For some 35 years, York has been capitalising on its reputation as a haunted city. Ghost walks, tours, lectures, “eerie evenings” and weekend breaks have become an established feature of the tourist trade, together with books and DVDs all celebrating and promoting York as “the most haunted city in England”. Of course, the claim that York (or for that matter anywhere else) is the “most haunted city” is incapable of verification.
Nonetheless, the rest of Yorkshire is now catching up with its principal city in exploiting the supernatural, increasingly with official backing. From tours announced at Bolling Hall near Bradford in January 2007 (Halifax Evening Courier, 30 Jan 2007) to the “Last Old Town Ghost Walk of the Year” in Bridlington (Bridlington Free Press, 20 Dec 2007), ghost tourism is becoming a year-round activity across the whole of Yorkshire. Increasingly, coverage by the Yorkshire press of the details of alleged ghostly phenomena is being eclipsed by information of tour dates, times and prices. However, some interesting details of ghostly happenings occasionally emerge en passant.
Doing best in local publicity terms is Kiplin Hall at Scorton, near Richmond. In February 2007, the 17th-century property launched torchlight ghost tours conducted by curator Dawn Webster and volunteer Mavis Palfreman (Darlington & Stockton Times, 2 Feb 2007). These have proved so successful that they are being repeated and promoted as “Your chance to be a ghostbuster in a stately home” (Yorkshire Post, 28 Jan 2008). Ghostly goings-on at the hall are reported to include footsteps and sobbing in a drawing room, a Victorian woman seen on a staircase and a 1940s airman spotted in a kitchen. Many visitors and volunteers have also smelled pipe smoke in an old kitchen and a hint of cologne has been detected in another drawing room. Orbs have appeared in photos.
It seems the combination of stately home and the odd ghost proves irresistible. Also cashing in on its reputation in May 2007 and then at Hallowe’en 2007 was Temple Newsam House, Leeds (Crossgates Today, 17 Oct 2007). Those who turned up hoping to see the White Lady (believed to be Lady Jane Dudley who hanged herself after losing her lover Lord Darnley to Mary Queen of Scots) were, one trusts, not disappointed to see visitor assistant Vanessa Schrompf dressed up as the pale female shade, along with the estate’s education officer Julia Wynne Thorne and Leeds City Council leisure chief Cllr John Procter draped in monkish robes (a phantom brother known as “the Hissing Monk” was reportedly last seen at Temple Newsam in 1980). Julia told the press that she believed in ghosts because she had seen many at the house, but gave no further details. Nonetheless, it earned the property an entry on Wikipedia as the “most haunted house” in Yorkshire. The trigger for all this may have been its inclusion in a list of “Hallowe’en hotspots” that appeared in the Independent on Sunday on 23 October 2005, compiled by that most reliable of sources, “medium” Derek Acorah.
Not every tour begins with a purely commercial motive for the organisers or local government. For instance, charity ghost tours were being held in Halifax to raise money for a premature baby unit. Included in the tour was Halifax Parish Church, (reputedly haunted by a headless priest) and the 13th-century Union Cross, but no other details were given – you had to attend the tour (Halifax Evening Courier, 3 Feb 2007). Later in the year, tours in aid of the Mayor’s charity were being held, led by a ghoulishly costumed guide (Evening Courier, 22 Oct 2007), but again no word on actual manifestations. Similarly, on 19 May 2007 a “fright night” was held at Bolling Hall near Bradford to raise money for the Anthony Nolan Trust, a cancer charity. Bolling Hall was selected for the fundraiser by Emlyn Craven, 35, who has been battling the disease himself and is in remission. A report of the tours (Bradford Telegraph & Argus, 24 Feb 2007) briefly refers to a “ball of glowing light” captured on film at the Hall by Sharon Dickinson of Parkside, but no further details were given.
Inevitably, almost every ghost walk in any city includes a few haunted pubs. Landlords have long stood accused of giving manifestations a helping hand as a boost to trade. Even Yorkshire brewers have joined in, with pints of “Centurion’s Ghost Ale” and “At t’Ghost & Ghoul”, the latter an “English-style” bitter produced by the Anglo-Dutch brewery at Dewsbury being served to refresh tourists. However, at least two Yorkshire pubs have made it into the news on account of apparent phenomena in the last year; interestingly, both claim to be the ghosts of children.
The Malt Shovel Pub at Oswaldkirk is reputedly haunted by a five-year-old boy. Pam Wilson, who has just taken over the 16th-century pub, believes she encountered the ghost within a week of moving in. She was walking down the stairs when she felt a presence behind her and briefly saw a light shining before it vanished. “It was like a torch”, she said. The pub was supposed to have been exorcised by the rector in the 1990s, according to a local village history publication. The ghost was said to patrol the stairs and landing, and chairs and tables were supposed to have been scattered in disarray and objects thrown through the air. The body of a man called Thomas Bamber was kept for weeks upstairs by his mother Sally before burial was eventually allowed.
A similar story was told about poltergeist-ridden Hannath Hall near Kings Lynn, home of Derek Page MP, investigated by Alan Gauld and Tony Cornell of the SPR in 1957. A 19th-century owner was said to have kept the corpse of his wife in an upstairs room, sending meals up each day; Derek Page’s wife saw a child ghost there in 1959 (York Evening Press, 28 Feb 2007; Poltergeists (1979) by Alan Gauld and Tony Cornell).
Meanwhile, Donna Harcourt has seen the figure of a little girl in her bedroom at the Cross Keys Inn at Saddleworth. The clothes seem to date the apparition to the 1960s or 1970s. About 5.30am, Donna has heard a “knocker-upper” and heard a dragging noise from the passageway. Her daughter Katie has also heard the dragging noise as well as the sound of horses’ hooves. Reporter Bob Clowrey, who joined members of the Tameside Paranormal Society, was frightened by the impression of someone saying “Come here” close to his ear (Glossop Chronicle, 31 May 2007).
Terrified staff at the Old Vicarage Bookshop (now an antique centre) on Zetland Street, Wakefield, reported seeing a plague-ridden man hovering in doorways and on the stairs, reviving stories of ghosts there a decade ago. Gas fires were lighting themselves, water flooded the basement and many people, including psychics, ran from the shop in fright. Staff started seeing apparitions after building work uncovered a 17th-century gravestone in the basement of the store (Wakefield Express, 1 June 2007).
Amid all the financial exploitation of the paranormal reflected in the Yorkshire press, it might be noted that hauntings in private homes do still occasionally get reported. Sandra Cornell, 41, has been plagued by paranormal activity at her home in Grange Road for five years. She has heard thuds in the night, glasses have smashed and an overwhelming sense of unease has affected guests. Photographs show orbs of light. She believes the phenomena are not related to the house but have followed her from Bingley, where she lived previously (Keighley Target, 19 April 2007).
Finally, it may be noted that at least one Yorkshire newspaper allegedly has its own ghost. The offices of the Barnsley Chronicle, built partly on the site of a morgue, are reputedly haunted by a woman in white and an ethereal figure made from black smoke. Unfortunately, neither appeared during an investigation by members of the Seeking Spirit group (Barnsley Chronicle, 18 May 2007), but one wonders how long it will be before guided tours of the offices are arranged.