A famous resident of north Belfast is Gordon Thompson, better known as Galloper Thompson, the phantom horseman! But who was this phantom of the night? What was his story?
Gordon lived in the beautiful mansion of Jennymount. The house was situated just off the Shore Road, which at this time was a rural idyll. It was named after Jane Legg who married Robert Thompson in 1761.
The building was constructed in 1785. It was designed to resemble a Tudor castle. The rooftops had battlements and tall slender chimneys. The facades had ornamentation made to look like arrow-slits. It had many multi-paned windows with hood mouldings. The doors were gothic in style with a church-like feeling.
In 1847 Jane & Robert’s grandson, Robert, changed the house name to Castleton. Jennymount House was demolished in the 1890’s and the residential streets of Mountcollyer and Crosscollyer area built in its place.
The Thompson Family
The Thompson family were notable merchants and bankers in the growing town of Belfast. In 1793 the Belfast Discount Company was established as recorded by George Benn.
“We the Subscribers having associated for the sole purpose of Discounting Bills and Notes for the accommodation of the Public do herby give notice that we will hereby commence said Business at our Office in Rosemary Lane opposite the Old Sugar House on Monday the 25th inst;”George Benn
One of the directors is listed as Robert Thompson, Jennymount.
The Jennymount Mill
The Thompson’s also owned the Jennymout Mill. This was built in 1856 in North Derby Street, off York Road. The front edifice of the original building consisted of four rows of architrave arched windows, each floor different from the others.
In 1864 an octagonal chimney, offices and engine room were added, designed by John Lanyon, of the famous Lanyon, Lynn and Lanyon architects. This 7 storey brick building was styled like a medieval Italian palazzo. It was very impressive and dominated its surroundings. Additional decoration was added in the form of carved keystone heads of famous figures. The ground floor depicts Wordsworth, Burke, Peel, Galileo, and Columbus. The first floor has Johnson, Goldsmith, Newton, Scott, Shakespeare and Burns. The sculptors are thought to be the Fitzpatrick brothers, Thomas and William, of Great Victoria Street.
Galloper Thompson’s Life and Death
Gordon Thompson had been nicknamed ‘Galloper’ during his lifetime due to his love of fast riding. He frequently rode his favourite white horse in the grounds of the family estate and also rode to the nearby Jennymount Mill. It is said that Gordon, heir to the family business and wealth, was a bit ‘reckless’. He had a reputation for drinking and wayward behaviour.
A Fateful Declaration
Thompson’s wild ways were to catch up with him and in his late 20’s the young man fell seriously ill. However, even on his deathbed he seems to have remained defiant. His family were shocked to hear him declare:
“I would rather have my horse and Jennymount than the highest seat in Heaven!”Gordon Thompson
The story goes, that he asked his favourite niece to bring him a drink; he then kissed her on the cheek. When his lips touched her, she screamed in pain as she felt her skin burn. It is said she bore the mark for the rest of her life!
Galloper Thompson’s Death
Gordon had asked not to be buried.
“When I die do not put me in the ground – put me where I can be free to ride my horse, visit my lands, to call my hounds and visit my Jennymount”.Gordon Thompson
However, his family had him interred in the usual manner. He was buried in his riding clothes. Apparently many onlookers saw a blue mist envelop the horse-drawn hearse as it journeyed to the graveyard.
Gone But Not Forgotten!
Galloper Thompson’s Return
Almost immediately after the funeral, local people began claiming they had seen Thompson’s ghost riding about the area of his home and mill. News of the apparition spread quickly with many folk asserting to have seen Gordon himself or to have heard the unexplained sound of galloping hooves.
One man, a worker on the Jennymount estate, who had dismissed his wife’s tales of ghostly sightings, was shocked to find Galloper’s white horse exhausted and sweating in her stable after midnight.
Galloper Thompson, The Headless Horseman?
In another version of the Galloper story, Thompson appears as a headless horseman. This tale has the unfortunate Gordon being decapitated when he endeavoured to repair a weaving machine in Jennymout Mill.
Tales of these phantom occurrences became so widespread that the Thompsons felt they had to take action. A minister was brought to Jennymount House to perform an exorcism. The minister was successful and managed to capture Gordon’s restless spirit in a glass jar which was then securely sealed.
He told the family to place the jar in the cellar and leave it undisturbed. All was quiet…..for a while.
The Return of Galloper Thompson
One day a maid was sent to retrieve an item from the cellar. She saw the jar and lifted it. On realising what it contained, she screamed in terror and dropped the jar on to the stone floor. She recalled seeing a blinding flash of light – Galloper was confined no more!
The minister was recalled. He must have been very proficient at his job because the spirit was once again captured in a sealed jar. This time the weighted container was taken out to sea (some say the Red Sea) and dropped to the seabed.
The Sound of Hooves in the Night…
However, time and weather conditions may have flouted the ministers good intentions, as the ghost of Galloper Thompson was not so easy to lay.
Tales of ghostly sightings in the Mountcollyer, Limestone and Grove areas of the city persisted throughout the nineteenth and twentieth century’s.
Of course many think these stories were made-up to get reluctant children home before dark and encourage good behaviour – but who can say for sure?
A shame to see a building with this history fall derelict…
George Benn, Historian & Philanthropist
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