Ghost Lore of Derbyshire
(based on a Zoom talk)
Are places haunted because of spirits? Or are spirits a product of the energy of place? These are important and relevant questions to ask when seeking to make sense of the paranormal. There might indeed be a third possibility, however: a kind of synergy between the two, which means that the first two possibilities are not mutually exclusive. Combine the occurrence of human tragedy with the soul-energy, or Spirit of Place, whether a geographical locality or a building, and it will readily be seen how one may feed the other. The result, of course, is that a haunting becomes established.
In 1975, the writer Joan Forman visited Haddon Hall, a short distance west of Bakewell. Having entered the courtyard, she turned to look toward the steps leading up to the main entrance to the hall. Suddenly, she had a vivid impression of four children playing there together: two boys and two girls. The eldest child – a girl about nine-years-old – had her back to Miss Forman. The girl was wearing a grey-green dress and a lace cap with upturned points. When the girl turned around, Miss Forman was expecting to see a very pretty face, but was surprised to see a rather plain face instead. The girl’s face was broad, with a small nose and she had a very wide jawline. Without any warning, the vision suddenly vanished. Later research uncovered a portrait of an adult lady matching exactly the same features as the child in the vision. The portrait was of Lady Grace Manners, known to be a very pleasant, though rather plain-looking woman. The incident is recorded in Joan Forman's book The Mask of Time, that she later published on timeslips. Timeslips are considered rather ghostly because one can suddenly tune into scenes from the distant past, which temporarily become a part of one’s present-day experience. It seems that time is not linear, as in yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
The Winnats Pass
The Winnats Pass near Castleton has a strange, almost foreboding, atmosphere – even on a bright and sunny day. Is it haunted by the ghosts of an eloping couple who were murdered for their money one dark night by four ruthless scoundrels lying in wait? Some have questioned the story, suggesting that the facts have been sacrificed on the altar of folklore and fancy. On the other hand, it has also been postulated that the story is based on historical events, which pre-date the popular tale known today. The legend is as follows: In 1785, a Methodist minister by the name of Thomas Hanby is said to have published the first written version of the Winnats Pass murders, which appeared in a Methodist Church periodical of the day, called Arminian Magazine.
The article asserted that one James Ashton, of Castleton, made a deathbed confession of murdering and robbing a young couple and also identified four other local men as accomplices. All the culprits are said to have suffered misfortune as a consequence of their crimes: one fell off a cliff near the murder scene, another hanged himself, another was killed by a falling rock, and one went completely mad. James Ashton said that his share of the money stolen from the murdered victims was used to buy horses, which all died prematurely. One theory is that the Methodist minister drew inspiration for his article from oral tradition that the Winnats Pass and the surrounding area had a long history of dastardly deeds. Hanby’s account, however, may have been sensationalised with the intention of teaching his congregation that if a wrongdoer should succeed in evading human justice, God’s justice shall not be evaded.
A cavern in the Winnats Pass is known as the Suicide Cave, where the bodies of a young man and woman were found one evening in 1927. The victims of the tragedy were identified as Harry Fallows and 17-year-old Marjorie Coe Stewart, both from Manchester. One potholing website dismisses the suicides as fiction – they probably would say that, wouldn’t they – despite a book having been written about the suicides and the case widely reported in the newspapers at the time. Another allegedly haunted area a mile or so south west of the Winnats, is Eldon Hole. Even in the 18th century, Eldon Hole had a long tradition as a place of murder because bodies could easily be disposed of in the chasm, never to be found again. Riderless horses were often discovered grazing there and many were taken to Chatsworth. Many years ago, one condemned man on the gallows confessed to throwing his murdered victim into Eldon Hole, and in more recent times, a woman fell to her death when trying to keep her dog away from the edge of the gaping chasm.
Not far from the Winnats, a 19-year-old woman disappeared in 1994 after getting into a car in Sheffield, where she had been plying her trade as a lady of the night. Her naked body was found by a National Park warden a week later buried in a shallow grave under some rocks below the slopes of Mam Tor. The unfortunate woman had head injuries and had been strangled. But sadly, like the alleged 18th century murders, justice has not yet been delivered – at least, not justice in the court of humans – for no one has yet been charged with the young woman’s murder. The aforementioned Methodist minister, if he were around today, would reassure us that the culprit will not escape God’s Justice. And so, another restless spirit haunts the area. More recently, in 2014, the Winnats Pass saw yet another tragedy when a 22-year-old student from Oughtibridge near Sheffield, was killed after losing control of her bicycle. The bicycle quickly gained a speed of 40mph as it careered down the Pass. It appears that in an attempt to avoid colliding with pedestrians or coming to grief on the cattle-grid adjacent to the Speedwell Cavern, the young lady veered to her right, clearly out of panic, and crashed into a dry-stone wall where she died instantly.
The Howden Triangle
The so-called Howden Triangle is an area of 40 square miles, comprising Howden Moor, Bolsterstone Moor and the peat bogs of the Peak District. Over the years, the triangle has become a graveyard for over 300 airmen, both military and civilian. The wreckage of several crashed aircraft still remains on the inhospitable moors where the planes tragically came down. In May 1945, ten days after the end of the Second World War, a six-man crew, members of the Royal Canadian Air Force, took off on a routine training exercise from RAF Linton-on-Ouse in a Lancaster bomber. Unlike other tragic members of the squadron, these airmen had all survived many dangerous sorties over Germany and were eagerly looking forward to flying back to Canada on the 20th of June to be reunited with friends and family. It seems that on this particular routine flight, the pilot of the Lancaster might have become bored, because for some unknown reason, he decided to veer off course and head towards the Derbyshire border; perhaps embarking on a bit of a magical mystery tour. Who knows? Unfortunately, the crew had neglected to ensure that a navigator was on board the plane.
Darkness had fallen by this time. Fortunately, owing to the fact that the wartime blackout restrictions had been lifted, the pilot spotted the lights of Glossop in the distance and headed in that direction, presumably to try and get some bearings. A young boy, by the name of Ken Bancroft, then saw the plane veer off towards South Yorkshire. The Lancaster would have been flying at an altitude of about 1500 feet when it suddenly ploughed into one of the Derbyshire peaks at full throttle (275 mph) and erupted into a ball of flame. All six crewmen died at the scene. That particular tragedy heralded the beginning of many more crashes. Two months later, and about fifty metres from the Lancaster bomber site, another plane crashed, killing all seven crew members aboard. Since those two immediate post-war tragedies, over fifty planes have crashed on the moors. Over the years, numerous sightings of ghostly planes crashing in the area were reported. But needless to say, no tangible evidence of a real plane crash is confirmed on those occasions. As one former airman once put it: “There is a force that governs these moors. You can feel it. Something is going on – and it is very hard to explain what”.
The Magpie Mine
The disused Magpie Mine, located near the village of Sheldon and not far from Ashford-in-the-Water, opened in 1740 for the extraction of lead. Eventually, disputes arose between two rival groups of miners as to which group had the rights to the richest seams of lead in the area and various court cases were frequently waged in an attempt to resolve the issue. In 1833 an explosion took place in the mine and a miner was injured. Sabotage by the rival group was suspected and a campaign of revenge was launched, which often involved lighting fires to smoke out the competition. Needless to say, this dangerous and irresponsible tactic soon resulted in the deaths of three miners from smoke inhalation.The widows of the men who died are said to have pronounced a curse on the Magpie Mine. From that time on, the mine stopped making a profit, despite heavy financial investment. Some of the backers were declared bankrupt. There were also a number of fatal accidents and the mine eventually acquired a reputation of being haunted. In the 1940s, a mysterious figure holding a candle was reported as having been seen; a figure that promptly vanished into thin air when a miner tried to approach it. The mine finally closed in 1954, and today is managed by the Peak District Mining Historical Society – a quiet spot to visit, but with definitely a slight atmosphere of unease pervading the site.
The Infidels’ Cemetery
Heading north towards Monsal Head and a short distance past a farmhouse on the right, known as the Red House, is a clump of trees on the left-hand side of the road, that conceals a disused burial site which was founded in the 1650s and permanently closed in 1904. Only the tip of a couple of gravestones remains barely visible above long grass and undergrowth. None of the tombstones display any reference to God, hence the name the “Infidels’ Cemetery”. Barbara Wadd, the writer of a book entitled Ghost Walks in Derbyshire, claimed that the day after having visited the site, she suffered a nightmare and experienced a ghostly presence sitting on the end of her bed! The site is said to be the haunt of a grey lady, a man in black – and in addition to that, a highly malignant entity. Apparently, the site is believed to be an old Baptist cemetery, which once had a chapel adjoining it. But no trace of the chapel remains. The cemetery is featured in a book entitled The Dead Place, which is part of a series of detective novels by Stephen Booth, set in the Dark Peak.