The Tragic Roundhead

tragic roundhead

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.

tragic roundheadThere 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.


    • Hallo Leah

      I don’t know if you’ll see this, but I’ve just found this page in my search for your great uncle’s book. Here is a poem I wrote after his sad demise. I never saw him, but he still inspired me.

      For Captain Helliwell

      Atop the hill stood David and his horse
      eccentric he was called by passers through
      but followed his own star for good or worse

      They sometimes thought him crazy: that was false
      for to his inner light he remained true
      atop the hill sat David on his horse

      The modern world he looked upon as coarse
      the thoughts within his head only he knew
      he followed his own star for good or worse

      The help he craved, that sadly scarce resource
      just wasn’t there that day himself he slew
      atop the hill stood David’s lonely horse

      If there had been a vacant bed of course
      he’d still be riding high, outlined with blue
      pursuing his own star for good or worse

      His spirit lives on, showing no remorse
      materialising slowly into view
      atop the hill stand David and his horse
      following his star for good or worse.

      © Colm Osiris, 26/11/2001

  1. I knew Captain Helliwell myself. I first met him when I was in my teens.A History fanatic, I immediately bonded with him, and we talked often, when he was passing through my home village of Wardle. He was more than keen to stop and talk when he knew that you were on his wavelength – he truly lived the role when he was kitted up and on horseback. The world is a poorer place for the loss of such a man – I count myself very privileged to be able to say that I met him,and he was kind enough to stop and talk! Depression is a terrible thing – I know from experience. I hope he has found the peace he craved!!!!

  2. Many years ago – fell running over moors above ‘top slack’ came across a roundhead – looming out of the mist on his horse – to say it was a bit spooky is an understatement! – certainly focussed my attention!!
    What a very sad end for a real character.

  3. Hi,
    I’m a heritage guide at St. Michael & All Angels, Thornhill.
    Spent the morning next to a fellow guide who remembers, hearing the sound of horses hooves outside the church.
    He went outside and met a full ‘blooded’ Roundhead on a white horse who said he was Captain Helliwell!
    He set up camp in the churchyard.

    Those of you who are familiar with the area will know that the siege of Thornhill, was important as it was an arsenal of munitions for the King’s Army – find out more on Thornhill Parish Churches website???

  4. I interviewed Capt. Helliwell as an art student in 1995 and created some works based on his recounts of the local skirmishes. He was a unique character and gentle man. The world is indeed a poorer place without such poeple. rest in peace. Howard


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