The York Cohort

Modern portrayal of Roman soldiers (legionaries), CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

In 1953 Harry Martingale an apprentice plumber was working in the cellar of the Treasurers House in York. The building had been acquired by the National Trust in 1930 and it required extensive restorative work. Harry was working up a ladder, knocking a hole through the ceiling for central heating pipework. He had fixed the ladder in place and was applying a chisel to the ceiling, when he heard a horn sound in the distance.

He paused with his work and listened, thinking that some of the other workmen in the other parts of the house had found an old instrument and were larking about. He resumed work but heard the horn again, closer this time. He stopped working and looked round the empty cellar. A man emerged from the wall, followed by a squad of many others. A man came on a horse, another carrying a form of trumpet he didn’t recognise. They were soldiers of the late Roman period, dressed in clothing that was obviously Roman, but very different to the costumes portrayed in films. They looked grey and exhausted, spattered with mud. Some had obvious wounds.

Harry Martingale toppled off his ladder, which fell to the floor and he crawled into the corner of the cellar in terror. The marching soldiers came from one wall and disappeared through the opposite side. They paid no attention to the cowering plumber, lost in their own exhaustion and misery. Harry noticed he could see nothing of the apparitions below the knees, as though they were marching on a road at a different level. They seemed like they were a defeated military unit heading away from glory towards an uncertain future. Some tried to pull along skittish horses, while some supported comrades who could barely walk. In several minutes they had passed by on a road that pre-dated the Medieval Treasurers House. He fled upstairs gibbering with fear, to face ridicule, scepticism and incredulity. However, Harry stuck by his story and provided details of the uniforms and equipment of the ghostly soldiers, that only an experienced historian could have known.

Harry died in 2014.

© Blown Periphery 2017 2023

Chris served for 38 years in the military as an apprentice and adult Service. He completed tours in multiple locations in the UK and Germany during the Cold War. Later he served on operational tours in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the Middle East and Asia.
Christophe Downes 28th July 1957 – 30th March 2023