In the northern hemisphere when the weather begins to bite and the nights draw in thoughts turn to that time when it is said the veil thins between our world and that ‘otherworld’. Samhain, Halloween or All Hallows is a festival celebrated in many ways in the northern hemisphere (and in the southern hemisphere, somewhat erroneously). Previously on this blog tales have been written about witches, ghosts and the superstitions of Halloween – all of which are pretty standard topics for the time of the year.
So now lets turn our attention to the lesser known spooky stories of objects said to be haunted such as skulls that scream and drums that, well, drum…
The Rillaton Cup
In 1837 a Bronze Age barrow on the eastern side of Bodmin Moor in Cornwall was excavated. Human remains were found alongside a number of objects including a bronze dagger, beads, pottery and a gold cup – the Rillaton Cup. At 90cm high, with a handle attached with rivets it resembles the beaker style of cup known from other Bronze Age burials. It is said that the cup is haunted by the spirit of a druid priest who offers travelers a drink from the undrainable cup. Local legend tells of one man who, in a fit of Christian pique, threw the contents of the cup at the ghost. He was later found dead in a ravine…
Can a curse on chair result in the deaths of those who sit in it? In North Yorkshire there is such a tale centered around a Thomas Busby who was arrested, tried and executed for the murder of his father-in-law in 1702. Two versions of the local legend exist – one says that Busby cursed the chair on his way to the gallows and the other says he was drunk in the chair when arrested and that was when he cursed it. He was hung at a crossroads near an inn where the chair resided until the late 1970s. It was said that during the second world war Canadian airmen from the nearby base who sat in the chair never returned from their bombing missions over Europe. Following a series of fatal accidents linked to the chair in the 1970s the chair was donated to the museum at Thirsk where it hangs permanently on a wall beyond the reach of curious bottoms…
The Great Bed
In the town of Ware (Herts)there once was a carpenter named Jonas Fosbrook who made a bed fit for a king. It is massive four poster constructed from oak and measuring 3.38m long and 3.28m wide. It was said that Fosbrook intended the bed to be used for Edward IV although there is no evidence of this ever happening. The bed was owned by several of Wares inns; it was alleged that once in the 17th century twelve married couples slept in it. However, it is said that the ghost of Fosbrook will pinch and scratch anyone who slept in it because the bed was not being used for royalty. The Great Bed is now housed in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
The King’s Lynn Brick
In the wall of a house on the north-west corner of the ancient Tuesday market in King’s Lynn is a diamond shaped brick with a heart carved into it. According to local tradition it marks the spot where the heart of witch burst from her body as she was being burnt at the stake and hurtled across the market square to smash against the wall. Being burnt at the stake was not a common means of execution for those accused of witchcraft in England, hanging was the preferred method however one of the few witches to suffer death by fire in England was Margaret Read of King’s Lynn in 1590.
‘Alas poor Yorick…’ – Skulls and more skulls…
Keeping a skull of a long dead ancestor or past occupant of a house on shelf or in a cupboard should be a rare and somewhat odd occurrence, but it is not. A brief foray into the records shows that there are at least half a dozen instances of skulls being kept in houses across the UK.
On a farm near Buxton in Derbyshire there is a skull known affectionately as ‘Dickie’, said to have once been a Ned Dixon who was murdered by his cousin in the house – although the tale is also sometime told as love triangle where two sisters fell in love with the same man and one sister murdered the other. Either way, it is said that should the skull be moved then all kinds of disasters will fall upon the farm. A well meaning soul once thought to bury the skull and before long things began to go wrong – pigs died, cows became ill and crops failed. Once the skull was retrieved life once more settled down and all was well.
On another occasion, in 1870 there were all sorts of issues regarding unsuccessful building work by a railway company who were a little to close for comfort and disturbing ‘Dickie’s’ rest. The issues soon stopped though when the railway company chose a different route for the railway…
Burton Agnes Hall in Humberside was built by three sisters in the seventeenth century. One day the house was attacked and the youngest sister Anne was mortally wounded. Before she died she asked that her head be kept in the house she loved. Her sisters chose to ignore Anne’s request and she was buried whole in the local churchyard. However, Anne’s unhappy soul created havoc in the house and eventually the sisters were forced to disinter their sister and remove her head. Some years later a new maid took fright when she came across the skull and threw it out of a window where it landed on a passing cart. The story tells how the horse stopped immediately and would not move until the skull was returned to the house. It is now bricked up in one of the walls so it can never be removed and since then all has been quiet, even if her ghost is still occasionally seen watching over her beloved home.
At the head of the staircase in Wardley Hall, Greater Manchester is the skull of Father Ambrose Barlow who was hung, drawn and quartered in 1641 when he confessed to being a Catholic priest. It is said that if moved it emits blood curdling screams and will bring misfortune on the house. The antiquary Thomas Barritt wrote of the skull, “if removed or ill-used, some uncommon noise and disturbance always follows, to the terror of the whole house.” When Wardley Hall was divided into miners tenements, the new tenants attempted to rid themselves of the macabre object much to their detriment. Peace was only restored once the skull was brought back to the Hall.
Near to the shore of Lake Windermere is the sixteenth century manor house called Calgarth Hall. Before the manor was built the land it sits upon was farmed by Kraster and Dorothy Cook who refused to sell their land to the neighbouring landowner and magistrate Myles Phillipson which led to a great deal of ill feeling between the two parties. However as Christmas approached Phillipson invited the couple to dinner declaring he wished to mend the rift. The Cooks were happy to obliged and duly arrived at the magistrates house on Christmas morning, unfortunately the day did not end well when it was found that a small silver bowl which had been on the table near Kraster had gone missing. The Cooks had just put on their coats which had been unattended all day and when searched the bowl was found in Kraster’s pocket.
The Cooks were arrested, tried and found guilty of theft – all before the magistrate, Myles Phillipson. As was the law in those days they were sentenced to hang, as Dorothy was being taken from the court she cried;
“Guard thyself, Myles Phillipson! Thou thinkest thou hast managed grandly but that tiny lump of land is the dearest a Phillipson has bought or stolen for you will never prosper, neither will your breed…Never will you be rid of us”
The following Christmas the hall had been built and was ready for occupation and a huge banquet was planned. The evening of the banquet the lady of the house went upstairs and to her horror came face to face with two skulls grinning at them from the balustrade, one even had hair much like Dorothy’s. The guests declared this to be some nasty prank and threw them into the yard, later that night the skulls reappeared. After which all attempts to get rid of the skulls failed, as time and time again they reappeared on their perch. Myles Phillipson suffered multiple misfortunes and with each setback the skulls would scream in celebration. On his death he had lost all his lands, wealth and positions. The hall was inherited by his son and the skulls only appeared at Christmas, but Dorothy’s curse continued and the Phillipson family became impoverished. Only when the hall passed into new hands did the haunting of Calgarth hall cease.
At Higher Chilton Farm at Chilton Cantello, Somerset there is a special cupboard containing the skull of Theophilus Brome, a one time owner of the farm. Theophilus died in August 1670 and one of his last requests was to have his head removed from his body and kept at the farm for all of time. The reasons for such a strange request are unknown and it is not known if he had placed a curse on any who would remove his skull from the farm. But what is told that whenever someone has attempted to move the skull the resulting supernatural commotion has meant it remains in the house. In Collinson’s History of Somerset from the 1860s there is an entry which refers to the skull.
“…(of which) the tenants of the house have often endeavoured to commit to the bowels of the earth, but have as often been deterred by the horrid noises portentive of sad displeasure…”
In Dorset at Bettiscombe Manor another skull can found which objects strongly to being moved from its abode. One nineteenth century tenant of the manor had the audacity to throw the skull into a pond. The house was shaken by screams and tremors for days until the skull was retrieved and placed back in the house. Interestingly, analysis of the skull has shown that the skull is about 2000 years old and is that of a woman in her twenties.
Read more about England’s screaming skulls here and here.
In Buckland Abbey, Devon is Drake’s Drum, said to have accompanied Francis Drake when he circumnavigated the globe in 1577-80. Not unlike the legend surrounding King Arthur it is said that Francis Drake is not dead but only sleeping. Whilst not necessarily haunted it is said that if his drum is beaten he will wake to his country’s call. The drum is said to have been heard when the German fleet surrendered in 1918.
There are many objects from around the world which are said to be haunted or cursed, some are famed and others not so much – Ebay apparently do a roaring trade in haunted items…be ware the buyer…
If you want to disappear down a rabbit hole then these sites are a good place to start – happy haunting…sorry I meant hunting…
Cursed Objects – Atlas Obscura