Post by Graveyardbride on Nov 27, 2021 17:46:26 GMT -5
The Cauld Lad of Hylton Castle
All that’s left of Hylton Castle in the North Hylton area of Tyne and Wear is the splendid gatehouse tower. Constructed around 1400 by Sir William Hylton – a member of the rich and powerful Hylton family who owned estates in Yorkshire, Durham and Northumberland – the castle was intended to reflect the family’s importance and the tower, with its four square turrets, carved battlement figures and impressive display of heraldry, was more than likely the dominant structure. The Hyltons maintained their position until the Civil War (1642-1651) and although they suffered a financial setback, by the early 18th century, they were able to refurbish the interior of the castle and add wings to the north and south sides of the gatehouse.
Unfortunately, the last Hylton died in 1746 and shortly thereafter, the estate was sold to a local man called William Briggs, who demolished the two 18th century wings, added large Gothic windows and redid the interior. Nonetheless, the edifice deteriorated over the following 200 years and by the mid-20th century, only the exterior walls of the gatehouse were salvageable.
Naturally, the 700-year-old seat of a once grand family wouldn’t be complete without a ghost and legend has it the “Cauld Lad of Hylton Castle” has been stalking the estate for four or five centuries.
The story of the Cauld (rhymes with “mauled”) Lad dates to the 16th or 17th century when a young stable hand by the name of Roger Skelton was employed by Baron Hylton. (Sir Robert, 13th Baron Hylton, is often named as the employer in question, but there are no extant records proving this.) In some versions of the tale, Skelton failed to properly care for the baron’s horse after a long ride, i.e., he put the animal away wet, which can cause chills and muscle stiffness in a horse and lead to other problems. Another version has it that Hylton was set to leave early one morning, but Skelton overslept and did not have his mount ready as directed. Whatever the case, Hylton became enraged and either ran the boy through with a pitchfork or commenced beating him with his riding crop, causing the lad to fall and hit his head. Realizing what he had done, the nobleman, who had a reputation for violence and had already been in trouble with the authorities, stripped Skelton naked and either tossed the corpse down an old well on the property, or possibly into the River Ware a little more than a half-mile south of the castle.
Of interest, in 1609, Baron Hylton was cleared in the killing of a man with a scythe. However, at that time, the title was held by Henry, 12th Baron Hylton, not Robert.
The body was discovered a few days later and presumably given a decent burial, but the boy’s spirit, angry at how he had been discarded like rubbish by the man he served, couldn’t rest in peace and a few nights later, strange things began to happen. It started in the kitchen when the cook and staff entered one morning to find everything in disarray. In other parts of the home, hot coals seemed to jump from fireplaces onto the floor and chamber pots were emptied of their contents leaving a vile stinking mess on the rich carpets of the bed chambers.
The house servants, already overworked, were having difficulty dealing with the chaos caused by the malicious poltergeist, so the cook, determined to find out what was going on, decided to sit up in the kitchen throughout the night. For several hours, all was quiet, then the stark naked apparition of Roger Skelton suddenly appeared crying plaintively in his Mackem dialect, “I’m cauld. I’m cauld.”
If the lad was cold, the cook reasoned, then the solution was simple: provide some clothing to keep him warm. The following night, a green cloak and hood were laid out in the kitchen, after which, the specter was heard singing:
Woe is me, woe is me
The acorn’s not yet fallen from the tree,
That’s to grow the wood,
That’s to make the cradle,
That’s to rock the bairn,
That’s to grow the man,
That’s to lay me.
While much of the poltergeist activity ceased, the haunting did not, and reports of the Cauld Lad continued. Although the date of Skelton’s death has been lost to time, because the majority of sightings occur around Christmastime, the young stable hand was likely killed during the Yuletide season. One oft-repeated encounter occurred on Christmas Eve night when a scullery maid stayed up late to surreptitiously taste the plum puddings. As she went about merrily extracting a plum here and a morsel there, careful not to disturb the appearance of the tasty treats, she heard the hall clock strike the midnight hour and suddenly the larder grew even colder and there appeared before her the wraith of a naked boy in a green cloak and hood. “Ye taste,” the specter wailed, “and ye taste; but ye never gi’e the Cauld Lad a taste!”
The tale of the Cauld Lad is so well-known in the area that when a pub situated at the corner of Caithness and Cockermouth roads opened in December 1963, it was christened “The Cauld Lad.” Apparently, the spook approved of the pub’s being named in his honor for it was said he occasionally appeared – naked save for a tattered green cloak and hood – to staff and patrons alike. (Sadly, The Cauld Lad is no more and the business now occupying the premises is called The Hylton Castle Arms.)
Despite the passage of centuries and for reasons unknown, the restless ghost of Roger Skelton still stalks the location where his earthly life ended: On a cold December night a few years ago, a guard at a local construction site near the ruins of Hylton Castle – what is left of the once grand estate is now surrounded by housing developments – heard someone singing in the darkness. When he shined his flashlight in the direction of the noise, he swore he caught a fleeting glimpse of a near naked boy shivering in what appeared to be a dark hooded cloak.
Sources: Tony Gillan, The Sunderland Echo, October 30, 2021; "Visit Haunted Inns, Pubs and Hotels in Sunderland," Ghost Pubs; L. H. Davis, The Spooky Isles, February 9, 2014; Debrett's Peerage, Baronetage, Knightage and Companionage; English Heritage; and online comments.