Being an old town, Harrogate certainly has some history! It's Queen Victoria's favourite place, home of Betty's, the Great Yorkshire Show, place of the UK's oldest bottled water manufacturer and allegedly the happiest place to live in the UK. But, behind all that, there's far more to this beautiful spa town than meets the eye...
1. Mad Alice
Alice haunts the stalls at the historic Harrogate Theatre and the legend of her ghost is shrouded in mystery. There’s no record of any Alice in the theatre’s archives, but it’s thought she was the victim of a terrible love affair and fell to her death from the theatre’s balcony. Whether it was murder, a desperate suicide due to unrequited love, or simply a tragic accident, nobody knows. But Mad Alice, as she’s affectionately known, is considered friendly by staff and has been linked to hovering orbs of light, ghostly spirits, sudden chills and the lingering scent of peppermint.
2. The Yorkshire Ripper
Between 1975 and 1981, serial killer Peter Sutcliffe, nicknamed The Yorkshire Ripper, slaughtered 13 women across the county. Victims were found across Leeds, Bradford, Manchester, Halifax and Huddersfield. But, did you know a Harrogate man named Professor Stuart Kind helped track down the Yorkshire Ripper?
The forensic scientist was brought in to help the police investigation and in December 1980, using graph paper, a pencil and the dates and times the killer struck, Professor Kind correctly calculated he lived somewhere between Shipley and Bingley. Two weeks later, in January 1981, Peter Sutcliffe was arrested by two beat officers in Sheffield. He’d just picked up his next would-be victim. Professor Kind’s technique is now known as ‘geographical profiling’ and is used by criminal investigators and intelligence services throughout the world.
3. Old Mother Shipton
Legend has it that Ursula Sontheil was born in a cave on the banks of the River Nidd during a violent thunderstorm in Knaresborough in 1488. With her crooked nose and stooped back, Urusla looked like a witch – and she could predict the future. It started with small premonitions, but she was soon known as the powerful prophetess, Mother Shipton. She correctly predicted the dissolution of the Catholic Church under King Henry VIII, the untimely death of his son, Edward VI, the ‘bloody’ reign of Mary I and much more. It’s said she even predicted her own death in 1561, aged 73.
You can still visit Old Mother Shipton’s Cave, and the nearby petrifying well – the only spring in England where the water turns objects to stone.
4. The Harlow Hound
It’s said that a spectral wolf known as the Harlow Hound haunts Harlow Hill. The cross between a wild wolf and great Dane allegedly roamed free on the hill in the 1970s, worrying sheep and frightening farmers. A band of furious farmers tracked the hound down, shot it and strung up its body for all to see at The Ship Inn.
5. Blind Jack
John Metcalf, later known as Blind Jack of Knaresborough was the first professional road builder to emerge during the Industrial Revolution. Between 1765 and 1792, he built about 180 miles of turnpike road in northern England. And what was so incredible about John Metcalf? Yes, you’ve guessed it – he was blind; had been since a smallpox infection aged 6. Blind Jack lived a long life, dying aged 93 on 26 April 1810.
6. The ghost of Knaresborough Dungeon
Knaresborough Castle, built on the cliffs looming over the river Nidd in 1100, has a colourful, and fascinating history. So it’s no surprise that tales and rumours of ghosts and ghouls surround the ruined fortress. An army of soldiers has been seen walking through a wood, before vanishing into thin air. They were dressed in white, carrying swords and being led by a man in a red hat. And a spooky mist has been seen in the dungeons of Knaresborough Castle. The mist appears to show a large man standing above another who is lying on the ground. The Fighting Man, as he’s nicknamed, appears to have his right arm raised as if to strike the prone figure. A photographer at the castle is once said to have recorded the mist.
7. The Black Panther
Before The Yorkshire Ripper, Harrogate was struck by it’s own serial killer. During the late 60s and early 70s, Donald Neilson graduated from burglary to the armed robbery of post offices, and eventually, kidnap and murder. In 1972, one of his post-office raids ended in the non-fatal shooting of a Lancashire postmaster. Then, in 1974, during a raid on a Harrogate post office, he shot dead postmaster, Donald Skepper. Seven months later, he killed a second postmaster, then a third nine weeks after that. The balaclava he wore during the robberies earned him the nickname The Black Panther. In January 1975, he kidnapped heiress Lesley Whittle, 17. Her body was found nearly two months later, hanging from a wire at the bottom of a dank drainage shaft. Neilson was jailed for life and died in prison in December 2011.
8. Brimham Rocks murder
Gemma Simpson, 23, went missing in May 2000. But it wasn’t until 2014 that her friend Martin Bell admitted killing her when she’d visited his flat in Harrogate. He’d callously buried her body at Brimham Rocks, where it stayed for 14-years, until Bell led police to the local beauty spot. He admitted manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility and was jailed for a minimum of 12 years.