There is a local legend about a ghostly stagecoach. People used to talk about this (before they had the 'haunted' Stocksbridge Bypass to talk about) and I remember my mother being told the tale by my grandparents. The story was that a stagecoach had crashed, with fatalities, and afterwards a ‘phantom stagecoach’ could be seen on dark nights, being driven by the ‘living dead’. My mother (born 1938) went to bed scared, and was even more scared when she was woken up by the sound of hooves. Peering out of the window she was relieved to see a lone horse rider trotting past on the street below. But does this story have any basis in fact - was there a fatal coach accident in these parts?
Legends usually have some basis in fact, and one would expect to find a report about a stagecoach crash in the records somewhere. The story is cited in books and on websites, to be sure, but not one person has given any evidence of any such accident having ever occurred.
The accident was said to have happened on the ‘new toll road’. This would be the Wadsley and Langsett Turnpike, which was built in 1805, and opened in 1806, to link up with an existing route at the Flouch, running on to Manchester over the moors (now the Woodhead Pass).
There were certainly newspapers around at this time which would have reported something like a fatal coach accident. There was the Sheffield Register (begun in 1787), which was taken over in 1794 and renamed the Sheffield Iris. The Sheffield Daily Telegraph appeared for the first time in 1853, and there was also a Sheffield and Rotherham Independent. I have searched these newspapers, as well as the Manchester ones, but I can find no evidence at all of such an event, though there were plenty of reports of accidents in other parts of the country, not just Sheffield. The Barnsley Chronicle began in 1858.
Valerie Salim, in her book Ghost Hunter’s Guide to Sheffield, published in 2001, says that, “There is a legend of a stage-coach overturning and killing a group of small children. Or were the ghostly children really fairy folk?” I think she is mixing up her legends here; it is unlikely that a coach overturned and killed a group of children – it’s more likely the passengers who would have been killed. A group of ghostly children feature in stories about the modern Stocksbridge bypass, said to be seen in the area where the Pea Royd bridge was built.
In another story, Valerie Salim mentions Berton-under Edge farm, close to Pearoyd Bridge and the bypass, where mysterious tapping noises were said to have been heard in the beerhouse into which a former weaving shed had been converted. Folk blamed the ghost of Nancy, who drowned in a vat of dye in the early 1800s.
The OS map below, dated 1906 shows Berton Under Edge farm and Pea Royd Hill, with the location of the modern bridge in red.
The Sheffield Iris of 4th September 1838 reports on an accident which befell the ‘Stag’ coach from Manchester, which overturned at the Bridge, within one mile of Midhope, but there were no people killed. It does say that this particular stretch of road had long been complained of as ‘highly dangerous’, and refers to a previous accident, when the ‘Tantivy’ coach overturned in the same place, but I can find no mention of it in earlier newspapers.
I think the bridge mentioned in this report is Unsliven Bridge – the first OS map below (surveyed 1851-1851 and published in 1854) shows a bend in the road that would have been troublesome to an unwieldy stagecoach, especially if it was travelling at speed. This bend was removed in later years when a new road was built and the bridge was bypassed. On the second map (published 1906) you can see the old road, which used to cross Unsliven Bridge, now petering out just above Damstakes Farm. The Underbank Reservoir was being built, which was the main reason for altering the road layout.
The British Paranormal website notes: "It is worth noting that the bridge upon which the cloaked figure manifested is the Pea Royd Bridge. First built in the early 19th Century, the bridge, which was subsequently reconstructed due to heavy traffic use, was once the site of a terrible coach crash, that led to the deaths of many individuals. Since this time, the area has been rumoured by locals to be cursed and haunted by the souls of the men and women who perished there. "
This is wrong – I am not sure when Pea Royd bridge was built, but I am pretty sure it was when the bypass was constructed in 1987 (it opened in May 1988). If the authors are referring to Stocks' Bridge, then even that would be wrong; the bridge was first built by John Stocks in the 18th century (1770s) and rebuilt in 1812. The stage coaches only ran along the turnpike and did not cross over to the Hunshelf side of the river. (Coaches did run along Well House Road, past where the Rock Inn would later be built).
The website www.penpictorial.co.uk also mentions a ‘horrific stage coach crash’, which was on the new toll road (the turnpike), but seems to imply that the accident occurred near the original Stocks’ Bridge. They say, ‘legend has it that the toll road was the scene of a horrific stage coach crash, killing all on board the horse-drawn conveyance’, and that, ‘for many years after this dreadful accident it was said that, during the dead of night, unwary passers-by would hear the sound of furiously galloping horses before witnessing the horse-drawn coach still carrying its passengers - the unquiet dead.’ The years then passed, with just the occasional sighting of the phantom coach, and all was quiet until the land was disturbed to build the Stocksbridge Bypass.
And on his website, Dr. David Clarke has a page called 'Road Ghosts' on which he says, "A project undertaken by schoolchildren in the steel town uncovered a rich seam of local lore which included stories about the spirits of children killed in a mining accident and a tragedy involving a stagecoach." In the comments section of this page, a man said that he had read of a local man who owned a horse & cart taking a group of children for a ride on his cart. The cart tipped over, crushing & killing some of the children – though surely this would be recorded somewhere official?
For films on the subject of the bypass, see the Films page.
Some newspaper reports of local accidents