In a quaint little village in North Yorkshire, England lies the legend of the ‘Chair of Death’. A simple oak wooden chair that today is suspended from the ground and tucked into a corner of a museum to ensure no one can take a seat and be struck down by a 300-year-old curse made by a murderer on his way to execution.
In 1702, Thomas Busby brutally murdered his father-in-law and partner in crime and he would pay the ultimate price for his explosion of anger. The curse of Thomas Busby has become a folk legend with tales of accidents, suicides and fatal illness falling on all those who faced the curse and sat in the ‘death chair’. With Busby’s words ringing in their ears, these people took a gamble with legend and lost.
“May sudden death come to anyone who dare sit in my chair”.
In North Yorkshire lies the attractive little place of Thirsk, a traditional market town located in between the North York Moors and the Yorkshire Dales. In the late 1600’s, local man Daniel Auty happily carried out his petty thieving and fake currency scams across the town. His daughter Elizabeth Auty married another local man called Thomas Busby who soon became the partner in crime of her father.
There appears to have been tension between the two men and one day her father paid a visit to the couple’s lodgings at a local Inn. Whether he was demanding his daughter return home with him and away from Busby as some claim or he was just there to visit is unclear, but by the end of that evening Daniel Auty would lay dead with vicious head wounds and Thomas Busby would have blood on his hands.
Thomas Busby arrived home drunk on that evening and discovered his father-in-law sitting in his favourite chair. With tensions high, the two men began fighting with Elizabeth powerless to intervene. The fighting died down and Daniel Auty left, unsuccessful in taking his daughter with him. Thomas Busby, still very drunk, became angrier as the evening wore on and decided to pay Auty a visit at his home farm. When he arrived he attacked Daniel Auty with a counterfeiting hammer, beating the life out of him before returning home to his wife.
When Daniel Auty was found dead, Thomas Busby was the prime suspect and found himself on trial for murder. Found guilty he was sentenced to hang for his crime. While being led to his execution Thomas Busby is said to have been granted his final request to stop at the Inn, taking the opportunity to lay his curse on the chair he was so fond of and the item that had sparked the murder in the first place.
The owner of the Inn recognised immediately the potential of such a story to boost his trade and ensured everybody knew about the curse and the chair keeping it in situ inside his bar. With Thomas Busby executed and his body hung on display on a gibbet just next to the Inn, the Inn’s name was swiftly changed to the ‘Busby Stoop Inn’ making use of the name of the post which suspended Busby’s body in the air for all to see what happens if you take the life of another.
The story goes that all who sat in Busby’s chair inside the Inn did die soon afterward with the chair becoming a talking point and a challenge, particularly with men who liked to dare each other to sit in it. Many of the soldiers during World War II who sat in Busby’s chair did not return from war, with the locals suggesting this was due to them taking on the curse.
The tales of those who died after taking a seat in this chair are many and the details vary considerably as you would expect for a legend hundreds of years old. They include a chimney sweep in 1894 who after drinking in the pub all evening decided to sit in the chair and was found the next morning hanging from a pole outside. His death had later been ruled a suicide but that didn’t stop the local gossip from attributing his untimely death to his decision to sit in the cursed chair earlier in the evening.
A builders apprentice after the Second World War had lunch at the Inn and after dares and teasing from his workmates, he sat in Busby’s chair only to fall to his death from the building they were working on later that afternoon. Two young service men spent an entire evening daring each other to sit in the chair and when one finally gave in, hesitantly taking a seat, they both died in a car accident on the way back to their airbase.
In the 1970s, the then landlord of the Inn, Tony Earnshaw, grew weary of the legend and the deaths associated with it and moved the chair into the cellar to avoid people sitting in it but still, people found a way. After a local delivery driver, knowing no different, sat in the chair in the cellar and was killed in a car crash less than a few hours later, Earnshaw decided to donate the chair the local museum requesting that it be placed somewhere people could not sit in it and risk the curse of Busby.
The Thirsk museum is in a building that looks like a quaint cottage and is actually the birthplace of Thomas Lord, the founder of Lord’s Cricket Ground. They took the chair and suspended it from the ceiling with a tag attached telling curious visitors the tale of the curse, the stories of those who have supposedly died after sitting in it and a warning not to touch the chair themselves.
The chair itself has been examined by a furniture historian, Dr Adam Bowett according to the Northern Echo, who concluded the actual chair at the museum could not be the original chair from the time of Busby’s execution. The spindles of the chair he advised were machine made, a process not developed until much later in history. He concluded this chair was made around 1840, 138 years after Busby was executed.
While the chair on display may not be the original chair cursed by Busby, it has taken on the legend and still draws attention from those interested in historical mysteries and the paranormal. Most, it seems, would still not sit in the chair themselves through fear that the ghost of Thomas Busby would ensure his curse was carried out and death would become them.