halloween post: the children of the quad


By Rachel Smith

As students we know the city well. Regardless of whether you’ve lived here for months or for years, you’ll still be aware of the air York has. It’s inescapable: the crooked buildings, cobbled alleyways, and the sheer abundance of ghost walks remind you of it whichever street you walk down. We all know this. York is a city of ghosts.

What we don’t hear about are the ghosts much closer to home.

If you were to wander around Edwardian York, you may feel out of place. Of course, the buildings you spend some of your lectures in don’t exist yet. Neither does the University itself, technically. There are no clubs (not that kind, anyway) or hipster cafes, no Disney store or Waterstones. No Primark. No Wetherspoons.

The closer you look, however, the more familiar the city becomes. The city centre is certainly recognisable. While the shops themselves may have changed hands, the lopsided buildings have remained the same.

One building of our own still stood back then, when York St John didn’t exist, and there instead stood York Training College. Still, staring down the city walls on Lord Mayor’s Walk was our own slice of Hogwarts: The Quad. It’s the most photographed area and certainly the oldest area on campus. In the daylight its courtyard is peaceful; the creeping plants and flower beds make for a lovely area to clear your head.

But if you catch yourself passing through in the dead of night, there might be something eerier in the air. It’s expected that campus is spooky at night. We’re not used to the silence. The Security team are. It’s not surprising that, after years of wandering the campus at night, they would see something. Small, silvery figures. A sense of joy – not foreboding. Not fear. Simple happiness. No malevolent spirits linger here, merely children out to play.

The Quad’s courtyard isn’t just a place to rest your feet. Imagine, a hundred years ago, summer in York. Children out of school, packing up their wickets and bats and hoisting them to a well-kept lawn to play. Now and again, a certain teacher-training college might allow them into the courtyard, where they could play until the sun starts to dip in the sky.

Something like this had forever imprinted on the Quad. Small figures running out the corner of the eye. Faint laughter in the wind. Dusk in the past meant they had to go home. But now, as the present sun sets, the Quad becomes their home. Ghosts don’t always mean death. Sometimes ghosts are the memories of an era now lost to us. We don’t know what happened to those kids. Maybe they got caught up in the First World War. Maybe they lived to see the Second. We can’t know; all we see is this one snapshot of their lives.

You may try to seek out the children yourselves, and you may be disappointed. Don’t fret: the children stopped appearing after recent construction work. And during this work, amongst the soil and the dirt, a decrepit cricket bat was found buried, alone.