|The Hayfield Witch and other Hayfield Ghost Stories|
The Hayfield Witch by Joseph Grundy 1870
Susanna Huggin caused a great deal of trouble to the people of Hayfield at one period –1760. It was a time when Mr. Kinder used to weave woollen cloth, and when almost every garret in the village was a weaving place, Susannah used to go around the place selling the wooden pins used for weaving, at the same time hanging on for charity.
One day a sailor came begging thro’ Hayfield, he had his hair hanging like a Chinese pigtail, witchcraft was very much credited at that time, and this sailor practised that imposition on folk as he went around. He sold one of his bewitching charms to Susannah, after he had shown its spell binding effects on several of the credulous people of Hayfield – All this happened when John Doe was Mr. Hague’s “ lackey boy” at Park Hall.
When the old sailor had sold his “witch”, he went away and was heard of no more, but everybody knew that Old Susannah had got it, so consequently when anything happened, accidents or old folk being taken ill, cattle dying, it was always attributed to her. She made a good thing of it for a time, for almost everyone in the village was afraid to vex her, indeed she had Hayfield between her finger and thumb as it were. But one day an uprising against her started, they all crowded around the house where she lived, got her out eventually, smacked her, pelted her with stones and dirt, and rotten fruit, smashed her about and almost killed her. The people she had supposedly injured scratched and pinched her till blood came, supposedly to break the spell till next time – until next time something happened.
Hayfield at this time was having a very bad period, there was a good deal of sickness in the village, fever was bad, and there was a leg of mutton on top of the Church Tower supposedly to draw it away, but some of the bell ringers went up one day and stole it. A great many cattle were ill, flour was bad and sticky, and all these things were put down to Old Susannah. They were all the result of the witch they said, so people turned on her, and dragged her up to the “George Hotel”, (Mr. Thornhill being the landlord at the time) but someone from “Tomheys” stepped up, and brought the “witch” from her, and took “it” away forthwith. It was not many weeks before they brought it back again in a great hurry saying there had always been some “Lumberment agate” in the house since they took it there. Their milk would not churn, the cows were turned loose in the shippon in the night time, pigs would not feed, hens laid away, moreover they had heard strange noises in the house during the night, things were thrown about, beds were lifted up and shaken considerably, so on no condition would they have it any longer. It now went by the name of “Tom Heys Boggart”, so they bought it back to Old Susannah and got away as fast as they could. Things went worse in April, and everybody said that it must be “laid”.
Mr. Baddely was vicar of Hayfield at this time (1760) and he was pressed by the folk of the village to “lay” this witch – not that the Vicar believed in this nonsense, but that did not matter, the people of that time believed in it, and he also knew that if he refused to act the people would say he was in “league with sich like”.
Accordingly Old Susannah and her ‘witch’ were brought up again, and a great number of folks gathered around her, as she pulled out the box with this “thing” in it, she dared not do otherwise for folk were getting so wild. It looked like a black beetle, indeed, those who had a bit of schooling said it was nothing else. Mr. Baddely stood up amongst the crowd and went thro’ a long ceremony, in which there were solemn words, people stood with hats off, very quiet and looked as solemn as if they were at a funeral. When the ceremony was over, Mr. Baddely said that it would not trouble anyone again, and gave Old Susannah her box back, at the same time telling her that the thing would die, and he also gave her a good telling off for having anything to do with such like. He then sent her home and as the old woman was going up “Jumble” for she lived up there, folks told her that they had seen her “witch” go up towards “Kinder”, like something they did not know what, as swift as a greyhound, and by that time it must be at the top of Kinder Scout. Some folks came down who had been at Hollins Head and said they saw it go up to the Downfall and plunge right into the Mermaids Pool.
The man who wrote this account of the Hayfield Witch, Joseph Grundy, was taken by the “Press Gang” when 18 years of age. As they were marching him off a man named Bradbury was marching round the top of Hayfield Church Tower playing his fiddle. Grundy learned afterwards that the old overseer had sold him for 30 guineas.
The ghost in man, the ghost that once was,
Are calling to other thr’ a dawn
Stranger than earth has ever seen.
The Peak District of Derbyshire has more than its share of ghosts and boggart and goblins, its phantom dogs and horses, and Hayfield in particular has its share.
Many people living in the lonely farms not only still believe in them, but say they also see and hear them, and many superstitions which are akin to hobgoblins, still exist – the last farm in Hayfield – near to Coldwell Clough – for some reason would never take an even number of sheep to winter pasture.
At South Head, there was said to be a ghost haunting the old farm house, which was pulled down many years ago, the original house was built in 1650, it was last occupied by, Farmer Bradbury and family who many times heard strange bumps and thumping noises. It is said that about 200 years ago, the daughter of the house was murdered in her bedroom by a jealous suitor. Her body was dragged downstairs across a meadow and pushed into the stream. The bumping noises, which they heard quite frequently, were the bumps as the body was banging on the steps of the stairs.
The meadow across which the body was dragged was also haunted by the same ghost, the ghost of the “girl in white”. This belief was firmly established in the early years of the 20th century, when three Irish farm labourers, said, that whilst haymaking in this very meadow they saw this ghost. They could never have heard of the local story, as they had just arrived from Ireland. Farmer Bradbury and his sons were all in this meadow, and one Irishman turned and said, “who’s that girl running down to the stream?” The Bradbury’s could see no girl, so off rushed the Irishman to the stream, but they found no one, she had disappeared; yet all the Irishmen swore that they had seen the girl.
There are some distressing and unaccountable sounds heard among the lonely hills and moors of Kinder neighbourhood. The farmer and his son walking home from a sheep shearing in Kinder sometime ago, heard, as they reached “South Head”, a cry as if of some injured person – a cry as if calling for help. This they heard many times. The sceptics say they must have heard a bird call – a Curlew maybe – as if those whose live are spent among the hills and dales of Kinder, would mistake the call of the Curlew of that of someone calling for help. Farmer Shirt of Edale, confirms that he has often heard these piteous screams, and many others have also heard them. The same farmer and others have also heard the phantom splash of a body thrown into the upper waters of the River Noe, near to the Packhorse Bridge beyond Jacobs Ladder. The splash is always preceded by a prolonged eerie scream, as of a boy’s –being dragged down the field from Edale Head farmhouse to be drowned in this pool.
The Resurrection of 1745
Hayfield besides being the portal to Kinder Scout is not without some singular events to keep its name in remembrance. Indeed, it seems to have had a resurrection on its own account in 1745. Dr James Clegg, a Presbyterian, who resided at Chapel-en-le-Frith in the middle of the eighteenth century, gives an account of this extraordinary occurrence in a letter to his friend, the Rev. Ebenezer Latham, then principal of the Findern Academy. ‘I know’ he wrote ‘you are pleased with anything curious and uncommon by nature, and if what follows would appear such. I can assure you there are eye witnesses of the truth in every particular. In a church about three miles from us the indecent custom still prevails of burying the dead in the place set apart for the devotion of the living. Still, the parish not being very populous, one could scarcely imagine that the inhabitants of the grave could be straightened for want of room. Yet it would seem so for on the last day of August several hundreds of bodies rose out of the grave, in the open day, in the church, to the great astonishment and terror of several spectators. They deserted their coffins, and arising out of their graves, immediately ascended toward heaven, singing in one concert all along as they mounted through the air. They wore no winding sheets about them, nor were they naked. But their vesture seemed streaked with gold, interlaced with sable, and skirted with white, yet thought to be exceedingly light by the agility of their motions and the swiftness of their ascent. They left a most fragrant and delicious odour about them, and were quickly out of sight. What has become of them, or to what distant regions of this vast system they have since fixed their residence, no mortal can tell. The church is in Hayfield three miles from Chapel-en-le-Frith.’
Those who witnessed this extraordinary mass resurrection must have thought that doomsday had arrived. But later as a writer cynically put it, “it must have been gratifying to the local inhabitants to see their forefathers all going upward in the right direction.”
The Higgitt Ghost or the Highgate Hall Murder
The story of the High Gate murder, is an interesting and will always stand relating when the long dark nights come around and maybe when one has to go up High Gate Head alone.
It is related on good authority, that old Tommy Bradbury, a Hayfield worthy of former days, recovered the victims bones out of the wall in the garden of High Gate Hall, the story goes that the man was a scotch pedlar and when he came hawking this way, he always lodged at Highgate. Mr. Rawlinson the owner, allowed him to stay there. On one November evening, Mr. Rowlinson having gone on his Bakewell journey – for he was a magistrate and went there frequently, the Scottish pedlar reached Hayfield as usual with his pack on his back.
The night was dark and foggy and the sound of his heavy footsteps was the only sound heard, as he wended his way towards the old hall. Now and then, a streak of light shot up into the damp black atmosphere from behind the hill, which showed some of the cutler’s furnaces were yet at work in the Kinder Valley.
A flickering from the old window of Highgate Hall, now and then shone like a twinkling star, through the thick gloom. At length, turning from the rugged highway, the weary pedlar entered the entrance gate, and a few strides brought him to the door. His plodding footsteps were soon recognised by the old housekeeper who opened the door and welcomed him in.
“You seem tired tonight John”, she said, “I am tired”, he replied “and when down the lane I thought I must ‘lig’ there, but as soon as I ‘ken’ the light of the window I felt made over again. I knew I should be welcome here and have a comfortable nights lodgings”. So saying he took the pack off his shoulders and laid it down on an old settle, that stood against the wall, the heavy thud it made on the hard boards caused the two servants who sat by the fire to look curiously towards John and his pack. “I’m afraid you’ve broken something,” said one of them. “It sounded like it I’ll look,” said John, so he lifted his pack onto the table, that stood in the middle of the floor and opened it, spreading out his glistening ware in profusion. The display of such rich jewellery seeded to dazzle the eyes of the servants, who gazed on the brass, gold and silver ornaments spread out before them. The pedlar finding things alright, rolled up his pack, laid it down again on the old settle and sat down in the corner.
The old housekeeper had now brought some bread and cheese and a ‘horn’ of beer, which was customary when he called. John ate his supper, thanked his kind hostess and sat chatting until the clock struck eleven. The pedlar remarked that he felt tired and as he had had a long journey, he would retire. A small room on the ground floor was his usual sleeping place so taking his pack and bidding them goodnight, he retired and was soon in a sound sleep.
The conversation of the servants now turned to the pedlar and his treasure, till the old housekeeper showed signs of weariness by occasionally nodding. “When will the master return?” asked rather hastily one of the servants, a dark complexioned young woman named Jane. “He seldom returns the same day,” replied the housekeeper, “when he goes on his Bakewell journey, I should say it will be tomorrow evening.”
“He will not go so often,” inquired the dark looking girl, “when they have built the new justice room down in the field below yonder, which the master speaks about sometimes.” “I suppose not,” said the old woman with a yawn, and lighting a candle and bidding them goodnight, she retired to her room.
The two servants were now left to themselves, and Jane in a low voice, said to the other (Deborah), “did you see those beautiful bracelets?” and as she spoke her dark eyes seemed to glow with an unusual brightness, which caused some alarm in the breast of Deborah and made her heave a long breath. “Yes I saw them, but what of it? They are out of our reach child, they are far too dear for us.”
“Did you see those ear-rings, and those brooches?” asked Jane. “Yes, I saw them all,” she replied rather pettishly, “but I know they are beyond our reach, so I trouble not my head about them. Do you covert them Jane? You should not, for you know not what it may lead to,” said Deborah.
At the same moment, a tap was heard at the door, and the eyes of the dark looking girl peered toward it, as Deborah turned and opened it and as the door turned on its strong hinges, in walked a thin, wiry young fellow, and without saying a word he sat down on the old settle that was against the wall. “Take a seat near the fire Mr. Bookhing,” said Deborah. The young man drew up a chair and the three formed a circle around the glowing embers. “How is it you work so late tonight,” enquired Jane “ I could see the light of the furnace fires shining.” “We wanted to finish some goods,” said the young man, “ we are going to remove to Sheffield because fuel is so short here and very hard to get and besides it is nearer to Birmingham. Smiths who went some time ago are doing very well, and some of our men have gone too.”
The clock struck 12 and Deborah retired to rest, leaving the two alone. What took place afterwards is not known, but the pedlar was not seen again alive, in Hayfield or elsewhere. It was thought for a while that he had risen early and gone on his journey, but this was not usual. The young man Bookhing and Jane shortly afterwards left the country and were heard of no more.
Afterwards a rumour got round that he had been murdered at Highgate, which afterwards was proved by his bones been found in the closed well, but his murderers were never discovered although they were looked for.
Such is the story of the Highgate Hall murder and for generations afterwards those who went Highgate way on a dark night imagined they saw the pedlars ghost and mothers who wished to quieten their unruly children had only to mention it.
And there he saw the Boggart House
Where the Highgate ghost is seen,
By moonlight at the midnight hour
Dancing on Highgate Green.
The well in the yard at (Higgitt) High Gate Hall is now covered with a large flag and a flight of stone steps lead down to it. Some years after it was talked of re-opening the well, but the public were against it – afraid of having ‘him’ disturbed.