Strange stories...

THE grisly tale of the Calder Valley's very own legendary outlaw and bogeyman, Tom Bell, is just one of the stories covered in a new book detailing the stranger aspects of local history.

For hundreds of years the name of Tom Bell was used to scare local children up and down the valley into behaving themselves, but the story is becoming less and less known.

Hebden Bridge author and amateur historian Paul Weatherhead is hoping to put that right with his new book Weird Calderdale.

In it he investigates the most amazing stories from around these parts, including UFOs and alien abductions in Todmorden and the "fire from heaven" that burned two sisters to death in Sowerby Bridge.

Amazing criminal cases are also looked at, with a blow-by-blow account given of the Todmorden vicarage murders and a review of the Halifax Slasher investigations.

Also covered are the Brighouse legends of the Kirklees Vampire and Robin Hood's grave and the furore that arose when The Hermetic Order of the Silver Blade Coven of Witches tried to buy Slack Chapel near Heptonstall.

Paul says he realised that Calderdale was a genuinely wierd place when he returned to the area after a period of more than 10 years away.

"I didn't really notice the strangeness when I was young," he said. "It just seemed normal when I was growing up, but when I came back I realised it wasn't that normal a place after all.

"I'm fascinated by weirdness in general and, I suppose, I'd heard about the stories and decided to investigate them a little. I then found there were a number of inaccuracies in the published tales, so in some cases I wanted to tell the real story and in others I just wanted to publish them them.

"People will have heard something about these stories in the past but won't know the details or the controversy surrounding them."

The tale of Tom Bell has certainly had its fair share of controversy, particularly after the discovery of what was claimed to be his skull in his old hidey hole at a cave in Hardcastle Crags in 1899.

In the old legend Bell, a sneak thief who, surprisingly, used to clad himself in clanking iron mail, was meant to have died in the cave when his stomach exploded after he'd gorged himself fit to burst on the ill-gotten booty that he'd stolen from around the area.

Nobody knows when this was meant to have happened, although some say it was in the ninth century, and the tale gained such renown that two ballad poems were written about it in the 1840s.

The legend returned to cause a dispute in the town when a certain Herbert Cooper claimed to have made an amazing discovery while exploring the cave.

Cooper said he believed he'd found the skull of Tom Bell, but his claim was met with scepticism by the most of the community, who noted his business providing refreshments to tourists to the Crags would benefit from such a find.

The skull was taken to Dr Russell of Todmorden and then shown to Professor William Boyd Dawkins of Manchester, who believed it be prehistoric, possibly neolithic.

Expert opinion, however, did not settle the matter and heated letters were exchanged in the Hebden Bridge Times before, nearly three months after the discovery, the Mytholmroyd Co-operative Society held a debate on the whole controversy, featuring 'cavists' and 'anti-cavists'.

Unsurprisingly, the matter was not decided either way at the debate and the whole incident eventually blew over, but not before hundreds of extra tourists had made their way to look at the cave up in the Crags.

Paul also has his own theory on the roots of the tale, but to discover that you'll have to buy the book.

Weird Calderdale is on sale at the Bookcase and the Tourist Information Centre in Hebden Bridge and the Tourist Information Centre and Lyalls bookshop in Todmorden.