Written by Luke Greensmith
Originally published on February 27th, 2021
This episode is rounding off something of a trilogy centred on places I have lived… We did a Liverpool episode, which is where I am now, and a Lancashire episode as I was born and raised in Ormskirk. For this one, we’re looking at a city I lived in for a couple of years bridging my late teens and turn to 20s.
I went to York St John for University. Not successfully, sadly, I remain a degreeless drop out who’s mostly self taught in my chosen fields. I was a bit adrift for Uni and not especially good at it, I would have been way better off going into work vocation as I eventually gave up on a degree entirely to just go get a job. At the very least I needed some actual life direction at that time to zero in on a degree that would really catch my attention.
That’s in the past though, and for all the lows it’s a welcome past that put me on some important paths as well as letting me live for a while in a city I came to love.
York is one of a selection of cities arguing that it is the most haunted in the country. I’m inclined to believe them, on the provision you narrow the country down to just England so you aren’t competing with Edinburgh and you give Derbyshire the most haunted county of England award. I’m pretty biased though, given how much I love the place. It’s absolutely jam packed with haunted inns to stay in, and it’s certainly a city with a significant amount of history weighing it down. From Roman fort, to a Viking takeover, to the Norman conquest, and through to the modern world York has seen and done a lot. That a lot of which is preserved there, from the walls you can still walk to less savoury remains like plague pits that still have a warning on their little gardens covering them to not dig down.
If you like a little bit of positively everything, York will have something for you. It’s a great city to visit and experience.
SECTION BREAK – Good news and bad news about cats
Here’s a neat detail about York. There are some 2 dozen cat statues scattered around the city, built to ward against bad luck.
That’s the good news. Good luck is good, and historic cat statues doing it are pretty cool if you ask me!
The bad news is that allegedly, anyone who sees every cat statue will be cursed.
There’s not that much stock held in the stories of a curse, though. The cat statues are there to bring luck to the city, and there’s even a cat tour you can take to see all the statues! Feel free to pop into the York Glass shop and pick up a pamphlet to take the tour, or get your own glass lucky cat to take home.
Yet the tour is for 23 statues, and as the stories go there are at least 23 so there may yet be more less commonly known ones hidden around the city… Should you blunder across a cat statue that isn’t on the tour, maybe don’t go see the other 23 in case collecting the full set dumps a psychic backlash on you from pent up warded bad luck?
I’ve not done the cat tour myself yet. Definitely need to put that one on the bucket list and get back to York soon!
SECTION BREAK – A stand out liminal place among many
Quick catch up here, for me as much as anyone else listening.
A liminal place is something like a cross roads, a meeting of two or more places. Some of these inherently feel weird, like an altered reality with an energy uniquely their own. Even something as taken for granted as a train station can feel alive in its own way, definitely feeling weird when emptied out. Plenty of folklore springs up around these liminal places. There’s just something to them which can leave a sense of uniqueness to them.
The shortest street in York is something of a curiosity. The Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate is tiny, not much more in length than the sign of it’s strange name, a tiny slice of nowhere much connecting two streets together.
It’s name is one heck of a thing though.
Sure, the British Isles have no shortage of funny names. It’s what this funny name may mean, and the most common theory is that the name here means “Neither Here Nor There”.
Now, York is an old old city. It’s nothing BUT liminal places, having grown organically across multiple historical ages. Streets from different times criss cross over each over out of a natural glacial unfolding of stones laid out of convenience, but this Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate is the neither here nor there.
Certainly don’t cuss out any fairies while you’re there. In fact, maybe don’t tempt fate in any particular way. Grab a picture, share it to the Ghost Story Guys on social media, then move along to somewhere in reality less perilously thin.
SECTION BREAK – Building over old Roman roads, probably a bad idea.
York is overflowing with haunted houses, it’s absolutely brilliant to explore if you love ghost stories!
We’re talking multiple hauntings per building when you get to the good stuff. Old buildings in York collect phantoms at a rate you normally need to explore historic castles to match.
One great one is the Treasurer’s House.
This is a Grade I listed building that is open to the public for a small fee, or just plain open to members of the National Trust in Britain, and it has its fair share of ghosts. The original owner is supposed to haunt the upstairs, and I see nonspecific mentions of other abovestairs ghosts.
You see, the minor detail of the odd ghost roaming the rooms of the Treasurer’s House is completely outshone by the details of what can be found in the basement.
Room to build inside of York is somewhat limited. It’s a former fort that’s now a city, so space is at a premium. Especially if you’re some rich git who wants a nice big house in the heart of it!
So, come 1419, wanting pride of place near the York Minster Cathedral, the holder of the Office of the Treasurer builds a nice big house for themselves on top of a historic Roman Road.
Skip forwards to the 1950s, and this proves to be about as great an idea as any given person could have warned you.
Harry Martindale, who would go on to become a police officer but at the age of 18 was working as an engineer, was down in the basement helping install central heating in the house as part of a modern refurbishment project. He became a bit distracted from his task though, when a horse drawn cart walked through the wall following the ancient roadway which was now a part of the foundations. Fate, not satisfied with mere ghost horses, then followed the opening act up with a whole column of Roman soldiers going past while poor Harry was stuck up a ladder terrified of coming down. Once the column of soldiers had all disappeared through the opposite wall the young Mr Martindale ran out of that basement like the parade of spectres may change their mind and double back for him.
Now, I don’t know how much this tale has grown in the telling, but as the story now goes the Curator of the Treasurer’s House got in a great one liner. The terrified worker has just fled the basement, bumping into the Curator in the corridor. One look at his face, and the Curator said: “By the look of you, you’ve seen the Romans!”
I hate myself for saying it, but this sounds like something added later to give a little extra oomph down the pub. But you know what? It’s great. In my heart this is exactly how the flight from the basement ended!
This story does come with some other details that have fascinated listeners across the years. Not the fun bits, like bumping into a curator who takes basement Roman lemures so casually, but the details in what the Romans looked like.
Harry, at the time, was a teen who had left school and gone into a trade. The 50s was very pre-Internet, so what he described wasn’t something he looked up in a hurry for some authenticity. Harry didn’t describe the iconic legionnaires. He described tired looking soldier with round shields, lances, and short swords, giving extra details down to the open top sandals they were wearing. This level of specific detail at the time actually got him ridiculed, as everyone knew Romans used big rectangular shields. Far from being a way of selling the story it actually got him dismissed, until after some time historians followed up on the description only to find that the Sixth Legion was withdrawn from around the 4th Century to be replaced with soldiers using round shields like Harry described.
This level of accurate detail has given this story a lot of weight over the years, especially as these details resulted in initial scepticism, making it one of the most famous hauntings in York that tourists still head down into the basement looking for new signs of.
SECTION BREAK – A Future horror movie waiting to happen
We’re a little bit outside of York in wider Yorkshire for this one, as it had a unique twist to it so we’re out on the moors to look at Saltersgate Inn.
Of the assorted haunted inn’s, one which truly stood out was an inn which wasn’t haunted as it had a ritual to hold a curse at bay. Among a sea of hauntings, it’s pretty interesting to find one that has a reason it isn’t haunted!
Some 300 years ago, the Saltersgate was notorious for being a smuggler’s den during hard times. Notorious to the point everyone knew to ask no questions and keep your nose out of their business. That is until an inspector thought this would be an easy win with such an open secret locally.
So off he goes and short story even shorter, dead inspector. They didn’t stand a chance.
The landlord then freaked out. Smuggling was all well and good, but murdering the Crown’s inspectors is how you get the army down on your head. So he came up with a plan.
They dug up the hearth, and crammed the body under where the fire would burn. From that day, the landlord insisted the fire must never go out, as with a raging fire above it there was little chance of anyone poking around and finding the body.
So now you have two things.
A fire that was tended for hundreds of years, and some poor bugger trapped below it. Long after the guilty parties died of old age (the fire plan worked, by the way), it then became an ongoing tradition along with an ongoing fear. The owners and the locals became sure that should that fire go out, the spirit of the wronged inspector would rise and raise absolute chaos in retaliation for their unfair death followed by being trapped in an unsanctified grave, never having been returned to their family.
I named this section a future horror movie, and here’s the thing. It’s not the story of the smugglers and the fire which must never go out.
The fire HAS gone out. The inn is closed. And planning permission has been put in to knock it down and put 13 holiday homes on top of it.
13, of any given number to try and build on top of a cursed spot!
Honestly, it’s like a demonologist is actively trying at this point.
That there is your future horror movie waiting to happen.
SECTION BREAK – Contender for York’s most haunted pub
Let’s make this very clear, if somewhere is claiming to be York’s most haunted pub then it’s default going for the crown as England’s most haunted. There’s a few competing for this, but I wanted to share a pub and inn I remember pretty well from being out and about.
The Golden Fleece.
This pub absolutely leans into this reputation as a haunted pub, including such fun touches as having a plastic skeleton sat at the bar and other year round Halloween decorations, but even if you took these out it just has a perfect Olde Timey Inn aesthetic even without playing to a spooky history. There’s plenty of memorable pubs and bars around York, plenty more nondescript ones, but there’s a great look and atmosphere to The Golden Fleece.
Looking just at the haunted claims for now, The Golden Fleece doesn’t have one stand out tale so much as it is poltergeist central. Phantom footsteps, jangling keys, tapping on the walls, pub fixtures moving around on their own, and the occasional ice cold spectral hand that something mischievous likes placing on the back of patrons. And all of these are just fact of life occurrences. If you’re a regular or you work here, it’s going to happen just because this is what happens here.
The assorted goings on at The Golden Fleece are notorious among the ghost hunting community because while it’s nothing over the top spectacular, the spooks at this venue aren’t shy. Going in there with recording equipment will generally get results. One group of investigators picked up EVP of what sounded like a little girl saying “now I’ll show you” just ahead of tapping in the walls starting up.
As with other haunted pubs around York, there’s still rare (only not rare enough for some) sightings of apparitions to be had. One Eyed Jack, a patron who hasn’t let a little thing like dying keep him from visiting his favourite bar. A former landlady can be found roaming the stairs. Then, of the four haunted rooms you can stay in overnight, the one renowned as the most haunted among the four can sometimes still be visited by the RAF airman who took a tragic tumble out of the window…
There ARE some pretty freaky photos out there to go look up online, too. One definitely looks like a Shadow Person behind the bar. That’s a tad worrying. Give me regular ghosts, even a whole column of Roman Soldiers, over a Shadow Person. Shadow People phenomena are notorious dicks. Consider this suspect number one for the unwelcome ice cold touches on people’s backs.
That being said, I still definitely want to stay here some time soon. Hell, I absolutely plan to have a haunted inn tour here when I get the chance!
That’s all for this episode. York, or at least wider Yorkshire, may yet end up a theme episode for the main show, I’ll see how deep a dive I can do for the region in my regular ongoing research. It’s certainly haunted enough! Once I finally get to York on a haunted Inn tour I’ll grab some books while I’m over there, we’ll see how we go.
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Goodbye for now.