John Birks was a very regular writer to the letter pages of newspapers. Often his letters were on serious, weighty topics. But one letter was a response to a story in the Daily News about the appearance of a ghost in the Yorkshire town of Calverley. John Birks relates an incident that had happened to him when he was a young preacher.
After leaving college my first settlement was in a little Yorkshire town, not far from Calverley, and my first visit was to conduct a funeral service in the house on the occasion of the death of a young man belonging to my church, but residing at Calverley.
I accompanied the friends and mourners to the churchyard, where the services were completed by the Vicar, the present burial laws not being t.hen in operation. This was my first acquaintance with Calverley. On another occasion I had been preaching at Huddersfield and reached Leeds on the return journey after the last train on Sunday night had gone. I set out to walk home, some half-dozen or more miles distant, and had to go through Calverley: On passing the churchyard I saw something which gradually developed into a beautiful form of light, which accompanied me some distance, with finger pointing onwards, and then gradually disappeared. My feelings cannot be described, but I walked quietly forward, and after a little began to breathe in more regular order, and went on my way wondering at the things I had seen and heard.
I make no comment on this beyond saying that I have nothing sensational to suggest or phenomenal to explain but simply to relate what came to me at one period of my life’s journey, and, my view of the paragraphs of the papers, what now appears to be a rather remarkable coincidence.
(Danby House, Gorleston, 28th December, 1901)
There is a ghost story associated with Calverley. In 1604 the local landowner, Walter Calverley, murdered some of his children in a fit of madness. He refused to plead and was pressed to death, a method used to force a confession. But he died without confessing his crime probably to ensure that his estate was not taken from his remaining family.Legend has it that he can still be seen as a ghost, wandering in the grounds of his former home. The murder inspired a play, A Yorkshire Tragedy, sometimes thought to be by Shakespeare.
John Birks’s mother and brother, Richard Elliott Birks, both attended spiritualist sessions, but there is no evidence that he shared their interest – so maybe he really did see a ghost!