Tag Archives: ghosts

Objects That Go Boo!

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

The Rillaton Cup – British Museum

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…

Busby’s Chair

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.

Burton Agnes Hall, Yorkshire – from The County Seats of the Noblemen and Gentlemen of Great Britain and Ireland, by Francis Orpen Morris. Original held and digitised by the British Library. (source: wikimediacommons)

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.

Country below Bettiscombe Manor. Fields on either side of the valley lead towards Bettiscombe Manor, home of a screaming skull. (Derek Harper / Country below Bettiscombe Manor / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Read more about England’s screaming skulls here and here.

Drake’s Drum

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.

Replica of Drake’s Drum from the education center at Buckland Abbey (source – wikimediacommons).

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

Top 10 Haunted Objects in Museums – YouTube

The Ghosts of the Ancestors

Its that time of year in the Northern Hemisphere that some folks thoughts turn towards all things supernatural. Halloween or Samhain, to give it its traditional name, is said to be a time when the veil between the world of the ancestors and our world is at its thinnest. The celebration of this festival varies from person to person depending on age, background and of course where you live. Some choose to trick or treat, some go on a ghost hunt, whilst others use this time to remember and celebrate their ancestors.

The history of the festival of Samhain is comprehensively covered in main different parts of the internet and it is not my intention to rehash the topic here. Instead want to consider the idea of hauntings and deep past, after all the roots of Samhain can be found within the distant past with the ancestors.

Hauntings and ghosts in the UK are most commonly associated with castles, old country houses, old pubs and the like – the age and history of these places are enough to provide copious amounts of storytelling fodder. But what about the truly ancient places in the landscape? Surely based on age alone they too should have their fair share of tales…

Stonehenge

Stonehenge is probably one of the most famous ancient sites in the UK (for more information feel free to check one of my earlier articles here). However, it does come with some of its own spooky stories…

In 1971, when it was far easier to get up close and personal with the stones, a group of hippies decided to camp out in the center of the circle. All was going well until at sometime around 2am a violent and sudden thunderstorm struck the Salisbury Plains. At the same time a farmer was checking on his stock and a policeman was in the area. Both spoke of a bright blue light illuminating the stones and of hearing screams from the campers. When they rushed to the campsite all they found were the ashes of the fire and smoldering tent pegs – the hippies had vanished.

Stonehenge sits within a much wider ‘ritual’ landscape, surrounded by numerous Bronze Age burial mounds known as barrows. One such group of barrows sits on a ridge known as Kings Barrow Ridge and it was in the woods nearby that a man in the 1950s had a strange encounter. It was late at night and the man in question was on his way home when he became disorientated. Climbing one of the barrows to get a better idea of where he was, he saw some lights in the distance and assumed them to be a farmhouse. Climbing down the barrow he became alarmed when he realised that the lights were moving towards him and they were not electric lights but flaming torches. Assuming they were a group of modern druids enacting some pagan ritual and not wanting to disturb them he hid and waited for them to pass.

Once they had passed he quietly followed them hoping they would be heading back to the main road from whence he would be able to get himself home. After awhile the silent procession reached the edge of the wood and the man recognising where he was, slipped away not wanting to disturb them. Unfortunately, he made that small mistake of looking back, he watched in horror as one by one the torches flickered out and the robed figures disappeared into thin air.

Other interesting phenomena associated with Kings Barrow Ridge are the strange blue flashes of light that are occasionally seen arcing across the barrows and the simultaneous loss of electrical current.

Avebury

Another well know stone circle is that of Avebury, not far from Stonehenge (please check out my earlier article for more information about Avebury here). Perhaps one of the salient points to remember about Avebury is that a number of the stones have been removed, broken up and used as building material whilst others have simply been pulled over and buried where they lay as a result of anti-pagan fervor during the medieval period. It is said that the buildings which were built using the old standing stones are subject to a poltergeist type manifestation known as ‘The Haunt’. Then there are a number of stories which include moving lights, phantom singing and spectral figures around and within the stones themselves.

Inner circle with ditch and bank visible – photo my own

One such figure may even be the ghost of the man who died some time in the 1320s. When Alexander Keiller decided to re-erect some of the stones in the circle. Under one such stone the skeleton remains of man were found, the coins and tools on him dated his death to the 1320s, his trade as a barber-surgeon (this stone is now known as the Barber stone). It seems he was helping to dig the burial pit for the stone when it fell and crushed him. His compatriots deciding it was not worth the effort to dig him out for a proper burial and perhaps superstition got the better of them.

A similar story is told about the Caratus Stone (possibly a fifth century AD memorial stone) in Somerset. Here the tale tells of a foolish carter who tried to uproot the stone to get at the treasure which supposedly lay beneath it. Unfortunately for him, the stone (or should that be the ancestors) had different ideas, it fell on him crushing him to death. His apparition is said to frequent the area on foggy nights.

Another story regarding Avebury tells of a young woman called Edith Olivier who during World War One decided to drive to Avebury for the first time. She wrote of the looming avenue of megaliths that lined her route from the west and how once in the village she noticed a crowd of villagers attending a fair. It was not until sometime later she discovered that not only had the avenue she had seen disappeared by 1800 but that there had been no fair in the village since 1850.

Barrows and the Fae

There are many tales of the fairy folk and in different parts of the UK they often have local names, such as in Cornwall where you get piskies who have acquired the status of ‘supernatural vermin’. Also in Cornwall there is a variation of the piskie called a spriggan (a more malevolent type of fae) and it is these which are said to guard the treasures hiding in the barrows. Such traditions of fairy folk protecting the barrows of the ancestors are widespread and perhaps hark back to a distant religion.

A barrow covered in bluebells and not looking at all menacing…photo by Sharon Loxton on http://www.geograph.co.uk

On Wick Moor in Somerset there is a barrow surrounded by barbed wire and set within the middle of the Hinkley Nuclear Power Station. Known as Pixie’s Mound, the story goes a man found a small broken toy spade. He mended it and left it by the barrow. When he next passed that way he found the spade gone and a plate of cakes in its place, these he ate and forevermore enjoyed good fortune. During the power stations construction the builders were warned that if they built over the barrow nothing would work. Advice which they took seriously.

Wick Moor with Hinkley Power Station in the background – photo by A and J Quantock (www.geograph.co.uk)

Throughout the UK there are many landscapes and places associated with the fairy folk. Often it is the vast lonely moorlands which seem to have more than their fair share of tales told of unwary travellers being befuddled and lead astray by the fae. In the far west of Cornwall there is a lonely stretch of moorland between Woon Gumpus and Carn Kenidjack, here not only does the Devil ride the fairy path on a black horse but dancing lights are often seen while the granite tor wails in the wind. Fairy paths are the dead straight paths which lead between fairy forts and barrows; it is on these you are most likely to encounter the fae.

Carn Kenidjack (also known as the hooting carn) with Tregeseal stone circle in the foreground – photo By Jowaninpensans – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org

Apparitions

Bona fide prehistoric ghosts are a rare phenomena but one of the best substantiated ghosts in the Dorset area and most probably the oldest is that of Bronze Age ghost seen on Bottlebrush Down. Here a respected archaeologist R C Clay witnessed (in 1924) whilst driving home one evening from an excavation the apparition of man on horseback galloping beside his vehicle. He wore a long dark cloak and rode bareback, brandishing a weapon angrily. Approaching a barrow Mr Clay was astonished to see the horse and rider suddenly vanish into the burial mound. He is only one of many who have seen this particular spectre.

Other ghostly figures at archaeological sites include a horse and chariot at Ruborough Camp in Somerset which is said to be guarding treasure buried there. Near Thetford in Norfolk on the banks of the river Thet there is a barrow known as Thet Hill. It is regarded as being very haunted, here a red-haired chieftan has been seen. In Wroxham (Norfolk) you may come across the apparition of a Roman soldier who will order you away, it seems he is clearing a passage for a ghostly procession of prancing horse, chariots, gladiators, lions, centurions and their prisoners who make their way from Brancaster to the arena which once stood there.

The River Thet in Norfolk – photo By Bob Jones, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org

In the Welsh county of Glamorgan is one of the UK’s oldest archaeological sites. On the coast are the Paviland Caves where a burial of Paleolithic hunter was found and excavated at the end of the 19th century. Labelled the ‘Red Lady of Paviland’ stories abounded about it being a woman imprisoned there during a storm whilst hunting for treasure amongst other things and of course she was said to haunt the cave. However, this is definitely one of those cases where the human imagination was allowed a little too much free reign. The Red Lady was later proven to be a man and considerably older then first imagined.

Worth a mention though and not far from the above site is Rhossli, behind the village is a moorland area which the locals admit to feelings of being watched and menace. Here it is said the air seems full of evil foreboding…

Over the years I have visited many prehistoric sites and have heard the stories of many others. There are often those who speak of feelings of foreboding, of not being welcome. At West Kennet long barrow several people have said they have felt unwelcome. But it would seem that this depends on the person and the when of the visit. I know from my own experience that walking into a stone circle invites contemplation and even unruly children become quiet and reflective without being told. Perhaps this too is a type of haunting when only the energy remains.

Landscapes imbued with meaning, with the rituals of the past; vast stretches of empty wild rugged land; brooding moorland; mysterious stones; cursed burial mounds; noises in the mist; shadows at the corner of your eye…Samhain…a time when the veil is thin…a time to honour the ancestors…