Is there another place? A place that we go after life?
The mystery of what goes on after we die has long puzzled, worried and consumed a person since time began and we’re still obsessed with meeting our maker even more today. But what lies beyond the grave has been a topic of interest for coffin chasers and Halloween enthusiasts for years and in a town named the “City of Ghosts”, many come to find their own supernatural answers in our home town.
Digging up the huge stories of wandering Roman armies, vagrant women, lost children, angry Monks and even the odd feline spectre has brought its own fan club of spirit worshipers and those here, in Garrow Hill, have had their own experiences of weird Olde Yorke.
On a cold and foggy winters night, while out walking his dog on a dark December evening, there is a tale of a pounding horse approaching from deep in the mist.
The Knavesmire is a large open area and home to York’s racecourse. It lies along the A64 road from York to Leeds, and is locally referred to as Tadcaster Road. At the site of Tyburn is a former Gallows, that sits towards the bottom end of the course. As a lesson to ward off potential criminals that their devious actions come with a consequence, most victims of execution were hung by the roadside for passing travellers to witness; maybe including Dick Turpin who was hung here.
Those energies of life have to be absorbed somewhere and perhaps those that don’t, are left in a limbo of purgatory.
Upon that cold and wintry night, there was a presence that was obviously not just an illegal horse riding in the dark but something else.
As PG Branton states, “I was listening to my brother in law who was talking about walking our family pet as a favour. He told us he had gone to the Knavesmire, as it was close to our house and was road lit by street lights. He had approached from the city centre end and began walking, initially, across little Knavesmire, crossing the racecourse road to enter the larger part, towards where Tyburn was situated. The night was bitter, dark and eerily misty. He recalls remaining close to the road barrier for light, just inside the tree line, approximately only 10 – 15 feet from the road”.
“It was quiet, no one else he could make out was on there. He remembers walking to the racecourse buildings and had turned around to begin walking back. Roughly halfway down, he remembers he could hear in the distance voices and breathing, of someone running perhaps. Thinking nothing of it, as much as someone else was out there in the mist and dark, he carried on. He noticed though that the noise of feet pounding the ground wasn’t of people but was animal and getting louder. He began to feel spooked and upped the speed of his walk, looking over his shoulder now and again to check. The noise grew louder still and it was now unmistakably a horse or two and they were moving at pace. He said, “I remember stopping at this point, turning into the dark mist and straining my eyes to see”. He doesn’t quite remember the details of what happen next, maybe the shock or the fright has blurred the memory. He did say that the outline of what seemed to be a giant black horse, ridden by a hooded figure was coming right for him. He still remembers how he could feel the atmosphere change, he could hear the horses breath, the sound of leather creaking and the movement of a rider directing its beast; Saying, “it came straight for me”. He turned in panic and almost eyes closed waited for impact, but instead the animal and rider flew straight by and into the mist again. “I don’t remember how it started it was quick and very surreal, it was massive and very imposing. I was scared but I was sure no one else was there”. Although he didn’t look directly at the horse or the rider, he noticed that they were not dressed in clothing that we would today”.
So what was this experience? I don’t believe it was an illegal ride, this was sometimes done on weekend days, practising, but this was outlawed due to health and safety concerns, and was certainly not done during the dark. Was it a ghost of a highway man escaping the law, or perhaps that of a convicted horse thief and murderer? Was this then perhaps the legend, Dick Turpin?
York has had a violent past and indeed seen a lot of twisted and cruel history. Its no wonder that this ancient city is proud of its ghoulish moniker, the stories and urban legends keep the place alive!! (And dead!)
Many stories from York are drafted from the most sinister and evil of events. As ghosts, those persecuted, murdered, executed, abandoned or hunted have probably still got their wrongs to right. Is this the remains of an injustice that cannot be put to bed, forever a spiritual cliche of waiting for vengeance?
Should we believe them then? Do we have any proof? Well, maybe. There is no smoke without fire, right?
In the village of Bishopthorpe, that lies just south of the city, a village that adjoins the racecourse and situated on the banks of the river, there have been sightings of a headless torso wandering the fields. Back in the eighteenth century, a wealthy women was murdered for her money and the body hidden nearby. By the time she was found the body was in an advanced state of decay and the head had become detached. Was it removed during the violent episode, as a trophy or a sick punishment? Whatever happened, maybe the travelling ghost horse & carriage and headless rider story in the same area is fabricated from the account of the more believable story of a heinous murder. Are the victim, the headless carriage driver and the highwayman on the racecourse all connected? Are they all part of the same crime? They are all close geographically to each other. Coincidence?
In the centre of York is Mad Alice. A well known visitor to the streets of York. Namely using her old dwellings in and around the Lund Court area, she was beaten relentlessly by her husband until she managed to attack and kill him. She was, as expected at the time, executed for her crime. Some though, suspect she was perhaps executed for witchcraft, due to the poisoning of her torturer. The details are a bit sketchy at best and looking at recordings of an execution at York castle none are specific. It is unclear if Alice poisoned her husband or other but like all legends, the mystery makes the story a bit more box office. She still remains a presence around her old home and if you ever wanted to test the theory of Mad Alice, its possible to wait around on a quiet and dimly lit evening to see her face at the window.
We all want to believe in tall stories, but those particularly hard to stomach concern the cruelty to children, so often the victim and often the ghost. There are many who have witnessed a young girl who is said to appear in an upstairs window, in a house close to York’s Minster. It is said a child started showing symptoms during the Black Plague, so her parents locked her in her room and fled. Some say the girl is still awaiting her parents’ return.
Most chillingly is the tale of Bedern, a narrow alleyway off of Goodramgate. It is thought to be haunted by the ghosts of long dead children. In the early nineteenth century it was the site of York Industrial Ragged school, an institution for orphans and children from impoverished families.
The establishment was run for nearly a decade by a violent drunk. Local gossip rumoured that he had beaten more than one child to death and hidden the bodies in a cupboard in his room. It is said that their restless spirits can still be heard here – and you might feel the cold hand of a child clinging to yours. After living in the city for many years, I can still remember school trips to the back of Goodramgate, travelling to the Merchant Taylors Hall probably, and can remember my old school teacher stopping us in the street at Bedern to recall the story to us; perhaps a way to keep us inline for the day by scarring the shit out of us!
As any of you who have visited know, there are hundreds of locations, probably hundreds of sightings and hundreds of tales of visions and happenings. The supernatural world will not give up its secrets easily. What we don’t know the answer to spurs us to obsess over, a thirst that cannot be quenched.
So you think its all a bit far fetched? There are alway the cynics that believe it’s just propaganda, a money spinning practise that keeps the tourism factory machine turning in the city. Yeah, that’s probably some bit true, and even though those sights have not been physical to most, it doesn’t mean they don’t exist!! Can a strangers account be any less believable to a relatives, a friends or a professionals?
Remaining an unbiased neutral since ’76; just don’t mention Number 35 Stonegate!
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