York is said to be home to hundreds of ghosts; well, that’s hardly surprising considering its great age. But while tales of our ghostly residents maybe ten a penny there is one that I’m particularly fond of. It involves a trainee plumber and a troop of Roman soldiers, and no, it’s not the start of a very bad joke.
This incident took place in 1953, at the Treasurer’s house. Very little remains of the original building, and the current property has been altered many times over. A retirement of disrepair appeared to be its fate when industrialist Frank Green took pity. He restored the building to its former glory before relinquishing it to the National Trust.
So, it was just another working day for teenager Harry Martindale. He was alone in the Treasurer’s house cellar, up a ladder of all places, when he heard a horn. It was faint; he thought it must be coming from the minster, but then it grew bolder. What happened next was to haunt him for the rest of his life.
A Roman soldier sporting a plumed helmet passed through the wall.
One may think that remarkable enough, but the Romans always liked to impress. The soldier was followed by a horse and up to 20 armed legionaries.
Fear felled Martindale; he pressed himself into a corner for safety. Yet the soldiers showed no interest, and he was able to study them without threat. They were a motley bunch, dressed in dirty green tunics, and bearing round shields and daggers. A modern level cut them off at the knee, but as they moved to the original Roman road Martindale could see open sandals with leather straps to the knees.
‘Open sandals?’ I hear you gasp; York’s chilly clime would surely necessitate socks. These were hardy folk indeed! Marching across the room they left as they had entered, quietly and without fuss. Martindale paused until the last one had disappeared before hotfooting it upstairs. He was signed off for a fortnight with shock.
Now, it can be argued that the soldiers were simply an intrigue of the imagination. Rumours of ghostly shenanigans were rife and working alone in a creepy cellar would unsettle even the staunchest sceptic. Plus, Martindale’s description of dishevelment and dejection hardly married with the glossy image of Roman soldiers held at the time. But years later uniform and weaponry of the local reserve soldiers came to light, which backed up his strange tale.