Dating back to 1500, Wardley Hall is a beautiful manor house, currently home to the Bishop of Salford. It is also home to something gruesome and sinister. Here to tell us all about it is Matthew from Ghoul Britannia Podcast.
There are many things you might expect to see on a tour of Wardley Hall in Greater Manchester. It’s a safe bet that a human skull is not one of them.
The skull in question once belonged to Father Ambrose Barlow. His fate was as gruesome as it was cruel. Father Barlow, a Benedictine monk, committed the cardinal sin of preaching the Catholic faith, in a time when doing so was punishable by death.
By necessity, he preached in secret. Unfortunately, he didn’t keep this secret well enough. On Easter Sunday 1641, in the middle of a sermon, Father Barlow was accosted, beaten, and dragged off to Lancaster Castle by an angry Protestant mob.
His trial was short and perfunctory. Father Barlow did not deny his actions, and the judge handed him a death sentence.
The execution was brutal. On 10 September 1641, Father Barlow was strung up in front of a large crowd, hanged, and then cut down just as he reached the point of death. This was no relief though.
Barlow, still alive, was hacked into four pieces, and the quivering flesh boiled in tar. Finally, his head was mounted on a spike outside the castle. At some point afterwards, his cousin rescued the skull, and hid it at Wardley Hall.
But why would three centuries of residents choose to keep such a grizzly souvenir in their home?
Because Father Barlow’s remains are what is known as a screaming skull.
That is, a skull with such a violent, horrific past, that the furious spirit of its former owner remains trapped within it. The ghost is always malevolent, plaguing the living with unpleasant, even deadly supernatural activity. Father Barlow’s skull is no exception.
For years, the final, agonising shrieks of Father Barlow have been heard ringing through the manor. The reason behind the screaming remained unknown at first. The skull was well hidden, secretly stashed away behind a panel at the top of the stairs. Then, in the 18th century, Francis, the third Duke of Bridgewater, came to live at Wardley Hall.
The duke set about redecorating his home. It was inevitable that he would discover the skull. When he did, he was utterly disgusted. He took the skull from its hiding place and hurled it into the moat. That evening, a storm like none before hit Wardley Hall. It roared for hours, terrifying the residents and the duke, and nearly flattening Wardley Hall. Francis got the message. He ordered the moat to be drained, and the skull to be retrieved.
Francis was the first person to try removing the skull. He wouldn’t be the last. Disturbed either by its presence alone, or by the distant, bloodcurdling screams which emanated from the skull throughout the night, many others made the attempt.
Some went even further. Driven to despair by its screams, they tried smashing the skull to pieces, even burning it to ashes out on the grounds. But the skull is not so easily dealt with.
Every time it is removed, Father Barlow’s ghostly shrieks pursue the one responsible, all through the night. In the morning the screaming skull always returns.
Many a resident has woken to find that hated object on the doorstep, completely intact, gloating at them with its ghastly grin. The legend has grown to such an extent that the skull is no longer hidden. It remains in that same spot, at the top of the stairs, only these days it lies behind a glass panel. Guides are quick to warn visitors to leave it be.
Nobody dares touch the skull, let alone try to remove it. It is even a condition of the lease that the skull remains untouched. The screaming skull is now a permanent fixture at Wardley Hall.
Who knows what might happen next time somebody ignores the warnings, and tries to remove the skull?
Listen to Ghoul Britannia: The Screaming Skull of Wardley Hall Podcast
Ghoul Britannia podcast explores the darker side of British lore and legends. Whether it’s a ghost, a curse, or something even more unusual, we’ll be taking a closer look at the spookiest, strangest corners of the UK and Ireland.
MATTHEW ROBINSON is the creator and host of the podcast Ghoul Britannia, a twisted tour of British lore. Based at Ghoul HQ, in rural Wiltshire, Matthew is an eager student of local history and folklore, with a particular love of ghost stories and comically-large mugs of tea.