After a week of heavy rain, finally today looked a little better with a hint of sunshine in the air. I was hungry, and, with my birthday coming up tomorrow, I decided to treat myself to a meal at the Shibden Mill Inn down the road from Halifax. I’d be on my own but that didn’t bother me. I still needed to eat, even if unaccompanied.
I strode through the door into the atmospheric old inn with its timbered beams and the delicious smell of cooking hit me straightaway.
An hour or so later, a pound or two heavier and £1 or two lighter, I made my way back outside into the sunshine to walk off the delicious roast dinner I’d just put away.
The steep hill taxed my legs but the joy of getting to the top meant that now it was easy downhill walking for a while. From Stump Cross I continued on and now it was uphill again towards Shibden Park. Down into the grounds I went, then I took the right hand path up to the hall, a glorious old manor house previously inhabited by Anne Lister, an interesting lady who dressed in black, had a head for business and liked to travel and explore, which cannot have been easy in the early 1800s.
I paid my £4.50 which I thought very reasonable for such a wonderful timber-framed manor house dating from the 15th century and wandered through into the old kitchen with its massive fireplace. I could imagine Anne sitting beside it toasting her feet on a cold winter’s day with the snow gently falling outside. Everything must have been so quiet in the extensive grounds around the big house. I passed through into another room and could almost feel the presence of past inhabitants and visiting aunts. I could smell the past!
I was lucky, I’d come on a quiet day; no noisy children to bring me back to the present so I drifted round the rooms revelling in the past. Apart from the old man who was part of the staff and kept
well into the background (no doubt with a beady eye on me in case I decided to get up to any mischief) there appeared to be no-one else in the house apart from the lady in the shop who had taken my entrance fee. After looking downstairs, I went upstairs and into the nursery where I imagined children playing noisily. I could almost see a little girl in a white dress gently rocking backwards and forwards on the old rocking horse.
There must have been lots of laughter and not a few tears in that room over the years. Moving on, I marvelled at the four-poster beds which looked quite small and imagined a large man trying to get comfortable with his feet sticking out at the bottom. I shivered. No central heating in those days.
Finally I went back downstairs wearily. I’d wandered around for long enough and I could do with a rest. After all, I’d had a long walk to get here. I felt tired and slightly dizzy so I sat on the floor for a minute and leaned back against the wall. I must have sat there for a few minutes when I felt the panel behind me giving away and I fell through, banging my head on the floor. Ouch!
She was staring at me in an odd way and I instinctively took a step backwards
I got up and saw three steps behind me which I climbed gingerly, for it was quite dismal and I was unable to see clearly. I heard a muffled cough and as I emerged into a dusty room I saw a lady
in a long black dress with her back towards me. She turned to face me. It had to be Anne Lister, I’d seen her face on many a brochure of Shibden Hall. “What are you doing in my house?” She asked in a dreamy kind of voice.
“I’ve paid £4.50 to come in,” I answered, rifling through my pockets for my ticket. “It’s a beautiful house,” I added while staring at her deathly white face.
“You’re welcome to look round my house,” she said quietly, “but you paid a lot of money” she added, dipping her hand into a silver dish of coins on the table beside her. She handed me two old pennies, saying; “That’s all I would have charged you.”
I took the coins while my eyes wandered around the room. I noted a diary on a desk with a quill pen next to it and a piano against the wall. There was so much I wanted to ask this mysterious lady but I couldn’t seem to find the words. She was staring at me in an odd way and I instinctively took a step backwards and fell headlong down the stairs. I rolled back through the loose panel which flipped back into place behind me. Everything went a bit hazy at that point and the next thing I remember is the old gentleman standing over me with a look of concern on his face. “Are you okay?” he asked while extending his hand to help me up.
“I fell through a panel,” I answered, rubbing my head. “Then I went up some stairs and fell back down them,” I uttered, still feeling dazed and a little unsure of what had really happened.
He looked at me kindly and shook his head. “Sorry about the loose panel,” he apologised.
“We’ll have to get it fixed,” he added. “But there are no stairs. It’s only the original wall behind the panel. When Anne Lister had the panelling done she left part of the original wall behind it.
“Look,” he said, opening the panel. “It’s just a blank wall.”
I felt around and he was right. There were no steps at all. “But,” I muttered, “I saw Anne Lister…” I trailed off, knowing how ridiculous I sounded. Maybe I’d just dreamed about the steps and Anne Lister.
“Perhaps you just nodded off for a few minutes,” suggested the kindly gentleman.
“Well I was very tired, and I did bang my head when I fell through the panel” I remembered. “But still…” I added, confused.
“I suggest you get out into the sunshine and get yourself home,” he said with a reassuring pat on my arm.
I must admit I did have a clearer head outside in the fresh air and I realised that I must have passed out when I banged my head on the wall behind the panel and dreamed about the steps and Anne Lister.
I strode up the steep pathway towards the main road and the bus stop feeling refreshed in the cool air and was pleased to see the bus coming up the hill towards me as I reached the bus stop. “How lucky is that,” I murmured to myself.
I handed the driver a £5 note to which he turned his nose up and sighed, “Haven’t you anything smaller than that?”
I put my hand in my pocket and brought out the only coins I had and slapped them down in front of him.
Two old pennies!