THE man who helped forge York's reputation as the most haunted city in Europe after seeing a ghostly legion of Roman soldiers has died, aged 79.

Harry Martindale was an 18-year-old apprentice heating engineer in 1953 when he saw at least 20 Roman soldiers, visible only from the knees up, marching through the cellar of the Treasurer's House.

Harry, who went on to become a policeman for some 30 years, said he saw a soldier wearing a helmet emerge from a wall, followed by a cart horse and 20 other soldiers. Terrified, he fell from his ladder and stumbled into the corner.

He was so frightened by what he had seen that he took two weeks off work with shock. People laughed at his story so he kept quiet about his spooky sighting until the 1970s, when he was interviewed by a group of academics for television, and York’s most famous ghost story was born.

It emerged that the old Roman road into the garrison ran through where the Treasurer’s House was later built, and was about 15 inches lower than the cellar floor. The story also gained legitimacy after Harry described several aspects of the Roman soldiers' clothing that he would not have known at the time.

His son Andrew said he was interviewed by various TV stations as the story blew up but, because he worked for the police, he never made any money out of his experiences.

“He went to some nice dinners and met some nice people but he never made a penny out of it,” he said.

Some years ago, when asked about his experiences, Harry said he didn’t know if he believed in ghosts, saying: "I only believe in what I saw.”

Harry’s daughter-in-law Susan said the ghost story meant Harry would be remembered long after his passing.

The Lord Mayor of York, Cllr Ian Gillies, said he had worked alongside Harry in the police force from their base in Acomb and heard about his ghostly experiences long before it became a big story. “He was a dedicated policeman,” he added.

Andrew said his father, who lived in Copmanthorpe and was the widower of Mary, died peacefully at York Hospital after being ill for some time. His funeral will take place at 11am on Wednesday at St Giles Church, Copmanthorpe, followed by burial in the village’s cemetery.