There’s a taste for ghost stories at Christmas and during the winter, a tradition dating back to Victorian days when Charles Dickens published A Christmas Carol, in which miser Ebeneezer Scrooge is visited by three spirits.
Yorkshire abounds in ghost stories, with York of course, the undisputed most haunted city in Europe. I have hunted for a handful of the best spooky yarns. This time I am focussing on a couple of stories from Leeds.
Two Leeds Winter Ghost Stories
The Railway Ghost
A pre-Victorian story dating from December, 1821, describes how one man met with a horrible fate while walking along the Middleton Railway train tracks in Leeds. Due to terrible sleet, an approaching train’s driver’s view was blocked, preventing him from spotting the man. He hit the unfortanate young man head-on, dragging him beneath the moving carriages.
The dead man left behind a wife and children who subsequently became inmates of the local poor-house, unable to feed and clothe themselves. Many sightings have since been reported, on the line, of a male figure wearing a heavy coat, trying to see where he is going, as if in heavy rain.
Skull & Bones
An old Leeds pub known as the Crown and Fleece is the setting for another tragic wintry ghost tale. In 1800s Leeds, the city received unwelcome visitors – the press gang on the lookout for men they could bully into joining the army.
Two men drinking in the Crown and Fleece pub were attacked and bundled away and locked in a hayloft overnight. Next morning, on unlocking the door, the pressmen found an empty hayloft. After several days had passed, the stench from the hay revealed two decaying corpses. The poor, frightened men had suffocated under the hay in an attempt to keep out the cold.
The Crown’s landlord arranged for a stone to be carved with the image of two skulls to remember them by – so one account tells us – but another claims the skulls were placed on display as a warning to others who refused to enlist!
The pub became known as Skull and Stones Yard where it was said the ghosts often put in an appearance. The skulls were on display until 1974 but the pub itself closed in the 1930s. Ever-changing businesses have replaced it on Crown Street in Leeds…and perhaps the spirits too have moved on….