A chair believed to have been cursed by a notorious 18th Century murderer continues to leave supernatural fans spellbound. Stuart Minting investigates

CREDITED with being among the most haunted items in the world, ghost-hunters plead in vain to spent a night with the Busby Stoop Chair.

The wooden seat, which hangs in a corner of Thirsk Museum, recently attracted an unsuccessful $1m bid from an American collector and earlier this year a film crew from Japan.

Until 1978, the chair had remained at the Busby Stoop Inn, three miles west of the town, where the celebrated historian Ralph Thoresby noted in 1703 that he had passed "the doleful object of Thomas Busby hanging in chains for the murder of Daniel Auty".

Accounts abound that Busby had fallen out with Auty, his father-in-law, who had sat in his chair after an argument about Auty's daughter, Elizabeth.

It is said on his way to the gallows, Busby's last request was to stop at the pub and after finishing his ale, proclaimed "May sudden death come to anyone who dare sit in my chair".

The remained in the pub for centuries, and people were dared to sit in it.

In 1894, a chimney sweep who sat in the chair during a night at the pub was said to have been found the following morning hanging from a pole beside Busby's gibbet post or 'stoop'.

During the Second World War, Canadian airmen from the nearby Skipton-on-Swale airbase crowded into the inn, and pub regulars claimed the airmen who sat in the chair never returned from missions.

In 1967, two Royal Air Force pilots sat in it, and while driving back from the pub, crashed into a tree and died.

A few years later, two builders were challenged to to sit in it, and within hours, the one who sat in it fell to his death from a roof, while a cleaner who stumbled into it while mopping, later died of a brain tumour.

In the 1970s, the pub's long-serving landlord Tony Earnshaw became so concerned about the chair that he moved it into the cellar, but a beer delivery man who had been intrigued by what an antique chair was doing there sat in it and minutes later was killed in a crash a few miles down the road.

After a vicar declared the chair 'evil', Mr Earnshaw donated it to Thirsk Museum, on the condition that they would hang it from the ceiling so no one could sit in it again.

The museum's curator, Cooper Harding, says there are as many versions of the story as people who have told it, but he has found elements of the tale are historical facts.

He says while he has found no reference of Busby being married to Auty's daughter, it is clear the men were criminals and the murder was over the spoils of a gold coin forging scheme at nearby Kirby Wiske.

Mr Harding said as the penalty for coining was death, it is likely he was hanged for that and sentenced at York Assizes to be gibbeted for murdering his accomplice.

He said the assizes records for 1702 have been lost, so details of where and when Busby was hanged are unclear and that no contemporary documentary evidence of the murderer issuing a curse has been unearthed.

After being hanged, Busby's corpse was dipped in tar to preserve it and placed in an iron frame and hung from a stoop near the scene of his crimes, off the old Great North Road crossroads between Thirsk and Ripon.

In 1859, the historian William Grainge said: "The bones of the poor wretch who had committed murder were hung to fester in the sunshine and blow in the tempest until they fell piecemeal to earth and tradition yet tells tales of night wanderers being terrified when passing this dreaded spot."

Mr Grainge said there was no sign of the gibbet post which the chimney sweep was supposedly found near in 1894, which alongside a suicide verdict at the inquest into the chimney sweep's death, debunks that tale.

Mr Harding said there could be rational explanations for the other deaths, while landlord Mr Earnshaw had told the story so many times he had begun to believe it.

After examining the chair, furniture historian Dr Adam Bowett found that its spindles were machine-turned, whereas 17th Century chairs were made with a pole lathe.

He concluded the chair was Caistor-style and made after 1840, at least 138 years after Busby's death.

Mr Harding said: "No doubt there was a particular chair in the pub the locals dared visitors to sit in and it's a story that everybody wants to tell.

"It is a great example of a folk tale that people add to.

"I'm not superstitious, but I wouldn't sit in it because if I did and was knocked down by a car everyone would say it was down to the chair."