‘PITY Poor Bradford’, said the ghost in the bedroom at Bolling Hall – and to this day, the historic property remains one of the most haunted houses in the country.
Throughout its 900-year history – it was first mentioned in the Domesday Book in 1086 – Bolling Hall has been home to plenty of spooks. The most famous is the ghost that appeared to the Earl of Newcastle one night in December 1642.
Stationed at the hall during the Civil War after his troops took over Bradford, the earl claimed to have woken up to see a woman wringing her hands, telling him to “Pity poor Bradford” and not wreak death and destruction on the city.
Said to be shaken by the visitation, he decided against a full-blown massacre and instead ordered his troops to kill only those who resisted.
Bolling Hall is popular with ghost-hunters, who camp out overnight waiting for spooky sounds and sightings. Staff and visitors claim to have witnessed a cradle rocking on its own and a lady dressed in white appearing to float across a room.
East Riddlesden Hall has its share of spooks too. In 2016 the Keighley News reported that a ghost hunter claimed to have caught on film the image of a spirit at the 17th Century property. Mark Vernon said he saw the ghost within 10 minutes of arriving at the property – and it followed him around the building.
“As soon as I became aware of it we started filming,” said paranormal investigator Mark. “Initial contact was made downstairs but then we caught it again when we moved upstairs. There were quite a few spirits present in the hall.”
East Riddlesden Hall’s most famous ghost is the Grey Lady. When the master of the house returned from battle in the Civil War to discover his wife had been having an affair, he is said to have killed her lover and bricked-up his wife behind a wall, while still alive. Now she roams the corridors, seeking her lost lover.
For years these old properties have attracted hordes of ghost-hunters, including TV’s Most Haunted team. But there what of the spooks lurking in the streets, alleyways and underground passages across the Bradford district..?
City Hall is home to Bradford’s criminal history. Thousands of prisoners, including children, were locked up in the Victorian cells that lie beneath the building, which more in recent years have appeared in films and TV dramas including Peaky Blinders.
Bradford Police Museum is located in the City Hall building where Bradford’s main police station, court and chief constable’s office was, from 1873-1974. Visitors have been spooked by tales of spirits, not least ‘Chains Charlie’, a burglar held in one of the cells and executed for murder in 1888. Charlie is said to haunt the cells.
Other ghosts include James Berry, a constable who became a hangman in the 1880s and hanged 130 people over 10 years. Above the cells is the Victorian courtroom, where visitors have reported cold spots, electrical disturbances, mechanical objects suddenly turning on, banging on walls, unexplained voices in empty spaces and foul smells.
On October 13, 1905 famous Shakespearean actor Sir Henry Irving dropped dead at Bradford’s Midland Hotel following his performance at the Theatre Royal – where his character had died on stage. As he collapsed on the hotel staircase Sir Henry was attended by his manager Bram Stoker, better known as the creator of Dracula.
Built in 1643, Paper Hall on Barkerend Road is thought to be the oldest surviving domestic building in Bradford. It is said to be haunted by distinctive footsteps walking up and down steps, possibly belonging to the ‘peg-leg’ of an old admiral supposedly once killed there.
It’s not just bricks and mortar that hold spirits… Dave Welbourne, retired Head of History at Benton Park School in Rawdon, recalls some harrowing encounters on Ilkley Moor: “The moors were once inhabited by prehistoric communities, as is evident from flint finds, cup and ring markings and hut outlines. Those who claim to have had close encounters with these ancient beings include Nicholas Size, whose macabre story was published in 1934, titled The Haunted Moor.
One evening he was walking over the moors from Bingley to Ilkley. Passing a stark location known as the ‘Place of Horror’, he heard the chilling sound of sobbing and was shocked to see bodies hanging from crosses and broken trees. Within minutes, the ‘hallucination’ faded and he hurried home. A few days later he took a friend to the site, but there was no evidence to suggest the sinister incident had taken place. His friend said there were many tales about the haunted moor, where crosses had been erected close to where the ancient grass track crossed the Keighley Road, as a refuge from supernatural dangers. It was possible Nicholas had witnessed killings carried out by Druids, believed to have taken place on the moors above Baildon and Ilkley.
Nicholas often visited stone circles on the moorland. One June evening he heard voices singing, from a procession of ghostly figures crossing a track, armed with spears, axes and bows. Women hurried among them. Nicholas noticed a second group of men carrying long bundles shoulder high on poles. Nicholas followed and, just before sunrise, the crowd gathered and the chanting stopped; the signal for human sacrifices. Then the gathering vanished, with no sign that anything had happened.”
Says Dave: “Was Nicholas insane, or had he a fertile imagination? Or could it be that these were re-enactments of incidents which once took place around the Roman occupation of Ilkley? Whatever the explanation, he left the area to live in the Lake District, leaving the ghosts of Ilkley Moor to the folk of Ilkley, or the unsuspecting visitors who dare to roam the moors alone at night.”