THE FLEECE INN
The early 17th century saw a transformation in Elland with the building of stone houses. At the top of Westgate a farmhouse was built and it was known as The Great House. This house is now the Fleece Inn.
The outside of the building is plain and undecorated, consistent with 1610, the date on the original back door lintel. It was built in the popular style of the day, U-plan with porch. The upstairs internal walls are stud and plank panelling under roof trusses. It appears to be part of an earlier structure. There are some early 17th century wood partitions and trusses used with external stone walls. The upstairs rooms had finely moulded panelling in the Jacobean style. During alterations in the 1960's this panelling was incorporated into the downstairs lounge. There was a large fireplace between the hall and the parlour but this was removed at an early date and the existing internal walls are comparatively modern.
The Fleece Inn 1610 The Fleece Inn - present day
In 1745 Bonnie Prince Charlie invaded England against King George the Second. He led his victorious army south from Scotland but when he reached Derby he decided to return north. General Wade was at Wakefield and he sent General Oglethorpe, with 3,000 cavalry, to try and overtake Bonnie Prince Charlie at Manchester. He used the old route from Wakefield to Ealand and then the much older and rougher route from Ealand to Rochdale and Manchester. The route through Ealand took in Ealand Edge, The Cross and Westgate. At the top of Westgate a halt was called in order that Lady Oglethorpe could admire the view. She said that "she never saw a prettier sight in her life.". While the good Lady admired the view George Readyhough carried a tub full of galker (a locally brewed ale) to the top of Westgate and handed out pots of beer to the troopers. At this time the house was three separate dwellings and it has recently been established that George Readyhough lived in one of them.
The Reformation in England made people think about the teachings of the established Church and some, as they were dissatisfied, began to form their own religious movements. When the Baptist Chapel in Jepson Lane, now demolished, was without a Minister in 1791 it was taken over by the Thumpers, Ranters and Secularists. The Thumpers believed that the way to heaven was to jump up and down as furiously as they could. Some time later they found themselves turned out of the Chapel and the landlord at the Fleece Inn allowed them the use of a room, at a cost of one shilling per evening. With all the frenzied movement that ensued it is said that a certain chair would jump about. Others said that the chair would "dance", totally without assistance. It is a matter of belief as to whether the movement was mechanical or spiritual.
In 1835 the Elland Music Society, which was formed in 1828, held its second meeting at the Fleece Inn at which they decided to buy 13 oratorios. In 1846 they gave a special performance of "JUDE" and a collection was taken up. The money was used to deliver from gaol a debtor who was fond of both music and ale. Oratorios were regularly sung at the Fleece.
Any self respecting inn of this age will have its own share of dastardly tales and ghostly stories. The "Dancing Chair" has already received a mention. A further story goes that a man went to Elland market and there he defrauded a local man, who chased him up Westgate to the Fleece Inn, where a fight ensued. One of the men was killed and bloodstains were found on the wooden staircase. In the early 1950's Mrs Elizabeth Bentham, wife of licensee Edmund Bentham (1949-1965), gave quite a vivid description of the fracas. She showed the room upstairs where it happened.
"They carried him from the room, through the bedroom and down the staircase. He must have been bleeding pretty badly for there are splashes all the way down the stairs. There is also a hand print where he must have touched.".
The bloodstains remained as a permanent reminder of the murder and no amount of scrubbing would obliterate them. Successive licensees have tried but they would always re-appear when the woodwork dried.
During major alterations to the building in 1966 this staircase was removed and placed into storage. When further renovation work was being carried out in the late 1970's the staircase was incorporated into one of the new bars. A staircase leading nowhere, but fascinating because of the blood stains. Most of the woodwork on the steps was refurbished but a small area had a glass cover placed over it to preserve the stain. After a period the siting of the steps was changed again. The new position required a shorter staircase and the workmen cut away and burned a short length of the steps. The piece of wood that was burned was the piece stained with the blood of a murder victim 160 years earlier.
However, further to the story, the licensee William Wooler, (1823- 1846), who was organist and choirmaster at Saint Mary's Church, stated in his diary that the incumbent, the Rev. Christopher Atkinson, had told a parishioner that Wooler kept a disgraceful hostelry. The good parson made sure that everyone was aware of this because on a gravestone there is added to the details of the man's death the following epitaph: -
"Be warned ye thoughtless - ne'er that place frequent, Where precious time's in sinful pleasure spent; Where sinners meet and revel all the night And mix in riot drunkenness and fight; Frequent it not nor its bad company know, For there lo! I received a fatal blow."
During the 1960s a large area of old property in and around Westgate was demolished, and this included a large barn that was situated near the back door of the Fleece. This was the home of "Leathery Coit”. At midnight the large doors of the barn would open, without human assistance, and out would dash a carriage pulled by headless horses and driven by a headless coachman, "Leathery Coit". The carriage was driven furiously down Westgate, Church Street, Dog Loin (Eastgate), to Old Earth and then it returned to the barn. This spectre created a sudden rush of wind and upon hearing this people would say "There goes Leathery Coit". Mistakenly this story is often associated with the murder at the Fleece.
The Fleece Inn Elland
Internally the Fleece has been altered several times. The 1820s saw internal walls removed and replaced. A fireplace between the parlour and the hall was removed and one was installed between the hall and "The Tram". The kitchen was entered by a doorway only 5'6" high and a sign upon the door said "Men Only". Until a few years ago a notice on the inside of the South door said, "This door to be kept open". This door opens on to a passage that leads directly to the North or back door. It is said that a local by-law gave pedestrians the right of way from Jepson Lane, along the South front of the house, through the passage way, out of the back door and into Westgate. In 1834 a hare, followed by hounds and gentlemen on horseback, entered the Fleece Inn at the North door, ran through the house, and left by the South door and escaped by climbing an 8ft. high wall.
The area around the Fleece has changed dramatically over the years but some ancient aspects are still recognisable. A map by William Mann, dated 1750, shows that the Great House is situated next to the midgley, an enclosed area or meadow. The line of the midgley can be seen quite plainly - Westgate, Jepson Lane and the ginnel leading to New Street and Brooksbank Street. The high wall referred to previously surrounded the southern aspect of the house and some visitors to Elland were unaware that a bowling green and an inn existed. This was lowered in the alterations of the 1960s.
A short summary can never do justice to a building that is, this year celebrating its 400th anniversary. It has variously been a farmhouse, sometimes two or three separate dwellings, a parsonage when the Rev. Houghton lived at the Great House in 1782, home to a sea captain and latterly an inn. In the 1920s a visitors book at the Fleece had entries from people who had travelled to Elland from all parts of the world. One notable visitor was Joachim von Ribbentrop, a wine salesman, who later became Adolf Hitler's Foreign Minister. He was hanged at Nuremburg after the Second World War for war crimes.
The Fleece Inn has a unique place in the hearts of the people of Elland. Everyone has a "Fleece Story", ghosts, secret passages, murders, etc. It is a romantic place and it is a survivor.
With thanks to Brian Hargreaves and the late Albert Rinder.