The curse of Milner Field – England ~5 min read
Nestled in a wood, reached only by a small country lane popular with walkers and cyclists, the ruins of Milner Field have lain hidden from view since the 1950s, when the mansion’s eerie reputation led to a failed demolition using dynamite. However, when even TNT couldn’t shift the seemingly cursed house, it was torn down instead. At least, as story goes.
The mansion was built between 1871 and 1873, and it was the brainchild of Titus Salt Jr, the son of the wealthy Victorian industrialist and philanthropist Sir Titus Salt. Towards the end of his life, Titus senior gave his son a plot of farmland to build a house.
Nestled in beautiful wooded surroundings at Shipley Glen, close to the Salt family wool empire in Saltaire, the estate featured opulence on an unprecedented scale both inside and out, with an orangery, courtyard, conservatory, boating lake and perfect gardens within its extensive grounds. Well ahead of its time, the mansion included all mod cons: its own water supply, electricity and sewage system, water-cooled refrigeration rooms and a direct telephone line to the mill at Saltaire.
This would become Milner Field, a lavish testament to his wealth and power, which even attracted royal visitors on a few occasions: the Prince and Princess of Wales (the future King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra) when they opened the Bradford Technical College in June 1882 and Princess Beatrice and Prince Henry of Battenberg, when they opened the Royal Jubilee Exhibition in May 1887.
There had been a time when it seemed as if the young businessman led a fantastic life. Inheriting his industrialist father’s vast textile empire following the latter’s death in 1876, he was wealthy enough to have the world at his feet and this reputedly shy and reserved man found himself at the forefront of elite Yorkshire society.
All perfect until 19th November 1887, when Titus junior died suddenly of heart failure in the billiard room of the mansion, only nineteen days after the closing of the Jubilee Exhibition, aged only 44. The business he’d inherited from his father then began to had serious difficults. After his death, Catherine his wife and George, one of his sons continued to live at the house until 1903. However in the intervening period and partly because of a trade slump Catherine was forced to sell the business to a syndicate of four Bradford business men, including James Roberts who moved into Milner Field in 1903.
Roberts’ personal life was beset by death, calamity, and national scandal after he moved into the mansion. He had already suffered the death of his eldest son from pneumonia in 1898. In 1904 this was followed by the tragic drowning of his 11-year-old youngest son during a family holiday in Ireland, while his second son died of a nervous illness in 1912 aged 36. And Roberts’ last surviving son? Harry was badly injured in the First World War, preventing him from taking over the family business at Salts Mill as his father had hoped. In addition, the nurse Harry Roberts fell in love with while being treated for his injuries also died, pregnant with his child, in the flu epidemic that followed the war (Harry eventually married her sister, another nurse).
Cherry on top, the family were shamed by a national scandal when their married daughter’s lover was murdered by her spouse in a notorious and widely-reported crime of passion. In 1903 Alice Roberts had eloped with a doctor, Norman Cecil Rutherford, greatly against her father’s wishes: he had wanted her to wed another suitor, a Polish count. In 1919 Alice informed the father of her six children, Norman, that she wanted a divorce in order to marry her lover, his friend and colleague Major Miles Seton. Recently returned from tending wounded soldiers in the trenches and suffering from shell-shock, Dr Rutherford didn’t take the news well: he hunted down his love rival Seton and put a bullet or three in his chest, spending ten years in Broadmoor for the crime.
By 1923, the house passed into the hands of Ernest Gates, whose wife passed away just two weeks after the move, before he himself died after injuring his foot in an accident and developing septicemia. The exact cause of Ernest’s injury is unknown, with rumours ranging from an unlucky scratch by a rose bush to an accidental whack with a golf club.
The final owner of the house, Arthur Remington Hollins, took the house in 1925 and like Ernest Gates before him, he was a managing director of Salts Mill. He saw his wife, Anne, die of pneumonia aged only 43, less than a year after moving in, and soon, just three years later, passed away himself by hiccuping to death after irritation of the gall bladder and diaphragm.
In 1930, the mansion was put up for sale again but, obviously, it failed to sell. The house had understandably acquired a macabre reputation, and this, with the cost of upkeep made it impossible to find a buyer for the once grand mansion. The house lay abandoned, and started to be stripped of its valuables but also its windows and the roof. Nature reclaimed the site, and by the time of World War II, the grounds were used as grenade practice by the local Home Guard.
Today, Milner Field lies in ruins but if you look a little more closely and you can still make out the cellars, the mosaic pattern on the conservatory floor, and walk among the piles of masonry and rubble that has been seemingly untouched for 70 years.
All that now remains to testify to the vast estate’s existence are a few piles of brick, and the ghosts that are said to wander the site.
Unsurprisingly given its eerie history, there are stories of a number of spectral former inhabitants, with characters ranging from Salt Jr himself to Eva Gates and Anne Hollins, the wives of the final two owners. The most interesting resident ghost is probably a figure known as “The Green Man of Milner Field”, who, it’s claimed, first appeared to a local schoolboy in the 1950s. Dressed all in green, it seems he roams the ruins playing on a flute….
Images from web