Anatomy of a 'Ghost' Story

Brigantian Whispers is a work of fiction. However, almost all of the stories related are, to a greater or lesser degree, rooted in real people, places and events. In some stories like 'Helping Hands' or 'A Good Nights Sleep' the stories are based on real life 'uncanny experiences' (although of course richly embroidered and modified in the telling!) Ironically, in this, my latest story, where the ghost is a bogus one, pointing to a hidden treasure, the ghost of its inspiration was purportedly 'genuine'!

Hopefully, the story I will now relate will help to give my readers some level of insight as to how works of fiction like Brigantian Whispers are produced. The secret is research combined with personal insight. I wouldn't even know where to begin writing (say) a 'western' (but yet if I'd spent six months living in Wyoming, things might be a bit different!)

'Halfway Down The Stairs' comes from a story related by my Gran when I was a child, and which lingered in my mind into adulthood.

My Gran, Mary Jarratt, is the prototype of 'Mary' in the story. Her maiden name was Hattersley, and she was the Granddaughter of James Midgley Hattersley, who was the youngest son (by his third marriage!) of George Hattersley, textile machinery manufacturer of Keighley. Her father, George, had two brothers, Willie and Edwin, and a sister, May. George (Midgley) Hattersley owned a wire drawing factory in Brighouse, and leased a house called 'Larkfield House' at Rawdon, near Leeds. It was here my Gran spent much of her childhood and presumably her early adulthood, as my Aunt Muriel, who is now in her nineties (2007) still recalls living there.

George Midgley Hattersley was by all accounts, a talented and sensitive man. He invented a wire drawing machine, and played the violin, but he had a nervous breakdown, and during his convalescence his brothers sold his patents to pay for it. Beyond this, other than my aunts assurance that they had a fine house and a pony and trap, I know little. In the course of time Mary married my Grandfather Fred Jarratt and moved out. From there on her fortunes plummeted, eventually bringing up my father and five other children in a one room cottage at Denholme Gate on the moors near Bradford. But that is another story!

At Larkfield they lived comfortably. The house was (and is) one of two identical houses built side by side adjacent to Larkfield Mills. The houses were built, (so I was told) by two (twin?) brothers named Thompson. And it was from this family that the house was leased.

One night, my Gran told me, she saw her father, and Uncle Willie behaving oddly. They had set up a table on the crossover halfway up the stairs, placed a chair on top of it, and were taking it in turns peering out of the top of the fanlight in the long window (see picture). When she asked them what they were up to they replied jokingly that they were looking for a ghost! In the end they gave up (the ghost that is!) and retired to bed. Of course my Gran was excited by all this, so she stayed wake and sneaked out of her room after they had gone. She clambered up onto the chair and peeked out into the back yard. It was, so she said, a frosty, moonlit night and the yard was clearly in view. She sat and she watched, and saw nothing, and was just about to climb down and go back to bed when she detected movement at one of the dry earth toilet sheds on one side of the yard. As she watched, a dark figure shuffled out, dragging something heavy in a large bundle across the yard. It crossed the yard to the wall opposite and promptly disappeared in the direction of Larkfield Mill Dam. Trouble was, it went through the wall! Seriously scared she quickly retreated to her bed! As for the rest we enter into hearsay. There was once, she said, a gate leading through the wall to the dam, but it had been long since walled up. Then she told how the Thompsons were supposedly involved in heavy gambling debts, and the ghost was that of a defaulting payer who was murdered while on the toilet, dragged through the yard and dumped in the dam! The stuff of penny dreadfuls!
Nearby is Rawdon Billing, which my gran referred to as 'Billiard Hill'. A few years ago, she said, people had been digging up there and found skeletons and treasure! Certainly it was an ancient burial site, so she was probably referring to Victorian amateur antiquarians, who tended to plunder prehistoric burials by way of a hobby! The 'treasure' was no doubt far less significant than that in my gran's imagination.

Herein of course, is the making of a tale. I wanted to use this story, but couldn’t develop the 'ghost' to my satisfaction. So I focussed on the 'treasure'. As a child I used to read the highly enjoyable 'treasure hunting' stories of Enid Blyton and Malcolm Saville. Blyton's stories were fanciful, but Saville’s tended to be rooted in real people and real places. And his 'clues' to the treasure were sophisticated. He cultivated in me an interest in the cryptic and the historically obscure which as an adult has taken me from the Follies of Northern England to the mystery of Rennes-Le-Chateau. So I got to work and in the end produced not a ghost story, but the Da Vinci Code for Kids. (Well before Dan Brown I might add!)

I separated it from 'Brigantian Whispers' for a number of years in the hope I might someday see it published as a childrens novel in its own right. But disillusioned with publishers, I never really attempted to push it, so here it is, in the end, online for you to read. Enjoy!

Jim Jarratt Mytholmroyd 2007.

copyright © Jim Jarratt 2007