Ghostly Goings-On at the Calderdale Office

All the leaves are brown, and the skies are grey. The season is turning and the nights are drawing in, so in the run up to Halloween we at the Calderdale office thought it would be interesting to discover if we held anything… …supernatural… in our vast, ancient collections.

The problem with finding ghost stories in the archives is that ghosts are notoriously bad record-keepers. There are no diaries of a grey lady, or indentures belonging to headless coachmen. There are no land-deeds for Transylvanian castles or building plans for secret laboratories. Unsurprisingly, the boggarts and faeries that allegedly occupy the darkest reaches of Calderdale’s wild moorland have never taken each other to Chancery

However, there is a solitary story of a haunting in the Calderdale collections. Written in 1926 by Rawson Fielding, it is – in his words – “A Strange but True Account of an Old Hall and the Inexplicable Events that Happened Therein” (WYC:1729). The document we hold is a beautiful little blue book with a shortened title on the front – “The Ghost Story of New Hall Elland”. Inside, written in his own hand rather than typed, is the account which Fielding claims to have taken whilst on holiday in Praa Sands, Cornwall. It tells the story of a couple of gentle Yorkshire-folk – “Mr & Mrs F” – whom Fielding has met on his holidays, who by wild coincidence once lived in Elland New Hall and were tormented by a restless spirit.

WYC:1729 The Ghost Story of New Hall Elland, By Rawson Fielding

According to Fielding, the trouble started shortly after the couple moved to New Hall in October 1904. They shared the tenanted building with several other residents, but they themselves had the run of the banqueting hall and a partitioned dining room, as well as access to the infamous Tagg’s Chamber, the source of other local ghost stories. Mrs F was plagued by mysterious crashes and things going bump in the night. She regaled her unbelieving husband with details of the ghostly goings-on, but he rebuffed her “ridiculous fancies”, each time more patronising than the last. At one point, she distinctly heard a voice calling her name. Terrified, Mrs F – who we now find is called Laura – tricked a visitor into going upstairs with her, just to see if there were any ghosts to be found.

The husband was finally convinced a few months later when he too heard the unusual noises, this time with a Wuthering Heights twist. Mr & Mrs F – and her visiting brother – distinctly heard tapping and knocking on the window, followed by the rasp of a large file rubbed on iron. Thinking someone was attempting to break in, they rushed out of the house to find no one there. The sound continued, always ahead of them, as they followed it round the perimeter of the old hall. Unable to locate the source of the disturbance, they headed inside to find that the noises were now coming from various parts of the house. After charging from room to room for several minutes and examining everywhere they had access to, the noises simply stopped.

New Hall, Elland

From that point on, Rawson’s retelling says both were subjected to unusual noises, bumps, bangs and even echoes of the clash of swords. Mrs F finally managed to make contact with the ghost, who claimed to be a former owner. He is condemned to haunt New Hall, calling the house his prison, for he murdered a woman and covered it up. Through a prolonged period of back-and-forth conversation covering several months, the ghost pleaded with Mr & Mrs F to open a secret passage behind the panelling of a certain room. This would reveal to them an underground chamber containing, rather conveniently, a full written confession alongside the skeleton of the murdered woman and a portrait of her, and also a reward of coins, plate and a hollowed-out table leg full of gemstones, all of which could belong to the couple if only they make public the crimes of the deceased and thus free his spirit from New Hall.

By this point in the story, the couple had moved house, which is entirely understandable given the circumstance. They were still in communication with the ghost of this murderer, who had followed them to their new residence. He begged them to return to the hall, saying he will highlight certain pegs on the panelling that they need to remove to access the secret passage. Mrs F asked him if it was possible to speak with his victim, which he confirmed. After consulting with the spirit of the murdered woman, they asked if she would like them to open the passage and reveal the crime to the world. The woman declined and bid them adieu. The story ends with Mr & Mrs F never returning to New Hall, and the ghost of the murderer, presumably, still imprisoned there.

Without Rawson Fielding’s account people may never have guessed that this building is definitely, 100% haunted.

In addition to this ghost story, the budding paranormal investigator can find other documents on Elland New Hall. From an apprenticeship indenture (HAS:362/97) to details on renovation work and historical listing held in council files (CMB/D1/4/3/11), there is a smattering of archival material available. Should one search hard enough, they may uncover a table leg full of gemstones if they’re lucky or a very, very noisy ghost if they’re not.

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