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Calverley Old Hall


Now a holiday let, parts of this Grade I listed building date from the 15th Century and it was the home of the Calverley Family. It was here that Walter Calverley lived in the early 17th century when he murdered his two sons William (aged 4 years) and Walter (aged 18 months), for which he was pressed to death at York Castle in 1605. The house and grounds were then reputedly haunted by Walter Calverley.

Below is an account of the killing and supposed haunting as published in ‘The Haunted Homes and Family Traditions of Great Britain’ (1897) by John Ingram. 'Calverley is an old-fashioned village in Yorkshire, chiefly known to historians and strangers as the scene of a terrible tragedy which took place early in the 17th century. The Hall, although now modernised and otherwise mutilated, and subdivided into seven dwellings, still retains many remains of its ancient picturesqueness. Once the residence of the ancient Calverley family, whose pedigree is traced back to the time of the Empress Maud, and of whom Mr. John Batty has preserved records, in his History of Rothwell, as far back as 1457, and amongst whose most distinguished scions may be mentioned the late 0. S. Calverley, the poet, old Calverley Hall was formerly a place of great importance as well as mediaeval comfort. Mr. William Scruton, in The Yorkshireman of January 5th, 1884, describes fully the present condition of the fine old place, telling of traces of ancient carving ; of oak ceilings and battlemented corbels; of decorated Gothic windows, and of many vestiges of the former grandeur of the place.

One chamber in particular is not only noteworthy on account of its fine oaken panelling and archaic specimens of fresco work, but because it was therein that the " bloodie deed" which has rendered the place for ever dreadful and dreaded was committed. The doorway, says Mr. Scruton, which led to the flight of steps down which Walter Calverley threw the servant, is now blocked up.

The story of the tragedy connected with Calverley Hall has been a favourite theme for authors and antiquarians from the days of John Whitaker, to those of John Timbs, but all that is necessary to repeat of it here may be given from a very condensed account by Mr. Samuel Margerison, of Calverley, cited in the above number of The Yorkslrireman. He says:

"Walter Calverley, whose father was a rich Roman Catholic, was a wild, reckless man, though his wife was a most estimable and virtuous ladv. It is said that he inherited insanity from his mother's family. Be that as it may, on the 23rd of April, 1604*, he went into a fit of insane frenzy of jealousy, or pretended so to do. The fact was he had completely beggared himself, and got 'over head and ears’ into debt. Money-lenders were pressing him hard, and he had become desperate. Rushing madly into the house he snatched up one and then another of his children; plunged his dagger into them, threw them down, and then attempted to take the life of their mother. A steel corset which she wore was luckily in the way, and saved her life. The assassin, however, thought he had killed her, and left hurriedly. He then mounted his horse, intending to kill the only other child he had, Henry, a 'brat at nurse,' who was then at Norton. He was pursued by some villagers : his horse fell and threw him off, and so he was caught. When brought to trial at York he refused to plead, knowing that thereby his estates would not be forfeited to the Crown, but would descend to his surviving son. [And this according to the well-known law of peine forte et dure.]

"Walter Calverley was punished for his crime by being pressed to death at York Castle. Tradition saith that an old servant was with him when they were putting the stones on his chest that were to crush out his life, and that the wretched criminal begged him to put him out of his misery by sitting on the stones, saying, ‘A pund o' more weight lig on, lig on.' The old servant complied with his request, but was straightway hanged for his pains. Walter was buried at St. Mary's, Castlegate, York; but there is a tradition that, after several pretended interments, his body was secretly buried at Calverley, among the remains of the sixteen previous generations of the Calverleys."

Little wonder that after so dire a tragedy, Calverley and its precincts were regarded as haunted ground. Walter's spirit, says Mr. Scruton, could not rest. He was often seen galloping about the district at night on a headless horse, and was generally accompanied by a number of followers similarly mounted, who delighted to run down any poor benighted folks who happened to be thereabouts. These spectral horsemen generally disappeared into a cave in the wood, but this cave has now been quarried away. At last the ghostly horseman became so troublesome that the Vicar of Calverley Church undertook the task of laying it, and, for a time at least, succeeded in getting rid of the " Bogie." Walter was not to appear again, " as long as hollies grew green in Calverley Wood." The hollies still grow green in that wood, but, apparently, something has occurred to prevent the spell from being quite successful, as the following incidents would seem to show.

The Kev. Richard Burdsall, a devoted Wesleyan preacher, having to preach at Calverley, about a century ago, was entertained as a guest at the Hall, on a certain Saturday evening in the month of January. "About twelve o'clock," records the rev. gentleman, "I was conducted up one pair of stairs into a large room which was surrounded by an oaken wainscot after the ancient plan. . . . After my usual devotions I laid down to rest. I had not been asleep long before I thought something crept up to my breast, pressing me much. I was greatly agitated, and struggled hard to awake. In this situation, according to the best judgment I could form, the bed seemed to swing as if it had been slung in slings, and I was thrown out on the floor. When I came to myself I soon got on my knees, and returned thanks to God that I was not hurt. Committing myself to His care, I got into bed the second time. After lying for about fifteen minutes, reasoning with myself whether I had been thrown out of bed, or whether I had got out in my sleep, to satisfy me fully on this point, I was clearly thrown out a second time from between the bed-clothes to the floor, by just such a motion as before described. I quickly got on my knees to pray to the Almighty for my safety, and to thank Him that I was not hurt. After this I crept under the bed, to feel if there was anything there; but I found nothing. I got into bed for the third time. Just as I laid myself down I was led to ask, 'Am I in my right senses ? ' I answered, ' Yes, Lord, if ever I had any.' I had not lain a minute before I was thrown out of bed a third time. After this I once more crept under the bed to ascertain whether all the cords were fast, and examined until I touched all the bed-posts ; but I found all right. This was about one o'clock. I now put on my clothes, not attempting to lie down any more. ... I was afterwards told that this very house had formerly been the residence of Calverley, who, in the reign of King James, was tried at York for the murder of his wife and two children, and, standing neuter, was pressed to death in the castle."

Such is the worthy preacher's record of the way in which he was tormented in the haunted Hall; but other, and more recent manifestations of spectral agency, are believed to have taken place. "The last mad freak of the ghost of poor Walter Calverley," according to Mr. Scruton, took place about twelve years ago, when, towards the close of the vear, "the bell in the church tower began to toll at one o'clock in the morning, and went on tolling for a long, long time. Men came rush- ing to the scene, some of whom bad come out of warm, comfortable beds, and some who had not been in bed at all. All were struck dumb with terror and cold. The keys could not be found. Toll, toll, toll ! still went out the mysterious sounds in the night winds. At last came the keys ; but just as they rattled at the keyhole the noise stopped, and all was silent as death."

Although such supposed direct manifestations of Walter Calverley's ghostly powers have not been repeated of late, certain weird signs of the tragedy are, it is said, still visible. Stains of blood irremovable stains are yet to be seen on the floor; and there is a flag, one particular flag, in the cellar, which always has a mysterious damp place on it; all the other flags are dry save this. "Wise men have tried," says Mr. Scruton, "to account for this; but, as yet, have signally failed. Here it is, plain to be seen, and what one sees, one can believe."

A correspondent writes that a Bradford paper, published in March 1874, in an article entitled Calverley, Forty Years Ago, gives the following anecdote in proof of how strong an impression had been made upon the public mind by the old legend connected with this place. The writer of the article describes how, in his youthful days, he assisted at an attempt to raise the ghost of the old murderous squire; the modus operandi, he says, was as follows:

About a dozen of the scholars having leisure, and fired with the imaginative spirit, used to assemble after school-hours close to the venerable church of Calverley and then put their hats and caps down on the ground, in a pyramidal form. Then, taking hold of each other's hands, they formed a "magic circle,” holding firmly together, and making use of an old refrain:

"Old Calverley, old Calverley, I have thee by the ears, I'll cut thee into collops, unless thee appears."

Whilst this incantation was going on, crumbs of bread (saved from their dinner), and mixed with pins, were strewn on the ground, the meanwhile the lads tramped round in the circle with a heavy tread. Some of the more venturesome boys had to go round to each of the church doors, and whistle aloud through the key-holes, repeating the magical couplet which their comrades in the circle were chanting. At this culminating point a pale and ghostly figure was expected to appear, and, on one occasion, some such apparition does seem to have issued forth, apparently from the church. The lads, in their terrified haste to avoid the ghost's fearful grasp, scampered off as fast as their legs would carry them, leaving their hats and caps scattered about the ground as legitimate spoil for old Calverley.

*Another source suggests 23 April 1605 and a baptism date for Walter of 4 October 1603.


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