Screaming skulls are a terrifying phenomena in English ghost lore, says RICK HALE
When I was a kid growing up in Chicago, the only place to be on a rainy Saturday was in front of the TV for Son Of Svengoolie.
It was there I had my introduction to horror with the classic 1958 film, The Screaming Skull.
Needless to say, this classic ghost story scared the hell out of me.
However, imagine my joy when just a couple years later, I discovered screaming skulls exist and are a major part of English ghost lore.
Here are four screaming skulls sure to keep even the deepest sleeper awake at night in terror.
Bettiscombe Manor, Dorset
Stately Bettiscombe Manor in Dorset, has long been the ancestral home of the Pinney family.
According to local stories, Azariah Pinney, was arrested for his part in the failed Monmouth rebellion of 1685.
Originally, Pinney was sentenced to an extraordinarily painful sentence, hanged and then drawn and quartered.
Fortunately for him, a member of his family managed to bribe officials. Azariah Pinney’s sentence was commuted and he was sent to the Caribbean to live out his life as an indentured servant.
While there, Pinney, earned his freedom and became a wealthy plantation owner.
Several years later, a descendent of Pinney’s returned to England with his most trusted slave.
His slave, who was used to warmer climates, soon took ill and died.
As he lay on his deathbed, the man requested that Pinney, return his body to his hometown so he could be buried with his people.
Pinney, being the ever greedy miser, buried him in a local cemetery.
Far be it for the Pinney family to see to the last will and testament of what they considered to be nothing more than property.
They soon paid the price for their greed, when the slave returned from the grave and exacted his revenge.
Not long after the burial, the quiet of the country manor was shattered by the sound of bloodcurdling screeches, slamming doors and heavy pounding on the walls.
When Pinney realized the ghost of his slave was causing the terror, he had the man’s remains exhumed and returned to the house.
Only the skull now remains and according to legend, if anyone should dare remove it, the ghost would return and relentlessly haunt the offender.
If moved, an unearthly scream rings out through Bettiscombe Manor. And the fool who removed it will die a horrible death within a year.
The skull is so feared by the locals, they refuse to even look at the skull for fear of spectral retribution.
Wardley Hall, Manchester
The screaming skull of Manchester’s Wardley Hall, presents a problem for lovers of the macabre and students of the unexplained.
No one really knows to whom it belonged to in life. According to legend the skull has two very different origin stories.
The first story comes from 1676 and the reign of Charles II.
Late one night, Roger Downes, a notorious criminal and troublemaker was taking a drunken stroll with friends along London bridge.
Downes, well known for both his violence and being a braggart, boasted he would attack the next person who crossed his path.
He made good on his boast when he attacked a tailor, cut his throat and dumped his body in the Thames.
A few moments later, he surprised another man. But, unlike the first victim, this man fought back.
The man drew a sword and seperated Downes’ head from his body. And tossed his body into the river, walking away with a gory prize, Downes’ head.
A few days following the death of Downes, his sister at Wardley Hall received a gruesome package.
When she opened it, to her horror, she discovered the severed head of her brother staring lifelessly up at her.
Downes’ sister did the only thing she could think of, she buried the head in a local cemetery. A decision Roger Downes didn’t seem to care for.
Wardley Hall quickly turned into a house of unspeakable horror.
Violent poltergeist activity overwhelmed the house. And the spectre of Roger Downes appeared terrifying all who beheld him.
It wasn’t until his skull was brought back to the house and placed in a niche on the stairs that the haunting ceased.
However, if anyone is foolish enough to disturb the skull, a horrific scream fills the house until it’s placed back in its spot.
A second story of the Wardley Hall skull, claims the skull belongs to Father Ambrose Barlow, a Catholic martyr.
According to the tale, Barlow, was arrested by an angry mob of Protestants. The good Father met his fate when he was hanged and drawn and quartered.
As for his head, it was placed on a spike outside Manchester as a warning to Catholics and Catholic sympathisers. Catholics were not welcome in Manchester.
Barlow’s head was eventually rescued by a Catholic sympathiser and brought back to Wardley Hall.
It’s said, if the skull is disturbed an unearthly lament would sound throughout the house along with poltergeist activity.
The skull is so revered by locals, that it’s written into the lease that the skull should never be removed from its resting place. Lest they experience the skull’s vengence.
The Skull Of Thephilus Brome
In 1791, John Collinson detailed in his book, History and Antiquities of Somerset, the curious tale of the skull of Thephilus Brome.
According to Collinson, Brome was a royalist soldier who defected to the Roundheads due to their horrific cruelty.
Before dying, Brome requested of his sister, before burying his body she remove his head so his former comrades wouldn’t steal it.
Seeing to her brother’s last request, she took his head and safely placed it in his farm in Chilton Cavelo, Somerset.
As time went by, succeeding tenants of the farm attempted to remove the skull only to be plagued by horrid screams emanating from the skull.
The screaming abruptly ceased once the skull was returned to its resting place.
Dickie’s Screaming Skull
Sitting along the road between Whalley Bridge and Chapel-en Le Firth in Derbyshire is Tunstead Farm.
In this ancient and grim looking farm is a most curious artifact. A skull simply known as, Dickie.
Although there are a few stories that explains the origins of Dickie, the most accepted story is that it is the mortal remains of a soldier named, Ned Dickson.
When Dickson returned from war, he attempted to lay claim of Tunstead Farm, saying it was part of his inheritence.
Dickson’s cousins, of course, didn’t quite see it that way. They wanted the farm for themselves and would do anything to have it.
One night as Dickson slept, his cousins fell upon him and beheaded him in his own bed. With the deed done, they buried him in a shallow grave and claimed the farm as their own.
A few days following the burial, the cousins experienced all manor of ghostly activity.
Loud bangs and screaming kept them up at all hours of the night. They even claimed to be attacked by the ghost of the cousin they viciously murdered.
When they couldn’t take anymore, they consulted a local witch to help them with the angry ghost.
The witch explained to them they needed to dig up Dickson’s head and keep the skull in the house.
She believed this, and this alone, would put the ghost to rest and peace would fill the farm.
They did as the witch told them to and the haunting of Tunstead Farm stopped. Ned Dickson finally appeared to be at rest.
Overtime, the skull known as Dickie, became something of a guardian of the farm and surrounding land.
Anyone who dared to trespass on the land claimed to feel the vengeance of Dickie.
The screaming skull of Tunstead Farm is also believed to be responsible for the railroad failing.
According to locals, when the railroad threatened the farm, accidents befell the construction crew forcing them to walk off the job.
Dickie has also been stolen a few times only to be returned when the thieves experienced bad luck.
As long as Dickie stays safe and sound, he remains quiet and peaceful.
These legendary screaming skulls have become an important part of British folklore.
They are revered and left alone, lest the screaming begins anew and misfortune falls on anyone who dares to disturb them.
Other screaming skulls of England
- Skull of Anne Griffith, Burton Agnes Hall, Yorkshire
- Two skulls, Warbleton Priory ruin, Rushlake Green, Heathfield, East Sussex
- Two skulls, Calgarth Hall, Windermere, Cumbria