In August 1909 HW was paying a visit to Hackfall wood when he and his fiancée walked into a clearing where they saw 4 or 5 men dressed in what they describe as Lincoln Green medieval costume, one of the men carried an axe. They passed the incident off and thought no more about it for many years. In 1949 HW wrote to the Dalesman to try to find out more about who these strange men might have been, the published letter is reproduced below.
Dalesman March 1949
Can any reader explain the following? In or about the last week of August, 1909, my fiancée and I (while staying in Harrogate) spent a day among the beautiful scenery of Hackfall on a day of shimmering heat. As we walked along a woodland path we came to a glade in which were five men dressed in the Lincoln green old-world costumes of mediaeval times.
One of us exclaimed, “What a grand idea of Lord Masham to dress his wood- cutters in old-world costume.” Ten years later we discovered that the estate did not belong to Lord Masham, and what was more, that only one wood – cutter was kept, and he most certainly was not dressed in any but ordinary clothing.
It might have been easier if they had asked the men who they were 40 years previously, perhaps class boundaries of the time prevented them from speaking to what they thought were mere woodmen.
In 1953 he wrote to the Ripon Gazette and once again his letter on this intriguing story was published.
Ripon Gazette 26/3/1953
ADVENTURE AT HACKFALL?
Sometime between mid-August and early September in the year-1909 my fiancée and I paid a visit to the gorge of Hackfall, near Masham.
It was a very hot and sultry day and as we walked through the woods we came to an opening among the trees and there saw four or five woodmen dressed In medieval costume (Lincoln green in colour).
Very surprised my fiancée cried out “Oh. what a grand Idea of Lord Masham’s to dress his woodmen up In old world costume,”
For nearly twelve years we thought no more about the Incident save that It was due to the whim of a somewhat romantic land- owner, an opinion strengthened by the existence of some mock ruins.
In March, 1920, I made a business trip to Leeds and on passing; through either Ripon or Harrogate railway station, I saw a placard on the station bookstall, “Fairies In a Yorkshire Dale.”
I Immediately dashed across the platform and purchased a copy of the “Strand” magazine and read the article on my way up north, but was not greatly Impressed. That night at the supper table I opened the “Strand” at the page and passed it without comment, to my wife who Instantly said:
“What did we see at Hackfall?”
Our curiosity was aroused and we asked some friends In the Harrogate-Ripon district to make enquiries. We learnt that the estate did not belong to Lord Masham, but to some other landlord, that only one woodman was kept and he certainly did not dress In old world costume, but In homely corduroys, “ Tom knew this because he was in the same cricket club.”
Soon afterwards I sent a query to the Yorkshire Press In the hope that some Yorkshire man could explain, but without success.
A few years ago I sent a similar query and the only suggestion given was that it probably was a psychic phenomena, similar to that experienced by the two ladies at Versailles and related in the book “ An Adventure.”
At the time neither of us had read about the Versailles incident otherwise our reactions might have been different.
The time-at a guess— might have been about 12.30 or 1 p.m.
Our later enquiries seemed to establish the fact that there was no pageant at that time. I am now nearing- seventy years of age and this letter Is a last attempt to try and get a satisfactory solution to the mystery. Let me here again stress the point that for nearly twelve years neither of us thought of it other than a natural phenomena—unusual, may be— but not supernatural.
This time he got an answer from a correspondent using the nom de plume of Rambler, the men belonged to a club that dressed like that and played with bows and arrows in the woods.
Ripon Gazette 2/4/1953
Sir.—In reply to letter entitled “Adventure at Hackfall,” I think I can supply a simple answer.
We have often met the “men in green” referred to, in various woods. They are a body of amateur archers, complete with large bows and arrows, and look very picturesque with their peaked caps and Lincoln green. They stroll about and practise their marksmanship, on rabbits and stones, and certainly look like “ medieval men.“—Yours,
HW doesn’t like this answer, he wants fairies and the lack of bows and arrows observed by himself and his now wife seems to not only rule our Rambler’s explanation and may even add weight to what he believes must be a psychic phenomenon.
Ripon Gazette 9/4/1953
THE HACKFALL INCIDENT
Sir.—I must thank your correspondent, “Rambler,” for his note in reply to my query. One difficulty in accepting it is that we saw- no sign of bows or arrows— but one certainly did carry an axe’ Could “Rambler” inform me whether such a group did exist in 1909 in that district ? Possibly the steward at Hackfall could help. Are there any records? I believe we paid a small fee to enter the woods, so surely some record would exist.
I remember it was a day of shimmering heat, I am a member of several scientific societies, so am not out for a psychic phenomena if any other satisfactory explanation meets the case. But up to date I must confess that in spite of “ Rambler’s” letter this seems to be the more plausible theory. I would he grateful for further help.—Yours,
A Grewelthorpe resident, the daughter of a real woodsman, who has lived in the village for 65 years and has spent many of her holidays wandering in Hackfall suggests that HW may have imagined leprechauns in the woods.
Ripon Gazette 25/4/1953
Sir.—I have been very interested reading letters in the “ Ripon Gazette” concerning an adventure in Hackfall in September, 1909.
All my life I have lived In Grewelthorpe and both my parents were born in Grewelthorpe. Nearly all my holiday times were spent in Hackfall. I am now 65 and I have never seen. or heard of any woodmen dressed in green medieval costume.
My father was a woodman, and like myself, loved Hackfall. You certainly could imagine things, even leprechauns.
The woodmen only wore cord trousers, a leather belt and open neck shirts, and if it was warm, no shirt at all- In those days Hackfall belonged to the Marquis of Ripon. I don’t think there was anyone living’ in Grewelthorpe who could give any explanation. I cannot understand it.
Hackfall is a beautiful valley still, and could be made more beautiful. It is a lovely picture to watch the foxes and their young playing together.—Yours. “ NORTH COUNTRYWOMAN.”
It is thought that the woodman referred to here was in fact Bill Stelling who lived at Hackfall House.
HW is not giving up and in 1954 he wrote to the Dalesman. By now the woman who was his fiancée and who became his wife has been down graded to friend.
The Dalesman August 1954
In Lincoln Green
SOME time about the latter part of August 1909, a friend and I visited Hackfall Gorge. Whilst wandering through the woods, we came upon five men dressed in Lincoln Green, one carrying an axe.
It has been suggested by one correspondent that they would be members of a club of bowmen. We saw no bows and arrows – but one definitely carried a long shafted axe!
Could any reader inform me whether the woods were used by such a club at the time? In view of the fact that a charge was made for admission it seems feasible that there should be people living who could answer my query. If so, I would be very grateful,
Finally a correspondent in the Dalesman bursts the psychic phenomena theory. He met some people who go around woods dressed in the way HW describes. In fact he spoke to one called Mr Brown from Batley.
Dalesman October 1954
I can assure your correspondent in the current Dalesman that there was, perhaps is, a body or club that dressed in Lincoln Green, using shorts and what is best described as a variation of the modern battle-dress blouse, but with a sleeve which could open out wide, to be rolled up. and having a large monk’s hood, which usually hung down the back. So far’ as I know they were not bowmen, but woodsmen. In 1931, my wife and daughter and myself camped for several weeks at Jackson’s Camp, in the lovely Harden valley, and whilst there, met a member of this club. who lived at Batley—was his name Brown?—I believe it was—and he, wearing this green outfit, told me a good deal about the club. However, much of it has faded with the years but I seem to recall that one had to pass a severe test of efficiency, which included pitching a tent on a soaking wet day without getting any wet on one’s groundsheet and then lighting a fire with a couple of matches only. Failure excluded one from membership.
I hope that this will help your reader. Perhaps it this comes to Mr. Brown’s notice he will be able to give him more details.
The moral of this story is, if you think you are seeing some characters who are a psychic phenomena in Hackfall, for goodness sake introduce yourself and ask them what they are up to. Otherwise you could spend all your life thinking you have seen fairies when in fact it was nothing more than Mr Brown and his mates from Batley prating about in the woods.
Thanks to Bill Barber for pulling all of this together.