It’s Halloween, so it’s time to embrace Yorkshire’s most haunted. Alan Combes goes on the trail of the county’s most ghostly spots.
A county as rich in its history and diversity as Yorkshire inevitably has more than its share of supernatural stories. However improbable some of the occurrences mentioned here might seem those who experienced them are quite serious about the evidence of their senses. After all, if ghosts do exist then they are an all year round phenomena and not just a Halloween-only event.
When builder John Yates decided to invest in York’s Golden Fleece pub three years ago, its reputation for ghostly happenings and inexplicable events did not deter him in the slightest.
Even though the Shambles-based pub had received national publicity in the past, Yates had no intention of using that supernatural profile to make money.
In fact, as he has learned, in terms of its bed and breakfast potential (managed by his wife, Stephanie Macklewain) the “spooky” reputation was as likely to put off customers as to attract them.
Yates inherited an ailing pub, but made restoring it a personal project. Describing himself as an “optimistic sceptic”, he has spent long nights working in the pub’s creepiest corners, yet experienced nothing untoward. Indeed he has profoundly altered the pub’s structure and, according to lore, you would expect the spirits to have it in for him, but that hasn’t happened. As far as he is concerned, there is nothing to fear in the Golden Fleece, but he doesn’t question the fact that genuine people have had strange things happen to them. His wife Stephanie is one of them.
Like some resident guests, she has experienced “a black mass” that invades a room and occupies the bed area, terrifying its occupants. Likewise she has witnessed small globes floating in the atmosphere which many guests have photographed.
The bar staff have witnessed weird events too. Yates calls them “time loops” whereby one colleague speaks to another in one room, heads upstairs and appears to meet the same person elsewhere. He agrees that it sounds preposterous, but it’s happened more than once.
He tells of an occasion when police asked if the pub’s CCTV was operating when a fracas occurred outside the pub and, if so, could they view it?
“A large, well-equipped officer came round and I told him he could view the tape in our function room upstairs. ‘I don’t want to go up those stairs,’ he said.” He went on to tell Yates that he would take on a gang of thugs or a man with a gun before he would go up those stairs on his own.
Yates own conclusion is that people’s responsiveness to the pub’s atmosphere is analogous to a radio dial; you’re either tuned in or you’re not. The police officer in question most certainly was.
The pub’s scariest times are well-documented in The Golden Fleece Chronicles, and TV’s Most Haunted team gave it a chilling five cross rating 10 years ago. These days people often feel a hand on their back when no one is there, objects jump off tables spontaneously, (Rory Bremner used footage on TV that showed a bag of sugar leaping off a shelf).
Bolling Hall in Bradford, first mentioned in the Domesday Book, is one of Yorkshire’s oldest buildings. Now a museum and education centre, it is steeped in history and violence. During the Civil War it was a Royalist retreat in the middle of a town with Parliamentary sympathies. When the Royalists won back Bradford, it was expected that wholesale slaughter would occur in the town, but it is alleged that the Earl of Newcastle was visited by a ghost while he slept that begged him to “Pity poor Bradford”.
Ghost stories abound at Bolling, but are they all rooted in the far past? During the winter months, the manor holds “paranormal events” and the sceptic could see this as nothing more than a money-maker. Curator David McIlroy begs to differ.
“Furniture is always moving about even when no member of the public is there. You come in, say hello, but no one answers. Doors are constantly banging. Once, when it wasn’t open to the public, the curator and two workers heard children running about and singing, but there was no one there. They seemed to be singing some kind of rhyme, but we couldn’t make out the words.”
David’s most bizarre tale, which he swears is true, concerned the Sunday morning directly after a “paranormal event” when he was clearing away. His dog was with him and suddenly started panting.
“Into the room came a figure that terrified me. It was black with orange eyes and teeth and only three feet tall. I know, it sounds crazy, but it really happened. I ran up the stairs to fetch a colleague, I was so frightened.”
A week later Bolling was visited by an apologetic medium who said she had been at the Bolling paranormal event, but immediately before that she had attended a devil worship session at the Hellfire Caves in Buckinghamshire. There she had picked up an “elemental” that had attached itself to her, followed her to Bolling where it decided to remain. “So I’ve come back to collect it”, the medium said.
If the Golden Fleece and Bolling Hall are principally visual experiences, Dewsbury Town Hall is an aural one. Built in 1886, at a time when northern town halls strove to outdo one another for the lavishness of their design and architecture, it became something of an urban legend in recent times and came to the notice of Stuart Dawson who runs the SGN Events Company. Simply Ghost Nights specialise in paranormal experiences at venues with a spooky reputation for parties of around two dozen people from age 25 to 70.
“We had heard so many stories that we took Dewsbury on in 2011,” Stuart says. “People get very scared in the changing rooms where incarnate voices have been heard whispering. At a recent event, two people had to run out of the police cells because they had been frightened by loud banging on a metal cabinet.”
Other phenomena experienced at Dewsbury include hair tugging, light anomalies in the dancehall (bright lights disappearing through the wall) and spirit people seen walking in the upper tier of the ballroom. People get anxious in the magistrates’ robing room too where experiencing “visual shadow movement” is not uncommon.
“Often sceptical people come along reluctantly with their friends expecting a ‘garbage’ evening but finish up having a realistic supernatural experience that totally changes their outlook.”
Doncaster Air Museum has been developed on a space that was an airstrip as long ago as 1913. SGN have organised over 400 events there and during that time there have been “ten standout apparitions”. In the main hangar recently a six-foot plus figure in overalls was seen to walk through railings, pace noiselessly across gravel and disappear out of the building without setting off the security. All less than six metres from the watchers.
“In Hangar 21 a woman saw a figure wave at her through a half-door. A table nearby was rocking and moving. A photo was taken and it recorded a man in a cap despite their being no one there.”
Dawson admitted that on these events evenings much is dependent upon the chemistry of the group. “The energy of the group can feed into the energy that is present in the place” he says “and only then things start to happen.”
Ask an outsider which Yorkshire town they most associate with the supernatural and the chances are that Whitby would be top of the list: Whitby Abbey, where Stoker wrote Dracula and gathering place of Goths. But Bagdale Hall is none of those. It is a gorgeously preserved hotel and restaurant close to the railway station. Owned by John Cattaneo, the civic society plaque tells you it dates back to 1530, but John has proof that in 1516 Bagdale was erected by the Conyers family, James Conyers being Sergeant-at-Arms to Henry VIII. Apart from Whitby Abbey and the Church of St Mary’s, Bagdale Hall is the oldest habitable building in the town and in 1595 was sold to the Bushells, a family of traders and mariners, whose most infamous son, Browne Bushell, was to play a major role in the hall’s story.
In the early 1800s, Bagdale was let to tenants who stripped it of its fittings. London surgeon Henry Power bought it in 1882 and set about serious restoration. Eventually it was purchased by the Whitby Literary and Philosophical Society but even they could not make ends meet.
Shortly after John Cattaneo bought the house in 1990, one of his first clients was a faith healer who informed him that she could see many people from different historical periods in the bar.
“In that case, can you persuade them to buy a drink, takings are seriously down” he told her.
This little tale illustrates Cattaneo’s own attitude to the scare stories associated with Bagdale. His own children had a frightening episode when they slept in room four over 20 years ago – the water turned itself on in the bathroom and worked up a head of steam – and they have refused to go in there again, but he has never experienced anything untoward.
“In room three a mother and daughter slept together in a large bed and the mother was woken by a man kissing her on the cheek. The daughter said she saw a man in a large cape wearing a hat with a feather and he disappeared through the wall to the left of the fireplace. This was 15 years ago but two years later a woman sleeping on her own had the same experience.”
Cattaneo says the story accords with Browne Bushell who during the Civil War changed sides once too often and reputedly kissed his wife goodbye for the last time (she was the daughter of Sir Thomas Fairfax, Cromwell’s chief of staff) before the royalist forces caught him and executed him. Is he doomed to replay that precious last kiss forever more?
There have been countless inexplicable events: carpet-layers who heard a game of snooker being played in an adjacent room but found no one there when they investigated; numerous guests asking who the old lady nursing a child was in front of Room 2. “There is no one there,” Cattaneo explains “but I do have a picture that shows Henry Power’s wife nursing her ailing granddaughter (who later died in her arms).” He tells of a guest who booked in and was then so affected by stories of Bagdale they subsequently heard in town that they returned to the hotel and left apologetically.
“You can’t win” he explains “People either stay away because they’re afraid of what might happen or they demand their money back because nothing happens.”