- by Ross Horsley, Local and Family History, Leeds Central Library
Last Friday, after the doors closed and the last remaining customers were ushered out into a chilly autumn evening, thirteen brave souls remained behind to stalk the darkened halls of Leeds Central Library. It was the eve of Halloween, and the perfect night for our first ever Haunted Heritage Tour.
Our journey through the building’s history began under the watchful eye of one of its sentinel statues, a snarling stone dog at the foot of the main stairs. The plan was to ascend the three storeys of the library at a leisurely pace, listening to legends of local ghosts as we made our way up through the various departments to the dark, deserted archways of the top-floor gallery. At the summit – and suitably forewarned that the spookiest rooms were yet to come – we’d duck behind the scenes to make a helter-skelter escape down a staff-only staircase, via such haunted hotspots as the eerily oppressive Yorkshire Room and cavernous book stacks.
But it wasn’t long before events took a bloodcurdling turn. The main lending library offered chilling views of a fog-shrouded Alexander Street, the gas-lit alleyway where, in the late Victorian era, a murder scene was discovered that was so gruesome, local newspapers speculated that Jack the Ripper himself had moved to Leeds. Climbing the stairs to the first floor, a step off the beaten track resulted in us becoming locked inside a pitch-black vault, behind a solid iron door six inches thick. Thankfully retrieving a key, we sought sanctuary in Local and Family History, only to stumble over a shrine to the 17th Century child-murderer, Walter Calverley, whose malevolent spirit, it is said, can be summoned using an old playground rhyme. Of course we had to give it a try, but neither this nor the mysterious Ouija board we uncovered in a cupboard at the end of the room were enough to wake the dead that night.
Perhaps it was for the best. Our journey up and around the gallery was played out amidst a hushed and hungry gloom, lit only by our own fumbling torch-lights as we explored the creaking corners of this normally off-limits area. After a quick repose, during which we had our futures (or lack of) told by Mother Shipton’s Wheel of Fortune, we decided to take the plunge and dash downward through the building’s most haunted chambers. But imagine our horror when, reaching the safety of the ground floor, we realised all the exits were now locked and the only way out was by descending into the bowels of the basement…