Yorkshire's dark side: Disturbing places still haunted by murders and executions

Cavers explore Tom Taylor's Cave at How Stean Gorge, near Ripon
-Credit: (Image: Hayley Gray)

Why is true crime one of the most popular genres of non-fiction? For the same reason that horror is one of the most popular genres of fiction. Because humans have a ghoulish curiosity.

With that in our morbid minds, we have produced a devilish tour of God's Own Country. Yorkshire might be where Him Upstairs likes to chill but it doesn't stop some truly ungodly stuff from occurring.

In the interest of good taste and common decency we're not going to send you on a tour of atrocities within living memory. These are historic horrors you won't feel ashamed to visit.

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There are murder scenes, places of execution, cells of the condemned and places associated with some of Yorkshire's most unsavoury citizens. There are places where unknown dark forces if you believe in them were at work, reports Yorkshire Live.

Here they are from north to south with an interactive map.

Please note: some of these sights aren't in the most salubrious of areas. Visit in the daytime, preferably with someone else please.

1. Bennison Street

On December 27, 1903, 12 year old Elizabeth Mary Lynas was on her way home from church when her neighbour James Henry Clarkson lured her into his house. Clarkson, of Bennison Street, Guisborough, probably hit Elizabeth on the head and tied her up at the wrists and ankles before cutting her throat.

Elizabeth's mutilated body was found around the corner near the workhouse on the road to Redcar. Clarkson, 19, was arrested after police spotted blood on the door handle of his house.

Clarkson denied murdering Elizabeth, but a jury at York Assizes Court found him guilty. He was executed at Armley Prison on March 29, 1904.

2. Cropton Lane

Joseph Wood and his nine year old son, Joseph Jr, disappeared from their farm on Cropton Lane, near Pickering, around May 17, 1872. His cousin Robert Carter, from the nearby village of Lastingham, had ostensibly been left in charge.

A letter, allegedly from Joseph Sr, was sent from Liverpool to the farm. It claimed they were relocating to New York and Carter should wind up Joseph's successful farming business.

While Carter was away at his own farm, Joseph's brother John, who lived opposite Joseph, searched his brother's farm. After weeks of searching, John found bits of his brother's body scattered around the 90-acre farm.

Parts of Joseph Jr's body, which Carter was believed to have fed to Joseph Sr's pigs, were also discovered. Carter claimed that Joseph Sr had killed his son and attacked him when he threatened to report it. He then killed Joseph Sr in self-defence.

The jury believed his story and Carter, who admitted manslaughter, was jailed for 20 years. When Carter returned to Lastingham, he found his home had been demolished.

3. Tom Taylor's Cave

Highwayman and murderer Tom Taylor reportedly hid his loot in a cave at How Stean Gorge, near Pateley Bridge. Word of Tom's atrocities spread and he was hunted down by soldiers who summarily hanged him in the cave in 1741.

4. York Castle

York Castle, a notorious prison in the 18th and 19th centuries, housed some of Yorkshire's most infamous criminals. Among them was the high-profile highwayman Dick Turpin, who was held at York Castle before his execution at Knavesmire on April 7, 1739.

Visitors can explore his cell at York Castle Museum. Despite his legendary image as a charming rogue, Turpin was a ruthless criminal driven by self-interest. His final resting place is just a short distance away at St George's Church.

5. Knavesmire

Knavesmire, located off Tadcaster Road, was once a site of execution. Named 'Tyburn' after London's famous execution spot, it has been a place of death since the Middle Ages.

Notable individuals executed here include Welsh rebel Rhys ap Maredudd in 1292, Catholic priests Alexander Rawlins and Henry Walpole in 1595, and Cragg Vale Coiners leader David Hartley in 1770.

The last person to be hanged at York Tyburn was Edward Hughes, a convicted rapist, on August 20, 1801. The gallows were eventually removed due to pressure from influential figures in York who believed they deterred potential investors.

Executions were subsequently moved to York Castle.

6. Milner Field

Milner Field, commissioned in 1873 by Titus Salt Jr son of Saltaire's famous Titus Salt Sr was a grand mansion overlooking Shipley Glen, near Shipley. It boasted all the luxuries a magnate could desire and even hosted Victorian royals.

However, the mansion seemed to be cursed with a string of premature deaths among its residents, making it impossible to sell. It was abandoned in the 1930s and demolished in the 1950s.

Today, the remains of the mansion now just rubble are hidden in the woods, while the surviving North Lodge gatehouse is a private residence.

7. The Lamb and Flag

Mary Bateman, known as a con artist, a quack doctor and a serial murderer, was finally caught after attempting to swindle William and Rebecca Perigo, a wealthy childless couple, with a poisoned fertility potion that resulted in Rebecca's death.

On March 20, 1809, Bateman, who had earned the nickname 'Yorkshire Witch', was hanged in front of a crowd of 5,000 people. Some spectators still believed she possessed supernatural powers and would be saved by divine intervention.

Her last residence was opposite Leeds Minster, in what is now the Lamb and Flag pub.

8. Armley Prison

HMP Leeds, more commonly known by its old name Armley Jail, has been a well-known institution since 1847. The prison on Gloucester Terrace has held remanded and convicted prisoners and until 1961, it was also a place of execution.

The first and only public execution took place at Armley in 1864. The double hanging went horribly wrong for one of the condemned men, leading to the decision not to hold any further public executions.

A bricked up archway in what is now a prison staff car park marks the exit of a tunnel from the prison to the execution ground outside the prison walls.

9. The Cross Inn

The Cross Inn, located in the historic village of Heptonstall, is a charming pub and guesthouse. It's known for its infamous past where two Coiners (see above) murdered Abraham Ingham by pouring hot coal down his breaches.

The notorious Coiner leader 'King' David Hartley and his deputy Isaac Hartley are buried nearby in the graveyard between Heptonstall's old and new churches.

10. Gibbet Street

Gibbet Street in Halifax has a unique history. Due to an unusual charter, criminals were executed by decapitation rather than hanging.

A gibbet, similar to a French guillotine, was used for this purpose, 500 years before the French Revolution. The last use of the gibbet was in 1650 before Oliver Cromwell, then ruler of England, banned the death penalty for petty theft.

Two decapitated skeletons and the base of the gibbet were rediscovered in 1839. Today, a non-working replica of the gibbet can be found on the corner of Gibbet Street and Bedford Street North.

11. Wakefield Prison

HMP Wakefield, also known as 'Monster Mansion', is another prison with a notorious reputation due to the number of murderers, rapists, terrorists and gangsters it holds. Between 1906 and 1915, ten men were hanged at the prison, located on Love Lane.

12. The Fleece

The Fleece, a grade II*-listed tavern dating back to around 1610, is reputed to be one of Britain's most haunted pubs.

Reports of paranormal activities include an unremovable blood stain on the staircase, a 'dancing' chair and 'Old Leathery Coit', a headless ghost in a worn-out leather coat who occupies a seat on a carriage drawn by headless horses.

During a visit from the Most Haunted TV crew to the Elland pub, a wooden chair was hurled at landlady Christine Watson while she was being interviewed on camera.

13. St Wilfrid's Church

The lychgate to this medieval church in Hickleton, near Doncaster, features a glass cabinet embedded in one of its walls. Inside are three human skulls, two of which are undoubtedly real.

Above is etched the Latin phrase hodie mihi, cras tibi. The translation 'today for me, tomorrow for thee' is carved below.

Local folklore suggests they may have belonged to highwaymen or sheep rustlers executed for their crimes. Alternatively, they could have been those of punished servant girls or the wicked ancestors of local gentry.