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The Saltersgate Inn, Myths, Legends And The Saltersgate Inn Today

While sceptics will brush off the myths and legends as folklore surrounding the Saltersgate Inn. That’s not the case for the many locals who genuinely believe something sinister lurks. Here, we discuss the myths and legends of the Saltersgate Inn.

On the road referred to as the Devil’s Elbow stands the remains of a pub that once buzzed with life. Made famous for its rich history in smuggling, the Saltersgate Inn is also the setting for many different horror stories. Many of these horror stories originate from the fire that burned for 200 years.

Saltersgate Inn, the famous fireplace that was rumoured to have burnt for 200 years.

The above photo was kindly sent to us by John Dyall. The image is from Confectionary and Baking Craft Magazine, in December 1944. However, John believes the photo to be older than the print date.

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The image caption reads:

‘The turf fire at Saltersgate Inn and Farm near Whitby, on which the famous Turf Cakes are baked. The fire, which has been burning continuously for over 140 years, is said to keep a ghost confined beneath the hearth.’

Saltersgate Inn
The Saltersgate Inn 

Sceptics argue that the fire was only kept burning to be a warm welcome for travellers day or night. The locals don’t quite agree; here’s why.


Our first story 

Before it was known as the Saltersgate Inn, it was known as the Waggon and Horses Inn. All kinds of characters would seek the warmth of a fire and a great beer on a cold night, to rest up before returning on their journeys.

It is said that one night, during a harrowing storm, the Devil just so happened to be passing by. Like the travelling folk before, the Devil hoped to seek refuge in the warmth and cosiness of the Inn.

Retiring at the Inn at that time was a priest. He felt a shift in the energy within the Inn and identified the evil in his presence as the Devil. Fearlessly, he jumped to his feet and tried with all his might to rid the Devil from the Inn with an exorcism, but he failed.

The landlord had been watching what was happening and bravely decided to intervene. Eventually, the landlord had much more luck than the priest and overcame the Devil. Some people believe that the landlord set the Devil on fire using peat. Others suggest that the fire was set and the Devil was caught in the smoke.

Whatever you believe, only one fact remains the same. If the fire goes out, the Devil will return to Whitby and the Saltersgate Inn (Wagon and Horses) to seek revenge and wreak havoc on the innocent and unsuspecting locals.


The Saltersgate Inn

Our Second Story

For this story, the exact date is unknown. However, we believe it is set roughly around 1800. Salt Tax during this time was extortionately high, its highest in history. Noted throughout history, when a tax is high, people will find a way to avoid it. This was simply another tax that people tried to avoid.

It is believed that many smugglers and fishermen began to take advantage of the remote location and isolation of the Saltersgate Inn (Wagon and Horses). So they could continue their trade by illegally salting their fish. This was important as it kept their fish fresh to transport nationwide.

Large amounts of salt were stashed between the walls of the Saltersgate Inn around the fire to keep the salt dry and ready for quick and immediate use.

Late one evening, after a full day of fishing, a coach full of fishermen from Robin Hood’s Bay began their journey across the moors with their catches. Ready to salt them at the Saltersgate Inn (Wagon and Horses).

Fisherman travelled under the cover of darkness

The fishermen preferred to travel during the evening under darkness so their illegal activities would go undetected. It was custom at the Saltersgate Inn for a light to be lit in the small window facing the South to warn smugglers of Excise Officers; if there was no light, it meant it was safe to enter.

During this evening, as the fishermen approached the Inn, there was no light in the window. Assuming it was safe, they continued into the Inn. However, the fishermen and the landlords didn’t know there was a single Excise Officer in their midst who had managed to go undetected. He relentlessly tried to collect evidence of the illegal activity.

The officer sneaked down to the cellar and caught the fishermen; there was no escaping this. The culprits panicked, knowing that if they were caught, they would be tried for murder and hung. A fight broke out between the men and ended grotesquely when the landlord of the Inn got involved and hit the Excise Officer over the head with a large rock. His skull was cracked, and he was killed instantly. So, the Excise Officer? He is said to be buried underneath the fireplace, and no one was ever brought to justice for his murder. He was just another person who had gotten lost in the lonely moors.

Saltersgate Inn Fireplace
The above photo was kindly sent to us by John Dyall. The image is from Confectionary and Baking Craft Magazine, in December 1944. However, John believes the photo to be older than the print date.

So, that fire that burnt for 200 years. Was it there to welcome guests, or did it conceal a body?


The Saltersgate Inn Today 

In recent times, the Saltersgate Inn was a great hikers’ pub. Serving hearty pub food and a spectacular, well-earned pint. Unfortunately, trade passing by diminished over the centuries. Driving the extra twenty minutes into Whitby is not a hardship in modern times.

The community around it, at one time including a school and a church, has now disappeared or fallen into ruin. So, the business as well just faded away. 

The demolition site. Picture by Sally Gaden
The demolition site. Picture by Sally Gaden

The pub was pulled down in September 2018 for a single-storey cafe and taproom to be built. Currently, no building work has begun.


Let us know any of your own stories you may have heard about this legendary Inn in the comments.

22 thoughts on “The Saltersgate Inn, Myths, Legends And The Saltersgate Inn Today”

    • I believe it should have been listed and protected. I heard that the owners of the fox and rabbit and the pub at lastingham bought it to prevent anyone else buying so it doesn’t effect their trade. If I remember rightly it sold for about £104.000.
      I used enjoy seeing the building when driving passed

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  1. Surely the light would have been in a NORTH facing window which is the direction fishermen would have approached from?
    The Inn faced a cliff to the south..:-)

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  2. Did the fire survive and is it in a museum. Used to stay with my mum who lived in a big caravan across the road when I was in my 20s. The chef said there was lots of pictures too.

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  3. Used to pass this establishment regularly on our trips into Whitby but never knew anything about its history just the eerie feeling about the place, was saddened to see such a landmark disappear, never managed to get a photo was always on my “to do” list.

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  4. So very sad to see this wonderful place had been demolished. I knew it had closed years ago but what a fabulous landmark to be destroyed!! How was this allowed with all its history. We travelled here for many years in a row on new years eve from Doncaster, an adventure in a little bright red E reg mini. Only one year in the row of visits were we forced to go home because of the snow. The drifts were almost as high as the car roof. I think we were defeated at Staithes, knowing we wouldn’t get back up the hill to go home. We loved the place, the people that ran it, the musicians that used to meet and play live music, the wonderful and huge vegetarian meals they used to make (someone that understood good wholesome food for non meat eaters) The stories of the ghosts, the fire that was always lit. How did it ever come to close. It was a real treat. Thank you for the great memories Saltersgate Inn, the staff at the time, the regulars, you all made it what it was.
    The ghosts will still wander in the rooms that once stood there, they won’t forget the place either x

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  5. Have been going to whitby now for 39yeas every September, enjoyed a meal at the salt gate several times, sorry to see it go,here’s hoping the ghosts hang about. G&S

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  6. In 1975 my late husband & myself bought the Saltersgate Inn from the brewery. Neither of us had experience in catering or pub work but the previous manager was an amazing chef & he helped us greatly. We had three children at the time so the shool run was a nightmare we had to take the children into the nearby village of Lockton to get the school Bus summertime was fine but winter was a trying time I remember my husband having to put sacks of potatoes in the boot to get the car up around Devils elbow. I loved my time there summers were amazing but it was a struggle to keep going in the winter I remember one time we had really heavy snow & a coach load of people were stranded for the night we had people sleeping in the bar lounge & dining rooms but. It was a great night we received a letter from the coach company thanking us. YES it was haunted there was a grey lady none of the staff would use the public toilets I wouldn’t go in once was enough it was icy & the door opened itself. We lived in a flat upstairs at the time I used to smoke I would take my pack of cigarettes & lighter in the morning & place them in a secret little shelf behind the bar BUT very regularly they would move to various places in the building. We lost a couple of chefs too scared to stay one day my Dad & hubby was called to the kitchen by hysterical staff only to find big tubs of soup & spices being thrown of the shelves I went in & screamed at the spirit being to stop now & it stopped but what a mess the tubs had come open some had been hurled more than 12 foot. It was caused by my dad & hubby trimming a pear tree that grew out of the chimney wall just where the peet fire was. We was told by local people that a local guy was buried under the peet fire he was wrongly accused of murdering his girlfriend & there was the gallows still on top. Of Devils elbow where he was hung. Also.the taxman story was told but he wasn’t buried under the tree. I became pregnant & couldn’t cope so we moved into pickering on the day we moved out the removal people didn’t turn up but all the local people who had become our friend helped with tractor & trailers & trucks we moved into a lovely house in a lovely place we must have looked a Motley crew to the neighbours. I had my baby girl 6 weeks later absolutely beautiful in every way as she remains today my carer but the irony is the grey lady came with us my daughter would speak to her when small she used to tell me to wave bye bye to the lady whilst pointing up to the ceiling or say hello to the lady she was only 2 years if that, but we soon moved again & it all ended.

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    • Hi Janet. Wow, thank you so much for sharing your story. That’s terrifying, I’m not surprised you chose to move out. These myths and legends make the Saltersgate Inn such a popular topic on our blog. I used to drive past regularly and wonder if the stories were true.

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  7. i remember it about 50 years ago when it was-a thriving business run by Margo and Terry Besau.
    It was always busy in those days

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  8. In the early 1960’s the fire in saltersgate was not burning I know this because my husbands grandfather was a builder by trade and he did some building work on the fire place and chimney His name was Stan mattison he as now sadly passed away

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  9. Does anyone know the date when the name Wagon and Horses changed to the Saltergate Inn please?, and does anyone know the name of the licensee around the time time of 1888 – 1910.

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  10. So interesting to read all the stories and in particular the stories around the ghosts because my father, a painter and decorator, worked at the Saltersgate Inn in the early 1960’s and stayed in a room above the bar whilst doing his work. I remember him telling me of waking in the middle of the night to find a black shadowy figure standing at the foot of his bed which he said scared him half to death. He was glad to get back home away from the Inn and it is only now after reading the comments above that I realised that there was a connection and maybe some substance to his tale. I was also sad to see the Inn had been demolished.

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  11. About 1976 a group of us did voluntary conservation work in the Hole of Horcum, sleeping in the seme-derelict farm at the bottom of the Hole. In the evenings we would climb up to the Saltergate Inn to end the day with a pint, probably of OP.
    The farm has since been demolished to stop people camping in it (exactly what we did, but for a good cause).

    Reply

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