On the moors just south of Bradford stands High Fernley Hall. Built in 1678, the hall was once far grander, a large mansion that has been greatly reduced over the years. In the eighteenth century the hall was occupied by a family named Bevers, of whom two brothers loved the same lady. After witnessing her marriage to his brother in Kirkheaton Church, the rejected brother rode back home to High Fernley Hall. He called his servants and told them a misfortune was going to happen to him but he would “come again” – without his head!
He then deliberately cut his head off and afterwards kept true to his word and appeared on moonlight nights in the guise of a headless horseman. Local folklore says that the family quit the hall soon after, due to the incessant haunting, leaving the hall empty for many years. Some people said it was even dangerous to pass by the hall at night and no tenant could be found. Even today the belief that a headless horseman rides through Judy Woods and other small woodlands in the area continues.
No one knows for sure, but at last the portion of the house where the suicide had taken place was pulled down and reduced to its present size. Soon a tenant was found, and now High Fernley Hall is now part of a small complex of farm buildings that make up High Fernley Hall Farm.
But is this the real story behind the ending of the hauntings?
In The Western Times dated September 1st 1905 a very small article gives an intriguing insight to the belief and possible ‘cure’ to the headless horseman haunting.
“When the occupier of High Fernley Hall Farm, Wyke near Bradford was white washing his cattle-shed, he removed some square pieces of wood nailed to the rafters. Behind each piece, plain parchment, neatly folded and wafered was discovered. The cattle-shed was originally part of the dwelling house and a stone over the doorway is dated 1696.”
The newspaper then claims it was possible that headless horseman drove neighbours to use charms for protection from evil.
I then decided to undertake further research into the charms to see their content and to understand what was expected from them. I found an earlier reference to the charm, in Notes and Queries Ninth series Volume IX from 1902, on page 49, C.B.B. writes “The editor of Chemist and Druggist sends me some slips of parchment (seven in number) evidently of great age, being much worn and disfigured, which were found….Each of the slips bears the same inscription, but on none of them is it legible throughout, and it is only by comparison of one with another that I have been able to read the whole. Possibly, as it is, I have misread a letter here and there, but my reading is certainly substantially correct.”
Aon + Hora + Cammall + + +
Naadgrass + Dyradgrass + + +
Arassund + yo + Sigrged + + +
Dayniss + Tetragrammaton E
Inurmed E Soleysicke + + +
Domend + Ame + Dias + Hora + M
The correspondent continues, “That this formula is magical in character there can, I suppose, be no doubt. The word Tetragrammaton probably gives the key to the whole, but it does not enable me to unlock the mystery.”
Later in the article he remarks that Tetragrammaton is some form of magical word from ancient times not knowing that it actually means “having four letters” and refers to the name of God – YHWH.
He then provides an insight to the possible age of the charms, “A friends versed in such matters tells me the handwriting on these slips is apparently the legal hand of George III’s time, and adds: “It is interesting that a whole batch of charms should have been made at so late a date. The person who found them says they are three hundred years old. I should say the formula is a good deal older than that.”
Further research into the same volume of Notes and Queries (Pg 158) John Hobson Matthews from Cardiff believes he knows the origin of the second line of the charm’s formula; “Naadgrass Dyradgrass” seems to be Welsh. If I am correct in this surmise, the proper spelling would be “Na ad gras, Dyro dy ras,” and the meaning “Prevent not grace, Give thy grace.” This supplication is well known as a bardic motto. Mediaeval charms of this kind, made up of phrases from Latin and Greek liturgies, interspersed with Welsh words, were common…the most usual form had its origin in an ancient prayer attributed to St Augustine of Hippo.”
I then found further references in Folklore Vol. 13, No. 1 (Mar. 25, 1902), pp. 92-94 – a small article by C.C.Bell (obviously C.C.B. of Notes and Queries), however it added little to the overall story, except an opinion given by Professor Skeat; “I do not think anything can be made of it, or that it ever did mean anything. There are two or three like it in the Anglo-Saxon charms in Cockayne’s Book of Leechdoms, iii, 290. Some of them, though much older, are quite as nonsensical. Here is a bit of one : ‘ Dev, ev, dev, deev, las, druel, bepax, box, nux, bu.’ It ends : ‘ lera, lira, tota, tanta, uel, tellus, et, ade, uirescit.’ It is quite certain that this never made sense.
In the one you sent, Tetragrammaton is of course a real word. Aon no doubt meant Aeon, and Ame is for Ame = Amen.”
C.C.Bell had obviously undertaken other research into the mystery of the charms and the building that housed them. He wrote “the stone over its doorway bears the date 1696 and the initials of the builders, William and Mary Richardson of North Bierley Hall; the parents, we are told, of Dr. Richard Richardson, F.R.S., a noted botanist and antiquary in the early eighteenth century (1663-1741), the friend of Sir Hans Sloane, of Boerhaave, of Ralph Thoresby of Leeds, and other notable men of his day. The first idea of the finders was that the charms were written by him, a point which could easily be ascertained, were it worth while, as many of his letters remain among the Sloane MSS. in the British Museum.”
As of yet I cannot find any references to see if Dr Richardson’s writing compared to the charms, but I am in contact with the Bodleian Libraries to obtain a copy of one of Richardson’s many letters.
Since the finding of the charms there have been a few references to High Fernley Hall and the headless horseman, and most stories claim something along the lines of; “parchments containing a gypsy’s curse were found in the beams of the barn. If they are removed, bad luck and misfortune is said to fall on the owners.”
Although we do not know the exact reason behind the commission of the charms or their intended use, its intriguing that within a hundred years since their discovery, that their usage has been claimed and no longer related to the headless horseman.
There is still research to be undertaken, especially in regards to the charm itself and also to rule out that the charm isn’t the work of a respected and learned man – and what would be the repercussions if indeed it was?