The Ghost Keeper of York



Because of York’s strategic position and ancient status as the ‘Capital of the North of England’, many locations in the area around the city have been chosen for important military confrontations throughout history. The bloodiest of these was without doubt the battle of Towton in 1461, during the Wars of the Roses, but the one that is probably the most famous was that of Marston Moor, one of the most decisive battles of the English Civil War.

It is thought by some that such sites are fertile sources of ghostly apparitions, being as they are, places where life is often taken swiftly - perhaps too swiftly even for the victim to realise that they are no longer alive - and where heightened emotions and tension could prove so extreme that they spill over into the after-life.

It comes as no surprise then, that there have been many sightings of the odd and supernatural around York’s battlefield sites. At various locations near Marston Moor, for example, folk do say that they have seen apparitions of soldiers with bloodstained clothing and missing limbs, sometimes on foot but often on horseback, riding through the narrow country lanes which criss-cross the area.

Undoubtedly the most celebrated of these is the ‘Headless Horseman’ who has been seen on many occasions rising up out of the ground, apparently prompted by the midnight chimes of the village clock at Tockwith. Dressed in the finery of a Cavalier officer, he lingers for a while near the spot from where he emerged, then digs in his spurs and dashes off at full speed into the night, pursuant of some unknown quest. Having ridden for several miles he stops and apparently searches around for a while, then carries on, halting several more times before finally turning round and heading for home. What he is searching for, and whether he has completed his mission or just gives up on it, no one really knows, but, having returned exhausted to the patch of ground from where he first appeared, he then sinks slowly back into the earth, disappearing completely - until the next time.

There have been sightings of many other similar figures in the area, some of which have even been condemned for being a hazard to modern traffic. The A59 from York to Harrogate passes along the northern edge of Marston Moor and certainly the two gentlemen who were driving there one cold foggy Autumn evening in 1932 became very frustrated at one point when their progress was obstructed by a group of men standing in the road. They all seemed to be wearing 17th century clothing, complete with wide-brimmed and befeathered hats, cloaks and thigh-length boots. As if this were not enough, the motorists were then bothered by the arrival of a tour bus behind them, whose driver proceeded to sound his horn, obviously unable to understand why their car had stopped in the middle of the road for no apparent reason. There then followed what afterwards may have seemed a rather comical series of events, with the coach driver trying to pull out and overtake the stationary car, but then the car getting in the way as it was trying to manoevre around this group of flamboyantly-attired gentlemen who seemed in no hurry whatsoever to step aside.

The traffic situation was resolved when the coach managed to crawl past the car with only inches to spare and the car then followed on, passing the gaggle of Cavaliers as it did so. The driver of the car was by this time incensed though - driving in fog was dangerous enough without groups of jaywalkers in fancy dress cluttering up the King’s highway! So he immediately pulled over to the side of the road, thinking to get out of the car and give them all a piece of his mind. When he emerged, however, he was astonished to find that the road was quite empty, with not a soul to be seen anywhere - this despite the fact that there was nowhere for anyone to have gone, the road being lined on either side by high, impenetrable hedges.

The driver and his companion traversed that part of the road for what seemed like an age, poking in the hedges and listening for sounds of voices nearby, but they saw and heard nothing out of the ordinary - there was only the fog and the damp, freezing wind. As the driver finally climbed back into his car, he thought he may have heard the sound of a horse whinnying off into the distance but could not be sure. What is certain, though, is that after all these years the events of that night - in November 1932 - have never, ever been explained.