The Undead Crags!

Ghostly gatherings on the North Cliff

The Crags and their surrounding area are not without their own stories of tragedy – suitably accompanied by stories of ghostly presences to terrify local travellers on the ancient paths between Conisbrough and Denaby!

Here are a few spine-chilling instances, produced with acknowledgement to Conisbrough and Denaby local history society

A faceless fiend

On an early Autumn evening in the 1920s, a lad riding his bike on the cinder path to Denaby stopped to ask a man the time. But when the ‘man’ turned around, the boy saw to his horror that the figure he had no face! The man then chased the lad all the way St Albans Church in Denaby – before vanishing, leaving the boy badly shaken.

An old ghost story? Well, 70 years later – in 1994 – the faceless fiend appears to have struck again. On this occasion two girls were walking home up the crags – once more in the evening. They noticed a man walking along a nearby path… only to see that he had no face.

These are just two sightings – it is believed there are many more.

The Lady of Lady’s Valley

The area around the sandstone quarry apparently gets its name from a natural tragedy on February 1st, 1915 – when the area suffered an earthquake!

The story has it that the quake – measuring three on the Richter Scale – killed a young woman in the area, which was popular with courting couples. Since her ‘death’, there have been a number of sightings of a ‘White Lady’ who is said to be her ghost.

However, it will be noted from the newspaper cutting opposite that though there were many claimed deaths in the earthquake, all but one of these was a fiction – probably including that of the Lady of Lady’s Valley!

The Lantern Boy

The wraith of this young coal miner has apparently been haunting the area for over 200 years, since he was the victim of an underground accident in the 1800s!

This ghost is believed to have been a ‘trapper’ – who would open and close trap doors to make airflow in the underground galleries and tunnels. This poor mites would be given a small candle at the start of each shift.. and when it burned out they would have to work in total darkness.

The Lantern Boy has apparently been carrying his little candle around The Crags for centuries – to the fear of many witnesses. He was last seen in 1945 – by a man close to the cemetery in Denaby, who described the lad as ‘wearing tattered clothes and carrying a bright light’.

The Mexborough Ragger

Back in the day, neighbouring Mexborough was known to be home to many in the travelling community, and one such person was a young girl known as the Mexborough Ragger.

She would call out for rags from the locals, which she would often then sell at the nearby quarries in the Don Gorge, whilst carrying water to the quarrymen.

On such a trip, she apparently took a short cut through Cadeby Tunnel – only to be hit by a train, which presumably she never heard on account of the blasting coming from the quarries.

It is said that she spotted the train entering the tunnel and tried to scramble to safety – but as she made it to a safety archway in the tunnel wall she dropped her rags, and desperately tried to retrieve them… with fatal consequences.

Her body was not found for some time – during which time her grieving grandmother issued a public curse in Mexborough market place, crying: ‘All you who judge by appearances, beware. If any of you dare to call out my grand-daughter’s name again, a judgement will befall you!’.

It is said that if you sit in the archway and say her name three times, it si said she will appear to you.

But then you will become the subject of her grandmother’s curse…

Mexborough and Swinton Times
February 6, 1915

Earth Tremors – Damage to Cadeby Workings – One Man Killed – Alarmist reports

The districts of Denaby and Conisborough received a strange visitor on Monday evening, in the shape of what strongly resembled an earthquake shock.

Indeed, there were two shocks felt in Denaby Main, followed by distinct tremors of some seconds duration. These shocks appear to have been most distinctly noticeable in the triangular area described by the villagers of Denaby Main Conisborough and High Melton, and the highest point of violence was probably reach in the last named village, for there buildings were distinctly and perceptibly shaken, while at Denaby and Conisborough the effect was rather that of a muffled shock with a slight vibration following.

The experience of Mr William Isaac Gibbs, the proprietor of the Denaby Main Hotel was substantially that of Denaby Main as a whole, or such part of it as recognised the existence of anything abnormal, for there were many Denaby people who the following day learned with great surprise from their newspaper that an earthquake had passed beneath them. They had not suspected the presence of anything untoward. There was quaint humour to newspaper reporters who visited the village and enquired of sundry inhabitants concerning their experiences of the earthquake, to be met with the open mouthed rejoinder. “What earthquake?”

Mr. Gibbs, however, was conscious of something unusual. At 9. 40, he said, he heard a noise as if all the doors in the house had been violently slammed. There followed a tremor, and the second long report or concussion, followed by further vibration. Then all was still. His first thought, naturally, was that there had been an explosion in the mine, but reflecting that it would not be auditable upon the surface unless it took place close to the shaft, he supposed that there had been one of those periodical giant “bumps” which visit most collieries. He did not associate the noise with an earthquake or a shake until he learned of the effect in other districts.

Miner Killed at Cadeby

the North district of the Cadeby mine, appears to have been directly in the track of this terrestrial disturbance, whatever it was, for some damage was inflicted on the Melton district of the number two mine. Unfortunately damage was also accompanied by a loss of life. Four miners were leaving their working places in the Melton district shortly after 9:30, at the conclusion of the afternoon shift. Their names were Emanuel Jordan, William Fletcher, Thomas Longbotham and Clement Best. They were proceeding along the place when a fall suddenly occurred and buried them. Jordan must have struck the centre of the fall. The other three were not caught by this stone, and were able to dig themselves out of the soft dirt. Their lamps were extinguished and they had to grope their way to the pit bottom.

There they met other men were similar stories a broken roof to tell, and it was at once evident that something strange and untoward had happened. The men were swiftly withdrawn from the district, while the incoming miners of the North district were turned back.

By means of the checking system Jordan was at once missed, and a search party proceeded to the place of the fall and which he was buried. At very considerable risk they worked to extricate him, and at 4 o’clock on Tuesday morning they succeeded in recovering his dead body. He was terribly crushed, and both legs were fractured. Death must have been instantaneous. The unfortunate miner was a married man aged 39, with four children and lived at 19 Ivanhoe Terrace, Conisborough. The whole of the district was vigourously searched and examine, I was discovered that there were falls all over the Melton area, but that apart, surprisingly little damage or sustain. The district was disabled, but the management set to work energetically upon its repair, and it was in working order by Wednesday morning.

From below, the mishap had every appearance of a heavy ground weight (a phenomenon well-known to miners), et cetera that is a given out non-of the usual premonitory signs. Usually when ground weight is about to cause a fracture of the rock strata with the inevitable smashing of the mine roofing, a noise of rending and tearing and straining his heard for days before, and in some cases men have been withdrawn from the district a week before the crash came.

Probably a Local Earth Tremor

in this case, however, the “bump” came without any warning whatsoever, and it is wonderful that only four men were caught, and one killed. The more closely the circumstances are examined the more feasible does it seem that the disturbance was due to natural rather than special causes. The theories of earthquake and “top weight” or ground weight on mutual destructive, except to this extent, that an extensive “top weight” might cause an earth tremor to be felt on the surface, but in a much smaller area than was actually effected.

Mr WH Chambers, the managing director of the college, gave it as his opinion that there had undoubtedly been a slight local earthquake.

Mrs C.W.Phillips, the agent, is also of the opinion that the disturbance was due to a slight earth tremor.

Certain newspapers wrongly ascribed to Mr Phillips the opinion that these tremors an association with the recent Mediterranean upheaval. A leading question bearing on that point was put to Mr Philip in a Press interview, but he was entirely noncommittal and expressed no opinion, first, because he disclaimed any seismological knowledge, and second because he had no information of disturbances in other parts of the United Kingdom. The newspapers, in an obvious training after effect, are inclined to overstate the case in two particulars, the matter of public alarm and damage to the mine.

Alarm at High Melton

there was no public alarm at Denaby and Conisborough, although the influence of the disturbance was extensively felt. Mr Phillips himself, Mr Chambers, Mr Gray (a surveyor at the colliery) and numerous inhabitant felt a concussion and a vibration, but few people attach significance to the sensations at the time, and no one, until the phenomenon had been examined at leisure, associated with an earthquake.

At high Melton, where the shop was most palpable there certainly was a little perturbation, and it is possible that, with aerial raids, literally and very much “in the air,” the earliest tendency was to ascribe the visitation to enemy influence.

The Honourable Mrs H Linley Wood of Melton Hall, gives an interesting account of our own experience. She was seated in an easy chair, and was swung round by the shock. Many of the domestics, who had retired for the night, were startled from sleep, and Miss Emily Wood, who was also in a bedroom, was a good deal perturbed to observe “a certain liveliness” among the crockery and furniture of the room.

Mr George White, lying in his sickbed, was made conscious of something unusual by the creaking and vibrations of the heavy oak beams supporting the ceiling of his bedroom, and in the dining room below, his son, Mr Raymond White, instinctively looked under the table to see who was lifting it. Another son Mr Percy White, hurried downstairs to enquire the cause of the disturbance. A good many of the villagers turned out to investigate the cause, and the air raid theory disposed of, were divided in their opinions, for a mishap either at the limestone works, the powder works, or the colleries might, they felt have produced the strange and disquiet and then sensation. Cadeby also distinctly felt the shock, and one of the villagers was rudely awakened from sleep by plaster from his ceiling falling upon him.

P.C. Bolton, of Cadeby, also felt the shock and a tremor as he was patrolling his lonely and extensive heat. Further afield a site sensation was experienced in the western parts of Doncaster and at Warmsworth. At no point investigated, however, was a disturbance sufficiently powerful to produce fracture. The evidence in support of the assumption that a local earth tremor has taken place is fairly convincing.

Expert Opinions

in contradiction to that theory, however, Prof Kendall, of the Leeds University, in an interview with a Leeds reporter, said that small earthquakes are not at all uncommon in this country, and at least two shocks have previously occurred in this very area – in 1902 and 1905. The strata here is broken by the two Don Valley “faults,” and it is to these that the disturbances in the past have been traced, investigations on the subject having been made by Mr Charles Davidson, a well-known geologist. When once a fracture has been established, traversing many thousands of feet – and it is an axion with geologists that nobody ever saw the bottom of a “fault” – it is easier to afford relief to any real tension by a slight further movement than it is to produce a fresh break involving the forcible vending asunder of thousands of the of rock extending over scores of miles. In other, an earth tremor seats the lines of last resistance.

Professor Kendall, however, said that more data would be required before he could pronounce an opinion upon the theories advanced in this case. To begin with, the theory of a “bump” in the pit below, and the theory of an earthquake shock on the surface were mutual destructive. The shock of an earthquake would not be lightly to produce a “bump” in the pit so deep as that of Cadeby, nor would a “bump” produce surface effects such as those reported namely, the turning around of the lady in her chair, and the throwing of another lady on the floor. But of the two improbabilities he would choose the lesser, and on the face of it the evidence leaned more in the direction of a seismic disturbance than of a mere “bump”

Professor Fearnsides, of the Sheffield University, is even less compromising. He expresses the opinion that the shock felt in the Melton district was due to slight subsidence. The Derbyshire earthquake 1903, the centre which was in the neighbourhood of Ashbourne was felt as far afield as Lytham, Wetherby and Mere Hall. The noise was heard at Doncaster, Chester, Wolverhampton and district of Birmingham. The shot record on Tuesday was quite local. That entirely dispose of the earthquake theory. The trouble was caused by the settlement of one or rock in the vicinity of Melton Hall.

Narrow Escapes

The story of the narrow escapes of the three companions of the unfortunate Jordan is well told by William Fletcher, who, by the way, is a survivor of the Cadeby disaster. His narrative is as follows:

“We were going down the ‘jinny’ when all at once, without the least sound, there was a slight fall of roof. I was the first man and Jordan was the last. After the fall I went back about 6 yards and came to Tom Longbotham. Just then a heavier fall occurred. Longbotham and was buried up to shoulders, and some of the roof fell around me. Our lights were knocked out, and as we were then in the dark I shouted to Jordan to bring us a light. Longbotham also shouted for a lie; you caught twice, but got no answer. Jordan, I think, was in the fall behind Longbotham. Luckily for us there was some old tram rails which are being used as girders for the roof. These held up the roof for the space of about 6 yards, and Longbotham and I sat there on the pitch darkness two hours before a deputy came scrambling over the first fall and showed us the way out. We gave up all many times and I have no doubt that those goods are saved as. Bess was not on one side by a fall and got out of the way. We did not know that Jordan was missing until we reach the stables, where Longbotham pointed out to me Jordan’s coat hanging there.”

Fletcher’s view was – and he has 27 years experience of the pit – that the fall occurred from what is known as ‘top weight.’ “There was no noise before the first fall,” he said, “but afterwards for about half an hour there was a great roaring and creaking, and there we sat in the darkness, expecting every moment to be our last.”

Coroner and Scares

The Doncaster District Coroner, Mr Frank Allen, formally opened the inquest on Emanuel Jordan, 39, of Ivanhoe Terrace, miner, at the Eagle and Child, Conisborough, on Tuesday evening, I received evidence of identification and John William Hallam, deceased’s stepson.

The Coroner said he did not propose to go further with the inquest that day, except to say that there had been many alarmist reports, grossly exaggerated for the most part, about the extent of the accident. The whole district of been flooded with tales of explosions involving many deaths. There had been what was known as a bump, and it had been followed by a considerable fall of matter from the roof of the workings.

Whether that fall was in the ordinary course of coal mining, or whether it had been brought on or contributed to by a earth movement of a natural order, was a thing which at present they were unable to express an opinion upon. Suggestions be made that in addition to normal subsidence there had been a slight earthquake. It might be so, or it might not. He expressed no opinion.

At the same time it was very undesirable to have small boys tearing round the streets of that district, and as a matter of fact the streets of Doncaster, talking about another explosion at Cadeby and scores of lives lost. It set the all place in a panic when there was no foundation for such a statement. What has happened had been what happened in every coal mine at times – there had been a fall of roof. It was a good job that only one life had been sacrificed. There were three others slightly injured, and they would, at the adjourned inquest, be able to give their account of the affair. There was no reason to anticipate (he understood from Mr Philips) that further lives would be sacrificed.