Last week, I wrote about a Yorkshire witch. This week it’s a Yorkshire ghost—or more honestly, a whole Roman legion of them.
I love ancient places, and I live in Leeds, just twenty miles from the historic City of York. The Celts called if Eoforwick—or place of the Yew Trees. When the Romans invaded, they Latinized the name to Eboracum.
Parts of the Roman fortress are visible in York Minster’s crypt. They built the first stone walls around the city.
.Dere Street and other Roman roads all led to their fortress, and tourists can still visit the soldiers’ bathhouse in the cellar of the Roman Baths pub.
Even when the Romans left Britain, York prospered.
The Vikings conquered then colonised, but they called the town Jorvic.
In 1066 King Harold fought off another Viking attack at Stamford Bridge just near York. Six days and a 275-mile march later, he lost the Battle of Hasting to William of Normandy—known at the time as William the Bastard. By then the Roman fortress was ruined, and the Normans built York’s magnificent Minster on the site.
This is where it gets spooky. In 1457 the Minster’s treasurer lived in a grand house just yards from the Minister.
One of the old Roman Roads runs through its cellar. The Treasure’s House belongs to the National Trust now. They keep it in good order, and in 1953 a plumber’s young apprentice was working in the cellar.
The apprentice climbed his ladder and chiseled at the ceiling to get to the pipes. He heard a horn blow, and the hairs on the back of his neck prickled. Soon after, he saw a Roman soldier on horseback come out of the wall, ride down the road, and vanish. He was so stunned he fell off his ladder.
I’d have been out of there, fast.
The apprentice was a damn sight braver than me. Once the horse vanished, a Roman legion marched out of the wall, all in pairs. They carried round shields on their left arm and held long daggers in their right hand. They wore green shirts and red skirts hung with strips of metal, but they had no legs below the knee.
When archaeologists excavated, they found a section of Roman Road beneath cellar. The apprentice realised the ghost legion had walked along it. He spotted the top of leather lacing just where the legs vanished.
Any historians out there? If there are, they’ll know Romans carried huge rectangular shields called scrutum and only laced their sandals to their ankles. Or so everyone once thought.
Archaeologists on Hadrian’s Wall discovered the Romans there fought with round shields and laced their sandals up to their knees.
Only they discovered them long after the 1950’s. Experts now agree the young apprentice’s description was correct, but again, back in the 1950’s they’d have said his details were wrong.
Coincidence? Or an army of Roman ghosts? The missing Ninth legion perhaps? You decide.
When the apprentice fled the cellar, the Treasurer’s House curator took one look at his face and knew he’d seen the ghosts.
Later, that apprentice, Harry Martindale, became a respected member of the police force. He never retracted his story though.