Ghosts

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Anyone who follows me on Goodreads or who has scoured my book review posts will know that I’m very predictable in what it takes to pique my bookworm interest. A big spooky house, unexplained goings-ons, eerie family curses and perhaps an apparition or two to boot. Little did I know that I had just this in real-life form, and under a mile from my family home in Yorkshire. My dad is a local historian and had been researching various local heroes from Bradford’s industrial glory days such as Lister, and perhaps the more widely known Titus Salt, and it was through this that the story of Milner Field was told…

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Milner Filed was commissioned to be the family home of Titus Salt Jnr (youngest son of Sir Titus Salt) and built in 1869 to the plans of decadent architect Thomas Harris. No expense was spared in the building of Milner Field; and it would certainly have been one of the most opulent mansions in the north of England at it’s time; which is clear from the fact it received royal visitors twice. Amongst many unusual luxuries the house had an orangery, vast glasshouses filled with tropical plants imported from around the world and a boating lake. Keen to show off their wealth and home, the family would host huge parties with absolutely no expense spared. Unfortunately, the house may have looked set to provide its owners an idyllic life, but this wasn’t the case. Titus Salt Jnr died unexpectedly young, leaving the house to be passed on to a new family; that of James Roberts. Upon moving into the house bad luck dogged him and his family. His eldest son died of pneumonia, his youngest son drowned, his second son died of an unexplained illness and his remaining son was badly injured in the great war. On top of this – whilst his daughter Alice successfully married, she was then unfaithful and her high profile husband murdered her lover, causing a national scandal. Poor Roberts ey? The final occupant of Milner Field was quickly dispatched of by the curse, in perhaps the worst way yet! As a result of a nasty infection of the diaphragm he hiccoughed to death!

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As a result of the endless misfortune heaped upon owners who resided in Milner Field, paired with the fact that these rambling grand houses were falling out of fashion given the vast amount of staff needed to maintain them, by the war it was near impossible to sell the property. Despite various attempts and glossy sales pamphlets being created, the house sat empty and eventually fell to rack and ruin. Local children in 1940’s and 50’s recall playing in the roofless mansion as children; which must have been an incredible playground given that all the rooms were still intact. It was at this time that local newspapers reported various tales from visitors to Milner Fields of apparitions being sited amongst the ruins; the most commonly known story being that of an Edwardian man dressed in green carrying a flute! In the 50’s, with health & safety being sited as the reason (although perhaps it was more likely that the council was getting spooked by all the stories!) Milner Field was demolished and flattened. Isn’t it an incredible story? That within the space of less than a century, one of the grandest houses ever to be built in England could be set upon with dynamite and diggers and left to rot in the moss.

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The above photos are taken from Milner Field; The Lost House of Titus Salt Jnr which I’ve had my nose permanently shoved in on my staycation up north this week. The photo just above gives you a glimpse of the change from Milner Hall as it was, to how it is now. On the blue skied, beautiful Bank Holiday Monday; my dad, Nick and I headed off to Saltaire to explore. As we entered the woods in which Milner Field sits, we weaved our way up a winding mile of driveway. I could almost taste the previous anticipation of those privileged to be invited to stay with Titus Salt Jnr when the house was in its hey day.

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If you just stumbled across the site of Milner Field, you could be forgiven for writing it off as a pile of old rubble and moving along. However having my dad as a guide, he could point out that two large pieces of stone that we walked between would actually have been the two pillars attached to a grand archway at the entrance to the house. It’s with this eye that you can suddenly look around yourself and with a bit of imagination, envisage the house as it once must have been. The ruins sit very isolated in a patch of woodland, as over the last 60 years nature has taken Milner Field in its clutches. It’s definitely not a place I’d feel comfortable being on my own, I’m not sure if it’s the fact it’s steeped in bad fortune but there is a definite atmosphere that has the hairs on the back of your neck prickling at every crack of a tree branch or wind that picks up around you!

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This spooky sensation didn’t put me off having a little solo pirouette in what would have been the grand ballroom. In the close up, you can see that parts of the floor are still present and covered in a beautiful mosaic. In the book I read about one incredible party in-particular for Isabel Roberts “coming out” 19th birthday party which was fancy dress and attended by the creme de la creme of society at the time; royalty, film stars and local business directors. Apparently Japanese lanterns were shipped in and strung around the ceiling, and an obscene amount of port was ordered! I shut my eyes and imagined all of those bodies packed into the space around me, and wondered what an earth happened to them all after this snapshot in time.

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Nick & had a good clamber over the rubble (cursing my footwear, £4 brogues are not adventures shoes) and had a kiss where the kitchen would have been. Upon closer investigation to the hunks of remaining stone, you can see that the odd one has ornate carving or moulding and it’s worth trying to work out where it might have fitted in the house.

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The most recognisable area of Milner Field left standing is the entrance to the cellars that would have stretched the whole length of the house. I wonder how many brave bodies have wormed their way inside and scampered around? If it hadn’t been filled with stagnant rain water and litter, I think Nick might have been tempted.

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If you find yourself in Yorkshire I can’t recommend a visit here enough. It’s one of those rare treasures that passes by word of mouth and won’t be in any rough guide or tourist information brochure…

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Lately I needed to plan a special surprise for someone I had already used up all my best ideas on the previous birthdays, festive times and other celebrations and was totally STUCK. I thought about our shared interests and settled on ghosts, scary things, being scared… things that go bump in the night. I thought about ghost walks in creaky old towns or spending the night at a haunted inn. Then I stumbled across Dusk Till Dawn Events and it was a no brainer. The description was vague: 8.30pm – 4am in an allegedly very haunted stately home (now museum) Bolling Hall doing all manners of ghost hunting. A few clicks and gulp when I entered my visa details and we were booked on….. and then I started to get THE FEAR. I have to admit to a few sleepless nights running up to the event on Saturday, as I have been known to get so scared in my own flat that I’ve slept in the bath (why that is somehow safer I dont know?)

We rocked up at 8.30pm and were met by an instantly smiley, bubbly girl Jo – our host for the evening – who showed us to our base room the room where we could return any time for teas, coffees, biscuits and inbetween vigials to gossip about what we’d seen and heard.  The fact the base room had severed deer and boar heads on the wall… well, just slightly un-nerving. But hey at least they weren’t the heads of previous ghost hunters who met sticky ends.

There were about 25 other people on the ghost hunt, mostly fellow newbies to the whole thing. Various ages, backgrounds and from all over the UK but all equally friendly. Jo was joined by Joanne, our medium for the night. I instantly warmed to her as she was quick to alliviate any silly fears that had prickled my brain  eg. NO a spirit will not follow you home, NO you will not be possessed, NO the idea is not for you to spend the night so paralysed with fear that you cannot enjoy yourself! She also educated us on the difference between Residual Hauntings (where a ghost is played over and over almost like a video projection) and Intellegent Spirits who are aware of the living world and therefore can communicate – through noise, moving objects etc. The first spooky moment of the night happened when Joanne was mid explanation of Residual Spirits and said …so they definitely cannot communicate with you which was promptly followed by a large, rattling knock, knock that exploded into the hall! Cue lots of nervous laughter and a sign that we were in for a very active night. After our introduction a nice chap from the Bolling Hall staff team gave us a tour of the museum, including usually closed to the public areas – making a museum geek like me very chuffed.

Rather than dry historical facts he told us tale after about the ghosts and spirits that were reported in each room through history, along with a few first hand sightings and recent reports by staff and local dog walkers! It was about an hour long and definitely geared us up to hunt out some of the nicer sounding ghouls (the 8ft tall angry Victorian man with a huge butchers knife however, I was very much hoping not to bump into..)

We then were given various ghost hunting tools (dousing rods, temperature gages, laser guns, electronic frequency recorders, crystals…) and allowed to scamper off on our own in pitch black museum with just our torches for company. I definitely got some interesting readings and close encounters with things that then turned out to be part of the museum decour (stuffed dogs?!) . This was followed by three hours of vigils. We went into various rooms where for an hour Joanne or Jo would attempt to contact the spirits and encourage them to communicate. The scariest of these was in the Red Room where mid vigil, the door FLEW open and I had a real scooby doo moment of jumping on whoever was closest! There was also a huge amount of knocks, flickering lights and spooky goings on.. and just a few “WHAT WAS THAT?!” … “Sorry, just my belly grumbling” to lighten the mood.

After the vigils there was just another hour left to go off using the hunting equipment again and then it was home at 4am where I had the best nights sleep of my life (no bumps in the night followed me home obviously!)

I would absolutely recommend this experience to anyone. I had previously thought I might be paralysed with fear and unable to even get in the building. But actually it was just really interesting and exciting and only a tiny bit good-scary. The staff make you feel so comfortable that you just relax and throw yourself into it Ghostbuster style! Running around an empty museum at 3am is going to be a novel experience to anyone anyway, and the added creaks and knocks and eerie goings on just added to it. I wouldn’t say it has made me come away more of a believer or more of a sceptic… just feeling a little bit smug with my own bravery and desperate to go on another one.

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