William Henderson, in his Notes on the Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties (1866), writes:

The village of Calverley, near Bradford … has been haunted since the time of Queen Elizabeth by the apparition of Master Walter Calverley, now popularly called Sir Walter. It is averred that this man murdered his wife and children, and, refusing to plead, was subjected to the ‘peine forte et dure.’ In his last agony he is said to have exclaimed, ‘Them that love Sir Walter, loup on, loup on!’ which accordingly became the watchword of the apparition, which frequented a lane near the village of Calverley. There is no fear, however, of meeting it at present; the ghost has been laid, and cannot reappear as long as green holly grows on the manor.

But he adds that his friend, the Revd J. Barmby, had told him that his grandfather, as a child, riding behind his father on horseback, saw the apparition, and was terrified by it. His father, to allay his boy’s fears, said, ‘It’s only Sir Walter.’

This Walter Calverley is the hero of The Yorkshire Tragedy, a play once attributed to Shakespeare, and the tradition was used by Harrison Ainsworth in his novel Rookwood (1834). The peine forte et dure (‘strong and harsh punishment’) was pressing to death.

T. F. Thiselton Dyer, in Strange Pages from Family Papers (1895), says that in a particular room at Calverley Hall there were indelible bloodstains, and also a particular flagstone in the cellar that was never dry. In March 1874, the writer of an article entitled ‘Calverley, Forty Years Ago’ in a Bradford paper related how he had once tried to raise the ghost of the old squire. About a dozen boys used to assemble after school near Calverley church, and place their hats and caps on the ground in the shape of a pyramid. Then they took each other’s hands and, making a circle, recited:

‘Old Calverley, old Calverley, I have thee by the ears,

I’ll cut thee into collops, unless thou appears.’

While this was going on, they strewed breadcrumbs saved from dinner and mixed them with pins on the ground. Some of the more adventurous had to go to the church doors, whistle through the keyholes, and repeat the rhyme. The ghost was expected to appear at this point, and once did – whereupon they scampered off, leaving their caps behind.



Haunted England : The Penguin Book of Ghosts – Written by Jennifer Westwood and Jacqueline Simpson
Copyright © Jennifer Westwood and Jacqueline Simpson 2005, 2008