Shakespeare’s Ghost at Kirkstall Abbey

In this second article about the weirdness surrounding Kirkstall Abbey (see The Kirkstall Abbey Ghost Hunt) I uncover the claims of a Biggleswade medium who believed he was in communication with the ghost of Shakespeare, further more he had been instructed to dig for hidden treasure.

For hundreds of years there have been alleged communications between the spirits of “enlightened” figures from history and clairvoyants. In the 1970s/80s, there was an increased interest in treasure hunting using information given “psychically”. The work of Andrew Collins and Graham Phillips specifically started the interest in psychic questing.

However if we look back to 1894, we have a similar circumstance but not likely to have been taken as seriously as the ‘quests’ of the 1980s.

Living in Biggleswade, Berkshire, a Mr J.F.Hunt made an application to the Corporation of Leeds to dig for treasure which was “quietly inurned” within the grounds of Kirkstall Abbey, Leeds. Hunt also told the Corporation that he was willing to bear the costs of the excavation and had confidence in what he was told by “shade of Shakespeare”. Aside from information about buried treasure at THREE abbeys, Shakespeare had given Hunt hundreds of pages of new songs and plays.

There are scant details about Hunt except that he told an Evening Post journalist that he had been snubbed by the “notorious or celebrated” Mr Stead. Stead was newspaper editor, writer and a champion of mediumship and paranormal phenomena who later died on the Titanic. During Stead’s editorship of the “Review of Reviews” he claimed he was in communication with a ghost called “Julia” which passed on information regarding Lord Tennyson.

On 21st August 1894, Mr Hunt wrote in his letter to the journalist; “I scarcely need say – because it is self-evident to you – that it involves an extraordinary proposition, and one entirely without precedent.

On behalf of its probability being a verity is the, to me, well-known fact, that I possess an abnormal sensitiveness relative to extraneous matters.

If you drop a line to the notorious or celebrated Mr Stead, you will find that I have supplied him with every interesting circumstance in the private life of Shakespeare, from infancy to his death. There are over one hundred episodes, none of which were known before Shakespeare himself gave them to me. There are over a thousand pages of manuscript. In these are also 200 new songs and glees! I scarcely know any author, except perhaps Burns, who has ever written 200 songs and glees. Of myself it would have been impossible to have written them.

Shakespeare had furnished four tests. And yet I believe Mr W.T.Stead has not tested one of them yet. Anyone who will go to Stratford-upon-Avon and make an excavation can instantly prove whether the declarations are genuine or otherwise.”

Hunt continues about the finding of treasure at Kirkstall, “with respect to the supposed treasure hid at Kirkstall Abbey, it is only one of three (my informants say there are more than three other places where treasure is hidden, but they mentioned only three other places at present; Fountains and Kirkstall would be two of them) other Abbeys where treasure is hidden. Fountains Abbey is also included.

I have communicated with Lord Ripon (the then owner of Fountains), but he refuses to take any action in the matter. Of course, I cannot compel him to do so. At Fountains Abbey it was the Abbot Thirsk who stole the money from his own Abbey and buried it within the precincts of Fountains Abbey.

With respect to the treasure at Fountains Abbey, Shakespeare obtained the information relative to it and its exact location and then revealed it to me as sort of compensation for the trouble I had taken in obtaining transcriptions of all his literary communication to me.

Of course, I have not told Lord Ripon where Fountains treasure lies. In common justice to Lord Ripon I must admit that he did not refuse permission, but he refused to take any action in the matter.
Really the whole seems more like romantic fiction than fact.”

Mr Jolliffe, the correspondent from the Evening Post wrote about Hunt, “We fear, however, that like Mr Stead and Lord Ripon, the Leeds Corporation will negotiate no longer with this strange men of Biggleswade; though they may likely agree with the closing sentence in his letter, that “the whole seems more like romatic fiction than fact.”

On 24th August, Mr Hunt corresponded again with Jolliffe, this time writing, “I think I have now obtained all the information I am likely to obtain relative to the alleged treasure at Kirkstall Abbey.

Last evening, when by myself in a quiet room, undisturbed by any distracting influences, I obtained some abnormal communications.

The same questative thought came to me as would come naturally to you and almost to all other human beings, namely, if it was true that the said Henry Pearson, the steward, buried the treasure, then why did he not afterwards exhume it? Why did he leave it buried in the earth? To these questions I obtained an answer; and such as it is I now give it to you, so that you may be able to form an opinion as to its cogency or otherwise.

In reply my informant said the difficulty of a successful disinterment of the buried plate became more and more obvious.

After the dissolution of the Abbey he went to York. There he lived in obscurity, and had to endure some amount of privations for ten months. He then obtained an appointment in the family of one Jacob Tussell. With this family he remained until he died, which was five years after the expulsion from the Abbey.

He dared not be seen at Kirkstall. Had he have been detected there he would have been arrested; and if he had been detected making excavations their suspicion would have been aroused, and the very act would have furnished a clue to his foes for the discovery of the treasure; and not only so, but it would have been evidence that he was the individual who had committed the crime of concealment.”

Further in his letter he writes, “Thus the reason why it remained buried is susceptible of rational explanation. He did not regard the concealment as a moral offence, but as one justified by the exigencies of the times in which he lived. The treasure belonged to his Church and to God, and not to King Henry.”

Hunt was ignored by the Corporation of Leeds and seems to drop out of the media, as well as psychic questing forever. I find it a shame that we are not able to see the huge amount of information that “Shakespeare” is alleged to have passed on to him. It would have been great to scrutinise the work and see how much of the information received relied on stereotypical knowledge rather than coming from some otherworldly place. I would have also have liked to have seen where the treasure was buried and used some of the un-invasive technology to see if there really was something buried. However, like in 1894, we can only assign Hunt as being similar to the modern day psychics who claim to help police enquiries and pier-end fortune sellers.