On the 22nd day of our Halloween Tales, we visit Wycoller, a village stuck in the past with plenty of spirits who seem to be too.
The rural Lancashire hamlet of Wycoller in the Borough of Pendle has remained more or less unchanged since late medieval and renaissance times. Visitors are not permitted to drive into the village. Instead, you must park on the outskirts and walk in. The quiet, leafy walk into Wycoller makes it all the more magical. Once in the tiny village centre, one will feel as though they have journeyed back through the centuries, seeing a car-free vista of winding brooks, ancient tumbledown bridges, and millstone grit cottages.
There are three bridges across Wycoller Beck, the twin-arched, medieval Pack-Horse Bridge, the Clapper Bridge, and the neolithic Clam Bridge. And there, in the very heart of this idyll, sits the remarkable ruined remains of Wycoller Hall. It is the archetypal haunted house, a place so atmospheric that our ancestors were already describing it as ‘the haunted hall’ nearly 300 years ago.
The hall was built by Piers Hartley in 1550, passing through the family as various branches died off or were ruined. Eventually, it fell to the Cunliffe family, after the marriage of Piers’ daughter Elizabeth to Nicholas Cunliffe in 1611. Throughout its history, heirs made dubious decisions, lived rakishly, and invariably lost their ancestral seat to the bailiffs. In the 1800s, the hall was inherited by a reverend who sold off some of its stones to build a cotton mill at Trawden.
It was already a romantic, gothic ruin by the 19th century and it is easy to see why the Bronte sisters were so inspired by it, trekking across the bracken sodden moor from nearby Haworth to wonder at it. It is said that Charlotte used it as her inspiration for Ferndean Manor in Jane Eyre. Today, the hall is a registered ancient monument, and the entire village is owned by Lancashire County Council and remains under their protection.
There are many spirits that are rumoured to haunt the hall, but the most famous is that of Squire Simon Cunliffe and the dreadful replaying of the cruel murder of his wife at his own hand. Caught up in the crazed blood lust of the hunt, legend says he chased a fox into his own bedroom, still mounted on his horse and had his hounds tear it to bits in front of his horrified wife. She was so disturbed by the scene she screamed in terror, begging mercy for the poor defenceless creature. Her husband was so enraged by this that he murdered her then and there.
Was the doomed Mrs Rochester, aka Bertha Antoinetta Mason, based on poor Bess Cunliffe?
John Harland and TT Wilkinson’s Lancashire Legends says: “Tradition says that once every year, a spectre horseman visits Wyecoller Hall. He is attired in the costume of the early Stuart period, and the trappings of his horse are of a most uncouth description. On the evening of his visit, the weather is always wild and tempestuous.”
On these stormy nights, especially around Hallowe’en, the ghost of Squire Cunliffe charges through the village on his horse and up the stairs to where his chamber once was. There, the events of that fateful night replay themselves once more, and the blood-curdling screams of the lady of the house fill the night.
The ghost of the murdered lady is said to have appeared in the hall following her death, dressed in a gown of black silk. She manifested to two of her lovers in this way and has been seen walking the ruins of the hall. She was said to foretell the ruin of the family and is said to have seen the extinction of the family line for the great wrongdoing that was done to her. She was last seen by two workmen at the hall but has not been seen since the last Cunliffe descendent died.
There is an alternative version of this tale, which is far more disturbing. It claims one of the despicable Cunliffe squires married a West Indian bride whilst overseas and threw her overboard and drowned her on the journey home. Her ghost followed him back to Wycoller Hall to haunt him and terrorise him at night for his despicable act. If true, was this further inspiration for Charlotte Bronte? Was the doomed Mrs Rochester, aka Bertha Antoinetta Mason, based on poor Bess Cunliffe?
Additionally, Guytrash Padfoot is a fierce black hound with burning red eyes as large as saucers said to haunt the lonely lanes of Wycoller. This creature is the herald of death and despair to all who cross its path. To meet it on the road at night is an ill-fated omen indeed. It is also known as the Skriker for its dreadful unearthly shrieking.
And across the beck, amongst the cottages sits Wycoller House. This dwelling is allegedly haunted by “the terrifying apparition of a man who wears two hats, one round, one square, a long black cape and has no hands or feet.”
Read our previous Hallowe’en Tales
Day 1 – The Curse of Carleton Crematorium.
Day 2 – The Witch Ducking Stools of Poulton-Le-Fylde.
Day 3 – The Ghost-Seer of Weeton.
Day 4 – Smuggling, Drowned Nuns and Fallen Acrobats at Raikes Hall
Day 5 – The Hauntings at the Old Coach House
Day 6 – Old Scrat
Day 7 – A Goblin Funeral at Extwistle Hall
Day 8 – The Ghost of Lady Macbeth
Day 9 – The Mermaid & The Sea Serpent of Marton Mere
Day 10 – The Banshee of Poulton
Day 11 – The Possession of the Lancashire Seven
Day 12 – Lady Fleetwood of old Ross Hall
Day 13 – Tales of Boggart House Farm
Day 14 – Miss Bamber of Marton and her Charms
Day 15 – A Severed Head at Mowbreck Hall
Day 16 – Burnley’s Satanic Pigs and the Clogging of Owd Nick
Day 17 – Three Pilling Boggarts
Day 18 – Hall i’ th’Wood
Day 19 – The Skull House, Appley Bridge
Day 20 – The Boggart of Clegg Hall
Day 21 – The Haunted Hall on the Hill
Take a look at Zowie Swan’s debut novel, Chingle Hall here.
Main image: Wycoller Hall at Christmas, 1650
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