Yorkshire Myths and Legends

Dracula, Whitby

Perched dramatically on the cliff top, Whitby Abbey provided inspiration for Bram Stoker’s gothic novel. Both Dracula (1931) and Count Dracula (1977) were filmed here.

Dominating the picturesque seaside town of Whitby, the Abbey is one of England’s most important archaeological sites.

The town itself, with its cobbled streets, picturesque houses and sandy blue flag beach is a great place for all the family to explore.

Devil’s Punchbowl

The Hole of Horcum is a large natural ampitheatre which is skirted by the A169 between Pickering and Goathland on the North York Moors.

Known locally as the “Devil’s Punchbowl”, local legend has it that the ampitheatre was made by a giant, who scooped up a large ball of earth and tossed it aside to create a nearby hill.

Mother Shipton’s Cave, Knaresborough

Mother Shipton is England’s most famous prophetess. She lived some 500 years ago during the reigns of King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I.

Her prophetic visions became known and feared throughout England. People believe she predicted the Spanish Armada, the Great Fire of London and even the plague. In 1665, when the plague struck, Samuel Pepys wrote, “See – Mother Shipton’s word is out”.

The Cave, her legendary birthplace is next to the famous, unique, geological phenomenon – The Petrifying Well. See its magical cascading waters turn items into stone!

The Petrifying Well is England’s oldest visitor attraction, first opening its gates in 1630!

Mother Shipton’s Cave & The Petrifying Well lie at the heart of the Mother Shipton Estate – a relic of the Ancient Forest of Knaresborough.

King Billy Statue, Hull

Hull City Centre has a golden statue of William of Orange riding a horse, which commemorates his landing in England to become king. Legend has it that ‘King Billy’ gets off his horse and goes for a drink in the King Billy pub when he hears Holy Trinity Church clock strike midnight. The statue is known locally as the King Billy statue.

Robin Hood

Legends claim that Robin Hood may have been based in the Barnsdale area of what is now South Yorkshire.

A tradition dating back at least to the end of the 16th Century gives his birthplace as Loxley (Locksley), South Yorkshire, while the site of Robin Hood’s Well in Yorkshire has been associated with Robin Hood at least since 1422. His grave has been claimed to be at Kirklees Priory, Mirfield, as implied by the 18th Century version of Robin Hood’s Death and there is a headstone there.

The very first ballads that feature Robin Hood place him in Yorkshire. The first time he is mentioned in English literature is in a line from William Langland’s Piers Plowman, written in around 1377.

He features more heavily in A Lytell Geste of Robyn Hode, a 13,900-word ballad that was printed in about 1500, but written earlier. In it, Robin isn’t a nobleman but a yeoman (low-born freeman). The poem is set in the forests of Barnsdale, between Doncaster and the village of Wentbridge in Yorkshire.

Many legends say that Robin operated in Barnsdale where many travellers were on their guard against robbers. A tree known as the bishop’s tree marks the spot where Robin robbed the Bishop of Hereford. Several place names around Barnsdale, like the Sayles Plantation, Wentbridge and Doncaster are mentioned in stories.

Over the next 300 years, more places were named after the hero: Robin Hood’s Butts in Cumbria, Robin Hood’s Walk in Richmond, Surrey – everywhere except in Sherwood. There, it was only in 1700 that a place was named after Robin Hood.

Legend has it that Robin Hood and his band of merry men made haste to Robin Hood’s Bay and to sea when on the run, and that is how the village got its name. Other places associated with Robin Hood are: Blyth, Doncaster, Kirklees, The Greenwood, York, South Owram near Halifax, Huddersfield, Wortley, Barnsley, Rotherham, Wakefield, Bawtry and the Sayles.

The Sloane Manuscript also says Robin Hood was born in Locksley, Yorkshire. However, some say that Locksley was in Nottinghamshire and there have been boundary disputes.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica agrees that the early Medieval ballads such as the Geste, Robin Hood And The Monk, Robin Hood And Guy of Gisborne, Robin Hood And The Potter all show that the action took place in South Yorkshire rather than Nottinghamshire.

It is possible that Robin Hood’s adventures took place in both Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire because Sherwood Forest once continued into Barnsdale Forest in South Yorkshire.

In February 2004, the debate even reached Westminster when West Yorkshire MPs tried to prove that Robin Hood was from Wakefield.

Yorkshire’s Ghostly Legends

Temple Newsam, Leeds

Temple Newsam is one of the great historic houses of England. Home of the Ingram family for over 300 years this fine Tudor-Jacobean mansion dates back to the late 15th Century.

With 500 years of history the house is said to be one of the most haunted buildings in Yorkshire and has many tales of ghosts and unexplained happenings. This was also the birthplace of Lord Darnley, husband of Mary Queen of Scots.

Screaming Skull in Burton Agnes Hall, East Yorkshire

Burton Agnes Hall was built during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. The youngest daughter of the family, Anne, was murdered but had a dying wish to have her head laid to rest in the new Hall that she would never come to live in. Her sisters refused but after she was buried strange happenings began to take place. Finally Anne’s head was placed within the Hall. Future attempts to remove the skull resulted in more hauntings – moanings and screaming – and eventually the skull was hidden somewhere within the Hall so that it would be undisturbed.

Long Marston

In 1644, Oliver Cromwell defeated a Royalist Army at the Battle of Marston Moor, about a mile north of Long Marston village. The ghosts of the Royalist soldiers have frequently been seen in the area, including three phantoms in Cavalier costume. The Old Hall in the village, used by Cromwell during the battle, is said to be haunted by his ghost.

Bolton Abbey

King George V was one of the witnesses to the Marquis of Hartington’s account of seeing the ghost of a monk in the rectory in 1912. A black-robed spectre that haunts the church accompanied by a strong smell of incense usually appears in July in the daytime.

Legendary Legionnaires – The Treasurer’s House, York

In 1953 apprentice plumber Harry Martindale was installing a new central heating system in the cellars of the Treasurer’s House in the shadow of York Minster. Suddenly he heard the distant sound of a horn, which became gradually louder. Then a great carthorse emerged through the brick wall, ridden by a dishevelled Roman soldier. He was followed by several more soldiers, dressed in green tunics and plumed helmets. It looked as though they were walking on their knees – their lower legs and feet were nowhere to be seen. It became clear that they were walking on an old Roman road, the Via Decumana, which had been buried 15 inches below the surface. When a bewildered Harry scrambled upstairs to safety, the Treasurer’s House curator reportedly said to him, “You’ve seen the Roman soldiers, haven’t you?” It seems the ghoulish visitors had been spotted on several previous occasions.

York’s famous haunted cellar along with the house, art gallery and tea rooms are now open to the public.