>> 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.
Incidentally, the title "Minster" is given to churches that were established in the Anglo Saxon period as missionary teaching churches.
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).
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!