One morning in February 1953, a young trainee plumber called Harry Martindale was sent down alone into the cellar of the Treasurer’s House in York. He had been given the grim and lonely task of making a hole in the ceiling for a central heating pipe to come through. Harry had brought a set of ladders with him, and he made use of a conveniently-located excavation trench to safely foot them. He then placed the footed ladders against the wall where the hole was to be made and began to chisel.
Not realising just how thick the ceiling was, he had to return a second day, bringing extensions to the chisels from the company workshop. He then started the work again. A few hours later, he heard a sound which he thought was one of his colleagues playing a radio higher up in the house. He ignored the sound and carried on working. However, the sound got louder and louder and closer and closer, and he soon realised it was a single note being played over and over again, either on a horn or a trumpet. Harry continued to ignore it, but the note became so loud it actually seemed like it was in the cellar – in fact, it appeared to be coming out of the wall right next to him. He glanced down to look just as a Roman soldier, wearing full military uniform and a helmet with plume feathers, came straight out of the solid wall.
As the soldier came out into the cellar, Harry noticed something very strange about him: he could be seen only from his knees upwards, although as soon as he moved into the trench, Harry could see him right down to his sandals. As it turned out, the trench had (accidentally?) uncovered a section of Roman road, and so the soldier was simply walking on the level of the road – whenever that happened to be.
With this bizarre incident, Harry toppled of his ladder and went to hide in a corner of the cellar, crouching down as small as possible, just in case the soldier meant him harm. Fortunately for Harry, the soldier totally ignored him and continued on through the cellar and then disappeared straight out through the opposite wall.
At this point, Harry thought about escaping but more sounds could now be heard, this time of a horse’s hooves striking the ground. An enormous horse then came out of the wall with a rider sat on top, carrying a large circular shield. The horse and rider made their way through the cellar in the same direction, and like with the first soldier, the bottom part of the horse couldn’t be seen until it entered the trench. The horse and rider then plodded through the cellar and also disappeared out of the opposite wall.
Again, Harry thought about escaping but there are even more sounds, this time of marching footsteps. A whole column of soldiers then came through the wall, around 20 in total, walking in pairs. Of the first pair to come through, the one on the left carried a Roman wind instrument, probably the instrument that was making the sound. They too become fully visible when passing through the trench. Harry said he could see their open-toe sandals and leather strapping around their legs, right up to their knees. He also said that he was so close to them he could actually hear them talking (or mumbling) in a language he didn’t recognise.
Perhaps this language was Latin – or perhaps the language of the province some of the troops might have originally come from. Perhaps it was the language of the Brigantes: the Celtic people of the lands that would later become northern England.
Harry later gave a detailed description of these troops. They were small of stature and all wore military uniforms consisting of plumed helmets, leather jackets and skirts, and green tunics. They were armed with small circular shields, short swords and spears. He also said they were trudging along slowly and looked down-hearted, and they were scruffy, unshaven and mud-splattered, as if they had been out on some kind of expedition, or had even been in battle.
Apparently, what amazed Harry, as they began to make their way across the cellar, was that not one of them looked or reacted to him, even though they appeared to be absolutely solid, not ghostly in the slightest. They seemed to be real people. Harry said that he was so close to them, he felt sure that if he had knelt up and stretched an arm out as far as possible he could have touched the nearest soldier.
After the last of the soldiers disappeared through the wall and the sounds of them marching began to fade, Harry sprinted out of the cellar, up the staircase leading to the ground floor, and sat himself down on the top step, shaking like a leaf. When the curator saw Harry there, he asked him if he had seen the Romans soldiers, simply because he had seen them himself a year earlier and had told no one
After the experience Harry went on sick leave and has never gone back to plumbing in his life, nor has he seen anymore Roman soldiers, right up to the present day.
Four years later, in 1957, more sightings of the soldiers were made by the new warden, Joan Mawson. She witnessed 20 soldiers passing through the cellar, maybe the same soldiers Harry had seen. Two months later, she witnessed more soldiers but this time each one was leading a horse across the cellar. The third and final time she saw them was in December of that year. This time the soldiers were all sat on horses, looking totally worn out.
It’s hard to tell if all these sightings are closely related, or even the same event, with different parts of a long line of soldiers and horses spotted at different times. Perhaps if anyone had been around, and the situation just right, maybe hundreds of soldiers might have been seen together in a long line. I have to say that I found a few discrepancies about the sightings in that cellar from the Interweb, so it’s hard to try and piece the whole shebang together. Which soldier was blowing the horn, for example?
Interestingly, if you look at where the Treasurer’s House is in relation to the legionary fort at Eboracum – the Roman name for York – it sits right inside the fort’s perimeter, close to the north-eastern gate. In fact, the road Via Decumana, which runs from the gate to the headquarters of the fort, goes straight through the cellar of the Treasurer’s House. A busy place, in Roman times, I would wager – and one hell of a coincidence!
Were these soldiers returning to their barracks after some terrible battle?
What a sight it would be if we could rewind their day back to that moment.
To my knowledge, there have been no more sightings, after 1957, of Roman soldiers in the cellar of the Treasurer’s House, but perhaps there are more to come under the right circumstances.
One of the more interesting aspects of Harry Martindale’s sighting came after the news had broken to the press, when he was interrogated by Roman experts. He was quizzed about the small circular shields he had seen, which didn’t match with the rectangular scutum shields the Roman were known to use. The sandals too couldn’t have had straps all the way up to the knees, they just went up to the ankles, and the tunics were either red (or white?) and not the green he had described.
However, archaeological evidence uncovered since the 1990’s has found out a great deal more about Eboracum and its soldiers, and it seems Harry was correct about the soldiers he saw, who appear to be auxiliaries left behind after the regulars troops had headed back to Rome when that city came under attack.
Because none of the soldiers paid any attention to Harry, and perhaps because Joan had witnessed the same event has Harry, it might be possible to imply that they experienced a recording of a particular past event, conveniently played back for them to witness.
But what is the mechanism for such an event to take place? It seems highly unlikely a natural recording of a past event could be made, never mind repeatedly played back in a way that can be witnessed by us and other animals, especially after hundreds or thousands of years
One hypothesis bandied around is called Stone Tape, which claims that these kinds of sightings are similar to tape recordings, and are first created during moments of extreme stress for human beings and over living creatures. Whatever the humans or animals were doing at that moment is then passed into a closely connected inanimate object, which has the ability to store the information of the stressful situation – or more precisely, the actions of the humans and animals involved, and whatever they were wearing or carrying at the time. With its long-lasting properties and general usage for countless thousands of years, stone (probably lots of it) might make an ideal material for this kind of process.
Bearing this in mind, a Roman road might be the perfect place for this to occur – lots of stone linked together for many miles, maybe connected directly to other Roman roads in some kind of focused network. Maybe that’s why the playbacks were so strong and clear for Harry and the rest, when normally they are more like you would expect a ghost to be – ethereal, wispy, indistinct. And maybe that’s why there are so many stories of Roman ghost soldiers on old Roman roads – lots of Stone Tape recordings firing off.
Could our tarmac and concrete roads do the same with us?
If Stone Tape is possible, I don’t think extreme stress alone would make a recording. It looks to me as if the Romans in the cellar had already had their extremely stressful moment somewhere else – why would it record when they were all so dejected? Maybe a few more factors are involved, all happening at the same time, which might involve high voltage – such as you get in a thunderstorm.
The sceptics would say there is no known mechanism which would allow this to happen. I tend to agree with them, although the overused quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet – another ghost story – about heaven, earth and philosophy, often springs to mind.
On the other hand, Stone Tape still seems very unlikely but an interesting idea nonetheless.
Or the Universe really does remember, and we can gain lost knowledge from it if we wait at the right places and are very, very patient.
Power up a rock and start shouting at it. Somebody might hear your words in a few thousand years.