THE TOWN HALL, LEEDS
When opened by Queen Victoria in 1858, Leeds Town Hall was one of the largest civic buildings in the UK. It was home to the Crown Court and as such, designed to accommodate those awaiting trail. The west side of the basement, known as the Bridewell, has thirteen cells – these were used until 1993 when the new Crown and County Court opened.
It is the cells within the Bridewell that are said to be haunted by the restless spirit of Charles Peace, a renowned Yorkshire criminal.
Charlie Peace had a reputation for being one of the most prolific burglars around and as such, the Police were soon on to him. Peace was convicted for a string of burglaries and sentenced to a seven-year stretch. He came out of prison a much more hardened criminal than he went in. Vowing to never get caught again, he started to carry a gun.
Moving to Sheffield, Peace took a fancy to his neighbor, Mrs Dyson. There’s no record of anything happening between them, but there is an account of the Police being called to a disturbance involving Peace and Mrs Dyson’s husband, Arthur. The following day, Peace, now on the Police radar again, went to Manchester to get back to his trade. However, getting caught a second time took him from burglar to murderer.
On 2 August 1876, Peace was caught robbing a house by PC Cook. Intent on avoiding capture at any cost, Peace shot and killed the Constable and then set off back to Yorkshire where he went straight to the Dyson’s house. There, he shot and killed Arthur Dyson. Knowing he had to escape the North, he headed for London.
For two years, Peace got away with robbing the residents of Peckham, until he was caught in October 1878 breaking into a property in St John’s Park. Again, intent on evasion, Peace opened fire at the officer on scene, PC Robinson. Only one of the five shots fired hit Robinson and he bravely continued to pursue Peace, finally arresting him with only minor injuries.
When identified, Peace was sent back to Leeds to stand trial for the murder of Arthur Dyson and attempted murder of PC Robinson. Prior to the trial, he spent two days in the Bridewell.
The jury were out for only twelve minutes and they voted unanimously. Peace was found guilty and sentenced to hang.
Following the trial, back in his Bridewell cell, Peace confessed to Rev Lockwood for the murder of PC Cook in Manchester. The Reverend said that Peace showed true remorse for his victims and begged the Lord for forgiveness. He was heard preying throughout the night until dawn when he was then transferred to Armley Gaol and later hanged by the neck until death.
There have been numerous accounts of ghostly whispering in the thirteen cells of the Bridewell. The strange thing is, the sound doesn’t just come from one cell, it is heard at an equal volume across all thirteen. The whispering is said to sound like prayer, although the individual words can’t quite be made out. The haunting sound has apparently driven many an inmate to near madness, petrifying some of Leeds’ toughest criminals. It’s unusual to think that Peace would haunt the Town Hall considering he spent such little time there, but maybe the Bridewell has special significance to this lost soul. It is, after all, where he pleaded for absolution.
There is also a strange phenomenon regarding the Town Hall clock. Every once in a while, the bell has been heard to chime thirteen times rather than twelve. Generally this happens at midnight, but has also been heard at noon. The ‘fault’ has been investigated by a number of specialists but no one can find an explanation as to why it happens.