- by Ross Horsley, Local and Family History, Leeds Central Library
“The ghost that turns up, annually, on the stroke of midnight on Christmas Eve is largely the invention of Charles Dickens and his imitators in fiction. But ghosts do prefer to visit their familiar haunts on dark winter nights – and, for some, Christmas appears to be the favourite season” (Leeds Weekly Post, December 1938).
So began Leeds Central Library’s recent Yorkshire Ghost Stories for Christmas event, which paired a trilogy of traditional legends by well known authors with vintage accounts of paranormal investigations from the local press. We accompanied 1920s ghostbuster ‘SJP’ on a moonlit tour of Temple Newsam, roamed the Yorkshire Moors in search of spectral beasts, and gathered round a blazing fire to listen to the tale of a haunted highwayman in Yorkshire’s old stage-coaching days.
One of our creepiest accounts came from the pages of Lord Halifax’s Ghost Book, a 1936 compilation of supposedly true ghost stories collected by Charles Wood, the 2nd Viscount of Halifax. In its introduction, the author’s son writes: “As long as I can remember, my father’s Ghost Book was one of the most distinctive associations of Hickleton [Hall, Halifax]. He kept it always with great care himself, from time to time making additions to it in his own handwriting, and bringing it out on special occasions such as Christmas to read some of the particular favourites aloud before we all went to bed. Many is the time that – after such an evening – we children would hurry upstairs, feeling that the distance between the Library and our nurseries, dimly lit by oil lamps and full of shadows, was a danger area, where we would not willingly go alone, and where it was unsafe to dawdle.”
This and many other books are listed in the new Leeds Central Library Supernatural Resources Guide (pictured above), which we’ve designed to help students of the Unexplained navigate our unique collections, and fill their festive season with histories of hauntings, witchcraft and psychic phenomena. There’s also factual accounts by such well known figures as Arthur Conan Doyle, Walter Scott and Daniel Defoe.
But, this week, the Secret Library presents a recently-unearthed local ghost story you won’t find in any of those. Submitted to the Armley Board of Surveyors at Christmas 1853, it was supplied by a group known only as ‘The Whiskey Order’ and accompanied by a note that instructs: To be Read at Midnight…
In order to set the scene, take a look at the photograph above, which shows an area of Armley known locally as the Maltkilns. The land in the foreground was, until the 1920s, occupied by Tetley Brewery’s malt houses, where cereal grain was dried in large stone kilns for use in the production of local ales. Those familiar with the area might spot several other local landmarks referenced in the upcoming tale but, for now, picture yourself making your way down that lonely road at midnight in the mid-nineteenth century. There are no streetlamps to light your way into town… No passing cars will stop to offer you a lift. There’s just the fierce growl of a winter wind sweeping down the hill…
So turn up your collar – and read on!
The Haunted Maltkiln: A Ghost Story
Dark was the night, with fury wild,
The tempest rag’d around
The Maltkiln, while its dreary vaults,
Echo’d the dismal sound.
’Twas the lone hour when Spectres walk,
And Table-Turning Sprites;
Releas’d awhile from dark abodes,
Stalk forth on earth at nights.
Armley’s dark streets deserted were,
The Town School’s curfew Bell,
Disturb’d by means invisible
Gave forth a solemn knell.
And louder still the tempest roar’d,
Till crazy buildings shook;
Strange noises ’midst the Waterfalls,
Arose at Beaver Nook.
A Traveller was wandering home,
With walking nearly spent,
Whistling to keep his courage up,
Yet trembling as he went.
A fitful gleam of moonlight pass’d,
And he could dimly see
The ancient pile of Buildings rear’d,
Close by the Cowcroft Stee.
And he had heard like many more,
The tale that Rumour tells,
How every night, in ghastly white,
A Ghost walks through its cells.
He hasten’d on, with trembling steps,
Till opposite he got,
When suddenly! a horrid noise,
Transfix’d him to the spot.
’Twas not a yell, a shriek, or groan,
Which on his ears did fall,
But to his frighten’d senses seem’d,
A mixture of them all.
He stood aghast, with hair on end,
Confus’d with wild affright;
(Just then the Chapel Clock proclaim’d
The hour of dread midnight.)
He gaz’d, while Phantoms grim appear’d
To rise on every side,
And with strange outcries round and round,
With fiendish joy to glide.
And then he saw – O strange to tell,
A pale blue glimmering light;–
The Spectres’ fiery eyeballs seem’d
To sparkle with delight.
He saw no more, he swoon’d with fright;
Yet ’tis by many said,
Next morning when broad daylight came,
He found himself in BED.
How he got home he never know;
But some who tell the tale,
Say, when his wife did let him in,
He Rather smell’d of ALE.
* * * * *
Dark Mystery o’er the Maltkiln hangs,
A dwelling now for Rats;
Although some hint the Phantoms were
A Company of CATS.
[Extracted from Gleanings from Armley Moor: A Christmas Annual, kept in the Leeds Local and Family History Library at shelf mark L ARM 821.]