The Haunting of York

Hello everyone, welcome to LukeLore. A quick deep dive into a folklore topic, where I share some of the stories from around the world that have piqued my interest. This episode is the beginning of a 3 part mini series in LukeLore, where I explore the three locations each insisting that they are the Most Haunted parts of Britain. The contenders are… York and Derby in England, and Edinburgh in Scotland. I can’t currently pick an overall winner. I simply can’t, or at least not without years more research to go. There is a LOT to unpack just in one of these locations. But each of the three I feel can be singled out as a winner within their own category as such, something I’ve actually done on a previous episode but I’m not going to repeat each one just yet. After we’ve done all three I will get you, the audience, to vote on who you think gets the title of overall winner, but I’m going to focus on letting each speak for themselves. As such, we will start with The Most Haunted Single City of England. The podcast, like myself so recently as a miniature holiday, is returning to York. SECTION BREAK – The Mad Maid of the Dean Court Hotel When I took my mini vacation to York in August we managed to stay one night at the Dean Court Hotel. I would say the main selling point here was the four star accommodation within a beautiful building right in the heart of York, and I can definitely recommend it for that, but what I was looking for was one of the many haunted Inns of York. I sadly didn’t encounter anything but a great hotel, devastating I know, but they have themselves a rather infamous spook roaming the corridors on top of multiple smaller documented encounters. The site itself is prime paranormal real estate. It’s built on the grounds of a Roman Fort and used to be multiple separate homes for clergy of the nearby York Minster before it was repurposed and converted into one big building, ultimately becoming the Dean Court Hotel as we know it in 1993 after a long conversion journey beginning in 1969. Perhaps not unusual for a former Roman Fort, and certainly not for York as I covered on the previous episode, there have been sightings of a Roman Soldier haunting the Hotel. Room 25 is supposed to have an unnerving habit of guests getting a leg pulled on, to the point of some unseen thing dragging at least on unfortunate tourist completely out of bed, in the immediate run up to 3am. Room 25 isn’t even the unfriendliest room you can land in, given that Room 36 has a reputation for a worryingly violent spirit. Guests have reported temperature drops with which can follow items being thrown around, doors slammed, and cold hands pressing down on their chest leading to shortness of breath. I’ll take the short sharp done and gone shock of being yeeted out of bed over night long malice, thanks. Ghost hunters claim to spotted an ex-army ghost chilling in a bath chair, as well as reporting having spoken to a couple of ghosts called Dorothy and Annie, although I do have a sneaking suspicion ghost boxes are powered more by excessive coffee than actual phenomena so I’ll leave this one up in the air pending repeatable results. But the star spirit of the Dean Court Hotel is the Mad Maid. The pleasant surprise here is that this is no shrieking insane wretched phantom, this is Mad as in Angry. The maid has been spotted by multiple staff and customers starting in 2007 when a full refurbishment was completed, leading to speculation the building works disturbed the spirit who continues to resent this through to today. The Mad Maid rushes about the place with an expression of vile temper, whether she hates the fact she’s stuck still doing her job after death or else is just annoyed the living keep making messes is not clear. Mediums claiming to have contacted the Mad Maid say that she used to haunt the guest house next door to the Dean Gate Hotel and when that got absorbed into the wider building she moved into the much bigger combined area, especially basement level corridors. The extra duties she has taken on may be why she’s so short tempered with the living mucking everything up day in and day out. SECTION BREAK – The Black Dog of the Shambles It should be no surprise to long term listeners that I love the assorted Black Dogs of the British Isles, and any other similar folklore worldwide. Any new listeners joining us now, I highly recommend hopping back to Episode 3: Black Dogs when you get the chance. They do appear in other episodes too, especially British location based episodes, as I’m always on the look out for more Black Dog folklore. Which leads us to this real fun one! The Barguest of York. I’m pretty sure I covered the Barguest in another episode, maybe the Lancashire one? Lancashire and Yorkshire share a lot of folklore, a fact which causes arguments at times as the two counties do not much like sharing anything (See The War of the Roses for more, it’s that big a thing stretching back across a long and bitter history). But York’s Black Dog activity is exceptionally strange, as it’s rare to see a Black Dog inside of a city at all. They tend to haunt remote roads, especially crossroads, and this Barguest seems to have a particular fondness of a single thin straight road smack bang in the middle of civilisation. This could well be down to ancient pathways, but it could also be a love of the Shambles as the Shambles is very easy to love! It’s an old part of the city cramped tightly together made of traditional smaller buildings, and it is absolutely beautiful being filled with strange and wonderful shops leading to a whole lot more of the interesting parts of York in every direction. So while this black Dog appears to be a citywide prowler of all the old streets, the connection it has to The Shambles is understandable. It instantly feels magical, like an impossible fantasy road taking a short cut through the industrial world. A feeling which may have a glimmer of a deeper truth to it, given the strange inhabitant you can meet after night has fallen… The Barguest of the city is supposed to get all about the place, making use of its fabled shape changing abilities to mess with people after dark. It has also somewhat adorably got historic sightings doggy paddling along flooded streets, either not being stopped by the regular flood risk of certain parts of the city or else outright enjoying the disaster areas being itself an omen of misfortune. (I like to think it’s just having a little fun). One famous story is of it bothering a guard in 1686, while over at Clifford’s Tower and this bit of mischief is a doozy well worth the retelling. One night on watch a loud banging noise startled the guard, who went down from the tower to investigate. Upon reaching the courtyard, a strange scroll came through from under the door… This would be weird enough, but the scroll then transformed into a black coloured monkey which then proceeds to go bananas messing with the understandably startled guard. Quite rightly yelling for help, the groundskeeper comes to see what is going on to find that the monkey has transformed into a turkey, which then promptly turns back into a scroll before zipping back out under the door. This was attributed to the Barguest thanks to it’s nature as a chaotic shape changer, and let’s face it there isn’t that many suspects for this brand of mayhem. The business at Number 1 of The Shambles is a gift shop called The Barguest, having taken the name since it was such a significant part of local folklore and they are the first shop at the top of the street. I had a chat with the lady running the shop when I was there, they say they haven’t yet seen the Barguest themselves but watch out none the less, since letting it follow you home is known to be bad luck. To encounter the Barguest at random does not in and of itself appear to be the bad omen it otherwise is encountering one of these Black Dogs out in the countryside, but if it should follow you to your home disaster is set to befall the household. If a suspicious yet otherwise friendly Giant Black dog, warning signs including transforming into a monkey, should start following you? Maybe chill outside with it until it wanders off or otherwise disappears. You may need to do this all the way through to dawn, but it will be worth the caution. Plus, you might get to play with a chaos incarnate monkey for a while. SECTION BREAK – A Good Luck Ghost There are a few grey ladies around York, whether this is a coincidence or spectral fashion statement remains up for debate. But there’s one specific Grey Lady that people actively hope to see, and that’s the Grey Lady of The Theatre Royal. The theatre was originally built on the ruins of St Leonard’s Hospital, which in the 12th century held the honour of being the largest medieval hospital in all of Europe. The founding of the theatre in the 1700s mostly ended that legacy. Parts of the original building yet remain, however. There’s a Roman well beneath the stage still, and original parts of the crypt can still be seen as a part of the Keregan Room. All of which screams haunted, and it does indeed get slightly worse from these historic foundations. This particular grey lady is commonly held to be the ghost of a young apprentice nun who dallied with a nobleman while working in the hospice, something which led to her being bricked up in a room while still alive to perish from thirst. Dying in the dark, cold and alone, is bad enough. But further to this I can’t help but feel the supposedly romantic angle would more likely be horny nobleman led, and she just copped the punishment for his potential scandal. Space being at a premium in York, the room she was bricked up in to kill her is now a dressing room. Such minor inconveniences as “atrocities” and “corpses lying about the place” cannot stop show business, and now the former execution room comes with a reputation for being colder than the rest of the building along with a frequent sense of being watched while you are in there alone. Honestly, all things considered we’re probably lucky that Roman well doesn’t open up to a circle of hell. But there’s a happier twist to all of this. Across the years the grey lady has been spotted watching the shows, and is considered good luck if someone should spy her enjoying a show. She portents a successful box office run, and performers more interested in healthy ticket sales than avoiding a phantom from beyond the grave will try to actively search her out as they rehearse. Being such an obviously cursed place on paper, it should come as no surprise the grey lady of the theatre royal isn’t the only spook to be had. In a nod to the classics, there can be spectral organ music with no identifiable source at random times. There’s also one other noteworthy personality of a shade on the grounds, an actor who died in a duel on Blake Street. He isn’t seen very often, but the first time he was seen caused a stir. On the very same day he died the rest of the performers decided that the show must go on, and the recently deceased actor clearly agreed as he was spotted stumbling around backstage that evening despite the minor drawback of now being too dead to take the stage. He can still be seen repeating this action of turning up mortally late for his turn in the spotlight, but nothing so regularly as the grey lady’s presence being felt. SECTION BREAK – A haunted pub with a ghost cat We’re doing a haunted British Isles location, so it’s time for the obligatory haunted pub entry! As a double barrel bonus to the last York episode, we get more paranormal cat activity too. This is at the Snickleway Inn, a Snickleway being a word for small winding roads, the Inn dates back in some form as far back as it’s original construction on or around the year 1500. It’s a charming pub with interesting fittings that suit it’s Snickelway name complete with a beer garden and quite the collection of glowing reviews. But like most of the long standing inns of York it has managed to collect a few ghosts. The cellar comes with a cranky poltergeist known to chuck spanners at staff, the spirit of a young girl tragically killed in an accident can be spotted running through the building, and in one room a young man bullied for his physical defects continues to look down from a window to the streets below long after hanging himself. The star ghost here though is Mrs Tulliver, who when she is seen it is always with the ghost of her pet cat keeping her company from beyond the grave. For those who want to know, which is probably most of you, the ghost cat is called Seamus. One thing really stands out as special at the Snickleway Inn though, moreso even than Seamus the ghost cat. There’s a deceptively terrifying manifestation here, that being the mysterious scent of lavender which can fill rooms of the pub. At a glance, or that is to say at a sniff, this isn’t so bad. That is, until you dig into why such a distinctive scent may turn up in a haunting. Lavender has a worrying historic significance: It was the flower used to mask the smell of bubonic plague. Ripe to burst pustoles and the terror of rotting alive struck York twice in its history: 1604 and then again in 1631. What seems to be a simple sweet smell has skincrawling implications under the right circumstances. This is very much one of those times. You can completely miss this implication and just enjoy the ghost of the flowers past, but it frankly makes my skin crawl to think out what this may be connected to. SECTION BREAK That’s all for this episode. This was episode one of the Most Haunted of the UK, with The Most Haunted Single City of England. We have Derby and Edinburgh yet to go, with their individual claims and areas in which I do believe they have a winning stake for most haunted. The Halloween special will be an intermission between the 2nd and 3rd parts, but hopefully that’s understandable given the holiday at hand. The first LukeLore episode taking on York was Episode 25: The Cursed Cats of York. (I still have yet to do the cat tour, I shall be returning again hopefully in 2022!)