Mysterious Times

"We're All Mad Here…."

Lost Legion?

The British Isles are often cited as possibly one of the most haunted places in the world… Our history encompasses tales of characters one would normally only find between the pages of childhood story books. It would seem our leafy lanes echo with ghostly hoof beats and cries of ‘Stand and Deliver!’ Our castles ring with the disembodied screams of beheaded Queens or children in walled up rooms… Even our coastlines are besieged by phantom ships. Add to this our plethora of legends and folklore and you have the makings of ghost stories the likes of which we have all thrilled to listen to in the past…

This story is perhaps a little different to the ones that people have come to expect from the likes of me, and perhaps a little different also to the other ghostly tales that inevitably make their way into the press at this time of year. It has a distinguishing feature which sets it apart from all the other road ghost stories and cases I’ve heard or investigated over the years. This story appears to have running through it a very fine thread of what appears to be undeniable evidence. It may actually be a legitimate report of what I would perhaps describe as a time slip experience, or even a haunt – I usually would write into the article a series of theories to try to explain the witnesses experience, but on this occasion I’m just going to relate it to you as it is, and let you decide for yourself…

I must stress that the details in this article have appeared countless times in several other places, and that the people and places are real.

The setting for our tale is, as one would expect, an old mansion in the equally predictably haunted town of York.

The Treasurers house in York was originally built in the 1300’s to house the Treasurers of nearby York Minster. It is now owned by the National Trust, and thousands of people visit every year to view its stunning rooms, each one lovingly furnished and decorated to reflect a different period in history by local industrialist, Frank Green. As you may imagine, the building has undergone much restoration over the many years of its existence, and these restorations would possibly have all gone unnoticed if it wasn’t for the experience of one young plumbers apprentice one early February lunchtime in 1953…

Harry Martindale had been sent by the plumbing company he worked for to prepare part of the cellar area for a new central heating system to be fitted. His task was to knock a hole through the stone cellar ceiling in preparation for pipes to be laid. The curator of the house was unimpressed by Harry’s presence, but the seventeen year old carried on with his work regardless, placing his ladder near a newly excavated area in the cellar floor, and setting to work on the cellar roof with a hammer and chisel.

At some point, Harry was startled by what he described as a ‘Tinny trumpet call’…

“I was stood on the ladder when I heard a tinny trumpet call. At first I thought the sound must be from the road above me. I continued to hear the sound several times, and each time it seemed closer…”

…Much closer in fact. Harry continued to work, probably making as much noise as he possibly could. Eventually the sound emanated so loudly that it appeared to come from within the walls of the cellar itself. At that point, the unnerved young apprentice looked up…

“Suddenly, a smallish man appeared through the wall of the cellar. He was carrying a long, battered trumpet of some kind and wearing a short, red kilt. A rider on a big carthorse followed. They walked across the cellar and disappeared through the wall on the opposite side of the room…”

It won’t surprise you to learn that Harry was terrified by this point. The young apprentice froze in fear as he watched the two men and the horse shuffle dejectedly across the cellar floor so close to him that if they had momentarily raised their heads they would undoubtedly have seen him clinging to his ladder. As the horse’s quarters disappeared through the cellar wall, Harry’s grip finally gave way and he fell from the ladder. Landing in a heap on his backside he crouched in terror, his heart racing, trying to come to terms with what he had just witnessed, but his experience wasn’t over yet…

“Next followed about twenty more men. They all had dark complexions and seemed dirty, dishevelled and despondent. They looked at the ground as they marched. Some looked ill… wounded even”

As Harry crouched watching the column of men appearing through the wall, his mind began to take in more details of what seemed to be happening before his disbelieving eyes. The men were all dirty, shuffling along like an undisciplined rabble. They wore plumed helmets and had beards; they wore shiny tops over a rough green tunic. Around their waists they wore short red kilts or skirts with strips of leather hanging down. All carried a large round shield on their left arm, a spear in their right hand, and had a short, dagger like sword hanging from a belt at their waist. From this, Harry deduced that he seemed to be watching a legion of Roman soldiers. At first the men also appeared to be very short in stature, but as Harry watched, the soldiers passed through the excavated area in the cellar floor, and it became apparent that they were actually walking on a surface lower than the floor of the cellar, Harry could clearly see the soldiers lower legs, clad in thonged footwear laced to the knees, emerging from the side of the excavation.

As Harry watched the last soldier pass through the opposite wall, the fear which had paralysed him since the first trumpet call suddenly lost its grip. Harry left his tools behind and scrambled out of the cellar… as indeed I would have in his position. As he surfaced, he almost ran into the Curator, who said ‘‘by the looks of you, you’ve just seen the Roman soldiers…’’ – I haven’t managed to find record of Harry’s reply to this statement…

From the Treasurers House, Harry made his way to his employers offices on Micklegate in York, where, no doubt to various heckles and catcalling he imparted his experience to his work colleagues. Nobody believed him, and he left after telling his employers what they could do with the job at the Treasurers House. From there, evidently in a terribly emotional state, Harry visited his doctor who immediately signed Harry off work for two weeks, citing the reason for his absence as ‘Shock’.

…but this is not quite the end of the story.

Harry always maintained that he told the truth about his experience, and as can be expected in these cases, was met with stares and laughs of disbelief when he told it. The major kiss of death for Harry’s report of his experience was delivered by the historians and other experts, who said that details in his description of the soldiers’ attire (amongst other things) weren’t correct. Romans, they said, carried rectangular shields, and furthermore they only laced their sandals up to their ankles. The soldiers Harry claimed to have seen wore sandals laced to their knees, and carried round shields. Still, Harry never faltered in maintaining that that was what he saw.

It would be easy to discount the experience of a seventeen year old apprentice plumber, working alone in the cellar of an old building. Especially if the details don’t fit, like in the case of the alleged Romans attire – and why would a group of soldiers be trudging through a cellar anyway? Add to this the fact that Roman soldiers were notoriously particular about their appearance; Harry’s soldiers were described as dirty and unkempt. None of it really makes any sense…

So Harry’s experience passed into oblivion, and slowly faded from the memories of those involved, except perhaps for the occasional airing around campfires or over a few drinks.

Twenty odd years passed by, and as is common in historical cities such as York, a team of archaeologists working on a dig quite close to the Treasurers House uncovered the site of a notable Roman building. They also uncovered the remains of a previously undiscovered Roman road – the Via Decumana, which passed straight through the Treasurers House at a depth of 18’’ below the cellar floor – the same depth as the excavation in the cellar at the time when young Harry had been knocking a hole in the ceiling. In later years still, excavations at Hadrians Wall uncovered evidence that 4th Century Roman Auxiliary soldiers did indeed carry round shields, and also laced their sandals up to their knees.

So it would seem that Harry Martindale was telling the truth all those years ago, and he did actually witness something in the cellar that day. As far as I know there is no possible way he could have known there was a Roman road there, and the soldier’s attire, first discounted by historians because it hadn’t been discovered at the time, was much later proved to be correct. Also, the events which seemingly corroborated his story happened over such a long period of time – from the alleged experience in 1953, to the dig in the 1970’s (which I clearly remember being covered by the children’s TV show ‘Blue Peter’) to the final, more recent excavations at Hadrians Wall.

I admit that my research did uncover some slight discrepancies – that straight horn type instruments was not the style used by Roman soldiers then was one – but hey nobodies perfect, and it is such a great story…

Another interesting fact I found was that the soldiers that he described probably belonged to a crack SAS type legion of Romans called the Legio IX Hispana. A nigh unbeatable, highly trained band of right bad ‘uns, who, amongst other daring feats were one of the few legions who stood up to Boudicca. She massacred them, wiping out around 80% of their number.

After the Massacre at Colchester (and being cursed by Boudicca, apparently) the Ninth, as they were known, were sent via Lincoln to York where they helped build the Imperial Fortress, Eboracum. After that the fate of the Ninth is unclear, so unclear in fact that it seems they simply… disappeared.

Some historians theorise they were sent to battle the Picts and their complete annihilation was a factor in the building of Hadrians Wall, some say that they disbanded or deserted, some say they just faded away – all just theories. The only fact that history can give us is that they were last recorded in York, building a fortress close to where later the Treasurers House would stand…Or were the remnants of Julius Caesar’s loyal army last seen returning from battle by a young plumbers’ apprentice, sometime in early February, 1953?

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2 comments on “Lost Legion?

  1. ghostbusterbev
    January 7, 2014

    A great story indeed and even more interesting that you were able to research the historical facts. Were these apparitions ever seen again?

    Like

  2. Sally Barnes, SPRO Admin
    January 8, 2014

    For me, it’s the historical research that’s one of the highlights of what we do. Has anyone ever got back in contact with him to inform him of the new discoveries? That would be one hell of a conversation lol

    Like

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This entry was posted on January 7, 2016 by in Ghosts, Paranormal, Places, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , .

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