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Malcolm Hanson - Skipton tourist guide

Malcolm Hanson



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Forward by Malcolm Hanson

In 1727 a then little-known preacher by the name of John Wesley wrote to some friends asking them for a description of the town they lived in - Skipton. Their reply went unrecorded, but whatever it was, it caused Wesley to utter the immortal words: "It must be a frightful place!" Well I hope this book confirms it, because never - in all my life - have I come across such a weird and wonderful wackiness as that engendered by the past residents of Craven's capital. And never too have I found such a rich blend of unnatural phenomena:- ghosts, witches, talking horses, phantom dogs, freak storms - even earthquakes! Along with that throw in mad vicars, murderous headmasters and rioting policemen - and it all adds up to exactly what John Wesley stated - Skipton was a very frightful town indeed!

However, that was then, and now is now; and it is a relief to report that modern-day Skipton bears little resemblance to the Skipton that appears in these pages - so let me record here again - just as I did in the forward to my first book, The Gateway Walk - that: from its magnificent mediaeval castle - widely acknowledged to be one of the finest examples in the north of England - to the beautiful and enchanting church of The Holy Trinity; and from the attractive canal that in summertime chugs merrily along with gaily painted houseboats to the stately and expansive High Street thronging with market stalls four days a week (not forgetting that on the High Street, Otley Street and Mill Bridge are made the greatest pork pies in the world!) - Skipton offers something for everyone.

And - just as I wrote in my first book - that is still not everything. The one further commodity that is endearing to 'off cumd'ns' is its people - still happy and warm-hearted; still cheerfully greeting strangers with a 'grand mornin' eh?' - and its shopkeepers are still serving customers with a cheery smile. So let me say again: if you are visiting Skipton for an hour, or a day, or longer, make sure you return in the future, because, just like its people, I love making the re-acquaintance of old friends, and here in Skipton we are all old friends - and good friends.

A little Taster...

And now it’s off to the world of weird and wonderfully irregular - though natural - phenomena. If you had been living in Skipton on July 18th, 1798, you would have been witness to a most remarkable occurrence that had many of the townspeople believing that the end of the world was nigh. Let the Gentleman’s Magazine for that year describe the singular events:-

‘At half past two o’clock p.m. a most remarkable phenomenon presented itself in the heavens to the north-east of Skipton-in-Craven, which was visible for more than ten miles round, and struck the inhabitants with surprise and consternation. From the centre of a cloud awfully dark appeared to issue a smoke perpendicularly upwards, similar to that usually preceding a volcanic eruption. This eruption ceased in a few minutes, when from its base were immediately projected two dusky conical clouds, which uniting, darted at intervals, with considerable velocity. To the surface of the earth. After rolling its long train, like the volumes of a serpent, it suddenly burst asunder. The lower extremity of it coiled into many circles, and the upper part of it was instantly absorbed into the cloud. After having been observed for the a space of nearly-half- an hour, the whole disappeared. This curious phenomenon was a few hours afterwards succeeded by a heavy rain, accompanied with thunder and lightning,’

I should think some of today’s UFO enthusiasts would be very interested in this event; considering that Carleton Hill, to the south-west of the town, is regarded as being sixth in line for the area in Britain that boasts the most Flying Saucer activity!

Earthquakes have been a frequent occurrence in Craven - believe it or not! The first recorded upheaval took place on June 18th, 1753, when it was said that:- ‘it lasted for three seconds; and its effect upon those within doors like the violent passing of heavy carriages through the streets, which made everything shake in the houses, the floors to heave, and some planks, etc., to fall down. Those in bed felt the beds vibrate very quickly, and the walls and windows rattled as if shaken to pieces. It was succeeded by a rushing noise and explosion, like gunpowder fired in the open air. It was very calm - a red sky intermixed with black clouds.’

The next occurrence took place on October 6th, 1863, This was not quite so bad as that of 1753, nut was described by one resident as: “as a very singular noise, as a mighty rushing wind - if it could be likened to anything.” The quake was followed by the descending of a heavy and dense mist on the town.

Less  than  a  year  later  another  earthquake  hit   the   town;   this  time overturning furniture  and putting the fear of God into Craven inhabitants. The heavy din made by the rumbling was very frightening; like the turning of heavy machinery, or the clash of heavenly thunder. All in all it had the townspeople rushing to the church to confess their sins and beg to be saved!

The floods of recent years have taken a heavy toll on the town, and  it is a very sobering experience to witness at first hand the damage done from a torrential onslaught of water. 1763 and 1798-9  saw floods of some ferocity; being described as;-‘the greatest fall of rain that had been known here.’ November 1866 saw the greatest flood of all, when the canal overflowed, causing much damage to buildings within the town. Several bridges were either damaged or submerged completely.

The floods of 1979 saw Waller Beck awash with cars from Peter Clark Autos garage. Some were apparently found ‘perched in the trees’, and for a little light relief, one particular car found submerged among the murk was a model that had been returned for ‘letting in water’

In 2000, the town suffered several weeks of steady and incessant rain. Then over a period of days the rains built up to a torrent, until the banks of Eller Beck split, causing a vast volume of water to enter the canal. I stood downstream of this, near to Mill Bridge, watching with my own eyes the swollen waters of both beck and canal rising by the minute. Shortly after, the houses opposite Belle View Mills were flooded as the walls of Eller Beck tumbled down. I watched - powerless to intervene - as furniture and personal effects were flushed out of doors and into the streets.

And now back to the weird and wonderful world of superstition and the paranormal. In my first book, The Gateway Walk, I spoke of the ‘Guy Trash’ - a humungus hell-hound that once terrorised the inhabitants of the Canal Street ginnels. This canine cousin of the Barguest, (a large ‘woolly-coated’ animal),  made quite sure that, by dusk, most superstitious people were hiding behind their locked and bolted doors. It apparently lived in water, so the canal was where you might most expect  to find a pair of blood-red eyes staring at you from the murk!

On page 8, I touched on the curing of warts by witches. There were other  methods  if  you  didn’t have a convenient hag to hand, and to hand, and the most popular in Skipton was ‘touching the dead’. As a child, you might find yourself being forced to lean over an open coffin, while almost-dead Grandma strokes your face with definitely-dead Grandpa’s cold and clammy hand!

It was written thus:- ‘For warts we rub our hands to the moon, and commit any maculated part to the touch of the dead’. - And Alfred Hitchcock thought he new the hell how to scare folks to death!

The ‘Wedding Race’ was always good for a laugh in Craven. Once the happy couple had been spliced, the males in the congregation, plus the best man and ushers, sprinted off from the church doors towards the bride’s house. Whoever got there first was the ‘winner’, and received a ‘parti-coloured ribbon’ from the bride. What other favours the winner might have received from the bride is not recorded. ‘Flinging the Stocking’ was another wacky wedding pastime. The happy couple, now in bed and ready for some post-ceremony nooky, would find the bedroom invaded by the no doubt ‘druffen’ wedding party. Lining up, the males would then throw their socks at the bride’s face, while the groom got it in the eye from the females - not a bad idea if today it should  involve sheer-nylons! ‘Saying the Nominy’ was the children’s chance to get in on the fun. After the wedding service, the children would bar the bride and groom from leaving the church until they had recited the following:-

     “Most courteous bridegroom, and most lovely bride

     we must as custom hath us tied;

     Therefore to us pray something now afford

     And we will sing your praise with one accord!”

Now the children would receive a gift of money, then a spokesman would continue:-

     “Thanks to you, bridegroom, and most lovely bride;

     May Heaven protect you and your steps well guide

     Till worn with age you leave this earthly cell

     And soar aloft, where endless pleasures dwell!”

We end on a note of witchcraft - and here’s an example of how things could soon get out of hand within a superstitious community. 

In the village of Carleton, to the south-west of Skipton, the village-folk there once decided on a unique form of retribution. When a local woman farmer raised her milk by a half-penny a jug - without first agreeing terms with the community - within hours, outside her gate they had built a bonfire and burnt her effigy on it. However, the spectacle was witnessed by some passing Skiptonians who - unfortunately for the villagers - promptly reported it to the authorities. Immediately, Carleton was branded ‘a domain of witches and evil-doers’ causing trade between the town and village to cease - and great hardship to fall on the village-folk!

And finally...


....I was shrouded in almost complete darkness, expecting at any moment to see some terrible spectral figure emerge from the fog that seemed to envelop only one particular area of the street. Somewhere in the distance, a clock chimed 2am and I shivered with cold....

...finally, we reach Manby's Corner, to where our lonesome lady sobs in the night and where in the early 1800's an elderly gentleman's wraith was seen for 25 years....

....Spooks and spirits seem to spring from every nook and cranny in Skipton. Yet Sheep Street towers above them all. There are more ghosts in this little thoroughfare than any other area I know of, and that is why I hope one day it will stake its rightful claim to being the most haunted street in Yorkshire.

A descent into The Macabre

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