In a museum in North Yorkshire, England, a chair hangs ominously from the wall. Like a man hanging from the gallows, this sinister piece of furniture casts a dark shadow across the museum floor. But there’s a terrifying rationale for its current position, and a chilling reason that no one is allowed to sit in it.
Thirsk Museum might not be as well known as the Science and Natural History museums, not least because it’s situated in a small market town 225 miles north of London. Nevertheless, the converted house contains many interesting exhibits that document the history of Thirsk and its inhabitants. But there’s one artefact that particularly stands out.
On the wall of one display area hangs a wooden chair. Indeed, a local pub landlord asked the curator to take it, but under one very strict condition. Moreover, it’s a promise the museum has kept for more than 40 years. No one is permitted to sit in the seat, and for an unnerving reason.
You see, while the chair might look unremarkable, there is a dark and disturbing history to this piece of oak furniture. Indeed, its unsettling story is the very reason the seat is inaccessible to anyone who comes across it. Honoring the landlord’s request, then, the chair hangs in a corner, high up in a recess.
Once, the chair was used by a local man named Thomas Busby, and it has come to be known as the Busby Stoop Chair. Indeed, it’s his dark story that is inextricably linked to the bar room furniture. And it’s a story so sinister that today nobody would dare to sit in the apparently-inauspicious wooden chair.
The small market town of Thirsk is a favored destination for tourists visiting the Yorkshire Dales in the north of England. The dales receive several million visitors a year, with the heather moorland of the North York Moors a popular area for hikers. Thirsk, moreover, has its own interesting and unique story to tell.
Writer James Herriot moved to Thirsk in 1940, after qualifying as a veterinary surgeon. In the years that followed the town and his profession influenced the setting and themes for his books, which included If Only They Could Talk, Every Living Thing and The Lord God Made Them All. He remained in Thirsk until his passing in 1995.
Thirsk was also the birthplace of professional cricketer Thomas Lord in 1755. Although Lord wasn’t highly noted as a player, he nevertheless is immortalized in the sport after founding what is now the famous Lord’s Cricket Ground in London. Furthermore, the house in which he was born is now the site of Thirsk Museum.
However, Thirsk has a dark side to its history. Indeed, the market town was home to one Thomas Busby at the turn of the 18th Century. He was a man who had quite a reputation among locals, exhibiting a taste for alcohol and a tendency for thuggish behavior as well as a violent streak.
As the story goes, a man by the name of Daniel Awety lived in a nearby village called Kirby Wiske. He had relocated to the area from Leeds, and brought with him his underhanded business. Awety was a known criminal, and he found the perfect spot for his nefarious dealings.
Awety bought a farm in the area near Thirsk. The building was situated on a hillock, and so had a good view of the surrounding territory. An ideal spot away from prying eyes, then, for the avoidance of unexpected visitors. The farm made the perfect location for Awety’s criminal operations to proceed without any interference.
The farm became the base for Awety’s forgery activities. Furthermore, he made extensive alterations to the property, adapting the building to his criminal needs. Awety created a secret passageway linking the cellar to a hidden room so his work could continue out of sight. He named the property Danotty Hall.
Awety had a daughter named Elizabeth. As the story goes, she was a very beautiful woman of whom her father was very protective. She met and fell in love with a local man – the self-same Thomas Busby that we encountered earlier. However, because of Busby’s reputation, Awety was none too pleased with his daughter’s choice of partner.
Nevertheless, Busby married Awety’s daughter and went into business with her father. Their criminal dealings were thought to be an incredibly lucrative operation. However, Busby’s newfound wealth and happiness did nothing to temper his violent streak or his drinking habits. It was a situation that apparently didn’t sit well with Awety.
Given Busby’s love of alcohol and irascible nature, his relationship with Awety was always a difficult one. And Awety’s disapproval of his daughter’s relationship with such a trying man no doubt only added fuel to the fire. Busby was not a person with whom Awety wanted his daughter to be associated.
Busby is thought to have owned an inn near the village of Sandhutton. The village is located roughly three miles west of Thirsk and three miles south of Awety’s operations base at Danotty Hall. But not only was the pub a functioning business, it also doubled as Busby and his wife’s home.
Busby returned home to the inn one night, and when he got there Awety was waiting for him. It’s believed Awety had had enough of Busby’s behavior, and was there to take his daughter home with him. He believed she could do better than an ale-swilling criminal like Busby.
Many believe that Awety and Busby had a run-in earlier in the day. They were known to go at it quite often, with Busby regularly ticked off with his business partner for one reason or another. However, Awety insisting on taking his daughter away from him apparently proved a step too far.
It’s understood that Busby was inebriated, although that seems par for the course given his reputation. And if he wasn’t already incensed enough at his fight with Awety during the day, the demand for his daughter’s return pushed Busby to his limit. But there was apparently one more thing that tipped him over the edge.
The story goes that as Awety waited for his business partner to arrive, he had taken a place in Busby’s favorite chair. Busby was so enraged by this sight that their verbal exchange turned violent. He grabbed hold of Awety, tore him out of the seat and physically flung him out of the inn.
After the fight, Awety headed back to Danotty Hall, having had no success in convincing his daughter to go with him. Busby remained at the inn, with no sign of his anger subsiding. A while later, he left the pub in a fit of rage, trudging up to Danotty Hall to once again confront Awety.
When Busby reached the farm, it’s thought that he battered Awety to death with a hammer used for counterfeiting. In an effort to cover up the murder, Busby dragged his body to the woods to conceal it. But when people started to notice Awety’s sudden absence, they quickly grew suspicious.
A search for Awety was organized in response to his unexpected disappearance. His bludgeoned body was discovered in the woods, and it didn’t take long for people to connect his murder to his associate and son-in-law, Busby. The thug was quickly arrested for the homicide, with the trial taking place in the summer of 1702.
The court found Busby guilty of Awety’s murder, a crime punishable by death. He was sentenced to a public execution in which he would be hanged, with his body remaining on display in an iron cage suspended from what’s called a gibbet, a structure similar to the gallows. However, Busby was granted a final wish before his execution.
Given that there are no official accounts of this story, we must rely on the vagaries of folklore. As such, there are two versions of what might have happened next, but both agree on one thing. Busby’s last wish was to take one last drink at the inn he owned, in the comfort of his favored chair.
When Busby had finished his last beverage, he got to his feet and prepared to be escorted to the execution site. However, as one story goes, Busby placed a curse on the chair, condemning anyone who dared to sit in it to an imminent death. But there’s another version of the tale, too.
An alternate telling of the story slightly deviates from this account. It claims that Busby was drunk and yelled the curse while being escorted to his execution. Either way, he clearly didn’t want anyone to enjoy the chair to which he had become so attached. And if they did, Busby wanted them to suffer as heinous a death as his own.
Furthermore, Busby’s form of execution, known as gibbeting, was one that was feared more than the hanging itself. With the body consequently displayed in a cage, at the time there was a firm belief that the criminal’s spirit would never be at peace. Indeed, many thought Busby continued to haunt his pub after his execution. And the tale gets creepier still.
Busby’s pub was renamed the Busby Stoop Inn to commemorate its former owner. His favorite chair is said to have remained exactly where he left it for hundreds of years after his execution. Indeed, the inn’s new landlord would regale customers with Busby’s story, and the chair became an object of both fascination and fear.
As legend has it, Busby’s stoop chair, or the Dead Man’s Chair as it has since become known, has been linked to numerous sudden deaths. In fact the unremarkable oak seat has been connected to more untimely demises than the average serial killer commits. Some say it has claimed in excess of 60 lives.
One alleged victim’s fate was sealed in 1894 when a chimney sweep went to the pub one evening for a drink with his friend. Whether he knew the legend or not, he nevertheless ended up sitting in the chair enjoying a few beverages. However, the sweep ended up so inebriated, he passed out in the street on his way home.
The sweep’s body was discovered the next morning. It was suspended from a post near where Busby had met his demise. At first it was presumed the man had taken his own life. However, 20 years later, the friend with whom the chimney sweep had been drinking that night confessed to mugging and killing him.
Located just a mile west of Busby’s Stoop Inn was Skipton-on-Swale aerodrome. Although the airfield was only operational during World War Two, many of the Canadian pilots stationed there often frequented the nearby pub. Furthermore, filled with liquid courage, the airmen would often dare each other to sit in Busby’s chair.
However, the airmen who accepted the challenge didn’t make it back from their missions. Now, it might not seem so unusual that pilots perished in a conflict that claimed the lives of so many millions of military personnel. But then consider a further story of Royal Air Force (RAF) servicemen who met an untimely demise.
As the 1970s dawned, the Busby Stoop Inn was owned by a former skeptic named Tony Earnshaw. The landlord hadn’t been at all bothered by the legend of the cursed chair, and any deaths perceived to be associated with the furniture he had dismissed as unfortunate coincidences. That was until he had witnessed some bizarre occurrences himself.
Earnshaw had frequented the pub before taking over as landlord. A few years previously he had eavesdropped on two RAF servicemen who were goading each other into taking a seat on Busby’s chair. Both of them took up the challenge. Driving back to the airfield, their car veered off the road into a tree. Both men passed away en route to the hospital.
Although a disturbing incident, Earnshaw was still dubious about the chair’s supposed powers. In the next few days, however, it’s said some workmen went to the inn for lunch and a young laborer was dared to sit in the chair by his colleagues. Back at work, he was killed when he fell through a roof and smashed his head on the concrete below.
Then the pub’s cleaner landed in the chair having tripped; shortly afterwards she fell ill and passed away. Earnshaw was no longer minded to take a chance, and consigned Busby’s chair to the cellar. Even then, legend has it that a delivery man who rested in the chair while dropping off a shipment one day perished in a car wreck hours later.
Earnshaw donated Busby’s chair to Thirsk Museum in 1978, where it has been on display ever since. And yet, although the innocuous piece of furniture no longer haunts the pub Busby once owned, some maintain that they have seen an apparition close to the murderer’s execution site. Could it be the ghost of Thomas Busby?
Perhaps Busby’s chair is cursed, or perhaps it’s all just folklore. After all, it wasn’t unusual for airmen at war to be dispatched and never return home. And maybe the other freak accidents were just coincidences, bad luck happening to daredevils willing to take a risk. But would you take a chance and sit in the Dead Man’s Chair?