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Petergate in York
By Lisa Crawford
The ghostly goings on in and around York's city streets are stories of legend, history and myth. Read some of the more spooky, and even gruesome, tales from around the city.
York's rich history is ever present. The past is found on every street corner; and almost every building has a story to tell.
In 2002, the Ghost Research Foundation International labelled York as the most haunted city in the world, when they recorded 504 hauntings around the city. Here are a few of the spooky tales that have made the rounds over the years.
The Orphans of Bedern
During the mid-19th century the degenerated area of Bedern, just off Goodramgate, was occupied with slums and warehouses. An orphanage workhouse was established in the area, which was known the York Industrial Ragged School. It was opened by the parish beadle George Pimm, who was employed by the church. His job, as schoolmaster, was to keep the streets of the parish clear of orphans, waifs and strays. They were rounded up and placed in institutions like the Ragged School.
Pimm was well-paid by the church for each child he housed at the school, but he was a greedy man. He rented the children out to work on farms, market stalls and as chimney sweeps.
The living conditions from within the school were filthy and cold, many children died of starvation or disease. When a child died, the church would give them a Christian burial and cross the name of the school list. Hence, George Pimm would lose an allowance for the dead child. So to ensure he lost no further subsidies, Pimm began to hide the dead children within the grounds and walls of the school.
George Pimm began to suffer from paranoia and reported a strange atmosphere around the school. He claimed he could hear noises - wailing, tapping and scratching, and turned to alcohol for comfort.
Soon he started to tell others of the noises he had heard at the school, but, of course, no-one believed him. They blamed the drink. Before long his ramblings reached the church and they decided to investigate. They were horrified by the state of the school and closed it down.
George Pimm was believed to be mad and taken to the lunatic asylum, where he stayed for the rest of his life, which wasn't long. After four months of incarceration, he hung himself. In a suicide note he complained of the wailings and screams of the dead children that tortured him in his cell.
Visitors to the Bedern area have spoken of feeling their clothing or bags being tugged as they walk through the Bedern Arch. Some people have heard childrens' laughter, whilst others have heard screams of terror.
In the 16th century Thomas Percy, the 7th Earl of Northumberland, was one of the most powerful men in England. During this period Protestant Queen Elizabeth I was crowned. Elizabeth's parliament proceeded to pass anti-Catholic measures, which led to the persecution of the Catholics.
Percy, a devout Catholic, opposed Elizabeth's reign and was involved in a series of unsuccessful sieges and plans to overthrow the Queen, and liberate Mary Queen of Scots.
He fled to Scotland, but was betrayed, captured and sold to the English government. Dragged to York in chains, he refused to abandon his religion and on 22nd Aug 1572 was beheaded for treason. His head was stuck on a spike on Micklegate Bar and served as a warning to traitors.
His head remained there for many years, until it was rescued and buried in the churchyard at Holy Trinity in Goodramgate.
Visitors have reported seeing an apparition of the headless Earl, staggering through the graves, searching for his missing head.
Clifford's Tower massacre
During Henry II reign, in the 12th century, a small population of Jews had settled in the city. At the time the Christian church frowned upon the lending of money, so the Jews set up loan companies on which they became very wealthy. Henry II had been careful to protect the English Jews, but following the accession of King Richard I (in 1189), there were a number of violent outbursts against them across England.
In 1190 this violence spread to York, where the most of the Jewish community sought refuge with the walls of the castle (Clifford's Tower). Anti-Semitic mobs burned down their houses and murdered some of those who had not made it to the safety of the castle.
The mob turned its anger toward the castle. Inside Rabbi Yomtob of Joigney suggested that rather than face the crowds, the community should commit suicide. Many took their own lives and set the keep on fire. The survivors were promised safety, if they surrendered. When they emerged from the castle the following day, they were massacred by the mob. Around 150 Jews were murdered or committed suicide.
Local folklore claims that the ground of the tower is stained red and that the walls of Clifford's Tower bleed on the anniversary of the massacre.
Here is some suggested further reading if you are interested in exploring York's haunted heritage:
Ghosts & Gravestones of York by Philip Lister
Haunted York by Vincent Danks
last updated: 31/10/2008 at 09:42
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