In the mid 1980s my late cousin Linda, who lived at Foster’s Leap farm, was working as a barmaid at the nearby Herders’ Inn above the ancient hamlet of Wycoller. It was a wild, December night and outside there was a blizzard. A taxi driver was called to pick up the bar staff. He arrived just after midnight and said that, as he was driving up to the pub from Laneshawbridge, he gazed through the snow-covered windscreen and saw a cavalier on horseback by the bonnet of his car. He could even see the horse’s hot breath silhouetted in his headlights on the cold night air. The horseman then leapt over a wall and disappeared into the darkness by Wycoller Country Park.
In a state of shock, he doubtless believed that he had seen the spectred horseman Gytrash, who is mentioned in Jane Eyre and appears riding over the 13th century packhorse bridge in the direction of Wycoller Hall (Ferndean Manor) on the wildest night of the year.
There may, however, be another explanation, which is only a little less bizarre. Towards the end of the twentieth century a familiar sight in Heptonstall and the area around the Yorkshire/Lancashire border was Mr David Mark Shorrocks, a Civil War enthusiast, who believed he was the reincarnation of a Roundhead called Captain Helliwell, who had taken part in the Battle of Heptonstall.
After retiring through ill health as a bus driver for Rochdale Transport, ‘Captain Helliwell’ would ride on his warhorse Silver to many Civil War sites in full military regalia. He had been seen riding along the Long Causeway after midnight and no doubt gave a nasty shock to motorists travelling between the two counties in the early hours of the morning.
On Thursday 31st May 2001, after suffering from long bouts of depression, during which he had threatened suicide, the 48-year-old, who lived on Steep Lane, Sowerby, walked out of some bushes and laid his head on the railway line at Luddenden Foot, where he was hit by a train travelling from York to Blackpool and was decapitated. The time was 5.10 p.m. he line was closed, whilst the air ambulance removed the corpse.
At the inquest in Halifax Town Hall, the coroner Mr Roger Whittaker recorded a verdict of ‘felo de se,’ after the dead man was found clutching a suicide note. The driver of the train stated that he had had no time to stop the train.
Under the pseudonym David Shires Mr Shorrocks had co-written a book in 1993 on the Battle of Heptonstall with Sheila King entitled ‘The Halifax Cavaliers and the Heptonstall Roundheads.’ It was published by Puritan Press in Halifax.
Her real name was Sheila Greetham and she had first met David, when he came to Luddenden Junior School dressed in his breastplate armour, lobster pot helmet, buff, leather coat and black cavalry riding boots. A keen Beatles fan, David also enjoyed making pen and ink sketches of Civil War scenes. Apparently he felt very much at home in Heptonstall, where he sensed he was being helped by his spirit guide Captain Helliwell.