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Most Haunted may feature Todmorden Church in their fourth new episode (first airing 5 May 2017) in Season 19. (UPDATE: Yes, it was Todmorden Unitarian Church.)
So, I decided to research Todmorden’s ghosts, anticipating a chilling Most Haunted episode, when this one airs on Really (Fridays at 10 PM).
I wasn’t prepared for what I discovered about Todmorden.
You see… some sites offer scant historical evidence to support a long-term haunting.
I can spend weeks researching them, and find nothing weird, strange, or unusual. It’s all urban legends and fiction.
Todmorden is the other extreme.
It has so many creepy and supernatural stories, I’m not sure where to begin. From bizarre crimes to UFOs, and from faeries to multiple hauntings, Todmorden offers more paranormal activity than most large cities I’ve investigated.
First, there are Todmorden’s many churches. Just one of them is the subject of the Most Haunted Season 19 episode.
According to Google, Todmorden’s churches include: Todmorden Unitarian Church, Central Methodist Church, St. Mary’s Church, Roomfield Baptist Church, Vale Baptist Church, St. Joseph’s RC Church, St. Michael’s Parish Church, and Walsden Methodist Church.
In addition, Todmorden features at least one former church, now privately owned.
Only a few of Todmorden’s churches – past and present – seem connected to ghost stories. Here’s what I found…
Christ Church, Todmorden
According to Wikipedia,
A double murder took place at Christ Church, Todmorden on 2 March 1868. The victims’ graves lie in the churchyard.
Miles Weatherhill, a 23-year-old weaver from the town, was forbidden from seeing his housemaid sweetheart, Sarah Bell, by the Reverend Anthony John Plow.
Armed with four pistols and an axe, Weatherhill took revenge first on the vicar and then on Jane Smith, another maid who had informed Plow of the secret meetings.
Miss Smith died at the scene, while the vicar survived another week before succumbing to his injuries.
Weatherhill also seriously injured the vicar’s wife.
Local legend has it that the face of a young woman is sometimes seen in the window of the vicarage, now in private ownership.
From everything I’ve seen, that site looks like a great place to investigate… if you have permission, of course.
And then there are Todmorden’s Unitarian sites. They present lots of research possibilities.
Todmorden Unitarian Chapel & Church
The story of Todmorden’s Unitarian Church isn’t simple.
(That alone could make it an intriguing site for research.)
In fact, there were two Todmorden Unitarian Churches, both created by the wealthy Fielden family of Todmorden. (Their castle, Rossendale, is also supposed to be haunted.)
John Fielden (1784-1849) was the head of the family. He was a radical thinker, an MP, and a generous man.
In the 19th century, his family’s Waterside works – a cotton mill – became Todmorden’s major employer.
Fielden was also a Quaker who converted to Methodism. Later, he became one of the founding members of the local Methodist Unitarian Society.
When the early Methodist Unitarian community outgrew their meeting room at Hanging Ditch in Todmorden, Fielden helped to build a chapel and then he cleared the Society’s debt.
Today, he’s buried in a plain grave (with no headstone) in the yard next to that original chapel.
(If I were nearby, I’d definitely explore that site for EVP and photos. Sometimes those “no publicity, please” types are the same ones with a lot to say, in retrospect.)
In 1864, after John Fielden’s death, the congregation was large enough to need a full-sized church. So, John Fielden’s three sons built what’s now known as the Todmorden Unitarian Church on their land at Honey Hole in Todmorden.
(“Hanging Ditch” and “Honey Hole”…? Those names are so odd, they’d be unbelievable in fiction. But, in Todmorden, which translates to “death murder” – see below for details – I guess those names are normal. They certainly increase my interest in visiting the area.)
Then, after the new Unitarian church was completed, the old chapel became a Sunday School.
For a more complete history of the chapel, the church, and nearby burial grounds and memorials, see the church’s Rootsweb page.
Supporting history was at Shadows of the Night, which hosted vigils at the church. (That link vanished in May 2018, but – in case it returns – the URL was: http://www.shadowsofthenight.co.uk/todmorden-unitarian-church Meanwhile, it’s not at the Wayback Machine.)
St. Mary’s Church in Todmorden
The oldest Todmorden church, dating back to the 15th century, is currently holding services. It has a fascinating history, but no reported ghost stories. (Without specific ghost stories and research permission, I generally won’t investigate a church that’s currently in use.)
So far, everything I’ve found is vague, even at the two churches with ghost stories.
That combination – ghosts suggested, but few actual ghost stories – is odd, and even more strange in a community with such an extraordinary history.
I don’t want to say they’re hiding something, but… Really, this is extraordinary, even in the context of my “weird, as usual” research.
Christ Church in Todmorden
This church (and what looks like a neglected burial ground) seems to offer the most promise as a ghost hunting site, but I’m told that it’s privately owned. For that reason, I can’t recommend initiating ghost investigations there.
The only consistent story I’ve found is related to the spectral image of a murdered young woman. She’s probably the one in the story I quoted earlier (above).
Her face appears in windows, and I found a story about her – as a “figure in white” – fleeing her killer, and running through the burial yard. So, I’d start by observing the burial yard… from a safe and legal distance, of course.
Todmorden Unitarian Church
As I explained above, this church (and related chapel) might be haunted. A few story elements indicate something paranormal. But, my research hasn’t turned up anything credible and concrete.
Putting the pieces together, from “a creepy feeling” to the sound of phantom footsteps, and from moving shadows to “the feeling you’re being watched,” it sounds like residual energy… but maybe shadow people (or “shadow figures”), too.
Some groups offer ghost vigils at this Todmorden church. Initially, I wasn’t interested in visiting. The lack of specific stories left me unimpressed.
But, with more research, I’m becoming more intrigued. (Understatement.)
Todmorden Castle, Rossendale
For me, the tipping point was Rossendale, Todmorden Castle.
According to Haunted Rossendale, it was built by John Fielden, the son of the man who built Todmorden’s original Unitarian chapel. (John was also one of the brothers who built what’s now called the Todmorden Unitarian Church.)
From start to finish – including an unhappy marriage, a reclusive wife, and this John’s tragic accident that followed his second marriage – Todmorden Castle’s story is bizarre.
And then there’s John’s first wife’s unmarked grave at Todmorden Unitarian Church. I’d bet she has something to say, if you’re able to record EVP there.
In my opinion, if even half the Rossendale tale is true, it’s classic “ghost story” material, and powerful enough to bring the church into the eerie, paranormal loop.
So, my interest in Todmorden Unitarian Church leaped from “ho-hum” to “can’t wait to visit.”
Todmorden’s Other Paranormal History
When I heard that, in German, “tod morden” means “death murders,” I was sure it was a hoax.
It’s not (see for yourself). That’s odd. (And, if you know how I choose research site, you also know that “odd” is what interests me.)
However, as Todmorden residents insist, there’s more to that story.
Todmorden in the Domesday Book
There is a written record of the area in the Domesday Book (1086), and a 1610 map shows the name as Todmerden (see the red arrow on the map, below).
Earlier names included Tottemerden, Totmardene, and Totmereden, generally translated as “Totta’s valley” or – less likely – “marshy home of the fox.”
I’m not sure that completely dismisses the German translation. “Double meanings” can leave an energy impression on a site.
The Pagan history of the town includes Blackheath Barrow, a (possibly) Bronze Age ring cairn above Cross Stone in Todmorden. The four cairns were positioned at the north, east, south, and west points of the compass.
That’s unusual enough to interest me.
The earliest paranormal legend is attributed to the 17th century, when lady Sybil, heiress of Bearnshaw Tower (above Cornholme), sold her soul to gain supernatural powers. (A pot of gold may have been part of the deal, as well. It’s definitely part of the Bearnshaw Tower legend.)
That story has so much support, as well as unusual consistency in the telling, I’m intrigued.
But, when it comes to strange and eerie events, that’s the tip of the Todmorden iceberg.
Todmorden Paranormal Reports
The following are just a few more of Todmorden’s paranormal connections and stories.
- Bacup Road – Crypto reports of a brown cat that walks on her hind legs, accompanied by her pet dog. (Story from Masons Arms, which may now be closed.)
- Barcroft Hall, Walk Mill (near Burnley Way) – A helpful entity (perhaps a faerie) who later cursed the family and led to its demise.
- Between Todmorden and Mankinholes (once a Scandinavian settlement) – A Black Shuck (or a pack of them) that appears (and wails, loudly) on the night before Halloween. Maybe. (See The Paranormal Diary 2009 [PDF]. I’m not sure if “30 October” was misreported, and meant the 31st. )
- Burnley Road and Todmorden – UFO reports in 1980, leading the town to be called “UFO Alley.” See The Mysterious Death of Zigmund Adamski, at Historic Mysteries. As UFO/abduction stories go, this has more credibility than most.
- Centre Vale Park – Do beliefs create reality? Someone planted the story that patting a dog sculpture in the park brought good luck. Since that 2010 tale, similar (and darker) variations of the story became popular. I might want to see the sculpture, but I don’t think I’d touch it.
- Garden Street – Spectral figure of an old lady walking up & down the street. (I found no documentation for this, so it could be wishful thinking.)
More about Todmorden haunts
- Todmorden Unitarian Church, at Wikipedia
- John Fielden, at Wikipedia
- Bearnshaw Tower and Lady Sybil, at Mysterious Britain (also at the Wayback Machine)
- Bearnshaw Tower, at Gatehouse Gazetteer
- The Todmorden UK forum at Supernatural Earth (many more reports there)
- Yorkshire-Paranormal Database Records
- Todmorden is mentioned in an academic study of paranormal “black dogs,” Cave Canem, by Chris Huff [PDF].
And, for a fascinating urban exploration, see the documented visit to The Abandoned Auditorium of Todmorden.
If you’ve investigated Todmorden’s haunted places, I hope you’ll leave a comment, below.