"We're All Mad Here…."
The little town of Stocksbridge lies at the Northern end of the Don Valley, close to Sheffield and Barnsley in South Yorkshire. Over the last few centuries, this town has grown from a small hamlet into what was, prior to the closure of the Steelworks, a thriving industrial town. The bridge from which the town takes its name is no longer there, but was no more than an old wooden footbridge which forded the river now known as the Little Don, the word Don being a variation of ‘dun’, describing the color of the water.
According to research the word ‘Stocks’ may have ancient origins; having connections with monastic buildings and possibly an 18th Century tenant known as John Stocks. The town played its part in the Industrial revolution, with a cotton mill constructed in 1794, which was later to be taken over by the steelworks during the 1800’s. Due to the need for fuel for the constantly working furnaces, the townsfolk soon decided to extract the coal from the nearby hillsides, and due to the high demand for this resource, children from the age of five and upwards were often sent to the mines to work.
Many will recognize the name Stocksbridge for its alleged paranormal disturbances, and if you were to type ‘Stocksbridge Bypass’ into any internet search engine you would find hundreds of websites featuring numerous stories about the experiences people claim to have had in the vicinity. Especially those that were reported to have taken place during the latter ’80’s in the vicinity of a newly constructed bypass, which opened on May Friday the 13th 1989 – many have even attributed the deaths of over 24 people involved in traffic accidents on the bypass to the sighting of an alleged ghostly monk.
Of course, the poor layout of the bypass, its blind spots, poor lighting and speeding vehicles are obviously not taken into consideration – half of all traffic using the bypass on weekends was shown to exceed the 60mph speed limit, despite a high police presence. In an attempt to subdue rumors that the A616 bypass was a bit of a death trap, further adjustments were made incorporating numerous overtaking lanes, warning signs and a speed control zones monitored by overhead cameras. Since the effort to make the bypass safer, serious injuries or deaths have dropped by 82%.
However, there is a legend regarding a local monk.
Trevor Lodge, a local historian, had heard of such a rumour. That of a monk who becoming disillusioned with the harsh way of life at a nearby monastery, left and found work as a gardener at Underbank Hall. There he had lived the rest of his natural life, but because he had left the monastery the monk was buried in unhallowed ground on a nearby hillside. A hillside that is now cut through by the A616 Stocksbridge Bypass.
According to the legend, his spirit is at unrest due to his grave being disturbed. There are also rumours that ghostly figures of children seen in the area may either be those that were buried alive during mining accidents, or killed when a cart carrying youngsters from the area home from a day out overturned.
At first, incidents went undetected by the local press, thus many knew nothing of the so called paranormal hotspot – that is until it had television coverage by numerous TV shows which included ‘Strange But True’ with Michael Aspel and Inca TV’s Production, ‘Ghosthunters’, after which a huge influx of ‘Ghost Hunters’ from all over the country descended upon the small town.
Police were often called to the scene as growing masses of individuals calling themselves ‘paranormal investigators’ began to cause chaos. Farmers and local residents were angered at the constant tide of people, armed with cameras and ghost detecting equipment. Some ‘organizations’ even go as far as to charge groups of people for a kind of tour of the ‘spooky’ location. Witness accounts range from the mundane to the outrageous and are often duplicated, but all can be traced back to a series of events that allegedly began during the early hours of September 7th 1987…
During the construction of the bypass, a security team were employed to ensure the safety of the site. A number of small mobile offices were situated at the site from which the security team worked. Stan and Ian’s shift that night started like any other, with a patrol of the construction site. At around 12.36am. Stan and Ian claimed that they were in the patrol vehicle, driving up Pearoyd Lane close to the steelworks site when they saw children playing near the half constructed bridge. The children were next to an electrical pylon and seemed to be skipping about. Stan immediately noticed that the children’s clothing was unusually out-dated. They thought it unusual for children to be out playing at such an unusual hour in such a remote area, so they parked the van, grabbed their torches and started to walk towards them.
However, on reaching the location, they were both surprised to find no one there. The children had apparently vanished and no footprints could be seen in the muddy ground…
Still puzzled as to what they had seen the following morning, Stan and Ian mentioned the night’s events to the construction workers, who told them that they too had occasionally heard children’s voices whilst they rested in some of the onsite caravans during the night. Stan and Ian, a little spooked, tried to put the event out of their mind. However, the incidents that took place the next night (September 8th) would not be so easy to forget.
Stan and Ian were once again driving up Pearoyd Lane towards the site, when something caught their eye. They claimed they could see a dark figure standing on the partly constructed bridge. As the headlights reached the figure, it simply disappeared. The security officers could not believe their eyes. They spun the vehicle around and retreated to their mobile office. In a state of panic and shock they telephoned their boss, Peter Owens, who attended the site. Peter could clearly see that Stan and Ian were in a state. Stan was shaking uncontrollably and Ian was in tears. Peter had never seen them act like this before and was convinced that they must have seen something that spooked them.
In an attempt to calm the security officers Peter contacted the local police station at Deepcar where PC Ellis was on duty.
Listening to Owens, PC Ellis suggested that they contact someone from the church as this was hardly a police matter. Ellis put the phone down and thought that would be the end of the matter.
One can only imagine the surprise on PC Ellis’s face when the next morning he received a call from Stuart Brindley, the vicar of the local church, who needed help with two security guards that were refusing to leave until they got assistance.
It would seem the security guards had taken Ellis’ words quite literally, and descended upon the church for assistance. The guards were demanding an exorcism of the partly constructed bridge. Brindley could clearly see that both men were distressed.
PC Ellis attended the church and managed to calm the men down. Ellis promised he would look into the matter and visit the location. Consequently, both security officers refused to work at the site again and within 3 months both had allegedly left their jobs…
On the evening of September 11th 1987, PC Ellis accompanied by special constable John Beet drove up the bypass to check over the construction site and bridge. Both were very sceptical as to what had been reported. They parked their panda and turned the lights off allowing their eyes to adjust to the moonlit night. The night was warm and both windows on the car were fully down.
A few minutes later, PC Ellis turned to John and said, ‘I’m sure I can see something moving around on the bridge’. Ellis got out of the car and walked over towards the bridge. He walked up the muddy embankment and climbed up a ladder to the top of the bridge. As he looked around he could see the pylon where the security guards claimed to have seen children skipping about. The bridge was quiet. No one was around.
Then suddenly something caught his eye.
A sheet of Tarpaulin covering blocks had come loose, and was blowing about in the breeze. Ellis realised that this is what he had seen moving about on the bridge and placed a few bricks on top of it to stop it blowing around. Heading back to the vehicle, he thought the security guards must have seen something similar and spooked themselves. The whole thing was rather funny.
Ellis got back in the car and explained to John that it was nothing more than a sheet blowing around. They decided to stay a further ten minutes before heading off and continuing their patrol. They were just about to leave when suddenly a strange feeling came over Ellis, as if something had walked over his grave. He was just about to tell John when he felt a presence next to him. He turned his head to see a dark clothed figure pressed up against the door. It was as if the torso protruded through the car window, yet Ellis had his arm partially out of the window and felt nothing. He noticed a white ‘V’ shape in the material on the figures chest. He was shocked and for a split second he couldn’t speak. A moment later, the figure had disappeared and was apparently on John’s side of the car. John freaked and almost leaped from his seat. Again, it had appeared only for a second before vanishing. Ellis jumped out the car ready for confrontation, but no one was there. He went around the vehicle looking for footprints in the mud, but there were none visible. He even checked underneath the car. Both police officers were convinced they had seen a figure, yet there was no one around. Whoever it was could not have got away so fast. As the reality of their experience dawned, their nerves got the better of them and they decided to leave. Fast.
Ellis turned the keys in the ignition, but the car wouldn’t start. Again he tried, but nothing. On the third attempt, the engine roared into life, and they quickly headed away from the site.
After a few minutes of travelling they suddenly heard something hit the back of the car. PC Ellis later recalled working during the miners’ strike, when protesters would hit the police cars with sticks and bats.
It sounded exactly the same. Ellis stopped the car and again jumped out. On inspection the police officers could see no damage to the car. John reached into the car to radio for assistance when out of the blue came a further 3 or 4 loud bangs on the back of the car. Now considerably spooked the officers jumped back into their car and sped off, never to return to the location.
Back at Deepcar police station Ellis claimed to have made an official log of the incident.
Many things have allegedly been seen throughout the years and the descriptions vary. Incidents seemed to continue both during after the bypass and bridge was completed…
In the Autumn of 1987, Judy and David Simpson were coming home from Judy’s parents on their way to Wortley. Whilst driving Judy claimed to see something out of the corner of her eye. She described it as a grey coloured apparition with no facial features. It looked almost like a man running along but he was not running on the ground. He was in the air, kind of hovering about 12 inches above the ground. David watched as the figure waved its arms and legs around all over the place. It seemed that the arms were distorted in some way, moving around in strange positions. They watched the figure run up the embankment and then somehow it suddenly appeared in from of them, as if it had dropped in front of them in the road. Judy slammed on her brakes but the figure seemed to disappear through their car and vanish. Both Judy and David were convinced they had seen a ghost.
Lucinda June, an alleged psychic believes she knows what is responsible for the sightings. She claims to have been driving along the Stocksbridge bypass when suddenly she bacame very cold. She glanced down at her heater controls but they were set to warm air. Then came the smell of musty books and a darkness started to manifest in the seat next to her. Lucinda was shocked and frightened. She picked up a spirit of a monk that had been in that location 500 years previous. As Lucinda drove on the darkness and smell suddenly vanished.
Whilst the bypass was under construction, runner Graham Brooke was training for an upcoming marathon. He was out jogging with his son Nigel. Graham claimed whilst jogging down a nearby road he saw a chap ahead of him who seemingly was walking in the middle of the road with his back to the traffic. As Graham got nearer he could smell a musty rotten odour. Graham glanced back at his son who was just a little behind him. As he got nearer the smell got stronger. Then Graham noticed something quite strange. The figure wasn’t walking on the road, but kind of walking in it. The figure could only be seen from the knee upwards. His feet were below the surface of the road. The figure was also dragging a large bag behind him which somehow also was partially below the road level. Graham’s son Nigel claims to have looked at the face of the figure only to see the absence of features. He recalled only seeing a nose and dark eye sockets. In fact, the figures face was blackened as if he had just come straight out of a coal mine.
Melbourne Haulage Driver John Pitman had parked his lorry up at a local layby for the night. As he was taking the secure ropes off he suddenly became very cold. But it was a warm night. Then the smell of a musty odour filled the air. As he walked to the front of his lorry he was shocked to see a monk gliding through his headlights which he had left on. He watched monk disappeared amongst the other trailers. John claimed to have experienced that same smell in the area several times, but it pleased he’s not seen the figure again. He told his boss of his experience, who replied, ‘Oh, you’ve seen it as well have ya’.
Neville a local bus driver and resident of Stocksbridge claimed that he and his friend had a terrifying encounter with the mysterious monk. Neville and his friend were walking up a local road when they suddenly felt that they had walked into a freezer. It was as if an unexplainable wall of freezing air had hit them. As they walked on it seemed to get colder and colder, to the point their legs began to shake. As they stopped to gain their breath, they glanced to their right. What they saw chilled them to the bone.
Running frantically through a field was a brown cloaked figure. At first they thought it was someone playing a joke, but all of a sudden, it just vanished and the suddenly appeared elsewhere in the field. They watched the figure do this several times. One second he was running and waving his arms about in the middle of the field then a second later he had vanished and reappeared near an entrance gate. Neville and his friend immediately realised that they were looking at the infamous ghostly monk and quickly fled back down the road.
Paul Ford and his wife Jane claim to have had to swerve across the bypass so not to collide with a cloaked figure that suddenly appeared in front of them gliding across the road. The couple claim that they both were almost killed as they came within inches of the embankment close to the old Steelworks. Paul explained that from a distance he thought it was just someone trying to cross the road, but as he got nearer he could see it was the figure of a man in a long cloak with no face. The figure was hovering above the road. Paul believes the sighting of such a figure could be the reason why so many people have had accidents on the bypass.
An unnamed man riding his motorbike at around 3am saw what he took to be the figure of a woman walking towards him. As he neared her, he slowed the bike down and noted she was wearing a long white dress, and her long white hair fell around where her face should be (but apparently wasn’t) as she looked down at the verge. The biker passed her, and moments later looked back to find she had gone. Around five minutes later the biker was pulled over by police officers. He asked if they had seen the figure in white, they said they hadn’t seen anyone, but that they would like to see his documentation…
The disturbances around Stocksbridge bypass have somewhat quitened down in recent years, which has given us perfect opportunity to conduct a thorough investigation. The reports are plentiful – from phantom Lorries and Inns, strange lights and car and motorcycle electrical systems behaving erratically to eerie mists and white ladies – and of course the notorious ghostly monk. As the reputation of the Haunted Bypass deepens, we have visited the location many times over the last ten years in order to carry out necessary research.
To start with we obtained the video documented transcripts of interviews carried out with PC Ellis, Graham and Nigel Brooke, Judy and David Simpson, Peter Owens, Trevor Lodge a local historian and Neville the bus driver in 1994 and again in 1998; along with a few well known written accounts. A cross examination of this material did reveal a number of inconsistencies…
The first reported incident was that of two security guards hearing children playing in the vicinity of the bypass bridge. Later reports give mention to the security officers seeing the apparitions of children skipping around an electrical pylon close the bypass bridge, or a bush in a field about a mile away from the bridge. In all the visual reports, the children were said to be dressed in historic clothing. Which quickly became children dressed in early 1900s clothing, (like that of the coal mining days). On visiting the location, you quickly realise that the base of the electrical pylon is not visible from the bypass, or the bridge. You would have to travel over the bridge and look sharply left to see the pylon base. Also, at the time the event was allegedly witnessed, the bridge had not been completed; therefore neither of the two events could have included a vehicle on the bridge. So, if the security guards saw the figure on the bridge from the bypass, they would have been at a distance of at least several tens of feet from where it stood, which means the possibility of them being mistaken is very high.
If the children were seen from the bypass in one of the surrounding fields, this would again prove difficult as the embankments at either side of the road are very high and steep. If, like the first account, the sound of children was heard, then you have to take into account that the security guards were travelling in a land rover on a partially constructed road at the time, and the distances involved from the bypass itself and the sites that the
figures were actually seen. It would be impossible to witness any of these events from the Stocksbridge side of Pearoyd Lane before the bridge due to the terrain, and doubtful that the security guards would have made the twenty minute minimum round trip from the bypass, through Wortley to approach the bridge from the other end. There has been mention that they drove up a make shift dirt path to the top of the bridge. If this was the case we would have to question why the police officers didn’t mention or use this road during their visit, and why it was later quoted that the bridge was inaccessible from the bypass.
The alleged apparition they saw seems to have been described differently. It was first reported to be a headless figure dressed in a dark cloak, this quickly changed to the sighting of a monk which disappeared in their headlights. The layout of the roads dictates that there is only one position where a vehicle can illuminate the bridge with its headlights, and that would be the Wortley approach. As the bridge did not extend that far across the bypass at the time of the event, and there would be little reason for the security guards to have made the twenty minute journey from the bypass to be in that position it is more likely they would have driven through the steelworks and approached from Pearoyd Lane – a journey of around eleven minutes. However, it would be impossible for the vehicle to have lit the bridge from that side due to the left hand bend in the road. To have illuminated the figure on the bridge while the Land rover was driving along the bypass is even less likely. The surface of the bridge is around 25’ from the bypass; the nearest point the land rover could have possibly been to the bridge, calculated on the maximum beam reach of the headlights would be around 66’ – at that distance the land rovers lights would be shining upwards at an angle of 38 degrees. The road is level at that point. The guards would be viewing any figure on the bridge at a distance of roughly 45’, barely illuminated by the lights of the vehicle -we’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions…
Some reports mention the security officers contacting their boss that night and that he had attended the site and ended up ringing Deepcar police station. Other reports say that this happened the following morning. PC Ellis indicates that the two security guards visited the police station and looked physically shaken. No matter what happened. One thing is for sure. The security officers did descend upon a local church in hope of getting the bypass blessed. The vicar Stuart Bridley was forced to ring the police at 10am the following morning when the two security guards refused to leave. It seems unusual that a desk officer taking calls in the early hours of the morning would still be on duty and attending incidents at 10am the following morning.
Regarding PC Ellis’s account. He stated that he had officially documented his and special constable John Beet’s experience in the station log book. However, when we contacted South Yorkshire police with an FOIA request for reported paranormal incidents in the vicinity of Stocksbridge bypass; we got nothing. There was no official information. If PC Ellis had officially documented the incident in the station log book it most certainly would be accessible via a FOIA request. Therefore we can only conclude that Ellis never officially reported anything.
Unfortunately their police vehicle showed no damage from the bangs they claimed to have heard and failure to start the car a few times more than likely indicates that Ellis momentarily flooded the engine in hope of a hasty departure rather than something paranormal being responsible.
Their sighting of a figure was described as having ‘V’ shaped material running down its chest. This could indicate a jacket, waistcoat or even a ‘V’ shaped cardigan or jumper. Not the type of clothing to be associated with a monk. The figure was also described as ‘Dickensian’. Another factor in the police officers sighting report is the description of how the figure moved almost instantaneously from one side of the car to the other. This description has been echoed in several other reports since.
During our investigation of the Stocksbridge case we researched popular culture of the time. The film ‘The Lost Boys’ was currently on release. This film features a scene where a gang of teenage vampires persecute the occupants of a remotely parked car by appearing at first one, then the other window of the car, all the while banging and scratching the bodywork.
During an interview in 1998 Graham Brooke talked of a musty smell and phantom figure walking below the level of the road. Some reports give mention to the sighting of a monk, some just say cloaked figure. It turns out that the particular road where the Brookes saw this apparition is nowhere near the bypass and that the figure was described as wearing a type of cloak with eyelets. Certainly not your typical monk habit. In fact the eyelet which serves as reinforcement to a hole in fabric was not manufactured until November of 1859. Thus throwing the whole 12th century monk claims straight out of the window.
So what of the musty smell sometimes reported by witnesses? The way in people describe musty smells does seem to vary. Most describe the smell of old damp clothing or old books. In fact, musty smells can also be attributed to certain chemicals such as those sometimes used in the manufacture of bed mattresses. Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers or PBDE are organobromine compounds that are used as flame retardants and produce a musty smell. On examination, the nearest mattress manufacturers to the bypass location are situated in Sheffield around 12-15 miles away. If a factory was responsible, the musty fumes would have had to travel North Westerly being carried over a beer brewery and a Bassett liquorice factory which certainly have a much more prominent odour to them. It is also worth noting that the ‘musty smell’ aspect was first mentioned by a lorry driver working in a haulage yard below the bypass. We imagine the haulage yard had several lorry containers parked there, and may speculate that one such container may have been or was being used to transport new mattresses at the time of this event.
Psychologists have suggested electromagnetic energy can adversely affect the mind, and there does seem to be convincing evidence to support this theory. However, one must ask how and why such EMFs are produced.
If some natural form of EMF is responsible then it is doubtful that it can cause group hallucinatory events such as shared experiences. The electric pylons carrying up to 11KV are designed to give off very little EMF. Even a local substation hardly caused our EMF meter to fluctuate. Extensive research of the area, including local geology and data logging of electromagnetic fields and seismology have produced no evidence to suggest that anything of an environmental nature may be causing people to believe they have witnessed events that may be interpreted as paranormal in origin. Local folklore holds stories of ghostly monks, children and white ladies, some of which do have some historical background – none of which occurred in the vicinity of the bypass itself.
So what are we left with…?
Well, it would seem that even though there are numerous inconsistencies in eye witnesses testimonies one fundamental thing remains. Something must have been seen by at least some of these people.
What did cause the security officers to flee in panic and to descend upon the local church for assistance? What was it PC Ellis and John Beet saw whilst at the construction site? What was the mysterious figure walking in the middle of the road Graham Brooke and his son saw? And what about all the other sightings?
It is possible that some of the incidents are misidentifications, caused by visitors to the location dressing up like monks in hope of playing a joke on passers by. In some cases, such stunts were carried out by teams of ghosthunters dressed like monks performing in front of cameras. Also, some of the stories may simply be hype. It is a natural human tendency to add to such legends, myths and tales rather than finding objective rational explanations. Let us also take into consideration that some people who are aware of the paranormal reports and have traveled the dark, spooky bypass at night can easily imagine something. It is amazing what a bit of darkness and a spooky story can do to ones suggestibility and imagination.
If there is something really going on at Stocksbridge, it seems to have died down along with the droves of ghosthunters attending the area.
One final thing….
On the 31st October 2007, UPIA members were invited to the Hallam FM radio studios for a paranormal phone in on the popular late night ‘Confessional’ show. The night went very well and UPIA took several calls from Hallam’s listeners. As the witching hour drew near we took a call from a man calling himself Dave from Wakefield.
This call however was very different to others taken that evening.
‘Dave’ had taken the shows name quite literally, and had phoned to confess his own sins…
He told the listeners how one September night twenty years before, he and his mate Ian had decided to dress up in hooded cloaks to play a trick on the security staff up at the new bypass that was being built near Sheffield…
And the rest, as they say, is history…
Thanks to Steve Mera for his input for on this article.