Winter Ghost Stories

Frozen_PondThe frozen pond in the Palace grounds near to the hauling lane where ghostly figures once terrified the villagers.


Everyone loves a ghost story, especially told in the dark winter months – and our ancestors were no exception.  Apparently, through the centuries, many tales were told concerning a number of ghostly figures that once haunted this very locality and chilled the heart of every villager who stepped out at night.

In the 1890s, a local historian, one Mr. William Camidge – and let it be said, a respectable citizen of York – spent much time talking to residents of the city and surrounding villages.  He wrote up his findings as articles for the Yorkshire Gazette and eventually published a collection in a small book entitled, Ouse Bridge to Naburn Lock.  Mr. Camidge found that ghosts and their wanderings were part of the local folklore of York and beyond.  His attitude was one of scepticism and he treated such stories as nothing more than pure fiction. Despite this, he thought it worth devoting a whole chapter to the spectres that reputedly walked the area around Middlethorpe.  Take them or leave them – this is what he learned.

The Headless Woman

Long years ago, on the hauling lane [tow path] that runs along the river down to Middlethorpe, a lady without a head walked every dark night, to the dismay and terror of many people.  She was invariably clothed in white and the tale told of her death gave effect to her appearance.  It was asserted that the woman walked by the river one summer night and, coming to the hauling lane where a clump of trees had braved the storms of centuries, she was cruelly murdered by decapitation.  In death, bent on pursuing her murderers, she came forth at the witching hours of night, just as the boom of the Minster clock broke upon the still hour of midnight. Headless, but wrapped in a shroud, she wandered to and fro along the river bank and, when wearied with her fruitless toil, she returned to her dusty bed.  Every inhabitant of Middlethorpe and Bishopthorpe could, many years ago, tell of seeing her, and describe her walk, her waiting, and her headless form.

Archbishop Scrope’s Procession

The most veritable ghost was the one supposed to be that of Archbishop Scrope, who walked the road to conduct his own funeral procession.  The Archbishop, it will be remembered, was tried in 1405 at the Palace, under the instruction of Henry IV.  Found guilty of treason, he rode to his execution which took place in a field near Clementhorpe just outside the city.

The most persistent story told of his ghostly appearance was related by a man who made his living as a slaughterman, and by doing odd jobs for the butchers of the city.  This Robert Johnson, accompanied by an apprentice, was sent to a farm beyond Bishopthorpe to fetch some sheep.  As they returned in the darkness, nearing the hauling lane, each suddenly saw a coffin suspended in the air and moving slowly along in the direction of York.  It tilted occasionally, as if borne on the shoulders of men who were thrown out of step by the rugged character of the roadway.  The coffin was covered with a heavy black pall of velvet, fringed with white silk.  Behind it, with measured tread, walked a bishop dressed in fine linen, bearing in his hands a large open book, over which his head was bent; but from his lips, no sound came.  On went the procession, with the steady precision observed in bearing the dead to the grave.

While the men’s sheep kept pace, they would not be driven past the strange sight.  Both man and boy felt as if the power of speech had left them; for the moment, both were paralysed. Perspiration poured from them so that they bore the appearance of having been in the river.  They felt as if the atmosphere was so heavy that it would not permit them to breathe.  The spectral procession continued to move at a leisured pace till it came to the field where the Archbishop was beheaded.  There the vision disappeared.

Robert Johnson and the apprentice made their way home in silence and were put to bed in a state of shock where they remained for several days.   When sufficiently restored, their story was repeated with particular detail and gained universal credence from the fact that many villagers and citizens had experienced like sight and sensation.  The boy forsook his business and went to sea, lest he be compelled to take a similar journey, whilst the man ever after avoided that road at nightfall, but never swerved from declaring his story true.

The Rattling Chains

One night, a man called out of bed the tenants of a small cottage not far from Middlethorpe.  He assured them he had heard and seen a ghost.  Exhausted with fright he sank upon a chair and had to be plied with brandy before he could tell his tale of terror.  When removed to his home two or three hours afterwards, great concern was felt for his life.  In the morning, the story broke amongst the villagers.  They were keen to talk over, not only the sight and sound of that night, but of many a night before when others had been terrified by unearthly noises and strange appearances at the same spot.  [The place in question happened to be the pinfold – not the one we are familiar with, but probably the one, long since demolished, near the turn off for Middlethorpe.]

Later on that day an old Irishman who travelled with a donkey and cart, especially in this neighbourhood, brought the ghost into sad disrepute.  “Every night,” he said, “when my work is done, I feed my donkey in the lanes, and then before going home I lodge him in the old pinfold.  To keep him from running away I fasten his fore feet with a pair of old handcuffs bound together by a piece of chain.  When a strange foot passing by breaks the slumbers of the poor beast, he raises his head and stretches his feet, rattling his chains in the effort – to the dismay of the pedestrian.”

The chronicler, Mr. William Camidge, was quietly confident that this explanation not only got rid of this ghost very satisfactorily, but also provided a similar hypothesis for almost every spectre in the country.  Who can tell?  Once the sun goes down, walking the dark lanes of Bishopthorpe and Middlethorpe will never be quite the same again.  Sleep well!

Snow White Alright!

The latest Ebor Players pantomime Snow White opened last night to a rousing response from the mixed audience. Amateur dramatics this may be, but right from the start this was a production that was as professional as could be.

panto_2008_1Local audiences have come to expect strong performances from the lead actors, and tonight was no exception. The Dame (David Rose) bustled his way to centre stage and took command of the audience, but not before the opening ensemble music and dance routine demonstrated that the cast were out to enjoy themselves too.

Throughout the production the Dame carried along the story – or lack of it – with gusto, ad-libbing her way on and off the stage with aplomb. A solid music hall comic duo with her foil Simple Simon (Tom Davis) developed, to the delight of the audience young and old, as jokes and one-liners whizzed around the newly named Massie Hall. Their slapstick kitchen scene was well contrived with a well sustained radio gag, and even the props behaved themselves!

panto_2008_2As last year the Principal Boy Prince Florian (Bobbie Parrish-Moreton) and Principal Girl Snow White (Georgina Sykes) handled their song and dance routines together really well, and the bad, the very bad, Queen Catrina (Philippa Parish) sulked, pouted and was convincingly vain.

The third pairing that took the eye was that of Reggie Rank (Lisa Thornton) and Phineas File (Tracey Patrick), a couple of unlikely lads with strange accents and a tendency to bling it. They obviously enjoyed their parts and could yet challenge the comic leads for audience appreciation.

panto_2008_3There are two choruses to the production, and the senior one came on and did their bit and even got some lines of their own – well done all. The junior chorus this year had seven new youngsters from the age of seven, and they were very impressive with their confidence from the outset. Their delightful performances, particularly at the beginning of Act 2, got a rousing audience response. There will be some proud families in Bish this week!

Oh, and the dwarfs? They took a while to appear, but did so with fun in their approach and they looked right too. Hi ho silver mining was a great song for them. The minor parts too came on and provided the threads to keep the story going.

panto_2008_4In fact the music throughout was exemplary, with a blend of new and older songs, and some very good snippets of classical themes that set the tone well as scenes started. With even better costumes supplied by Dress Circle in Haxby, excellent scenery, and good lighting and sound effects, the production values were far in advance of what might be expected in a village hall.

This was a first night outing with an audience, and although the action cracked along at a fair pace this will probably adapt to audience reaction, and introduce a bit more light and shade into the plot. Towards the end, the sinister apple and its outcome seemed a bit light and a bit rushed.

Tim Bruce as Director and Chris Higgins as Choreographer are once more to be congratulated on staging such a bold production in limited surroundings. If you have a ticket and can’t go, I suggest you would get a very good price on Ebay for it as anyone would be foolish to give this panto a miss.

Copyright Martin P Dudley

Field 84

Field 84 sounds like something you might find in the planned world of 1984–an area of permitted recreation or set aside for the use of party officials.

Not so of course, for it is a parcel of Parish Council owned land close to the river just south of the camp site and boatyard.

About ten years ago it was planted out by voluntary activity, but inundation and incomplete maintenance have taken their toll, and the land – kept for local people and community groups to use – has become overgrown.

Now the Parish has entered into a deal with York Marine Services Ltd to whom the land has been rented.

Field_84Vegetation has been cleared and a cinder path laid away from the river to the steps up to the playing fields.

And the deal? Four new moorings complete with a timber landing stage have been created, and bank side vegetation cleared. Field 84 is to be maintained as a picnic site for local people, and they may also fish from the river there.

The Parish Council – we – will be getting £1500 a year rental income.


Source: Parish Council Minutes

The Archbishop’s Fall from Grace

On June 7th, 1842, an occurrence befell the aristocratic Archbishop of York, Dr. Edward Harcourt, which may have caused harm to his dignity rather than his person.  The incident was reported with some glee in the local and national press, including that most respected of journals, The Times:

On Tuesday the venerable prelate consecrated the [new] church and churchyard …. at Ardsley, whence his Lordship proceeded, shortly after 2 o’clock, by railway, to the palace at Bishopthorpe, accompanied by the Rev. W. H. Dixon, one of his Grace’s chaplains [and vicar of Bishopthorpe].  Before dinner the Archbishop took a walk in the fields in the vicinity of the palace, accompanied by Mr. Dixon, and as they were crossing an ancient drain, arm in arm, the united weight of the two gentlemen caused the arch of the drain to give way, and they both instantly plunged into the filthy water and mud beneath, almost up to their chests.

Fortunately, Mr. Egerton Harcourt, one of his Grace’s sons, who was walking at a short distance in the rear of the two reverend personages, witnessed the occurrence and immediately hastened to their assistance.  Owing to the perpendicular construction of the drain, their release was a matter of some difficulty; but we are happy to say that it was effected without other injury, either to the venerable prelate or to his chaplain, than what may arise from their sudden and involuntary immersion.

After undergoing the requisite lustration and changing his apparel, his Grace partook of dinner as usual, and was, we understand, not a little jocose upon the consternation which their sudden intrusion into the domains of the frogs and tadpoles must have occasioned the reptiles in the vicinity of the accident.

His Grace consecrated the new church at Clifford on the following day (Wednesday); and we are glad to be able to say that his Grace had not experienced any unpleasant consequences from the accident.

Indeed, the Archbishop’s accident did not appear to have caused him any harm whatsoever.  He lived for a further five years, dying at Bishopthorpe Palace on 5th November 1847 at the age of 90, having served as northern primate for a record 40 years.

The Times, 14 June 1842, p4.

York Herald, 18 June 1842, p2.

Bishopthorpe War Memorial is Listed

War_Memorial_1St. George and the Dragon – a detail on the Bishopthorpe War Memorial.  It was carved by Robert Thompson of Kilburn to a design by Brierley & Rutherford.

IN FEBRUARY, Elaine Pearce, Secretary of State at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, wrote to the vicar of St. Andrew’s Church to inform him that the Bishopthorpe War Memorial had been designated a listed structure.  The reasons for the Grade II listing were given as follows:

  • It forms a poignant reminder of the effects of tragic world events on this local community.
  • It is a well-designed monument by a well-known architect, Walter Brierley.
  • It is made of high-quality materials, executed with excellent craftsmanship.
  • It has group value with the adjacent church, Archbishop’s Palace and other designated buildings.
  • Its proximity to and historic association with the Archbishop of York’s Palace gives it added significance.

The memorial now joins several other listed buildings in the village that enjoy the protection of the law.  These include Bishopthorpe Palace, St. Andrew’s Church, several houses in Chantry Lane and The Ebor.  English Heritage has recently made its database of listed buildings available online.  To view those in the village key  in “Bishopthorpe” on the Heritage Gateway site here.  (The War Memorial has not yet been added to the site.)


A History of the Bishopthorpe Allotments

Allotments_1Today, the popularity of working an allotment in Bishopthorpe means that gardeners first have to join a waiting list.


THE HISTORY OF THE ALLOTMENTS begins with an 18th century Enclosure Act. At this time, allotment meant a piece of land given to a parish or manor official in exchange for rights and holdings held in the open fields system.

In 1760, an enclosure act was drawn up for Bishopthorpe in which 2 acres 1 rood and 2 perches of land on the ings were given freehold to the “Trustees of Bishopthorpe Poor”. We do not know exactly what happened to this land, but on the Ordnance Survey map of 1851, which was surveyed in 1846, there is an area shown as “Field Garden Allotments”.



A section from the 1851 Ordnance Survey map showing the Field Garden Allotments between Copmanthorpe Lane and Appleton Road. These allotments were lost when the railway was built.


This land, like much of the land in Bishopthorpe, was owned by the Archbishop and lies between the present Copmanthorpe Lane and Appleton Road where Bridge Road, Appleton Court and part of The Coppice now stand. This piece was divided into 28 small plots, 26 of which were worked by people who lived in the village at that time, and almost all of whom appear on the census of 1851. These seem to be more like the small plots we think of as allotments today. During the period from 1867 to 1871, this land was bought by the North Eastern Railway for the construction of the East Coast Main railway line to London.

In January 1895, the first meeting of the Bishopthorpe Parish Council took place. The early minutes were concerned with the provision of allotments. Various land owners were contacted to see if they would let land for this purpose. At the March meeting of the Parish Council, the Ecclesiastical Commissioners replied offering several fields including fields 119 and 126 shown on the O. S. map of 1893. These two fields became the present garden allotments.

Allotments_3April 2008: Preparing seed beds at the allotments in Acaster Lane (field 126).


The Parish Council has Allotment Rent Books dating back to 1931. At that time there were 26 garden allotments on Appleton Lane (Road). Each one was half a rood in size (1/8th of an acre or about 26 x 25 yards). These were let at 7s 6d per year (38p).  Field 126 in Acaster Lane was divided into three half-acre plots. In 1934 these were subdivided into 6 plots of various sizes at various rents and in 1950 further subdivided into 14 plots. Today there is not a great demand for large plots so further division has taken place and there are now 35 plots. The current rents are calculated at 0.5p per square foot per year and average at £10.00. The Parish Council pays a rent to the Church Commissioners and runs the allotments as a business, which makes a small profit. In return, it provides some maintenance for allotment holders. In 1994, about half of the Appleton Road site was sold for the building of housing (now The Orchard) and the remaining space made into 27 plots.

Allotment Holders Societies

The first record of one of these societies that we have in Bishopthorpe is in the Robin Hill Collection.  This tells us that in 1948 there was a Bishopthorpe Allotment Holders and Gardeners Association with 153 members. This seems quite a large number considering the size of the village at the time. Members paid 1s 6d (8p) per year. For this, they were able to buy supplies at favourable prices. There were seed potatoes at 3s (15p) per stone, vegetable and flower seeds, hop manure, artificial and organic manures ranging from basic slag at 1s (5p) per stone to fish guano at 5s 9d (32p) a stone; and lime at 1s 6d (8p) for a cwt bag. The secretary was H. Roberts and as well as organising the sales, he arranged several social events. There were film shows and lectures, an outing in 1948 to Sledmere Hall, a social evening with whist (to which members could take ONE lady), a ventriloquist, refreshments and dancing.

But the big events were the Annual Shows. These took place in the Reading Room, now the Village Hall.  One such Show was held on Saturday, September 4, 1948.  There were 34 classes for vegetables, fruit, flowers and preserves and one class for children under 15 years for a posy or display of wild flowers. It must have been quite a formal affair and was opened by Lt. Col. W. F. Tyndale G.M.G., D.S.O., J.P. Each class had three prizes of 3s (15p), 2s (10p), and 1s (5p), and 12 special prizes of 5s (25p) were given also, but the top prize was 10s (50p) for the best potatoes. At the end of the show, the exhibits were sold.

Tom Evans (1919 – 2004)

Allotments_4Tom Evans has left the Bishopthorpe Archive a lot of information about the allotments. He was a very successful allotment holder, winning prizes for his vegetables during the 1960s. He served on the committee of the Bishopthorpe Gardens Guild and was also the Honorary Secretary of the Bishopthorpe Social Club, Allotment and Garden Section.

When the Church Commissioners wanted to terminate the lease for the allotments in 1968, he fought passionately to prevent this.  Tom enlisted help from the National Allotments and Gardens Society Ltd. and the Parish Council to see if two fields on Acaster Lane (126 and 139) could be registered as a common. In the same year, he also formed the Allotments and Garden section of the Bishopthorpe Social Club one aim of which was to, “form a united front to obtain security of tenure for allotment holders”. It is not clear from his notes how successful this action was, but plans to terminate the lease for field 126 seem to have been abandoned, whilst field 139 was built on as part of Keble Park.

However, in 1990 planning permission was sought for the building of houses on the Appleton Road allotments (field 119) as there were many vacant plots. After considerable negotiation between the planners, Church Commissioners and the Parish Council, development was granted on part of the site which is now The Orchard.  It was recommended that the Church Commissioners should transfer ownership of the rest of the site to the Parish Council thus ensuring that the land should remain as allotments “so long as it is required for that purpose or some other form of public space”.

Diana Forrester


Parliamentary Enclosure Act for Bishopthorpe of 1760.

Allotment Rent Books 1931 to 1980 and Parish Council Minutes 1895. (Bishopthorpe Parish Council).

The Robin Hill Collection and Tom Evans Collection. (Bishopthorpe Archives).