Death of a Wellington Veteran
The landlady exasperatedly sighed ‘you put something down here and it disappears – we must have a ghost’. For some time after, the words remained, because somehow deep down, I knew there WAS a ghost in the place. However it wasn’t a spectre that mischievously hid kitchen items, and there was no clanking of chains or vision of headless bodies. It was to be evidenced by an ethereal moving light not unlike headlights passing a frosted window and was only to be witnessed in the months of April and October. Any number of former landlords and cellar men would give credence to this experience.
Where was this? It was in the New Bay Horse, formerly the building of the Old Bay Horse, Main Street, Methley
I had been told of the presence of an unearthly being twice in the past. The first time occurred on a fateful evening at Savile pit following a fatal accident. The mines inspector had been informed and was on his way to the pit. Bernard Clegg the deputy of the district had come out of the pit in order to accompany the manager and inspector to the accident site. As can be imagined the incident had affected Bernard emotionally and as he waited for the party to come to the pithead he was offered a cigarette to calm his nerves. Perhaps it was the nearness to death that encouraged him to tell me of a fatality that occurred in the old days (c1825) near to this place.
Pulling deeply on his cigarette, he described fitfully how an itinerant miner had gone down a nearby old shaft unaccompanied and how shortly after, an explosion from the shallow workings blew flames and smoke up the single shaft wrecking the ladders and tripod lifting gear. It had been reported that it was no fit place to go down, and after the curate, the Rev. Dawson Lumb had been called to say a few words it was agreed to fill and cover the shaft. It had not been thought possible to send for a priest of his own religion despite knowledge of their limited presence in the area. Bernard said ‘it was afterwards that people reported seeing strange things in’t Bay Hoss’.
Following events quickly took the story out of my mind.
I can’t remember what raised the subject again, but it was ‘Flash’ Wright some two or three years later who recounted to me and Sid Williams that he had been told of an instance that had been handed down concerning an explosion at a small pit in Methley. But here more detail was put on the story – the man was known as ‘Irish Edward’ and that he came to work in the fields mostly for the agent of the Mexborough’s but also for other smaller masters. He was a man who came in the spring and left after the last harvest work had been completed. It was said that he would turn his hand to anything, working in the fields, on the highways, in the pits, and that he was good with the beasts also that he was an industrious, sober and reliable man. On that fateful day it had been reported that the man was preparing to leave for his homeland with his meagre belongings and earnings and had gone down to finish off some support work underground prior to meeting up with other journeymen for the trek to Liverpool for the shipping. It had also been handed down that the weather conditions were very poor at the time and had led him to delay his departure. Flash confirmed that it was some time later that unusual light conditions were being experienced in the Bay Horse public house
Records of the position of these old workings were not maintained but it was thought to be adjacent to a site near old cottages, a local inn and an old smithy.
Details of his death were transmitted to other migrant workers who were to carry the news back to Ireland and the small coastal croft where he had returned these recent years to his wife and two children.
During these years there was a great demand for farm labourers who came across from Ireland in their thousands, to take up work in this country. These were to take the place of the many English men who had been drafted into an army that fought Bonaparte. A war fought mostly in the peninsula but almost as many held in reserve because of fears of rebellion by Jacobins, Chartists and many other disenchanted groups in this country. These workers were cheaper to employ and at the same time they filled the gaps created by the movement of families to towns and cities following the passing of the parliamentary enclosure act of 1773. This source of cheap labour, working on the land, the canals and later the railways was available to this country right until the late 20th century, roles, now filled by men and women from east European countries.
But how on earth did he get to Methley? I was to learn later that he had volunteered to travel with Arthur Wellesley from Ireland and fight against the French, the money was good and he hoped to wed after earning enough from his military masters. He was to show much bravery with the 6th Division at Salamanca as a muleteer and was later released from the Durham Infantry with honour. It would appear that he chanced upon Methley on his return to barracks in the North of England to demobilize. An offer of work with the corn was quickly taken up, his industry as a scytheman being quickly recognized and led to a further offer of employment the following year.
In those following years he became a much regarded visitor after initial prejudice. Applying his industry on the land, and his experience with farm beasts and learning the rudiments of working in the semi darkness in the stalls at the Manor pit. Only ever absent on the very few occasions when he went to make his peace with his maker at a hidden catholic outpost near Pontefract. Easily satisfied, his demands were few, but included his desire for the makings of tobacco. He arrived in the middle of April each year and left at the end of harvest time taking his coin back to Ireland to work on the smallholding attended in his absence by his wife.
He had refused continuous employment of working in the small pits throughout the year; where coaling would continue up to 12 hours a day for say two weeks and then one week of taking timber down and completing preparation work. He also worked on construction of the Barnsdale Turnpike in 1821 and 1822 gently refusing to work after mid October when he would tidy up his barn accommodation and return to his homeland linking up with many of his compatriots on the same journey when he would see and hold his beloved wife and now his boy and girl.
The vision of the apparition first occurred during the following April and October after his death, and repeated for some years unnoticed in the area of the top of the covered mineshaft.
The extensions to the Old Bay Horse public house in 1829 including extension to the cellar was excavated only yards from the old shaft was to change things. Licensee Jane Thornton was the first to experience the light which came with the seasons and which was evident each time for some two weeks at different times throughout the hours of darkness – she knew what it was!
Successive eyes from within that pub were to witness the arrival and departure of the light from this benevolent soul without fear, some of them knowing and some in ignorance. The experience also became known to a small number of villagers who treated the knowledge with respect as handed down by the people who knew ‘Irish Edward’ and had been saddened by the inability to reclaim his remains from the depths.
It was some one hundred and sixty years later that the full story was ascertained. When an Irish magazine produced an article about an American family, who, like so many of their kin had come to County Wicklow to follow up their family history……… in interview with Cathal Coyle on RTE Radio in 1990 in Dublin. Martin Malone, who owned successful trucking and construction companies in New York, having inherited those businesses from his father, operations that had been developed and handed down by his forefathers going back to the young Edward Malone who had emigrated to the new America in 1845 along with his widowed mother and sister.
Handed down by the widow Kate Malone to her son and indeed handed down to all the succeeding family was the story of how his father, Ned Malone had joined the army of Arthur Wellesley (later the Duke of Wellington) for the English to fight the Frenchies and how after the wars and because of a lack of work in Ireland he travelled across the sea to work and get some money to pay the rent for the smallholding. She told him of how his father returned every October after crossing the rough Dublin Sea and then about the year he never returned. The young Edward knew from the carriers of the news that his father had died, not on the battlefield in Spain but in a mighty explosion in a coal pit near to the barracks town of Pontefract. He also knew of the hardships his mother had suffered in those later years, saving until she could pay for the steerage fare to the new land – which had been his father’s wish.
Each succeeding Malone had vowed to make the pilgrimage back to the homeland and the old house – the land which had been taken up by the government had long passed on to others – and Martin and his family were the first ones to make it.
The story was not new, many thousands of Americans over the years had made the same journey, many of them pausing and then moving on, however many of them remained long enough to enquire about and visit distant relatives and invest welcome chunks of dollars into the local economy by re-building the old homestead as the third home in the old land.
The Malone story was a bit different – the family had done all the usual things – but in addition they had also travelled across the water to the village of Mettley in Yorkshire. In this year of 1990, some 165 years after his death they had, unheralded, thrown clover on to the then play area of the New Bay Horse pub. This action only visible to an interested but perplexed local walker.
The visit occurred in July, they weren’t to know that they had missed the spring and autumn signs of their ancestor and they will probably never know. In fact no one will see the visions again, because after October 2005 when the land was excavated for new housing the ghostly lair was discharged out of this place allowing Ned Malone (Irish Edward) to make his final peace.
Who knew this story? Well I did and I am sure Dorothy Gettings did, I am also certain that two or possibly three others were deeply aware of that benign presence……………………..but how?