Two ghost stories concluded Arthur Harwood Brierley’s lengthy article about the village of Muker in upper Swaledale, which appeared in the Leeds Mercury newspaper in 1897. One – about a young woman’s gruesome suicide and bizarre burial – was cited by Brierley as referring to events about 70 years earlier. The second was the story of the village schoolmaster, a man called ‘Raymond,’ who it was said was bedevilled by fiendish imps who eventually chased him to his cow-house outside the village, where he was found dead the next morning.
The date of origin of this second story was not specified by Brierley, but it can be identified as referring to the sudden death in January 1846 of the schoolmaster, William Raynard, sometimes referred to as William Rayner. According to a current online researcher, the cause of death was recorded as apoplexy – probably a stroke. Brierley apparently didn’t know it, but there was good reason for some people of the village to think of Raynard as a man who died at the hands of the devil.
In addition to being the schoolmaster, he was the clerk to the Select Vestry of Muker who had infamously confiscated ‘unnecessary’ furniture and possessions from the poorest people in the parish, and sold it at Muker Fair in January 1832 in order to defray the costs of paying the Poor Relief. The fury of the villagers was expressed in a four-verse poem in which Raynard was described as ‘Renny, that sly fox,’ a man in league with the devil, and one who even sold the poor people’s prayer books. His sudden death 12 years later, at the age of 58, was perhaps not mourned universally in the village, and there might be no surprise that the myth evolved of him being chased to his death by the agents of the devil.
The full story of the confiscations of the poor people’s furniture can be read in Muker: The story of a Yorkshire Parish, by Edmund Cooper, which is currently in print in its second edition from Hayloft Publishing. Information on the death of William Raynard is online at Rootschat. The final part of Arthur Harwood Brierley’s article on Muker, giving the two ghost stories, can be read at Muker in 1897, beginning with the sub-heading ‘The headless lady of Muker.’