This version of the legend in all its melodramatic Victorian glory is adapted from the ‘Lancashire Burns’ Edwin Waugh’s dialect telling.[i] Most of the action takes place a little outside Calderdale, but I’ve decided to include it here.
One snowbound mid-winter evening, a party of travellers were sheltering from the weather by the warm fire of the White House Inn, Blackstone Edge. The wind whistled around the pub as if all the witches of Pendle were frozen and riding the storm on a mad boggart hunt in the air. Suddenly, the Inn door burst open and in staggered a man shivering violently, teeth chattering and as white as milk. He asked for water, and told the party that he had ‘seen summat’.
The frozen traveller told how he had been visiting his dying uncle in Sowerby and was now travelling home across the moor. As he approached the White House Inn, he saw a tall figure in a fur cap 20 yards ahead of him. Thinking he would like some company in this lonely and desolate landscape, he called out but received no answer. He did, though, notice that the figure’s clothes didn’t seem to be ruffled by the howling wind. As the traveller approached, the figure turned and showed its long white face was streaked with blood. Then the figure started to melt away into the moonlight before drifting across the moors towards the stone known as Robin Hood’s bed. It was this sight which led to the terrified traveller bursting through the White House door.
The assembled party listened in amazement to the story. Some were sceptical; after all they had never seen a ghost. And even if ghosts did exist, they were not sure why clothes and fur caps should also have ghosts. However, two gamekeepers who were present remained quiet during the discussion, before one turned to the other and said: ‘He’s seen Brown Dick.’ He then proceeded to tell the tale of Brown Dick of Blackstone Edge.
In the distant past, the White House Inn was kept by a widow and her beloved son Dick, whom she doted on and spoilt rotten, giving him everything he wanted and always letting him have his own way. Of course, being brought up this way meant that Dick (or Brown Dick as he came to be known) soon fell in with a bad crowd: Iron Jack’s gang. Iron Jack led this violent bunch of highway robbers, thieves and murderers and they terrorised the neighbourhood. They robbed travellers on the lonely moor, burgled the surrounding farms and cottages, and people who crossed them sometimes disappeared, never to be seen again. Dick’s mother, though, would not believe that her beloved son would ever be involved in such business.
Brown Dick was often away from home for a couple of nights at a time, but on one occasion when he didn’t come back after a week his mother began to worry. More and more weeks passed and still her son did not return, leaving his poor mother more and more distracted. She placed two candles in the window of the inn every night to guide him home should he return, but he never did. If the howling wind across the moor rattled the inn’s door, she would open it and call out her son’s name to no avail. She even took to wandering across the desolate Blackstone Edge crying for him to come home.
One night, the Inn was dark except for the usual two candles flickering in the window, when three men burst in. They were carrying a fourth man who was grievously injured with a gunshot wound. The three men were travellers who had met Iron Jack and his crew and the gang had attempted to rob them. They resisted and a fight ensued in which Iron Jack was accidentally shot by one of his own men. The cowardly gang left their leader for dead and escaped into the night, leaving the three travellers to carry Jack to the nearest shelter, which happened to be the White House Inn. It was clear that Iron Jack’s wound was so serious that he was not long for this world and so a parson and a doctor were sent for from Littleborough.
Iron Jack knew he was dying and confessed to many murders, but he said that the deed that troubled him most was the murder of Brown Dick. This had happened when the gang had completed a successful robbery and had headed over to Robin Hood’s Bed to divide up the spoils by lantern light, for it’s said that no matter how much of a gale is blowing on the moors, Robin Hood’s Bed is always wind free. The gang, though, fell out about how the ill-gotten gains should be split and Brown Dick was murdered and buried there near Robin Hood’s Bed.
Iron Jack refused to name the treacherous colleagues who had deserted him and soon expired. Brown Dick’s remains were found where Iron Jack had indicated and they were removed to Ripponden church yard. His poor mother went mad with grief and could often be found sitting by his grave singing to her lost son. One day she was found lying dead over her errant boy’s grave and was at last reunited with her darling son.
Now that Brown Dick had been laid to rest, some say that his mother’s ghost walks the moors of Blackstone Edge despairingly calling for her wayward son.[ii]
Of course, the White House Inn still stands out there on the moors, though in his 37 years of running the pub, landlord Pete Marney hasn’t seen the ghost of Dick or his mum. However, he told me that some customers have had spooky experiences in the pub: ‘people have sworn blind to have witnessed paranormal activity mainly in the loos and some have even been sober when making the claims.’[iii]
[i] Edwin Waugh, Tufts of Heather (1881)
[ii] According to the garbled retelling of the legend in Todmorden Advertiser and Hebden Bridge Newsletter, 22 November 1926
[iii] Email from Pete Marney to author 7 April 2021