The valley of Longdendale in the Peak District of England is one of those places where ghostly encounters, haunted houses and supernatural forces are never far away. The following is a retelling of a legend collected by Thomas Middleton, which he called “The Haunted Farm,” and included in his book “Legends of Longdendale.”
The Haunted Farm
Once, an ancient farmhouse stood on the edge of Godley Green in Godley. It was a pleasant location near the turnpike road along a country lane. From its windows looking east, there were good views of beautiful farmlands and beyond to the bleak hills where the ancient church of Mottram stood dark against the sky. At first appearance, especially from a distance, it looked charming, quaint, and homely. For centuries it had been the ancestral home of a family of farmers. Each generation had added to the building resulting in the interior having many rooms of varying sizes, giving it a curiously haphazard, though charming appearance from the outside.
Yet, as this charming house was approached, the quaintness shifted to an “oddness.” Something about it was out of place, or at least in the wrong place, and the dwelling did not seem comfortable in the landscape. Those of a sensitive nature perceived a cold, threatening air that clung around it, giving a vague sense of unhomeliness that was difficult to define, and a feeling of being watched. It was as if the house was a living sentient being with a brooding malign intent. Indeed, that was the sinister and unnerving reputation it had acquired over the long centuries from the superstitious local people.
According to local tradition, long before the arrival of Saint Augustine and the Christian church, before the first building of the farmhouse, the land was a site of pagan worship. The ancient people conducted unholy rituals and practices invoking the old gods to ensure the fertility of the land and people. The old religion had eventually been replaced by the new, resulting in the Christian version of life and death, this world and the next, becoming securely enchained into the minds of the local people.
The Old Dame
Numerous disturbing, unexplained incidents have been seen over the years in the farmhouse. These often involve the unquiet spirit of an old dame who was attributed to possessing all the typical physical characteristics of a witch. These included a hooked nose, a bent back, and a repulsive face. Now, folk can be very unkind towards someone who looks different from what is considered normal, allowing their own superstition and fear to influence their perception of the uniqueness of someone else.
Furthermore, to make matters worse, in the case of the old dame, she was also accused of displaying unusual behaviour, and to add spice to the pot, it was rumoured that hidden in the farmhouse or secretly buried somewhere on the farm was a horde of treasure. This treasure was rumoured to be the cause of her unquiet spirit. After she died, her ghost was seen roaming around the farmhouse and adjoining farmland, appearing to be searching for something. Some say she was looking for the treasure but could never find it. Others say she was the guardian of the treasure, and in her wanderings was checking the rooms, and patrolling the farm to guard against treasure hunters.
A Feeling of Being Watched
Over the centuries, the farmhouse had grown to a considerable size. The additions and extensions to its structure each generation had given it an irregular geometry that formed no standard plan. Inside it was a warren of rooms of varied sizes on four floors connected by creaking stairs, shadowy corridors, and cold passageways with dark corners.
There were probably several family members, servants, and farm hands in residence, and it was regularly visited by friends, neighbours, and people in the farming business. New visitors unfamiliar with the house’s history were often deceived into admiring its charm, warmth, and quaint interior and furnishings, especially from the outside looking in. However, on stepping inside, visitors were disturbed to sense an unhomely atmosphere that permeated certain parts of the house and an unsettling feeling of being watched by invisible eyes. At this realisation, the charm turned to repulsion, the warmth to chill, and a quick exit sought.
Over the generations, multiple sinister and unexplained events had been reported, and the farmhouse acquired a growing reputation for paranormal activity. Despite this, no one had ever been known to have been harmed other than receiving a terrible fright. Therefore, most of the family ignored such incidents, having grown accustomed to them over the years.
Even so, visitors unused to such incidents often took a less philosophical attitude. Hence, over the decades, an extensive collection of ghastly, sinister, and uncanny events experienced by non-family members continued to grow. These people were of good reputation, sound judgement and calm temperament and the reports were considered reliable.
For example, doors, even locked doors, groaned open as if an invisible being had passed through. In bedrooms, floorboards creaked under unseen feet in the dead hours of the night. People complained, while passing along the stone-flagged passageways of the ground floor, of experiencing a feeling of being watched and followed. Suddenly a voice behind utters their name as a cold hand is lain upon their shoulder. Then, turning fearfully around, they find no one there but are, gripped by an icy coldness and a feeling of blind panic.
Further incidents include doors opening and closing on their own and the sound of someone trudging up the stairs. Sleepers awake by an icy breath blowing upon their faces or someone breathing and whispering close to where they lay their head while asleep. Additionally, others tell how the bed begins to slowly rock, and their coverings are suddenly snatched away. Cold, unseen hands grasp their feet and wrench them from the bed onto the floor. At these times, the pale, ghastly figure of an old woman silently floating through walls or closed doors was often seen.
On occasions in ground floor rooms, furniture mysteriously moved around, and ornaments and portraits changed position. In the kitchen, pots and pans had been seen sliding across the kitchen table, tumbling, and crashing onto the floor on their own accord. Others fly across the kitchen as if thrown by some petulant, invisible hand. Sometimes a peculiar noise was heard, like someone sweeping the stone floor with a stiff brush. All these unusual and unexplained events were blamed upon the old dame.
An Eerie Poltergeist
Another poltergeist incident involved a daughter in the family who was passionately courting a local lad with a reputation for being a philanderer. One evening, to her delight and his great anticipation, he paid her a visit. The two sat before the kitchen fire, wrapped in each other’s arms, whispering sweet nothings, and dreaming of a rosy future together.
Outside, all was calm and quiet; no wind stirred in the branches of the trees or whistled through cracks in doors and windows. The same relaxed state surrounded the two lovers in the kitchen by the fire. But as their passion grew, unexpectedly, a powerful gust of air burst across the kitchen out of nowhere.
An almighty clattering of pots, pans and breaking crockery was heard as they flew from one end of the kitchen to the other. Around the house, the gust sped, knocking books, ornaments and vases from shelves, tables, and ledges, dumping them unceremoniously upon the stone floor with a resounding crash. At that same instant, every door and window in the house flew wide open and crashed back into place.
Shocked out of his amour, the young man jumped to his feet, crying, “For the love of God, what is happening!”
His sweetheart replied, calmly with a smile, “Why it is nothing but the old dame on her wanderings about the house, take no notice. Let us continue where we left off!”
But her panic-stricken lover grabbed his hat and ran out the door, which opened on its own accord, and slammed shut as he bolted through. Without a backward glance, he ran hell for leather over the fields back to his own home. With him gone, the atmosphere in the house reverted to its earlier relaxed state, but the lad never returned. In time she fell in love and married a young man who made a loving husband, and the two were very happy together. Maybe the old dame did her a favour!
A Mother’s Warning
There are also reports of cases where a strange incident at the farm resulted in the righting of a wrong that occurred somewhere else. For example, one month after this incident, the farmer employed a new farmhand who lived on the other side of the village of Charlesworth. As it was a considerable distance to walk every day, the farmer agreed to provide him with lodging in the farmhouse.
The new farmhand worked his first day, impressing his employer with his attitude and industry. Then, after supper, he went to bed, looking forward to a good night’s sleep. The following morning at daybreak, he came down to the kitchen for breakfast, his eyes wide and bloodshot, his face as white as a sheet. The farmer and his wife were shocked at his appearance and asked if he was ill.
“I have spent every minute of last night awake, shaking in fear. I have seen a boggart – an apparition – the ghost of an old woman. It was the spirit of my mother who came to visit me. On her deathbed, I had promised to place a stone upon her grave carved with her name.
I am ashamed to admit I have failed to keep that promise. I have been too selfish and greedy to spare the money for her stone. Then, last night, she came to remind me of my promise.
I am sorry for my disrespectful and selfish behaviour. Therefore, I vow I will not rest until I have saved the money to buy a stone for my mother carved with her name and placed on her grave as should have already been done!”
He kept his promise this time, although he had to work hard. He refused to stay in the farmhouse and instead chose to live back in his old home on the other side of Charlesworth.
He needed the money, so he needed his job at the farm. So, every morning, he walked the long journey to his workplace. Then, after a hard day of work, he returned on foot to his home in the evening. To give him credit, he worked hard, and he saved the money, and although it took a long time, he saved enough for a handsome stone with his mother’s name carved upon it, which he had placed upon her grave. So, whether through fear of the supernatural or old-fashioned guilt, something good came from a paranormal incident at the farm.
After this incident, supernatural and unexplained happenings increased. Other farmhands and servants also reported frightening experiences while staying in the farmhouse and left their employment and the farm. This affected the farm business badly as word spread of the sinister incidents in the farmhouse, and the farmer could not get staff for love or money.
At last, in desperation, he sought advice from Reverend James Brooks, pastor of Hyde Chapel, Gee Cross, who was experienced in laying to rest the disturbed spirits of the dead. The Reverend Brookes gathered the help of several devout Christians from around the locality. Under his direction, they spent several nights in the haunted rooms and passages of the farmhouse. With their help, he performed special services and rituals designed to drive out evil or lay unquiet spirits to rest.
Initially, his efforts seemed successful as for over twelve months, no other supernatural phenomenon was reported. However, inexplicable, and alarming events eventually resumed, but these were far fewer for shorter durations, but gradually increased so the exorcism was considered to have failed.
The following reports are from a period beginning in 1880 and reported over the next decade.
The Rocking Chair Incident
One day in the mid-afternoon, the farmer’s wife, with her young son and daughter, remained in the house while her family and staff were working the farm. She had just washed a tub of clothes and taken them out in the yard to hang on the washing line. As she was busy outside pegging out the washing, her children, as children so often do, saw their chance for making mischief. So, with their mother busy outside, they snuck off to open the pantry door, where they knew they would find tasty homemade jam, cakes, and biscuits to feast upon. As they greedily ate the delicacies, getting jam all over their fingers and faces, a sudden almighty crash from the room directly above made them jump in fear and guilt.
Terrified and believing there must be intruders, they dashed out into the yard for the protection of their mother and to warn her of their fears. Seeing the sticky red jam on their face and fingers, their mother realised they had raided the pantry. But seeing the fear in their eyes and having also heard the crash decided to investigate. Being a rustic, no-nonsense woman, she seized the yard broom as a weapon and marched into the house and up the stairs to the room above the pantry, her children following.
Entering the room, she was stunned to see an old rocking chair pitching violently back and forth. It was as if some invisible person in great agitation was sitting in it. She grew even more alarmed as the chair’s motion continued unabated, and although she tried, she could not stop it. So, she sent her children to find help, and they alerted one of the farm labourers. He laughed at their tale but told them to wait outside while he investigated.
Entering the room, he found the farmer’s wife bewildered and at a loss at what to do as the chair rocked violently up and down. Although he was as fit and strong as any local man and no coward, he was highly superstitious. Seeing the pitching of the rocking chair with no one appearing to be seated in it, he was paralysed with fear, too terrified to do anything. At last, unable to think of anything better, the farmer’s wife sat in the rocking chair, finally stopping its motion.
According to local tradition, the rocking chair belonged to the old dame who had been very fond of it. She was rumoured to have died while rocking in the chair in that room, and it was claimed that her unquiet spirit had set the chair in motion.
An Uncanny Garden Plot
Although the inside of the farmhouse had an eerie reputation, strange things also happened outside. The garden was fertile and highly productive except for a mysterious patch of brown soil, which seemed as good as the rest. Strangely, no plant ever grew in this patch, and an uncanny and eerie feeling emanated from it. In the hottest summer, anyone standing on that patch experienced coldness seeping into their feet that crept into their mind. Yet, inexplicably, in winter, it never froze over or turned white with frost or snow.
Earlier owners had tried to cultivate this spot but to no avail. Despite everything they tried, not a single blade of grass, weed or flower would grow. Yet, take the soil and place it in a pot away from that patch of ground, and plants thrived. Primroses, tulips, daffodils, and all the garden flowers were planted but failed to grow in that sterile plot. Vegetables and fruits were also tried but were also unsuccessful. The best gardeners using the best fertilisers and tending this patch with all skill and care did not get a solitary shoot from that soil in that location. But place the earth in a pot away from the patch, and plants thrived. It was most mysterious!
Eventually, one gardener dug down deeper than the others and, to his shock and horror, unearthed numerous bones that proved to be of human origin. This led to a theory that it was not the fertility of the soil that was the problem. Instead, by the presence of the bones, it was guessed that some act of evil had contaminated the patch and emanated up through the ground, counteracting the soil’s natural fertility. Furthermore, the bones belonged to a victim who had been wickedly murdered and buried under the plot. Alternatively, the bones had belonged to a person who had been filled with wickedness while alive. That wickedness possessed the patch and accounted for the coldness and unnatural attributes of the plot.
The Black Cat
Another strange report tells how the wife of one of the farmers received an uncanny omen of the death of one of her family. Her brother worked on the farm and had fallen ill, and she had taken it on herself to nurse him.
One day she had been forced to leave him unattended while she walked to Gee Cross on urgent farm business. Worrying about her brother, she walked quickly to Gee Cross, completed the farm business, and set off for home. While on her way, she was startled when a black cat walked across her path. It sat down, gazing at her for a few seconds with a knowing look, then jumped up and ran off. Around the locality where she lived black cats were seen as omens of misfortune. Nevertheless, she was more concerned with her brother’s health than black cats and pushed the incident from her mind and hurried on.
To her alarm, what looked like the same black cat again crossed her path, sat, looked at her, and ran off. Thinking it very coincidental, she continued to hurry back to her brother. She had not gone far when to her disbelief, the black cat reappeared, repeating the same behaviour. She tried but could not catch it, so putting all thoughts about black cats aside, she resumed her journey home.
On reaching the narrow lane that ran to her home, she found her mother had walked up from the farmhouse to meet her. It was a lovely summer evening, warm and still, yet comfortable. There was no murmur or movement in the air, and no sound of bird, animal, or anything else could be heard near or far. The mother and daughter walked along in silence, pleasantly lost in their thoughts, enjoying the evening.
The lane was bounded here and there by hawthorn hedges. As they walked, bushes to their right-hand side suddenly began to rustle and shake violently and inexplicably. Then, as they stared in shock, they saw a figure dressed all in white flowing robes leave the farmhouse door and glide along the other side of the hedge.
Realising something had happened at the farmhouse, they hurried home. On entering, the farmer’s wife ran upstairs to the sickbed of her brother only to find to her sorrow, that he had just expired.
Laid To Rest
The incidents mentioned here are just a small selection of those that have been claimed to have witnessed at the farmhouse during its long history. It would be comforting to think that the unquiet soul of the old dame had at lasd found peace or whatever restless spirits or disturbed presence that had lurked in its confines had passed back to where it belonged.
©16/11/2022 zteve t evans
References, Attributions and Further Reading
Copyright zteve t evans November16th, 2022
- Legends of Longdendale, by Thomas Middleton—A Project Gutenberg eBook.
- Longdendale – Wikipedia
- Peak District – Wikipedia
- Godley, Greater Manchester – Wikipedia
- William_Henry_Hunt_-_A_Farmhouse_-_B1975.3.1044_-_Yale_Center_for_British_Art.jpg (1920×1438) (wikimedia.org)
- J’aimelart, Public domain, via Wikimedia C
- File:The hypochondriac. (cropped) (BM 1866,1114.623).jpg – Wikimedia Commons
- Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons