Ghost of Christmas past makes her mark on village pub festivities with a musical moose

Eight-year-old Egan Van Dyk and his sister Acacia with the giant mirrorball which will provide the finishing touch to the makeover of the back room at the King Billy in Cottingham. Photo: Terry Carrott.

A village pub is reflecting on the ghost of Christmas past in spectacular style with a magical festive makeover.

And staff and regulars at the King William IV – known as the King Billy – in Cottingham reckon their resident spectre might be joining in the fun with some late-night mischief.

In addition to hanging the traditional tinsel and baubles from the high ceiling, landlord Paul Taylor is developing a theme of mystery and history, covering the walls of the pub’s back room with art deco fabrics and nearly 50 mirrors of all shapes and sizes.

The centrepiece – a giant mirrorball – is ready to be hoisted into place and Paul is now awaiting delivery of the suits of armour which he has ordered as the finishing touch in time for Cottingham Christmas Festival, which takes place on Sunday 15 December.

But meanwhile in the front bar a melodic moose has started bursting into song every night just after closing time – and the suspect is the ghost of former licensee Martha Thurloe.

Natalie O’Connor, Manager of the King Billy, said: “The moose is on the wall above the bar and to make him sing you have to push a button very firmly – it’s not a motion sensor. Something has been setting him off every night as we’ve been locking up, and we think Martha is the culprit!

“We only took over nearly two years ago but all the regulars who have been coming for a long time have their own stories about Martha and we’ve experienced a few spooky happenings ourselves.

“It’s fairly routine to hear floorboards creaking as Martha walks around and we’ve had glasses flying of the shelves. She’s not malicious but she lets us know she’s around – one day I was sitting in the office and the smell of lavender suddenly filled the room. Messing with the moose is exactly the sort of thing she would do!”

Martha is a favourite subject of the bar room banter among regulars who swap stories of the eerie events which they claim to have seen and heard over the years. Her antics are at the heart of the current changes which have seen the former Old Brewery Bar re-named as Martha’s Wine Bar.

As the regulars regale each other with stories which they’ve heard over the years, alcohol and age sometimes embellish reality. One drinker said it was thought that Martha hanged herself. Paul said he’d heard it was actually Martha’s husband who met such a fate.

Martha Thurloe and her husband George outside the King Billy in the late 19th century.

The front bar has a photograph showing Martha and her husband standing outside the pub in Hallgate. The image is undated but is believed to be from the late 19th century. 

Newspaper reports from the time reveal that William Thurloe – variously described as 33 or 38 – was found by his wife Martha “in an insensible condition” at the foot of a ladder in the basement of the malt kiln – now Martha’s Wine Bar – at about 11pm on 10 January 1893.

The report says: “He was at once medically attended to, but despite all efforts never regained consciousness, and expired at half-past the following morning.”

Witnesses described William as “perfectly sober at the time” and “industrious and a thorough man of business”.

Grant Van Dyk, a regular whose two children helped with the Christmas trimmings, said: “They were really excited about getting involved. They think Martha’s Wine Bar looks stunning and they love the singing Santa. As for the musical moose – they ain’t afraid of no ghost!”

Paul said: “We use the back room for special events, family occasions and live music including the annual Springboard festival and we decided to make it stand out and do more with it.

“We’ll have the mirrors and suits of armour at one end with a cosy corner and a Dickens corner full of books at the other end. We decided to name it after Martha to try and keep her happy!”

[Phil Ascough – Ascough Associates]