Or, Explore Britain’s Most Haunted City
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York: Ghost Tales From The Most Haunted City in Europe
Written by Hannah Osborne in August 2014
York has a lot of ghosts. In 2002, the International Ghost Research Foundation said it was the most haunted city in Europe, with 504 hauntings within the confines of the ancient walls.
Founded by the Romans in 71AD, the city’s violent and volatile history – including Viking invasions, the Norman Conquest and the Civil War – makes its ghostly legacy easy to understand.
The Minster, which stands towering over the city, is said to be haunted by Seamus the dog, whose barks echo through the halls at night. Legend has it that Seamus and his stonemason master worked on the Minster when it was being built. Other workers did not like the pair so one night decided to brick Seamus in behind a wall. With his master unable to find him, Seamus died alone terrified in the darkness, his barks never answered.
In one of the houses behind the Minster, another ghost wanders the upper floors. A family that had moved into the house quickly became aware of a strange presence. A crying sound would come from the children’s bedroom upstairs and people who entered would be overcome with feelings of sadness and regret.
The girl had lived in the house in the late 14th century. Just six years old, her parents had died from the Black Death in the family home. Fearing she too had the disease, the child was locked in with her parents’ bodies by locals. However, she was not infected and after the doors and windows were boarded up, she slowly starved to death all alone.
Rachel Lacy, a paranormal historian from York worked in the Haunted House, on Stonegate, before it closed down just a few days ago. As a paranormal historian, she used to lead ghost tours of York and has researched ghost stories from the city for many years.
Explaining why York was so haunted, she said that before the Romans arrived about 2,000 years ago, there were early tribes that had kept the land as sacred ground. “Then the Romans came and built a great city on sacred site. Maybe they disturbed something much earlier,” she said.
While working in the Golden Fleece, one of York’s most haunted pubs, Lacy said she and many other members of staff saw ghosts or experienced paranormal activity. “The Fleece is weirder than anywhere I’ve ever worked. I’ve heard a lot of stories from different people. I saw things there that I’ve never seen anywhere else.”
Staff members told stories of seeing their colleagues walking through rooms only to later discover they weren’t there or had only just arrived. People heard furniture being moved around when alone in the pub, while others heard their names being called.
Discussing her favourite ghost tale from York, Lacy said she had personally interviewed Harry Martindale, whose story about the Roman soldiers walking on their knees is one of the city’s most legendary.
Martindale had been working at the Treasurers House where a Roman road had been discovered in a cellar. He went down on a broken ladder and began work. However, as he came to the end of his shift he heard music coming from the wall he was leaning on. He fell down and scrambled into a corner, when he saw Roman soldiers emerge from the wall and march down the road. He could only see to their knees – however, when they walked over the hole to the Roman road, he could see their full legs. He could hear them talking, but could not work out what they were saying.
“Now I could see them exactly as I can see you now, they weren’t no wisp of smoke, they weren’t whirly, you know, the atmosphere didn’t change, they were human beings as came out of the wall except they were dressed as roman soldiers,” he said.
Martindale’s story gained legitimacy after describing several aspects about the Roman soldiers’ clothing that he would not have known at the time, including how they laced their sandals, their tunics and their shields.
Lacy said that although a number of popular ghost stories in York have been corrupted over time, there was a great deal of evidence and sightings to support the city’s ghostly reputation. The Haunted House has now been bought by a property development group which plans to refurbish and rent out the house.
She said that after Haunted House closes, they will be working to purge the property of ghosts through rituals, including the spirit of a girl cursed by her own mother in York Minster. The girl had been betrothed to a boy living next door. However, she was caught sneaking out from his house and the moral police dragged them to court.
After being questioned, the pair supplied contadictory stories and she was cursed. She ended up marrying a different man who turned out to be “incredibly violent”. After trying to flee, he caught up with her during an Easter Parade and beat her so severely doctors believed she would die. However, her ultimate end remains a mystery. “The court records stop before the story ends, so either moneychanged hands to make it go away, or the documents were lost. But the last documents with the husband’s name showed he had married another woman, so she either died or he killed her,” Lacy said.
“I can’t think of a better reason why she would haunt the house.”