John Markham: Do ghosts avoid East Yorkshire?
Why don't you write about ghosts? I've been asked. The answer is that history relies on proven facts. When it comes to ghosts, who are by nature vague, there is uncertainty.
Not that I disbelieve the anecdotes of trustworthy people who have no reason to exaggerate.
A friend told me a very convincing account of seeing an old lady in old-fashioned dress in the Hedon pharmacy where she worked.
The story is all the more credible because the old lady stood a few feet above the floor level, suggesting a rebuilding in the past. You cannot sneer at the testimony from such a witness.
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I have never been on any of the ghost walks popular in such places as Beverley and York but my interest has been stimulated by two old books sent by a university friend who does voluntary work in an Oxfam shop and looks out for books I might find interesting, Haunted Yorkshire by WR Mitchell and Legends Of Yorkshire by Andy Roberts. The second I found more relevant to us in this area than the first. Mr Mitchell's book gives the impression that ghosts prefer to do their haunting in North and West Yorkshire and find the East less convenient for their appearances.
Some of the stories are already well known. Burton Agnes Hall is famous for its connection with Anne Boynton, who had watched with interest the building of the house.
When she was fatally wounded by two beggars as she returned from a visit to the St Quintins at Harpham, she asked in her dying moments for her head to be severed from her body and kept in the Hall.
Her wish was ignored, but so many strange incidents followed it seemed she was not resting in peace. Her skull was removed from her coffin and returned to the house. There's a whole saga of the subsequent history of Anne Boynton's skull which, in the end, was apparently bricked up in a secret location at the hall to become its guardian forever.
I understand that there is still consciousness of a benign, interested presence when any changes are being made.
New to me, though, were the mysterious noises at the White Rose hair salon in Whitefriargate, Hull, which reached a climax in 1971 when customers and staff heard the sound of feet walking to and fro in an empty room upstairs.
The owners became so petrified that they called in the police, who rigged the room with trip-wire and sealed the door: The noises continued, yet when the police reopened the door they found the trip-wire untouched but the light mysteriously on.
Harpham appears again in a story about the well associated with locally-born St John of Beverley. Also known as the Drumming Well, it has sometimes emitted strange noises, supposedly resulting from a drummer-boy named Tom who was knocked headfirst into the well.
The drumming was regarded as a forewarning of bad events. This is one of those stories where folklore and facts have become inextricably linked over the centuries.
Stories about secret tunnels always make me more than sceptical. Almost every town and village in the country claims to have its secret tunnel, a subterranean work way beyond the engineering skills of the time and in any case unnecessary.
Beverley Minster is replete with stories of tunnels, one to the nearby Dominican Friary, others to the distant Meaux Abbey and Watton Abbey. All untrue, though Watton Abbey has its full complement of ghosts, one of a nun executed for her sins and another of a woman who was murdered along with her child in the Civil War. I have to report that on recent visits I have learnt that the present occupants and their guests have experienced some inexplicable goings-on.
A local vicar told me that, from time to time, he is called in by people disturbed by strange happenings. When he arrives they always begin the same way, "You won't believe this, but ...". It's the bit after the "but", which is the most interesting.