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Get to know A Bit About Britain - an idiosyncratic view of places to visit in Britain, British history - and stuff. Warts and all. Where shall we go today?

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Treasurers' House

Visit York, ghosts, Frank Green, Roman Road
I’d never felt a burning desire to visit the Treasurers’ House in York; there are so many other things to see and do in that city.  Big mistake - put it on your list immediately.  For one thing, it is an outstanding house; for another, it is the location for one of Britain’s most intriguing ghost stories.  Plus it has a small, but very pleasant, garden.

The Treasurers’ House was the historic home of the treasurers of York Minster until 1547.  There has probably been a house on the site since Norman times – the first Treasurer was appointed in 1091 - and medieval masonry, possibly from the Bishops’ Palace that once stood to the north of the Minster, has been incorporated into the much altered building and gardens that you now see.  One of the external walls is largely 12th century – thought to be part of the original structure.  In fact, the site is even older than that; a colonnaded building stood there in Roman times and the house sits over one of the main Roman roads, the Via Decumana, which also runs underneath the neighbouring Minster.

Treasurers' House, haunted York, National Trust
The house was remodelled in the early 17th century, which resulted in the symmetry and shape of today’s building.  It subsequently passed through various hands, was extended, altered, split into different houses and by the end of the 19th century it was in a bit of a mess.  Then, in 1897, along came Frank Green.   What! - you’ve never heard of him?  Well, I hadn’t either.

Frank Green (1861-1954), educated at Eton and Oxford, was the son of a wealthy industrialist and an avid collector.  He purchased the three properties that together formed the Treasurers’ House (though I believe part of the original is now a hotel) and ‘restored’ them to what he felt was a more fitting state.  And the result is a real peach – 13 wonderful period rooms (and servants’ quarters in the attic).  This also provided a home for Frank’s large and eclectic collection of furniture, artwork, clocks - and so on and so forth.

Edwardian York, Frank Green, eccentric, industrialist, collector
By all accounts, Frank was a bit of a chap; an impeccably dressed dandy and socialite, he entertained the ‘A list’ celebs of the day – including the future King Edward VII – at his Treasurers’ House.  Some feel in retrospect that he was a little eccentric, mentioning things like his insistence that workmen wear slippers in the house and his habit of sending his laundry to London each week as examples  – although that all seems very reasonable, don’t you think?  In 1930, Frank retired to Somerset (as you do) and donated the entire house and its contents to the National Trust.  Yes, the boy had money.  There was a condition, though, and it was that everything should be left exactly as it was.  You can still see the studs in the floor that mark the precise spots where particular items of furniture should be located.  And Frank, who was 93 when he died, threatened to come back and haunt the place if his condition was not met.

Haunted York, Treasurers' House, bloodstains, cafe near the minster
Ah, so you’re thinking that Frank is the ghost?  Well, apparently spirits of the departed would bump into each other at the Treasurers’ House, if only they could, especially on the stairs.  And visitors often smell a ghostly cigar.  But the story you’re about to read started long before tobacco arrived in Britain and long before the Treasurers’ House was built.

In 1953 a young apprentice plumber, Harry Martindale, was working in the cellar trying to make a hole in the brick ceiling for a pipe.  He placed his ladder, unwittingly, on a section of Roman road that had recently been excavated 18” (46cm) below the floor.  At around about lunchtime, he heard some kind of blaring musical note – a horn, or trumpet, maybe.  It seemed to be coming from the wall, and got louder and louder.  Then, looking down from his ladder, Harry saw a figure of a man wearing a plumed helmet come through the wall.  Understandably, Harry fell off his ladder and landed on his backside.  Huddled in the corner of the cellar, he then clearly saw a Roman soldier on horseback after the first man, followed by 20 or so more soldiers marching two abreast.  They didn’t look in Harry’s direction, but seemed to pass through the opposite wall.  When they had all gone, Harry dashed out of the room and met the curator, whose first words were, “By the look of you, you’ve seen the Roman soldiers?”  One of the extraordinary things about this incident is the detailed descriptions Harry was able to provide of the men, which included things that were not known at the time.  The soldiers wore green tunics, short red skirts and carried large round shields, spears and wore short swords.  Incredibly, Harry described them as being unshaven and looking very weary – even dejected.  They were dark and short – appearing to walk on their knees; clearly, they were following the level of the original road that they had marched on sometime during the 4th century – which is the period Harry’s soldiers have been dated to.

Harry Martindale, Roman soldiers, Via Decumana


Visit the Treasurers’ House website for more information.

7 comments:

  1. I've been to York but never visted the Treasure House. The Ghost story I have heard before. nice to know how it came aboutand where from. Fancy meeting a Roman

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  2. I wish I had gone in there when I was in York! But there is only so much time for things unfortunately.

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  3. I've got to bookmark this and read it when we get back from Indiana. We've been in York twice but never visited it. Still, York is one of our favorite places ever, so I'm sure we will return. Thanks for informing us. And thanks for stopping in at Cranberry Morning today. :-)

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  4. Oh wow - love the ghost story! Looks like an amazing place to visit.
    Liz

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  5. It's a beautiful place, and it seemed familiar from the first photograph. Reading that ghost story, I'm sure I've heard it before, hence the familiarity.

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  6. the soldier haunting is neat and scary, too! very ornate place!

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Hi - thanks for dropping into A Bit About Britain. New material is now being posted to www.bitaboutbritain.com and most of the material here will gradually be updated and moved over to that new site. Please drop in there, click on the blog page, and take a look round. TTFN - Mike.