Walter of Calverley (A #leedsstorytime)

Some of you will know Calverley, off the Ring Road, on the way to Shipley. It’s high on the hill, looking down on the Aire valley. It’s an ancient place, already old by the time of the Domesday Book, when it was known as Calverlei. It was home to the rich and powerful Calverley family, who built Calverley Old Hall in medieval times and lived there.

Walter Calverley was born in 1579. Folk called him Sir Walter, although he had no title – he was just Squire Calverley. On the death of his father, Walter became guardian of William Brooke, who really did have a title, Baron Cobham.

Walter was a ne’er do well. He attended Cambridge but left without a degree, although with debts from drinking and gambling. Back home he became engaged to the daughter of a nearby landowner. But his ward, William, urged him to end the engagement. William suggested Walter marry one of his relative, Philippa Brooke, a woman with a hefty dowry – a Godsend to a man in debt.

They married, but wedlock didn’t slow Walter down. He wasn’t happy in the marriage, even if he liked the money his new wife brought. He moved back and forth between Calverley and the lights of London town. Within 12 months he’d spent all the dowry and found himself in debtor’s prison, while his mother-in-law tried to reclaim the dowry. But the marriage survived. In fact, Walter and Phillipa had 3 sons – William, Walter and Henry. Fatherhood didn’t tame Walter, either. He kept drinking and gambling and was groaning with debt.

By 1605 Walter was reduced to selling off the land he owned to pay his debts. And then something happened to turn his mind. No one knows quite what. Drink? Agonies about money? Or the madness that was said to run in the family? What is certain is that on April 23, 1605, Walter Calverley went mad. He accused his wife of being unfaithful. He said that the children weren’t his. He drew his sword, stabbed the two oldest boys to death and tried to murder Philippa. Storming out of Old Hall, he threw the nurse down the stairs; she died. Walter roared out into the rainy night. Henry, his youngest son, was with a wet nurse. He intended to kill the boy. But his horse stumbled in a hole and fell on him. Before he could escape, the night watch was there to arrest him. And with arrest came sobriety – and panic.

If he pleaded guilty everything he had would be forfeit to the Crown. Nothing left for his wife and son. And insanity wasn’t a plea at that time. So he did the only thing he could – he refused to enter a plea to the court. That meant he had to be pressed until he entered a plea or died. He was tied to the floor, a heavy door on top of him. Weights were added on top until the person pled or was crushed to death. His wife and friends tried to stop it. But with each stone added to the door, Walter just said, “A pund o’ more weight! Lig on! Lig on!” until he was dead. He was finally interred at St. Wilfrid’s Church in Calverley and became the subject of a play, The Yorkshire Tragedy.

Then the tales of the ghost began. People reported seeing Walter on his horse, riding the roads around the church

He held a bloody dagger, and would vanish as his horse stumbled and fell. But sometimes…the ghost is reported to yell ‘Lig on!’ and rush at people, vanishing just before he reaches witnesses

And that’s the tale of Walter of Calverley.