The story of the Broad Bottom Ghost was told by Hebden Bridge born political activist and suffragette Lavena Saltonstall to the Todmorden and District News in the early twentieth century.[i] It concerns the area between Hebden Bridge and Mytholmroyd with the unflattering name of Broad Bottom, consisting of some woods, fields and a few houses. During the reign of Elizabeth I when Catholics were forbidden from holding mass in Heptonstall, they would worship here instead, in a house known as the Old Chapel.[ii] The ruin is always locked, not that anyone would want to go inside due to it having a ‘very weird aspect’, though you might be tempted to peer in through a crack in a boarded-up window. Inside, everything is black and rotten, the floor has mostly fallen in and there are centuries of dust and cobwebs. There was said to be a mysterious locked chest fastened to the wall, the contents of which are unknown. Even stranger, rumours say that an underground passage connects the ruin to a wood and a gentleman’s residence three quarters of a mile away.
The ruin has the ‘inevitable ghost’, according to Saltonstall. The spirit appears on a white horse and makes its way from the ruin to the top of the hill before plunging furiously back down to the valley bottom and across the canal and into a rag shunt at a nearby mill. Who the ghost was or the reason for the headlong gallop are lost to time.
One windy Christmas Day, Lavena and a party of students went for a walk past the ruin. They paused by the ruin’s gloomy window and wondered what might be inside its mysterious kist. One of the party, for a lark, ‘entreated of the ghosts and goblins to come forth’. The laughter of the friends turned to silence, though, when ‘a very thin streak of light appeared above the kist top and the wall. It gradually grew bigger until it formed a bright patch of light about 9 inches square.’ After a few seconds it disappeared, and the party of ramblers made a mad scramble over the wall and away. They all asked each other the same question: ‘Did you see that? What was it?’
We are assured that no one could be in the ruin as the floor is rotten and greatly fallen in. Perhaps, then, rumours of an underground passage are true and some person unknown was traversing the passage. But this raises the question of just who was there and why? The author of this account of the Broad Bottom ghostly happenings, Lavena Saltonstall, certainly had a sharp wit when it came to destroying her political opponents with facts and logic in the letter columns of the local press.[iii] The tone of her ghostly account is tongue in cheek and one might wonder if this young rebel was having a bit of fun and doing a bit of leg-pulling in her account.
In any case, there is a little epilogue to the story of the Broad Bottom ghost. According to R. Thurston Hopkins in his 1953 survey of hauntings Ghosts Over England, one of the students that had accompanied Lavena on her adventure at Broad Bottom returned to the scene a few weeks later. She again invited the presence to appear, and again she saw a strange light in the ruin. ‘It was not an ordinary light,’ she said. ‘It looked just like a woman wearing a robe of some kind of lustrous metallic material.’[iv]
[i]Todmorden and District News, 17 August 1906
[ii] Todmorden and District News 20 June 1890
[iii] Jill Liddington, Rebel Girls: Their Fight for the Vote (London: Virago, 2008), p.104
[iv] R. Thurston Hopkins, Ghosts Over England (London: Meridian Books, 1953), p.115