The Friends of the Chantry Chapel
Highwaymen were a very serious problem to coachfarers in the 17th and 18th centuries and many travellers tried to avoid making their journies during the dark evening and nights to lessen the chance of being robbed. Westgate was the home of the banking area of Wakefield, where traders entrusted their takings.
Nottinghamshire born, Henry Whalton, became known as the 'silent highwayman', due to his distinctive voice. It was quite high pitched and had a tremor, this making his voice very distinctive. The phrase 'Stand and Deliver' was not uttered from Whalton's lips as he sat astride his black mount, but the gesturing of his pistols made everyone aware of the deeds to come.
Wakefield and the surrounding areas had its fair share of 'gentlemen gangsters' or 'gentlemen of the road'. William or John Nevison from near Pontefract, famous for the famous ride to York and Dick Turpin who is reported to have 'supped' at the Three Houses Inn on Barnsley Road.
Doncaster, Pontefract and Wakefield roads were where he carried out numerous robberies, but it was on Wakefield Bridge that he met his demise. It is still unknown how the authorites found out about Henry being in the Wakefield area, that is not important. What is more interesting is what happened as a result of that news. Henry Whalton fled from the detachment of the mounted soldiers. The horses hooves ringing out, echoing into the October evening. One can almost imagine a bright moon and wet, shiney cobbles on the bridge. Whalton's horse stumbled and fell. Henry's black ride fell to the ground crushing his leg. Struggling to remove his leg from beneath his horse, he managed to drag himself to the parapet and throw himself into the river rather than be caught and tried for his crimes.
The body of Henry Whalton was never found, but some seem to think his body had fallen into the hands of the body-snatchers, men greedy for the money that a fresh cadiver could bring. Doctors in such places as Leeds were always on the look out for bodies and the money paid was enough to give them a steady supply.
No sightings have been reported of Henry Whalton since the last century.
At the other side of the world Harry Houdini had an experience that would stay with him for the remainder of his life.
While performing one of his regular tricks, in which he dove from a bridge roped and manacled. During his time under the water he dislodged a corpse which rose to the waters surface. The memory of this incident gave Housini a fascination for ghosts that haunted bridges and he became one of the world's foremost investigators of ghostly and spiritual frauds.
Wakefield Bridge was visited on many occasions by Houdini in his efforts to 'catch sight of' the spectoral horse and rider. His years of visiting Wakefield prooved negative and his last visit was in 1921. Harry Houdini died in 1926.
Has the spectre of Henry Whalton gone to rest ? Who knows ? Or is the skeletal figure that walks across the bridge on dark, foggy evenings, Henry looking for his black horse ?
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