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Sheep Street, Skipton is possibly the most haunted street in Yorkshire.
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.
A few weeks earlier I had fallen into conversation with a lady who had once lived in Skipton's Sheep Street, and told me how, often, late at night, she had heard someone sobbing. Although she could hear it was that of a female, she could never actually see the person - it just seemed to be in the air, she said with a shrug.
Sheep Street, Skipton, North Yorkshire by night
I had read of something similar before, along with other tales of hauntings of the area in the 19th century. Like most sceptics I had laughed... Until last summer, when I had listened in amazement as a young couple related how one night they had been accosted by a floating man with red eyes in Sheep Street.
Their story compelled me to delve deeper into that other world of Sheep Street, a world full of strange secrets seemingly locked away from the hustle and bustle of the 21st century, and had brought me to this miserable, windswept corner. But after two hours under the Victoria Square archway, my feet numb with cold, I trudged home unsatisfied. The next day I tried a different tactic, to interview every person who lived or worked along this singular 300 yard stretch.
I began at the Woolly Sheep pub. Apparently, paranormal events have been taking place here for so long that it had become famous on the ghost hunters' trail - even a friend who lived there as a child told me there was one room with such a terrible atmosphere that she never dared enter it. With a knowing smile, acting manager Andrew Goodall said: " You mean number three. Personally, I'm a sceptic, but even I have to admit weird things do go on in the pub."
Andrew related how a friend had gone down to change the barrels in the cellar. As he switched on the light he was amazed to see a woman in the far corner of the cellar, seemingly as startled to see him as he was of her. She was dressed in a billowing pink ballgown so he assumed she was a guest who had lost her way when searching for the toilets. He was just about to ask if she needed assistance when he noticed her legs went right through the floor. He couldn't have known that renovations had taken place and a new floor had been laid six inches above the previous one. He packed up and left soon afterwards, but the pink lady continues to lose her way to the toilets and has been seen in the cellar again.
I was taken up to the upper floor by a barmaid who told me number three was so notorious that people booked the room especially. "We've had ghost hunters, psychics, all sorts of people come to stay - we even advertise it now," she said confidently. The moment you walk in the atmosphere hits you. It is a small, very claustrophobic room; the walls seem to jump in and within seconds I wanted to get out. It is said that no birds ever land on the windowsill. "Spooky, eh?" enthused my barmaid. "Everybody who stays reports a presence of some kind, and its favourite trick is to pull the blankets off the bed." I have to admit to leaving the room far more quickly than I had entered.
My next stop was just two doors along, at a building which has long been a highlight of my Skipton Experience tours, being once the dwelling of a certain Jane Cork, famous for farcical situations involving chamber pots. Here, Canadian-born Tony Harman, the amiable owner of a photographic shop, said: "Yeah, we got something, can't say exactly what. It's in the cellar and from time to time it makes an awful stink... like dead bodies. There's an old oven down there and sometimes it sounds like somebody's stoking it up - then the stench just comes billowing up."
A little further up are the offices of the Bradford & Bingley Building Society, which in Victorian times was the site of Skipton's notorious 'House of Pests' or prostitutes. Here I spoke to a woman who declined to be named. "We've always been aware of something in the building," she said with a shudder. "About three years ago it was impossible to go into the attic room. There was a distinctly icy spot that gave you goose bumps. It never failed. I experienced it for myself and once was enough. I'll never go up there again!" As I left the building I glanced up at the permanently shuttered window that hides the gloomy secrets of the attic... Do pests ever leave? I wondered.
Opposite is another photographic shop and here my host had no problem with speaking on record, in fact the whole staff were brimming with enthusiasm for their nocturnal resident. "We've been visited almost every day for years," said the manager, Viv Carter. "In fact our invisible friend has got up to so many weird and wonderful shenanigans that it wouldn't be the same if it wasn't around. "About five years ago we had some alterations done and, to save on hotel bills, the shopfitters spent the night upstairs in sleeping bags. Sometime in the early hours they were awoken by a little girl with a teddy bear who sat at the top of the stairs watching them. "The poor little mite's been seen at other times too. We believe she moves things around to attract our attention and she also activates the burglar alarm. Most mornings we find things on the floor; albums, films, mounts etc. Sometimes notices on the board are taken down or pinned in a new location. She's only playing with us, I know, but when the alarm goes off and I have to come here in the middle of the night, I feel like spanking her."
A few yards on I found myself on the very spot where my young couple met their floating man. On a late summer's evening, after a drink in the Woolly Sheep, they were making their way along Sheep Street when they hit an icy spot. At the same moment they noticed a fog and at first wondered if there was a fire, but then a figure floated out of the fog. It was a man dressed all in black with red eyes that were fixed on them. He floated right up to them before suddenly shooting up the ginnel into Victoria Square. Whoever the red-eyed man is, he has yet to appear in any accounts.
Next came one of the classic ghosts of Sheep Street - Mr Crump the chemist, known to many in Skipton and at least three different proprietors lay claim to him as their ghostly guest. From the various stories I received, the version put forward by Simon Smith of Wilman & Wilman (whose family owned the building for a number of years) seems to be the most credible. Mr Crump was a chemist around the turn of the century who one day, without a word, climbed to the top of the building, entered the attic, threw a rope over a beam and hanged himself. No one knows why, but ever since then he's been busy walking the upper floors. "Have you ever seen him?" I asked. Simon laughed nervously: "No. I must be the only person who hasn't... but I've been in the attic and it is pretty nerve-racking. There was nothing in there when I visited except the atmosphere, the beam and the nine-inch nail he used to tie the rope to."
Across the cobbles is the little paper shop known as the Craven Tuck Box where the owner told of a conversation he once had with a disembodied voice. "I was busy stacking papers when someone spoke to me from behind. I turned to serve what I thought was an anxious customer but the shop was completely empty."
Finally, we reach Manby's Corner, to where our lonesome lady sobs in the night and where also in the early 1800's the ghost of an elderly gentleman was said to sit by his drawing-room window. It is written that after his death, the lovely old gentleman's wraith was seen for 25 years, always in the same spot at his window smiling and waving to the children and passers-by. He eventually faded away around 1850 and has not been seen since.
In just 300 yards, less than two minutes' walk for most, people have met a surprising number of ghosts and I believe there may be more. Ponden Mill in Caroline Square the Herald offices and the library are all reputed to be haunted. 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.
Published in the Dalesman April 2002 (picture courtesy of David Wilson)
The Woolly Sheep (beware room 3 & the Pink Lady)
... a woman in a billowing pink ballgown sat in the cellar, her legs right through the floor...
The Woolly Sheep by night
It's in the cellar and from time to time it makes an awful stink... like dead bodies
Is this the upper floor that a little girl is doomed to walk for eternity?
... shopfitters spent the night and were woken to find a young girl watching them...
No one will venture into the icy attic
... out of a fog, a man dressed in black with red eyes floated straight towards us...
Did the ghost of an elderly gentleman haunt this building for 25 years?
...the beam and the nine-inch nail he used to hang himself are still in the attic...
... the owner had a conversation with a disembodied voice...
... the ghost of an elderly man sat in his chair and waved at passers-by...
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