Leeds: Boggarts, ghost dogs and secret passages

Kirkstall Abbey.
Kirkstall Abbey.
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Local author Kai Roberts explores leeds’ folklore. Grant Woodward reports.

WITH a dad who would take him up and down the country as he researched his latest work on local folklore, you could say it was inevitable that Kai Roberts would grow up to develop an interest in the unusual and outlandish.

Sure enough, the 30-year-old has followed in his father’s footsteps and has just published his latest book The Folklore of Yorkshire, which includes some intriguing tales from Leeds’ less well-known history.

“I’m incapable of going into a second-hand bookshop without wading through the folklore sections and hopefully coming out with something interesting,” says Kai, who’s from Brighouse.

“With such a wealth of material it was difficult knowing what to leave out, but I was keen to get a mix of some lesser-known legends along with new perspectives on the more famous ones...”


A rock once sat about a mile from Leeds, beside the Bradford road. It was known as the Giant’s Stone and local legend related that it had been thrown there from a hill near Armley on the opposite bank of the River Aire. Indentations on the boulder were supposed to represent the giant’s fingerprints.


A ghostly black dog was said to roam around Leeds, described in 1879 as ‘the size of a small donkey, black with shaggy hair and large eyes like saucers’. The fiend was also supposed to ‘utter a roar totally unlike the voice of any known animal’. Rumour that the dog had been spotted would deter people from venturing any distance alone in the dark. In more rural areas there were often spots that were considered no-go areas after sunset.


Lady Anne’s Well near the ruins of Howley Hall at Morley was supposed to run with a variety of colours at six o’clock in the morning of Palm Sunday. Local legend added that sometime in the 17th century, a lady of Howley Hall by the name of Anne Saville used to bathe in the well. On one such occasion, she fell asleep by its side, whereupon she was fatally attacked by some wild animals from the surrounding woods and the well was named in her memory.


Household spirits, known as boggarts, once acted as a scapegoat for all the minor irritations of daily life.

Houses which had a reputation for such ‘poltergeist’-style hauntings were known colloquially as ‘boggart houses’. A whole council estate in Seacroft, Leeds, inherited the name from the now-demolished house on whose site it stands.

At one time boggarts were considered such a nuisance around Yeadon that the town accounts record sums paid from the public purse for ‘boggart-catching’.


Legend has it that a man threshing corn in the grounds of Kirkstall Abbey spotted a cavity in the ruins which he had never noticed before

Further investigation revealed an underground passage which he followed for some distance until it suddenly opened out, and he discovered himself standing in a great hall with a fire blazing in the hearth.

A black horse stood in one corner, behind which sat a large chest with a cock watching over it. Suspecting the chest contained treasure, the man resolved to acquire it for himself – only to receive a blow on the side of the head and wake up on the grass outside. The man searched for the entrance to the secret passage many times over the years, but was never able to find it again.