John Birks and the Calverley Ghost

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!

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