The Ghost Keeper of York


image The legend of Old Kattie comes from the Yorkshire village of Ruswarp, near Whitby. She lived there in the 18th Century in a little white cottage at the edge of the settlement. Because of her manner, her reputation for casting spells and her intermittent threats, the people of Ruswarp were frightened of the woman. Not only would they not dare to make eye-contact with her, they would even avoid going near her cottage if they could, choosing instead to take a more round about route.

However, one day things started to change when Ruswarp gained a new temporary resident. Abe Rogers was a pedlar who travelled the North Riding of Yorkshire selling his household wares door to door and occasionally at the local markets. One of his specialities was the sale of exotic spices. He was warned about Old Kattie by the villagers several times but rather than adopting their fear himself, he always simply smiled and took little notice.

“You’ll soon change your tune if you ever come across her”, said the village blacksmith.

Sure enough, one cold damp evening, Abe did come across Old Kattie. It was up on the moors above Ruswarp, at a spot where the path was narrow and there was boggy mud on either side. As they approached eachother, seeing that there was an elderly lady wanting to get past, he decided to gingerly step aside for her. However, just as he was about to do so, she shouted: “Out of my way, or I’ll curse thee for a twelvemonth!”. He then knew instantly who this lady must be and decided he was not about to be bullied by some local witch.

“I’ll not step aside for thee, little crone! If owt, it shall be t’other way about!”. There then ensued a fierce battle of words between them and, before long, Kattie became enraged. She was not used to being challenged in this manner. Her face turned to thunder and, to his surprise, she pulled out a sharp knife and made to plunge it into his breast. He was too quick and strong for her though - grabbing her wrist and twisting until she was forced to drop the weapon.

At this point, she let out an unearthly scream, which seemed to make the bracken and gorse bushes on the moor flutter, as if in a strong wind. Abe was then astonished to see several dark figures emerge from the sparse, low foliage - animal-like and of various shapes and sizes. He knew straightaway that they must be her “Familiars”!

He immediately cast the old woman aside into the mud and reached into his pedlar’s bag, pulling out a rarely-used leather bottle. As the eerie Familiars approached him menacingly, he nervously pulled at the bottle stopper to expose the contents. There was not a moment to lose. Closing his eyes, Abe then scattered the contents of the bottle around him, covering the Familiars in a strange, reddish-brown dust.

Almost instantly, each of the Familiars gave out a high-pitched squeal, before running off and disappearing once again into the shadowy moors.

The danger having passed, Abe now looked down on the old witch, who was wallowing in the mud in a most undignified fashion. He reached down to give her a hand up, saying: “Why, thou art covered in mire! I hope thou wilt have learned thy lesson now, old woman”. She took his hand but instead of getting up properly, she deftly took all the weight off her feet and instead pulled him down into the mud beside her! “There! She cackled. Now thou art in the mire an all!”. And so he was!

The Pedlar looked down at himself, then across at the old crone and began to laugh. Before long, they were both laughing helplessly at eachother and at themselves.

It is said that, after this strange introduction, Abe and Old Kattie became friends and that he was the only one who ever dared visit her cottage.

But what was the exotic powder that the Pedlar had used against the Familiars? And who was he, that he might know how to use such a substance? Could he have been, as some have claimed, some kind of Warlock or male witch himself? We may never know - but one thing is certain. Once word got around that Old Kattie had been bested, people weren’t quite so intimidated by her presence and, surprisingly, Kattie herself even became a little less obnoxious than she had been before.