This is my own transcription of the episode so there may be minor differences between what I've written and what the witnesses said. This episode about the Stocksbridge Bypass hauntings was first shown on 9th of March, 1997.
Dick Ellis: It all started about about ten years or so back, when two security men who were working on the bypass came into the police station one Monday morning, to report they’d seen a ghost. Both of them were known to me through the time they’d spent up there doing the security job. They told me they’d seen a headless figure on the new Pearoyd bridge. And basically I couldn’t offer them any advice, and more jokingly than anything else, at that time I told them it was the church they required and not the police. And off they went up to Stocksbridge to actually seek (as it turned out), to seek sanctuary in the church.
Narrator: Dick Ellis is a no nonsense policeman, in the small steel making town of Stocksbridge in Yorkshire. The town straggles along a narrow valley on the eastern slopes of the Pennines. It’s dominated by the big central structure of the steelworks. In 1987 they began to build a bypass to carry traffic up across the hills. And things began to happen. One night for example, two big tough security men experienced something so strange and so unnerving they took their story to the police.
DK: They were there basically to frighten people away - they were the type that if there were a group of lads up there nicking something, and they got out of the landrover, the landrover would raise up in the air by a foot because of their size, and you’d run. They were there to put the fear of god up people, and it worked well. They were really genuinely nice blokes. And the morning they came down to Deepcar to report it, they were both very very shaken. Something had scared them.
Narrator: Understandably enough, the initial police response was pretty sceptical, but there was no doubt that the security men had been very severely frightened. The claimed their landrover had been bounced and rocked around with them in it, by something they could neither see nor explain. It had scared them stiff.
Mick Lee (managing director of the security firm): What made it worse in many ways, and convinced me that something serious had happened, was that 12 hours later I sent them home and got them some medical attention, and the vicar of Stocksbridge was involved. Then I got them to come back in the office about 7 or 8 at night and saw them again, and they were really no better, they’d quietened down a little bit, but their nerves were absolutely shot, and clearly they had been, well, traumatised.
Narrator: Within a matter of weeks both men had given up their jobs, so their lives had certainly been changed by their psychic experience. As for the police, since the report has gone into the logbook, Dick Ellis was told to investigate it. A few nights later he decided to spend some time up at the roadworks with a colleague, observing what went on.
D.E.: We parked up about 100 yard from the bridge where the sighting had been, and we sat there in the darkness, radios off, nothing happening around - we were just waiting. We’d been there a good 20 minutes, possibly a bit longer. By now my eyesight had adjusted to the darkness, it was a lovely clear night, the stars were out over the lot. It was a very pleasant evening, nice and warm. And we could see something moving on the bridge. John, the special who was with me, I could see he was paying attention to the bridge - I was looking at the bridge because something was moving. After a while we both mentioned it to each other, and we walked up to the bridge, looked and we couldn’t see anything. We went back to the car, got in the car - obviously when you get in the car the lights come on so you lose your night vision.
After a few minutes we’re back to the darkness, and the same thing was moving, it was moving sideways on the bridge. This time I took a torch from the car, gone up, climbed up the ladder onto the bridge, and thankfully we found quite a few pallets of large concrete blocks that were covered in polythene sheeting. That was moving about quite freely in the breeze. I fastened it down with the bricks, we got back down, got back in the car, again after a few moments til we’d adjusted - it had stopped. We were relieved - we weren’t frightened, we hadn’t spooked ourselves. We were quite openly joking about it, thinking if anyone knew we were here, they’d think we were absolutely raving mad. So we weren’t hyped up, expecting anything to happen - we were calm. And we were almost getting to the point where we thought ‘let’s leave it, nothing’s going to happen’ – and - it’s hard to explain what happened. We were sat in a Vauxhall Astra, in a three door Astra. The windows were both down, so you’ve got quite a wide doorway with a large windowsill. My arm was out of the window. I was looking in the rear view mirror and also in both side wing mirrors, expecting at any time someone to try to sneak up on us and set us up - so I was ready for that. When, - to give the term ‘when someone walks over your grave’, when you go deathly cold - I just suddenly went so cold I couldn’t speak. I can’t remember if I stopped breathing but I would say not, I could get my breath. But I knew that from nowhere, suddenly, somebody was here. And when I say ‘this close’ I mean ‘this close’ - somebody was pushed against the car window, with the entire torso region being pressed through the open window. Strange thing was, I couldn’t feel anything on my arm, and my arm would have been out, and anything there would have been pressing against my arm, but I couldn’t feel that. I just knew that somebody’s chest area was pressed against the window. I couldn’t speak to tell John because I just froze. I was thinking ‘Christ how the hell did this thing get here’ when as quickly I could think that, it had gone.
All me senses came back - I momentarily cast my head to the side and it had definitely gone. I was just about to say to John, something along the lines of ‘what was that?!’ when he let out such a scream and ended up physically off the seat - up towards the ceiling, the roof of the car, and just screamed. I jumped out of the police car, ran round the back, expecting what had gone from my side was now at his side - to find nothing. I asked him what he’d seen and he said, at the same time I’d sensed something on my side, he’d sensed something had appeared on his side. It might have been a split second with his scream and with the way I felt. I then told him to stop in the car, I got the torch, I even looked under the car, I looked all the way round it, I looked up the banking to the left I looked up the banking to the right - there was nothing there. Nobody could have got on us that quick and then got away that quick. To double check on this, the bypass then was just mud, and all there was was tyre tracks and there was actually our footprints where we’d twice walked up the bridge and come back, so we’d no footprints.
So we didn’t know what to make of it, we got back in the car, I drove up to the bridge. There was a dirt track taking you up onto the old Pearoyd Lane although the bridge wasn’t open, and we parked on the top. And we were sat in the car, when something hit the car from behind. The car didn’t physically move, although it felt as though somebody had hit us, or run into the back with the crashing noise. We both then jumped out the car thinking something had hit us, obviously. And I went to the back of the car and again there was nothing there at all. But within the space of a few seconds something hit the back of the police car four or five times. Now, it wasn’t long (using this just as a ‘for instance’), it wasn’t long after the miners’ strike had finished, and we’d been used to being in police cars that were being attacked by people with sticks, baseball bats, clubs (call them what you want), - and it was that same kind of banging on the back of the car, as though someone was hitting it with a large implement - wood, metal, whatever. We then thought, this is odd. I didn’t get the strange feeling back again, the feeling of coldness, but we didn’t like it this time, this was scary.
Narrator: As with the night watchmen, the car wasn’t damaged in any way, but there can be no question as to the genuineness of Dick Ellis’s experience. It takes a lot of courage for a policeman to talk about seeing ghosts, in front of his colleagues. Dick went further and put a full report into the station log. And over the following months there were several similar reports. Many of them mentioned a monk-like figure – dark, hooded, sometimes moving quickly up the embankment or through a car’s headlights.
Melbourne, Haulage driver: When you parked up, you’d to find a place where you could put your trailer, cos there were that many trailers in - you had to find an empty space. So I found a space, and then I stopped again in the wide part to take my ropes off, to back the trailer in. When I were taking the ropes off, down the nearside of the trailer, I suddenly went very cold. And it was a warm night. And very cold. And I got a musty smell, and glancing up I saw this figure of a monk just gliding through the headlights, and disappear among the other trailers. I wasn’t frightened but I was a little bit unnerved when I saw it. And quite a few times after that, at that time, I got that same smell, but I never saw that figure again. And that particular night when I saw it, I told the boss when I got back: he said ‘oh you’ve seen it as well’.
Narrator: Monks, even ghostly monks, aren’t the sort of the thing you’d connect with a steel town, but when we looked into the history of the valley we found there were clear links: there were two monasteries close by that went back as far as the 12th century. One was of the Cistercian order, which has a very strict code. And we found a local legend of a monk that had broken his code, and had left the monastery to take a job on a local farm. When he died he had to be buried in unconsecrated ground, up on the hillside. Very close it seems to the line of the cutting for the new bypass. Had the roadworks disturbed a still troubled spirit?
Narrator: The Stocksbridge bypass was completed in 1989. It now carries a steady stream of traffic up over the Pennines. But it has something of an unhappy record - in fact it’s become an accident blackspot. There’s even been some suggestion that the accidents have been due to the strange sightings, because they’ve gone on. Ordinary people have no doubt they’ve seen something not of this world, which they can’t forget.
Judy: We were coming over the top, going down the road, and over the bypass and into a village called Wortley. As I was driving I looked to the left hand side, and (um) there was a figure of what looked like a human being, just the outline of a body and a head. Um, I couldn’t actually see any facial expression, it was just a body, arms and legs, torso. Then I looked again, also my husband was looking, and there wasn’t actually any feet touching the ground, it was elevated, perhaps about 12 inches. And the arms and legs were all distorted and just moving in weird directions, so it was really weird. And then within seconds, really, from seeing this figure in the middle of the field, it was at the bottom of an embankment, the embankment that led up on to the road where we were driving. And within seconds from being at the bottom of the embankment it rose into the air, and actually kind of fell in front of the car. I mean I slowed down very very quickly, I put my foot on the brake, but to both our amazement, it just vanished.
David: It was a strange feeling, it brought goose bumps up on my arms. Um. I can only have one thought in my mind, that it was an apparition or it was a ghost.
Neville, bus driver: As we turned the corner, you walked in what can only be described as opening a great big freezer door, and walking into it, and it felt like a brick wall at the same time, it was immensely cold. And we just carried on walking up the lane after it sort of took us breath for a second, and it finished up with us shaking uncontrollably, and we knew for a fact we weren’t shaking. And as we went up the lane, slowly walked up the lane to the entrance to this field, all the back of your neck started to crawl, your scalp, and it just felt as though your hair was beginning to stand on end. And the oppression started to come, it was really bad, heavy. And we could see what can only be described as a monk racing around the field at great pace, one minute he was stood at the top corner, then he was off, he was missing, then he was at the corner, then he was at the entrance to the field, he was actually prancing around.
Narrator: There have been many sightings like that, a strange human like figure half seen, half not seen. It seems to be able to move with great speed across the fields and roads. But other sightings are quite different - they’re filled with immense detail about the clothes and the appearance and manner of the apparition.
Graham, builder: This particular night Nigel decided to come with me, and we set off running and we got up to Wortley quite a bit later than what I would normally run if I was running on my own. And on the way back it was coming dusk, and as I was running in front of Nigel I saw in front of me, just as I was pulling into a layby to mark time for Nigel to catch me up, a guy walking with his back to the traffic. And I thought ‘whoa this is dangerous,’ and I looked over my shoulder and Nigel was getting close to me. And then I realised that this guy wasn’t walking on the road, he was walking in the road. And at first I couldn’t, my eyes were telling me he was doing this and I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing. And the guy was getting nearer and he was actually walking, I could only see from probably about there [indicates shin height] - about a foot of him was walking in the road. And he was in very old dark brown clothes and he got a cape on. And the cape, as he got nearer, I could see it was buttoned every half inch down. It was like eyelets, it wasn’t buttonholes like we have nowadays, it was like eyelets. And the face was just like black, like a chap who comes out of the mine, but it was a dull brown, and there was no actual face, it was like black sockets where his face was. And he’d got a big bag with him, it was like trailing in the ground. And Nigel stood at the side of me, and I turned to look at him, and his hair was standing on end, and I could feel all the hair on the back of my head standing up. And as I looked back to say something to Nigel, when we looked back again he’d just disappeared.
Nigel, student: It was difficult to believe what I’d just seen. It came to us like a normal person and as it got close you could see there were no... you couldn’t see anything like below its knees. And we just got a feeling of fear and decided to run as fast as we could. And it was strange because you could tell straight away it wasn’t normal - the facial features and everything, no eyes, no nose.
Graham: The funny thing about it was, there was this queer musty smell. And I never said anything to Nigel, but Nigel said ‘Pooh, Dad, dint he smell?‘ And that was it, he just disappeared and there was just this fusty smell.
Narrator: That account clearly carries the ring of truth about it. The fact that the figure walked on a lower ground level, a ground level that existed in previous centuries, also tallies with our research in other parts of the country where the apparitions are associated with much earlier times. But the big question of course, is what do we think is going on around Stocksbridge? There are large deposits of iron ore in the region, which would affect the local magnetic field. And there are overhead power lines, big electrical substations near the steel smelters. Could they be having some sort of triggering effect?
Dr Richard Wiseman, parapsychologist: Some scientists have argued that if you place the human brain, or at least some types of human brain, those with a large amount of flux or activity in the temporal lobes, into a very strong magnetic field, you’ll be able to induce an anomalous experience. Now the evidence for that comes from laboratory based studies, where they’ve placed very strong magnetic fields across the brain and across the temporal lobes in particular, and people have reported very strange experiences. Now whether you could ever get those sorts of strength of field out in the real world, under power lines or by power stations for example, is a different issue. There’s no evidence you can achieve those sorts of flux out there in the field. But still, it’s an attempt at a normal explanation to explain paranormal phenomena.
Narrator: But magnetic effects or not, speak to the people who’ve had these experiences at quite different times and places, and there can be no doubt but the powerful impact on them. Not just the profound emotional nature of the experience, but the quality of the recall – the detail of the coat fastening, or the line of a collar, or the thud of something invisible hitting a car. Science finds these accounts of the paranormal almost impossible to deal with because they seem to lie outside all the established laws.
Professor Ian Stevenson, University of Virginia: I think the resistance of other scientists (that is, those who’ve looked at the data) comes from the subversiveness of what we’re saying - that there is a lot more to human personality than they have allowed for.
Science spent a very long time building up a particular world view, and that excludes the existence of paranormal phenomena by definition. If we’re going to include those phenomena, we’re going to have to radically change that world view. And we only want to do that if the evidence is extremely good, we don’t want to make a mistake and say ‘ghosts exist, we do survive death’ and then find out we’ve got it radically wrong. Science is by its nature a very conservative process, you slowly collect the evidence, present it to peer groups, see what they think. If it’s accepted, it slowly becomes integrated into scientific theory. But it’s very early days yet and a lot of the paranormal phenomena would mean that we do have to radically change how scientists see the world.
What is at stake of course is huge: nothing less than the most profound challenge to the way the human machine works. Conventional science would have us believe we are essentially bundles of molecules that come together for a brief spell of time, before dispersing back into the environment. But these widespread and unexplained events might perhaps lift the veil onto another kind of reality: the possibility that there is an entity, a something that we call the mind, that might be capable of an independent existence, able to survive the dissolution of the body, even take on an apparent form. It’s an uncomfortable question, but one that increasing numbers of scientists are now prepared to contemplate.I think the mind is primary consciousness. It’s primary and I think irreducible. And it uses brains or a brain while we’re living, but may persist after the death of the physical brain.
David Fontana, professor of psychology: My own prediction would be in fact we would see that mind and brain are not the same, and that the nonlocality theory which now has quite a lot of attention among scientists (which is that the mind is separate from the brain but is normally operating through it), that this would be established within science, and we would find that it is direct contact between mind and mind that allows for these phenomena like telepathy to happen.
I try to monitor the literature of neuroscience, and read the books by neuroscientists and authorities on memory, who are totally convinced that memory is in the brain and couldn’t be anywhere else. And that personality is also in the brain, and that if this or that part of the brain is damaged then this produces this or that change to personality. And there’s no doubt that they’ve made great progress, to tell you this is the decade of the brain, but I hope that the next decade or some decade in the 21st century will be the decade of the mind.
Narrator: An increasing number of scientists would agree with Ian Stevenson that we need a new science, a science of the mind. But after almost 100 years of paranormal research there are those that believe that a proper understanding of it might always lie beyond our grasp.
Archie Roy, professor of astronomy: The universe may simply be too complicated - and by the universe I mean the physical astronomical universe, but also the universe of the paranormal - may be just too complicated for us to ever understand. We can map it, we can study it, we can experiment with it, but it may well be that we will never understand it. Maybe however 21st century some new aspect will come in which will give us a clue as to what is the best way of at least maximising our knowledge about what the paranormal is.