Friday, October 29, 2010

Off the Beaten Path: Bolling Hall and Its Ghost

I've stood on its grounds on a cold and blustery November day, and on a soft, sunny day in April when the daffodils were in bloom. It doesn't matter how many more times I'll be fortunate enough to visit Bolling Hall, what I will always remember is that Serendipity guided me there.

I am one of the fortunate Americans who grew up knowing her grandparents and great-grandparents. By the time I was a teenager, I knew lots of things about generations of my family going back much farther in time than that. I have my mother and grandmother to thank for that.

Shortly after getting my first computer, I was trying to get all of the family history they'd unearthed on my hard drive. I soon learned that I didn't really have the time or the patience for that, but the notes my mother had typed up so many years ago were calling to me. I decided to go through them and look up the various places ancestors had lived.

Almost all my ancestors came from northern England (Yorkshire and Northumberland) and the Highlands of Scotland. When I read the note about Robert Bolling-- being the youngest son-- leaving Bolling Hall in Bradford to go to London to live near the Tower of London, I perked up. For once, a house my ancestors had lived in had a name.

I idly typed "Bolling Hall" into the search engine on my computer. I didn't expect any hits. The Bollings weren't rich or influential; they were merely "comfortable" and more known for backing the wrong side in any internal English squabble. I was convinced that Bolling Hall had been torn down and made into a car park many decades previously.

There were hits on my search. Here's where you picture a slight pause while I stuff my eyes back into my head and pick my jaw off the floor. When I clicked on the links, I learned that Bolling Hall is a museum with free admission and a car park. Within seconds that old house had jumped to the #1 spot on my Places I Must See Before I Die list.

The lands of Bolling Hall Manor are listed in the Domesday Book. According to the stone marker not far from the house, it used to be six miles from Bradford. Now it's about a mile from the city centre in the middle of a rather grim-looking housing estate.

When I first saw the front elevation of the Hall, I fell in love.

This is no grand manor of the rich and shameless; it is the home of a family who liked being comfortable. Whenever they had some extra money, they slapped a new addition on to the house, and it didn't matter if the styles blended together well or not. That's precisely what I love about it. Bolling Hall was a home, not a statement.

Bolling Hall is a long house fronted by gardens and trees so that it's impossible to get the entire house in the frame. The oldest part of the house is the stone tower-like structure on the left in the photo above. It dates back to the thirteenth century and is now the entrance to the museum. The subsequent additions progress to the right (you can see them in the photo to the left), and the youngest of them all is now over two hundred years old.

By 1912 there was no family left, and the house was given to the City of Bradford. Three years later, it was turned into a museum. The house has been furnished in the various period styles it lived through and is home to exhibits throughout the year for all the schoolchildren who come to visit.

The balcony from which you can look down into the main hall and through the magnificent stained glass window (seen to the right) is said to be the scene of a murder, and there is a rather suspicious looking stain on the floor below.

The stone tower-- the oldest part of Bolling Hall-- was the most interesting to me. Rooms led from one to another, up and down steps, as if the architect put everything together on a whim.

The bedroom with the green bedclothes is where the master and mistress of the house would sleep. It overlooks the gardens in front and has the decided advantage of a garderobe, the medieval version of an en suite bathroom.

Down a few steps from the Green Room is the Blue Room, which is my favorite, not only for the color, but for the furnishings, the fireplace, and the huge window that shows just how thick the stone walls are.

At the other end of the Blue Room are some steps, a steep, narrow stone staircase leading into the darkness (if it had led down, I would've thought it was the way to the dungeon) and at the end of a very short hall, another room where Royalists plotted the capture of Bradford during the English Civil War.

As I've said before, each addition to Bolling Hall is different. The stone "tower" is followed by a half-timbered section, which is followed by a Georgian section which is followed by an early Victorian addition, and the furnishings follow suit. It's a very homey and informative walk through history and a house. But I want to get to my favorite section-- the original stone tower of Bolling Hall-- because it spoke to me the most.

There is an impressive kitchen with a gigantic walk-in fireplace. A cold storage room and laundry room with a huge box mangle. There's a perfect small study for the man of the house. But outside of the Blue Room and that scary stone staircase, the room that spoke to me the most was the room at the front which was saved for the most important visitors who came to stay.

Just look at that substantial carved four poster bed with the lush hangings and bedclothes. On the wall opposite from the bed is a large window that has a window seat and looks out over the gardens and the approach to the house. As I looked out the window, I could've sworn I saw a woman in farthingale and lace ruff ducking behind a tree in the garden.

But the full glory of that bedroom is not contained in a bed and a window. Or even the fireplace to the side of the room where the ghost appears.

To get the full glory of that room, you have to look up. Look up at the carved wooden frieze running all around the room at the top of the paneling. (To the right.) Making it was labor intensive, and if you click on the photo to view it full size (as you can all the photos in this post), you'll also see that architectural features like this depend on servants to keep it looking at its best.

While you're looking up, look all the way up-- to the ceiling. (To the left.) Isn't it gorgeous? Birds, flowers, fruit, nuts... all done in plaster and then painted to show it in all its glory. This was a room that was meant to impress anyone who slept in it.

It's also the room where the resident ghost has been seen on several occasions. The most famous appearance was when she showed herself to the Earl of Newcastle after he'd planned a battle and gone to bed. "Pity poor Bradford!" she pleaded, wringing her hands. The Earl went ahead with the attack but decided not to put all the prisoners to the sword.

As I stood in that room, I felt more than one presence, and they were all friendly and happy. Evidently the ghost knew I wasn't leaving to put Bradford to the sword.

Bolling Hall has lived for a long, long time, and it's no wonder that I felt things when I walked the grounds and the rooms. I think it's not pleased with its current cramped quarters, but it has known the passing of centuries, and it knows how to bide its time. I am so very happy that I've been allowed to make its acquaintance. It is a very special house.

If you'd like to see more of it, there is a series of 360 degree views of all the rooms open to the public at the BBC website.

View of Bradford from Bolling Hall


  1. Cathy,
    Bolling Hall is just magnificent. I have never been but would love to go and see it.
    I don't know if I mentioned it but I have been doing paranormal investigations for over the past 8 years with a group which my friend and I founded. I would love to get into Bolling Hall to do one but they probably charge an arm and a leg to go in over night.
    I do envy you having been there.


  2. How exciting that you have such a home in your family history and that you got to visit it!

  3. How fantastic that you discovered the house and felt a connection to it. Wow.

  4. Wow; ancestors who had ghosts and garderobes!

    What a fantastic discovery - and a fabulous post about it.

  5. Very cool, Cathy. I'm envious. I have a feeling my Scots ancestors lived in a hovel with the animals. I do some geneology though and I'm getting close to figuring out which village they came from.

  6. Barbra-- It may not cost a lot. From the dust on the furniture and paneling, the place must be run on a shoestring. It borders a school and is separated from the school by a high fence topped with razor wire. The last time I was there, some git had spray painted graffiti on one of the walls-- which I took rather personally!

    Kris-- I'm glad I went through Mom's notes!

    Beth-- It was a wonderful experience.

    Dorte-- Thank you. I'm glad I read it again a few minutes ago. Blogger was giving me trouble last night, and the re-read showed me where almost an entire paragraph had been chopped from the post. Grrr!

    Barbara-- I hope you do find which village they came from. Who knows? My Scots ancestors probably lived in the next hovel over... if yours lived in and around the Isle of Skye.

  7. It looks gorgeus! So cool you know about your history so far back!

  8. It is so distressing when these kids go around defacing these beautiful properties. Obviously nothing is sacred. Makes my blood boil as well.

  9. Elysium-- It is cool, and I have a lot to thank my mother and grandmother for. It made history come alive for me because, in several circumstances, I knew what part my ancestors played in it.

    Barbra-- When I was young I was envious from time to time, but I never dreamed of ruining the object so no one else could enjoy it!

  10. What a treat! Thanks for showing the old homestead off for all of us to have a tour ;0)

  11. Molly-- You're welcome! I'm glad you enjoyed the tour. I wanted to show a lot more of the place, but I didn't want the post to take up the entire first page of my blog! LOL

  12. I am a descendant of the Bollings, the family name has changed several times throughout the generations. It started in France with the De Boulogne, then when Normady invasion it changed to the English version De Bolling, then to Bolling and then once Robert Bolling traveled to the US, numerous versions/spellings occured. Alot of times the residents were illiterate, and the spelling took on the name of how it was heard. Bowling, Bollen, Bowlin, Boleyn, etc.
    I have researched back 20 generations, feel free to contact me if you have any questions.
    Traci Bowling Pollard


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