rachel-lacy-headshotYork Ghostfinder General Rachel Lacy picks out her half dozen favourite hauntings


mix-six-logo-rightYork Ghost Festival was founded by myself and Diana Jarvis, as a way to celebrate York’s long history of ghost stories and promote ghost tourism in the city.

It was the first of it’s kind in the country, and at the time we weren’t sure if it would be an annual event, so we’re delighted that it’s made it to the tenth anniversary.

The 2005 festival will always stick out as one of my favourites, which we extended to include celebrations for the 400th anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot.

The highlight for me was taking a photograph in the Ebor at Bishopthorpe which made it in to the top ten best ghost photographs in the international magazine, Ghost Voices.

The only other person in the room at the time was Diana, whose head can be seen in profile passing in front of somebody lent over the beer pumps.

The photograph has been shown to the landlord, Gordon, staff and regulars and nobody knows who that person is.

Here are six more ghost stories that may haunt you a while…

Stick man

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One of the rooms in Haunted, Stonegate. Photograph: Kester Lee
The oldest documented ghost story I’ve found for York dates back to the late 18th century. Author of The Life & Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Laurence Sterne, lived for some years at 33 Stonegate, with the first two volumes of his famous novel being published from number 35: now Haunted.

The house next door to his had been occupied by an aged gentleman who nightly feared he would be robbed by intruders as he lay in his bed. To frighten them off, as the York Minster bells struck midnight, he banged his walking stick against the wall next to his bed repeatedly, thinking to frighten off any would-be thieves.

After his death, the knocking was still reputedly heard. At number 35, the adjoining bedroom to Sterne’s is now known as the Seance Room, and was a bedroom.

The flying book

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York’s most famous ghost story is probably Harry Martindale’s encounter with the Roman soldiers in the cellar of the Treasurer’s House. However, in 1953, the year it happened, his was not the ghost story everybody was talking about: Edmund Wooler and the flying book in the Yorkshire Museum was far more famous, even the Society for Psychical Research investigated the spooky going-ons. Like the Romans, the haunting was said to repeat throughout the year, then vanish again, reoccurring on a seven year cycle.

Headless coachman

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York’s – and possibly the UK’s – ghost with the least heads to bodies ratio is a headless coachman dressed all in black, driving a coach pulled by four black headless horses along Bishopthorpe Road. There have been no recent sightings, and nobody seems to know why we have them.

Roaming wraith

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Marmaduke’s building on Goodramgate in 1929. Photograph: York Libraries and Archives

York’s saddest ghost must be Marmaduke Buckle. He was multiply physically handicapped, a condition that in the 17th century, when he was alive, allegedly led to him being accused of witchcraft. He spent most of his life in the house on Goodramgate which is now the La Piazza restaurant, until one day he could take no more.

Marmaduke carved his initials, birth date (1697) and that day’s date (1715) on a beam, and ended his short tragic life by hanging himself from the beam. His ghost is alleged to still roam round both buildings, and his presence has even been accused of trying to push somebody down the stairs in the pub next door, although more usually he is said to close doors and turns lights on and off.

The dirty duke

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York has more than it’s fair share of naughty ghosts. George the bra strap twanger used to enliven ghost hunts at York Dungeon, but he is eclipsed by the ghost of George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham, and occasional inhabitant of the ladies toilets in the Cock & Bottle pub (in spirit form).

Known in life for his debauched behaviour, he has been known to manhandle the women in the powder room, and has been chased by a former landlord when he was caught spying on the landlady in the shower.

It was only when the landlord reached the attic and realised the Peeping Tom had vanished that they blamed it on George. A ghostly figure seen in a chair next to the fireplace is said to resemble the duke, whose laboratory for alchemical research was on the same site as the back of the pub.

Fresh phantoms

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Bootham Bar © Forest Runner on Flickr
York has a high incident rate of modern ghosts reported. Amongst them are the smart-casual man in modern beige clothing has been reported in Bootham Bar, and the Blacksmith’s Arms at Huntington boasts two.

It has a man in an orange T-shirt who leaves through a door even if it is shut and locked, and a “handsome and friendly man” with long dark curly hair and blue overalls, who sits smiling at people.

I have also gone to chase a member of the public out of Haunted who was in after hours, they turned a bend in the stairs and vanished – they were wearing jeans and trainers.