Out & About …

… on the North York Moors, or wherever I happen to be.

The Kildale Spectres

Another one of the old folk tales collected by Richard Blakeborough and published in the Northern Weekly Gazette in July 19011‘July 20. 1901. Batty’s Story. | Northern Weekly Gazette | Saturday 20 July 1901 | British Newspaper Archive’. 2023. Britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk <https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/0003075/19010720/084/0012?browse=true> [accessed 10 May 2023].



The first part of this story, so far as the source from which it sprang is concerned, has not passed through many lips, seeing that the father of the man to whom the writer is indebted for the whole story was an intimate friend of both Willie Coward and Tommy Tate.

Somewhere about the year 1786 Coward and Tate, having secured from the loan of a horse the landlord of the Blacksmith’s Arms, Kildale, went to Yarm Fair to purchase their year’s stock of leather.

On the fourth day after their departure, about the time they were expected home again, quite a company gathered together at the hotel wishful to hear the news of the world outside Kildale. The two cobblers, however, did not arrive until quite an hour later than expected, and when they did sit down, instead of relating the doings of Yarm Fair, they amazed everyone with an account of an exceedingly strange occurrence which they had just witnessed.

Coward and he, with their pack horse, left Yarm a little past noon, intending to reach Kildale before candle light, and they would have done so had it not been that they first rested at Seamer, and again at Stokesley. It was whilst sitting in the taproom of the King’s Head, at the first-named place, they had noticed two men in strange attire seated on the squab2A crude long wooden seat with cushions, usually with only one arm near to the fire, but on the other side of the room. One, the taller of the two, evidently settling an account, as the shorter man was dropping money into a leathern bag purse. So strange and unfamiliar was their attire, that Coward and Tate came to the conclusion that they be either play actors or mountebanks3confidence tricksters, or something of that sort, who had come in for a glass of beer before opening their show. Now it happened, before their mugs of beer were served them, that a third person (a friend) joined the two cobblers. “Whya, Jim,” said Tate, as the new comer took a seat on one of the oak chairs facing them, but with his back to the two strangely attired men. “Hoo is ta? What thoo’ll ‘ev a mug o’ yal wiv us?” calling for a third in the same breath. A moment later, when the joy on meeting their old friend had somewhat subsided, Tate continued his remark by saying: “By gum, bud that’s a queer un! Ah nivver seed them chaps go oot, did owther o’ you?” 4“Hello, Jim, how are you? Would you like a mug of ale with us? By gum, that’s a strange one! I never saw those fellows go out, did either of you?”.

“Neea,” said Tate, “Ah nivver seed owther on ’em git up, an’ ah aimed ti ‘ev a wo’d wiv ’em. Ah war a lahl bit cur’us ti’ finnd oot what tha did fer a living.” 5“No, I never saw either of them get up, and I aimed to have a word with them. I was a little bit curious to find out what they did for a living.” Then a friendly dispute arose. Jim Fairburn declared the men they were speaking about must have departed before he entered, the other two contending they were both seated near to the fire. Fairburn held that had such been the case he couldn’t have helped seeing them when he entered. “Ah’s sartin at ther’ war neeabody i’ this room bud you tweea when ah cam in!” said he6“I’m certain that there was nobody in this room but you two when I came in!”.

In the end the dispute was referred to the waiting maid. She, however, only further complicated matters by positively declaring “that with the exception of the three then present, not another soul had been in the room since dinner, with the exception of four farmers living in the neighbourhood, each of whom she well knew. She was however, bound to admit, that two men might have come in and left without her knowledge, but of one thing she was certain beyond all doubt; no other person was sitting in the room when she took their orders for a mug of ale apiece, and that was before Fairburn came in.”

The landlord was equally certain that no one was in the room when they entered. He had been sitting there himself, and only left his seat just as they drew up.

In the end the three left, all going the same way, as Fairburn was on his way to see a man at Stokesley. As they could not agree as to was right, they wisely decided to let the matter drop, but when were approaching the Black Swan (?), both Tate and Coward saw the two strangely-attired men just coming out of the inn.

“There they are!” they both exclaimed in a breath, pointing in the direction the pair were walking. Unfortunately, owing to there being several people about the front of the inn, Fairburn not certain which two men they wished him to observe. However, a moment later Coward said: “Those are the two passing Au’d Willie’s shop.”

At this statement Fairburn burst out laughing, roundly declaring that there was not a single soul within twenty yards of the spot mentioned. “Ah’ll tell ya what it is,” said he, “ya’ve ‘ed ti mich ti drink an’ ti lahl ti eat; ya’re baith seeing double.” 7“I’ll tell you what it is, you’ve had too much to drink and too little to eat; you’re both seeing double.”

This good-natured remark of his, and his — to their thinking — stupid determination not to admit that he saw the men, so nettled the two cobblers, that they bade him good day, saying: “Wa’ d rather gan wi’ wersels ez wi’ a chap ‘at’s blinnd ez a bat,” and so they parted company without shaking hands. 8“I would rather go with ourselves as with a fellow who’s as blind as a bat.”

They were a wee bit puzzled when, after they had inquiries in the inn to find that not a single person had noticed the men, although they had both seen them corning out of the house. Naturally the matter occupied their minds, and was subject of their conversation as they trudged towards Kildale.

It was just when it began to grow dark, and when they were a good mile from the Blacksmith’s Arms, that the climax occurred. They were walking at a good brisk pace, the mare having smelt her stable, when, without either of them having heard a footfall, the taller of the two men they had now seen twice, silently hurried past them, without so as passing the time of day. Tate remarked : “That chap’s gotten summat ower his shoon ti’ let him gan ez whisht ez that, Ah wander what he’s up teea, nee a good ah’ll be bound!”9“That chap has got something over his shoes to let him go as quiet as that. I wonder what he’s up to, not anything good, I’ll be bound!” This remark greatly impressed upon both of them, when a moment or two later they were amazed to see him almost hidden, crouching amongst the bushes by the roadside.

“Noo what’s he efter? ” queried Coward. “What diz ti say like, if wa watch him a lahl piece? Sh !’ 10“Now what is he after? What would you say if we watch him for a little while? Shh!”

This preposition was at once acted upon, going about fifty yards further along they hoppled their horse, and quietly and cautiously retraced their steps, keeping behind the hedge and thick bushes, until they were opposite the crouching figure.

Barely were they hidden, when they saw the shorter man approaching, it was evident by the movements of the hiding man that he too was aware of his approach. A moment later they were utterly bewildered, the whole thing was accomplished so quickly and so silently. From the hedge bottom he sprang with upraised stick. One fearful blow he struck the passing man upon the head. So heavy was the blow that without a cry of pain or groan his victim fell in a heap at his feet. An instant later the two watchers realised that it was murder they were witnessing. “Ho’d on, ho’d on, man! Thoo’s killing him, thoo’s mo’ddering t’ man,” shouted Tate as the man with all the ferocity of madness, had commenced to pound the head of the helpless men with a big stone. 11“Hold on, hold on, man! You’re killing him, you’re murdering the man.”

By his time both Coward and Tate were hurrying to the rescue as fast as circumstances would allow them. They were, however, unable to give immediate help, the thick briar and bramble bushes growing between them and the victim were so dense that they were compelled to return to the gateway before they could gain the wall, and even that short journey needed care, the straggling brambles impeding their movements, and when they did reach the spot they discovered their efforts were useless, not only were they too late to render the least aid to the sorely injured man, or secure the murderer. Quietness reigned around, murdered and murderer had both vanished. For more than half an hour they sought for the body, but not even the least sign could they obtain.

This concluded their story, which they told at the Smith’s Arms. At the conclusion of its recital several decided to return with them to see if the body could not be found. Whilst lanterns were being got ready a man called Somers and a friend of his hurried home for their dogs, but to get to their cottages, both these men had to cross the churchyard. As the distance was not far the others waited for their return, but five, ten, nay it was quite twenty minutes before they were seen approaching. They, too, had a story to tell, they had loosed their two dogs and set off back again, but when they were about to pass the kirk door it was then so moonlight that Somers was saying that, “he thought they would not need lanterns;” when from out of the dark shadow of the door there sprang forth a huge black hound, and although it paid not the attention either to them or their dogs, both their dogs turned tail and ran back home, evidently terrified. They had been compelled to retrace their steps to catch their dogs, for both refused to obey their call, and it was thus they had been detained. Forth the whole company sallied, but that nights search proved fruitless, neither body nor the least trace of a struggle could they discover. Back they all went to the Blacksmith’s Arms, and well into the morning discussed the marvellous doings of that night. The only conclusion they came to was that Somers and the other man had seen the grave dog, and they knew from what the old folks had said in days past that when it appeared something was about to happen.


This wonderful story was gradually noised abroad. Some few weeks after that eventful night, a man called Ammy Batty was requested to come to the smithy at once. This was owing to Tommy Humphrey having recounted the whole of the strange doings which they had had at Kildale to the Castleton blacksmith, and it was to his forge that Batty came.

“Hezn’t this tale Tommy’s jut tell’d uz summat ti deea wi’ that tale ‘at thoo tells?” said the smith. 12“Hasn’t this tale Tommy has just told us something to do with that tale that you tell?”

When Batty heard the full story he declared “that he had not the least doubt that the two cobblers had witnessed a ghostly rehearsal of a murder which happened, he didn’t know how long ago. His grandfather used to tell about it, but whether the murder was committed in his lifetime, or he had only heard other old people talk about it, Batty was not in a position to say. On one point he was quite certain — that the man was murdered long before either the King’s Head or Black Swan was built, two cottages occupying each site at the time of the murder.

We gather from Batty’s story that many a long year ago where the King’s Head (Seamer) now sports its sign, there once stood a wool comber’s cottage. Being a very tall man, the wool comber was generally known as “Langshanks.” His real name has been forgotten, but for short we will call him Pratt. At time the Black Swan was a farm house; the owner was a much shorter man. His name is also forgotten, and him we will christen Duffy.


Long before my time there lived a wool-comber at Seamer, in a cottage where the King’s Head now stands. He was a very steady, hard-working man, who had been saving up for many a long year in the hopes of buying the cottage he then rented. At last there was a whisper that it would soon be for sale. According to one of two separate versions, Duffy one day paid a visit to Pratt, the wool-comber, who owed him a trifle for wool, begging of him, in addition to paying his small account to lend him 50 guineas, saying that his landlord pressing him for his last year’s rent. He promised to pay back the loan within a month. Pratt told him how he had been saving up, and that he had just heard a whisper that there was a likelihood of his cottage being offered for sale. Duffy assured him the money should be repaid within the time specified.

Pratt good-naturedly let him have the money, and having a little business to transact in Stokesley, he accompanied Duffy thither. It was after parting with this man whom he had so kindly befriended that Pratt learnt from another friend that Duffy was trying to buy his cottage, over his head, and that he had not the least need to borrow a farthing. This very friend had heard Pratt’s landlord say that he — Pratt — should have the first offer, and if he could pay at once no one else would have a chance. There could be no doubt that Duffy had borrowed the money from Pratt, not because he had any need of it, but to place him in a position of being unable to lay down the money when the landlord offered to sell. Pratt at once perceived that he had been deceived by Duffy. He also saw what a hold such a landlord would have over him — he would henceforth be compelled to buy his wool at own price, or have notice to leave.

What happened after Pratt learnt that he had been so cruelly deceived was never known. Duffy left Stokesley that afternoon to walk to Kildale, at which place Pratt’s landlord lived. He never reached Kildale. His dead body was found late that night lying in the middle of the road. At the time no one seems to have suspected Pratt of having committed the crime. There can be but little doubt that he would have escaped detection had it not been for an old lady, Duffy’s grandmother. This old body, by the death of her grandson, was reduced to poverty, the murdered man having seen to her comfort in her advancing years — one good deed at least to his credit. In her sore trouble she went to some one for advice; one version says a witch, the other a wise man. She was ordered to carry a bowl three parts full of sacral water (of which the writer knows absolutely nothing, either as to name, ingredients, or method of preparation) and close upon midnight she had to place this upon the altar stone. She had then to repeat something and perform certain rites, chanting the formula of some charm or invocation. Nothing is now known of what these consisted, neither are we absolutely certain of the church. Everything however points to Kildale Church being the one. It was the nearest to the scene of the murder; it was the church near to which, in the first instant, that the church gram13Anger, passion appeared; and it was the only church, so far as the writer knows, save one, which could boast of a church grime14soot or dirt thoroughly ingrained throughout the North Riding. We are informed, at the conclusion of the ceremony, that the grandmother beheld approaching her a huge black hound. Dropping her hand into the bowl, she sprinkled some of the “sacral” water upon the hound’s head, said something — every word of which is now forgotten — and then followed the hound from the altar right to the very door of Pratt’s house. The distance — if Kildale was the church wouldn’t be a step less than ten miles. Here the hound stopped, uttered three maul-freezing howls, then hurried away.

Next day the old body did not fail to speak of her night’s experience to everyone she met, so that before noon there was not a single man or woman in Stokesley who had not heard the wonderful story, and before the night, the good folk of Seamer heard with many a shake of the head, that it was upon Pratt’s doorstep, the grave dog had howled.

It did not end here. That same night, and night after night following on the stroke of midnight, those awake listened with fear and those asleep awoke with fright and shook with terror as from one end of the quiet peaceful village to the other, there filled the still night air those three dreadful howls. After the first night or two, three or four of the more venturesome spirits of the village waited about in the hope of discovering to whom the hound belonged, for at that time they imagined it to be some stray dog. They ware not disappointed in having a good look at it, for it came boldly on to the step, howled thrice, and then leisurely trotted away again. Those who had thus seen it, now determined upon its capture. To accomplish this feat, one who was an accomplished caster of a net, stationed himself the following evening in the shadow by the door, his companions keeping well out of sight, but near enough to witness everything which happened.

As before, at the hour midnight, the dog came trotting along, paying no heed to any other dog which came in its way, nor following them when they had fled, howling with terror. On Pratt’s step it took its stand, but before it howled the net was well and truly cast over the whole of its body. But the meshes fell flat upon the ground. Strong as they were, they instantly dissolved, leaving the hound unconcernedly standing with its feet upon the net. Paying no heed to what had just happened, it gave its accustomed howls, and then, without let or hindrance, took itself away.

He who had cast the net, and they who had seen all that had taken place, for the first time recognised from whence the mysterious hound came. “It was the church gram, the night howler.”

Those of an observant turn had noticed that Pratt had begun to look nervous and haggard. At last the grandmother stood upon his doorstan15doorstep in broad daylight, and when be came forth, boldly dared him at midnight to latch16fasten his shoon17shoes whilst standing upon the altar steps. So many people were standing about at the time, and with such grave countenances did they listen to the old lady’s challenge, that Pratt perceived that any hesitation on his part would be instantly looked upon with disfavour, and undoubtedly lead to other and more serious proceedings. Therefore, putting a brave face on the matter, he declared he was quite willing to carry out the old lady’s challenge, bidding those who so desired to be at the church gates near midnight. He promised at once to carry a pair of shoon to the cobbler’s, and beg him new sole them by the night, as no sole which had ever borne the weight of man dare be used in such a solemn trial of innocence or guilt.

As far as we can now learn, if guilty, any culprit who dared to latch upon his feet whilst standing upon the altar steps a pair of untrodden shoon such a one would fall dead before he reached the lych gate.

The neighbours according to custom, decided upon which of those standing about should in due course call for the shoon and lay them upon the altar steps, and “beg of the Almighty to bear witness for or against him who that night would latch them in His presence and upon His holy step.”

Towards midnight a quiet, subdued, and reverent crowd gathered about the lyche gate, patiently waiting to see if Pratt dare undertake the solemn task. As midnight drew near all their doubts were set at rest, a whispered “Here he comes” from those the roadway was heard by those near to the church door, and but a few moments later, the one to be judged, was in their midst. As he was about to enter the church one of the older folk said: “Cast from thy feet the shoon thou now standest in, for it is not fit that thou shouldest enter shod.” So Pratt, after a moment’s hesitancy, unlatched his shoes: one was returned to him, the other being retained. Then they bade him enter, and leave the odd shoe just where he found the new soled ones.” Then they watched him enter the sacred edifice and prayerfully awaited his return. Silently they stood, seeming almost like specters of the night, so shadowy did they see. One, two, three minutes, they thus knelt; then the stillness of the night was broken. Within the church there such a fearful yell of despair — nay! it was more of a hellish shriek driven from a lost soul. Those who heard it sprang to their feet gazing one at the other, but never a word passed their lips. Something had happened! What, they knew not. Then they procured lights and with palpitating hearts and prayers for their own safety they began to search for him whom they now all felt was guilty. Halfway up the aisle they found the odd boot lying, and by its side, others that made it at once evident to everyone how he had planned and made the attempt to outwit the Supreme judge and themselves. He had brought, hidden under his wide cape, a spare pair of shoes, intending to put them on, to leave his old ones upon the altar step, and in that way escape the penalty, by leaving the church in other shoes than those recently soled and made sacred by laying near the altar, and which had been watched and guarded by the Almighty. There lay the pair upon the altar step, here was the odd boot, but its marrow18One of a pair, similar and Pratt were nowhere visible. Silently hither and thither they sought for Pratt, but no Pratt did they discover. At last, one of them in trying to push back the belfry door, found it impossible to do so. It required the united effort of several before it could be forced back, and then they dragged forth the dead body of Pratt with one shoe on.

Arguing by inference he must have climbed about twenty steps, and then slipped and fallen breaking his neck in the fall. He was quite dead.

  • 1
    ‘July 20. 1901. Batty’s Story. | Northern Weekly Gazette | Saturday 20 July 1901 | British Newspaper Archive’. 2023. Britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk <https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/0003075/19010720/084/0012?browse=true> [accessed 10 May 2023]
  • 2
    A crude long wooden seat with cushions, usually with only one arm
  • 3
    confidence tricksters
  • 4
    “Hello, Jim, how are you? Would you like a mug of ale with us? By gum, that’s a strange one! I never saw those fellows go out, did either of you?”
  • 5
    “No, I never saw either of them get up, and I aimed to have a word with them. I was a little bit curious to find out what they did for a living.”
  • 6
    “I’m certain that there was nobody in this room but you two when I came in!”
  • 7
    “I’ll tell you what it is, you’ve had too much to drink and too little to eat; you’re both seeing double.”
  • 8
    “I would rather go with ourselves as with a fellow who’s as blind as a bat.”
  • 9
    “That chap has got something over his shoes to let him go as quiet as that. I wonder what he’s up to, not anything good, I’ll be bound!”
  • 10
    “Now what is he after? What would you say if we watch him for a little while? Shh!”
  • 11
    “Hold on, hold on, man! You’re killing him, you’re murdering the man.”
  • 12
    “Hasn’t this tale Tommy has just told us something to do with that tale that you tell?”
  • 13
    Anger, passion
  • 14
    soot or dirt thoroughly ingrained
  • 15
  • 16
  • 17
  • 18
    One of a pair, similar






One response to “The Kildale Spectres”

  1. john jeffers avatar
    john jeffers


    thank you for Sharing.


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