east window. It had been inhabited by a rich family but had gradually fallen into disrepair. Indeed, in 1826 it was converted into a inn – somewhat unusually for a building situated on consecrated ground! – but it was pulled down shortly afterwards when population demand necessitated the extension of the churchyard in 1829.

Around 1800 the building was occupied by one Jim Fenton who owned a hauling-horse named Boxer with which he plied his trade hauling boats along the canal. Albert Rinder in A History of Elland tells how one particularly hard winter, the canal was frozen for months on end leaving Jim unable to earn his living and the family grew short of food. As did Boxer who was stabled in the house and would beat his hoofs on the floor boards in hunger.

Driven to distraction by the cries of his children and the din of his horse, Jim decided one night that he would have to go and beg for food at Elland Mill. However, on his route he chanced across a huge boggart and in the confusion of the encounter, the boggart dropped a sack of meal. Despite his terror, Jim was a desperate man and managed to grab the bag and run home to feed his starving family.

Soon the Fenton’s were flourishing, as the boggart’s sack always seemed to contain more meal no matter how much they consumed. When the iron ice-breaking barge finally made it down the canal, Jim took Boxer to assist with the endeavour. The boatmen apparently remarked how unusually well-fed the horse looked considering it had been such a harsh season and asked for a reason, to which Jim allegedly replied “animal magnetism”.

Such a legend amply illustrates the versatility of the boggart epithet. Although as discussed in the entry on Boggart House it typically referred to a household spirit with attributes which ghost-hunters would now ascribe to poltergeist activity, it was used to refer to a wide range of ghostly encounters. The example above is unusual in that the boggart is both visible and described as “huge” when they were typically regarded as diminutive, wizened creatures.