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”.

Ellen Royde, Elland

Standing in the uncommonly haunted locale of Elland’s Westgate, Ellen Royde is today utilised as an NHS clinic but for the majority of its history it was home to the Smithies family, a famed line of local worsted manufacturers. They built the house seen today in 1680 although there is speculation it may have been erected on the site of an earlier structure. The name is thought to derive from the elder trees (ellen being an old dialect word for the same) which once covered the land on which it was built. It is interesting to note that elders are rich in folkloric associations, especially with regard to faery activity.

Either way, the house was once well known as the haunt of boggarts. There used to be a scooped out stone in the garden there, dubbed the Boggart Chair. Apparently it was in fact the sundered remains of a church font which had been deposited there by raiders or possibly during the English Civil Wars, but local tradition attributed the hollowed out facade to boggarts wearing away the stone as they sat there waiting to gain entry to the house. No particular record of their activity within the building survives, but doubtless they were intent on causing mischief as is a boggart’s wont.

What is most curious about the story, however, is that an almost identically named building (Ellen Royd, missing the “e”) with an identical tale attached is to be found in the village of Midgley in the upper Calder valley. The similarities are such that is entirely certain that one borrowed the story from the other but it remains an open question not only as to which came first but whether the transposition occurred in the oral tradition or whether it was simply a journalist or local historian who confused the two sites in more recent years.

The Long Wall Mouse, Elland

Elland is particularly rich in archaic folklore, perhaps unsurprisingly considering its history extends much further back than that of its upstart neighbour, Brighouse. The town is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 and at that time was a more substantial settlement than even Halifax or Huddersfield, whilst it remained a centre of the woolen industry until its decline in the mid-20th Century. Westgate, at the top of the town, is amongst its oldest quarters and there is a great concentration of strange stories here. The tale of the Long Wall Mouse is surely the very strangest.

Long Wall is the road which runs from the top of Westgate towards West Vale, proceeding beneath the louring eponymous wall. The story of the Long Wall Mouse is first recorded in Lucy Hamerton’s 1901 tome Olde Eland in which she recounts the experience of a Dr. Hiley who once witnessed the creature, describing it as the giant and silent apparition of a white mouse. Although the Mouse never attacked anybody, it was thought that anybody who saw it would meet with some misfortune shorty thereafter and locals always avoided Long Wall during the hours of darkness.

Animal ghosts of this nature are quite rare in the English tradition. One of the few comparisons must be “a small white animal, with eyes large as saucers” which caused a sensation in Baldock, Herefordshire in 1878. There are also similarities to the Baum Rabbit, whose appearances in the 1870s often startled pedestrians walking by St. Mary’s churchyard in Rochdale at night and which proved immune to gun shot and pellets. Then there’s the bizarre case of Gef the Talking Mongoose, who haunted a remote farmhouse on the Isle of Man during the 1930s.

Arguably, the Long Wall Mouse bears closest relation to the black dog spectres which are a familiar trope in English folklore. They are often found at similarly haunted liminal zones such as highways after dark and portended misfortune or death. West Yorkshire is replete with such manifestations by a variety of names including barguest, guytrash or skriker. Sometimes these apparitions could apparently adopt a number of different guises. For instance, the Holden Rag which haunted Cliviger between Todmorden and Burnley, was also believed to manifest as a shred of a white linen hanging from a thorn bush.

Published in: on March 24, 2010 at 09:52  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , , ,