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The York Minster and the Treasurer's House

>> Thursday, February 18, 2010

My other good ghost story from York is as follows.

The York Minster dominates the city of York.  It is the largest gothic cathedral in northern Europe.  It's like a living thing, cropping up over and over again as one turns corners throughout the city.


The history of the York minster, in brief, is as follows.  The first York Minster was built for the Anglo Saxon King, Edwin of Northumbria.  He had been baptized in a small wooden church in 627, and ordered a stone church built to replace it.  That church was built and survived the Viking era of York, but was damaged by fire in the Norman conquest of York in 1069.  It is unknown where that church lay.

Incidentally, the title "Minster" is given to churches that were established in the Anglo Saxon period as missionary teaching churches.
 
On the roof of the York Minster

The Normans ordered a new Minster to be constructed in a separate location, and that is the location of the present Minster.  Construction was begun around 1080, and completed around 1100.  Bits of that version of the Minster are still visible in the undercroft.  The present Minster was constructed in stages, between about 1215 (starting with the north and south transepts) and 1472 (ending with the western towers).

The Five Sisters Windows

Next to the Minster, across a narrow cobblestone street, lies a building known as the Treasurer's House.  In medieval times, it served as the home for the treasurers of the Minster, which was a prestigious and coveted position.  In 1547 it passed into private hands when the office of treasurer was abolished as a result of the Reformation, and the house remained under private ownership until it was donated to the National Trust in 1930.  It's a magnificent house, although it has undergone so many renovations it is difficult to know what it may have looked like at any given time in history.  Sadly, I don't seem to have taken any photos of it.

The ghost story I heard on the ghost walks of York is as follows.  In 1953, a young plumber by the name of Harry Martindale was doing some work in the basement of the Treasurer's House.  He heard the sound of a horn or bugle in the distance, although thought little of it as he assumed it was the sound of kids playing in the street outside.  Suddenly the horn sounded very close to him.  He scrambled into a corner of the basement, from which vantage point he observed a bunch of tired and dirty Roman soldiers walk through the basement wall, through the room, and out through the wall on the other side of the basement.  He could only see the soldiers from about the knees up - it appeared to him almost as though they were walking through the basement on their knees.


After the incident, Mr. Martindale fled from the basement and told his tale.  Initially, historians were skeptical about his story because the description Mr. Martindale provided of the soldiers did not match what was known about the Roman soldiers at that time.  He described unusual kilts, helmets and other armaments, the likes of which Roman soldiers had never been known to wear. 


Fastforward to the late 1960s.  When the central tower of the York Minster began to collapse, a massive collaboration among historians, archaeologists, architects and engineers was launched to save the structure.  Before they could inject massive concrete supports into the basement to support the tower, excavations were done.  Elements of the Norman predecessor to the Minster were uncovered.  Additionally, archaeologists unearthed a Roman road that extended under the Minster in the direction of the Treasurer's House. 

Further excavation in the basement of the Treasurer's House revealed that the Roman road did indeed run under the basement, approximately 15 inches below the present floor.  The Roman soldiers Mr. Martindale saw had been walking on their own road, and that was why they could only be seen from the knees up.


Additionally, other artifacts were discovered in the Minster excavations that corroborated Mr. Martindale's descriptions of the soldiers' armor.  Other archaeological discoveries had also been made between 1953 and the late 1960s, that confirmed that indeed, Roman soldiers could have worn the clothing and armor Mr. Martindale had described.

This is probably one of the best documented ghost stories in York.  I have to admit, it's a convincing tale, since Mr. Martindale had talked with historians in detail about his observations long before the excavations under the Minster began.  Mr. Martindale was not a historian, and could not possibly have known about the presence of the Roman road, nor that Roman soldiers had ever worn such attire, as no one knew those details until many years later.

I heard many other ghost stories in York, but those are the two I remember best.  Remembering all this about York makes me want to take another trip to England!

5 comments:

b. February 18, 2010 at 1:55 PM  

I'm almost certain that you've shared this story with me before. And once again, I have the willies. It's a good thing I don't live in England. As it is, my mother has managed to freak me out by insisting that OUR hours (built in 2001, no less) is haunted. My imagination is just waaaay to vivid to deal with hauntings.

Woodswoman Extraordinaire February 18, 2010 at 1:58 PM  

LOL b.! Then I shall refrain from sharing the stories of odd happenings in my own house, built in 1831, for fear I'd scare you away from visiting should you ever chance to be in Upstate New York!

Ellen Rathbone February 18, 2010 at 2:45 PM  

I'm afraid I don't remember much of York from my trip there. We did England, Scotland and Wales in 10 days - a whirlwind tour. By the time we reached York, I came down with the flu. My memories are of feeling awful, eating a pasty, and thinking of the Minster as "another cathedral" (I think we toured every cathedral in the country - after a while it got old).

We did a night tour one night, though, that included a couple ghost stories, but I think that was in Carlisle. Still, nothing was as good as this story! Very cool - enough to make a believer out of even the most diehard skeptic!

Anonymous July 4, 2012 at 3:08 PM  

do u have a story about the treasurers house because scrolling down the paragraphs and i can't see any information about it!!!!:):)

Woodswoman Extraordinaire July 4, 2012 at 3:21 PM  

Ummm... Anonymous? The ghost story takes place in the basement of the Treasurer's House, as it says...

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