by ANTONY CLAY
IMAGINE the scene. You are a military commander about to attack a nearby town. You need a good night’s sleep so you retire to bed.
But restful slumber is exactly what you don’t get. A bad dream forces you from the land of nod and then you come face to face with a ghost urging you to rethink your aggressive plans.
Quite a strain on the nerves – but this Macbeth-like spooky scenario is what is supposed to have happened a few centuries ago at one of the north’s best-kept historical secrets.
The Earl of Newcastle was the unlucky receiver of spiritual solicitudes (if it did indeed happen ofcourse!) during the English Civil War.
Nearby Bradford, a Parliamentarian settlement, was going to be attacked the next day by the Earl who was preparing at Bolling Hall about two miles away which was distinctly Royalist.
The ghost pleaded with him, saying “Pity poor Bradford”, and the planned attack was toned down with minimal bloodshed.
Even today the Ghost Room has a spooky atmosphere but the whole of Bolling Hall is said to be almost teeming with spooks. The staff will tell you about their experiences and the young daughter of a family friend of mine spoke about seeing a spectral woman playing the piano in one of the rooms.
Few people outside Bradford, or maybe even in it, will know about Bolling Hall. It’s a discreet place, hidden away amongst Industrial Age terraces in a quieter suburb of the city.
But it is a historic smasher offering insights into the lives of the not-so-wealthy gentry of our country’s past.
Indeed, Bolling Hall stands as the oldest public building in the whole of Bradford in West Yorkshire and dates back to a time when today’s vibrant city was nothing more than a few streets and a church.
As with most old historic buildings, Bolling Hall is the sum of building works over a long time. It has a three-storey pele tower which was finished by around 1370 – around the time Chaucer was working on The Canterbury Tales – and is the earliest part of the whole building.
The original landowners were the Bollings who owned the land from the time of the Norman Conquest. A character called Sindi is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086.
But the Bollings came a cropper by choosing the wrong side in the Wars of the Roses and literally had to beg to get their property back off King Edward IV.
Over the years the property passed through various families – the Tempests, the Lindleys, the Woods – before eventually coming into the hands of the Bowling Iron Company which let it fall into repair before it was flogged to Bradford City Council in 1912 who had to utilise police help to get rid of squatters, pigs and chickens.
But the estate was never fabulously wealthy, by all accounts, and Bolling Hall reflects well-to-do but not rich families trying to emulate the fashions of the very prosperous and doing a pretty good job.
Taking a wander through the rooms of the Hall, there is very much a sense of ‘us and them’. The gloomier rooms for the servants are the Warm Kitchen and the Cold Kitchen featuring implements galore from times past.
But the Georgian Dining Room and Drawing Room show the relative luxury available to those who owned the property compared to their staff. More light from bigger windows is one obvious feature but so are the exquisite furniture, paintings and musical instruments.
The various bedrooms show off the sleeping arrangements over the years where servants would slumber in the same room as their masters and mistresses.
It’s all fascinating social history.
There are interesting collections of items from prominent Bradfordians around the house and those with a macabre curiosity may be fascinated by the death mask of Oliver Cromwell.
In fact, in the Civil War Parlour, you can see many artefacts from this period of strife in our country and which, as mentioned earlier, caused particular division in the area around Bradford.
Which takes us back to the Ghost Room, a somewhat oppressive part of the house with a stunningly decorated ceiling and Flemish portraits looking down on you.
A four-poster bed dominates the room and gives an idea of how it would have looked when the Earl had his unfortunate encounter.
There are some who have suggested that the Earl merely made up this ghostly warning to give himself the opportunity to get out of the planned vicious attack on Bradford. “A ghost told me not to do it” was apparently an acceptable excuse in those days.
Bolling Hall is one of many beautiful historic buildings scattered across Bradford – others including Bradford Industrial Museum, Cartwright Hall and the Cliffe Castle Museum at Keighley – but it is probably the least known. And this is a great pity.
Bolling Hall in what is left of its grounds is a testament to the city’s varying fortunes over the centuries, as well as showing how those on the second rung of wealth were doing their best to emulate those on the top one.
It symbolises the curious history of class in this country in many ways.
The building is well maintained by Bradford Council who have gone out of their way to make visiting a fascinating – and free! – experience.
There are special activities and events throughout the year so it is best to link up to http://www.bradfordmuseums.org before you take a trip there.
Bolling Hall, located on Bowling Hall Road (yes, it’s a different spelling), can hardly be seen until you are pretty much on top of it but it still has pretty subtantial grounds around it in which to have a wander.
Youngsters will enjoy seeing the history brought to life through artefacts, dressing up and, perhaps, looking out for ghosts and scaring themselves silly.
They can even have a go at playing an old strategy game called 9 Men’s Morris. It’s a game that is harder than it looks.
Nearby Shibden Hall is getting a boost in interest and visitor numbers thanks to TV drama Gentleman Jack, based on Anne Lister who lived there, but Bolling Hall has an equally enthralling past, though perhaps it is more of a long-running soap opera than a gender-bender romp.
Bolling Hall is a short journey away from south Yorkshire: up the M1 and M62 to Bradford and then a couple of miles from the end of the M606.
Easy to get to and easy to enjoy, Bolling Hall is indeed a hidden treasure which should be more widely appreciated.