Just the very words screaming skulls are often enough to send a shiver up the spin of the most hardened paranormal researcher. These hauntingly disturbing disembodied remains of long dead people are almost exclusively a British phenomenon. They can reek havoc on the lives of the living often inducing fear and misery by way of activity similar to that of a poltergeist or perhaps what some might call a demonic type infestation. Here we will look at a few of the cases of screaming skulls that are on record.
The first one we shall look at is one that is fairly local to me and I have been in touch with its owners, who said I was very welcome to come and view the skull but I wouldn’t be able to take any photos out of respect and that’s a visit I wholly intend to make.
Higher Farm near the village of Chilton Cantilo in Somerset houses the skull of one Theophilus Broom. Theophilus was a Roundhead soldier during the English civil war and during a battle with the kings forces at a place called Babylon Hill near the town of Yovil he took a severe wound that was to prove fatal. Although badly wounded he managed to make it to the house of his sister in Chilton Cantilo where he eventually died. But just before his death the Roundhead made a rather unusual request, knowing that he wasn’t long for this world he asked his brother in law to remove his head once he had passed and keep it ever more in that very house. The reason being that the Royalist troops were in the habit of taking the heads of their slain foe and displaying them on steaks as a warning to others who may choose to rise up against the crown. Its is said that with his dying breath Theophilus uttered a curse upon anyone who should try and remove his head from the farm house. With his last words having been uttered and his final breath done his family complied with his wish and removed his head from his body and interring it in a box hidden in a small alcove in the wall. A task that must of been considerably gruesome and must off added weight to the grief they must have been feeling.
There have been several attempts to return the skull to its body which is buried in the near by church of St James but on each occasion the farm house has been come under attack from an unseen force, blood curdling screams can be heard along with some times violent poltergeist activity. In fact the skull is said to of been involved in the deaths of at least two people. The first was during an attempt to bury the skull with its body and the poor man trying to do it was tragically hit in the head by a slate from the church roof. The second death came about when a T.V crew came to shoot a documentary film about the skull and it seems that the presenter was mocking the skulls ability to do anything supernatural. He was killed in a car accident on the way home from the shoot.
Next we take a trip up to the village of Tunstead Milton which is nestled on the edge of the Peak District National Park and in particular to Tunstead Farm, where we will find our next cranium conundrum. The skull has been in residence at the farm for a good few hundred years and like its counter part is said to be the cause of many frightening disturbances. There are it seems two stories of whom the skull, whos nick name is Dickie, belonged to. The first I came across is that it belonged to a gentleman named Ned Dixon who was brutally murdered by a cousin when he returned home from fighting in an un-named war. The second story concerns a women who name I sadly cant find in any of the sources I have on the skull but, the story goes that she was murdered in the house and her dying wish was that she not be buried but her body kept there for ever more. It seems that over the years the rest of her body has been lost so that all that remains is the skull, which has been accused of all sorts of paranormal mischief and mayhem, I feel this is the most likely owners of the skull out of the two mentioned as an apparition of a women has been seen in and around the farm house. I think the following extracts from first, Hutchinson’s Tour Through the High Peak of Derbyshire, J. Wilson, Macclesfield, 1809, pp 118–21 and then William Wood, Tales and Traditions of the High Peak, Bell and Daldy, London, 1862, pp 177–79 sum up the tale rather well.
Having heard a singular account of a human skull being preserved in a house at Tunstead, near the above place, and which was said to be haunted, curiosity induced me to deviate a little, for the purpose of making some enquiries respecting these natural or supernaturalappearances. That there are three parts of a human skull in the house is certain, and which I traced to have remained on the premises for near two centuries past, during all the revolutions of owners and tenants in that time. As to the truth of the supernatural appearance, it is not my design either to affirm or contradict:— Though I have been informed by a credible person, a Mr. Adam Fox, who was brought up in the house, that he has not only repeatedly heard singular noises, and observed very extraordinary circumstances, but can produce fifty persons, within the parish, who have seen an apparition at this place. He has often found the doors opening to his hand—the servants have been repeatedly called up in the morning—many good offices have been done by the apparition, at different times;—and, in fact, it is looked upon more as a guardian spirit, than a terror to the family:—never disturbing them but in case of an approaching death of a relation or a neighbour, and shewing its resentment only when spoken of with disrespect, or when its own awful memorial of mortality is removed. For twice within memory of man, the skull has been taken from the premises, once on building the present house on the site of the old one, and another time when it was buried in Chapel church yard;—but there was no peace!—no rest!—it must be replaced!—Venerable time carries a report, that one of two coheiresses residing here was murdered, and declared, in her last moments, that her bones should remain on the place forever.*
On this head the candid reader will think for himself; my duty is only faithfully to relate what I have been told. However, the circumstances of the skull being traced to have remained on the premises, during the changes of different tenants and purchasers, for near two centuries, must be a subject well worth the antiquarian’s research, and often more than the investigation of a bust or a coin!
* On examining the parts of the skull, they did not appear to be the least decayed.
SOMEWHERE about midway between Chapel-en-le-Frith and Whaley, there are a few substantial farm houses known as Tunsted; and at one of them, now occupied by Mr. Samuel Dickson (or Dixon) this fragment of mortality,—the mysterious skull,—has had an abiding place from time immemorial. The skull has always been said to be that of a female; but why it should have been baptized with a name belonging to the male sex seems somewhat anomalous: still not more wonderful than a many, if not all of its very singular pranks and services. To enumerate all the particulars of the incalculably servicable acts and deeds done by Dickey would form a wonder, but not a wonder past belief, for hundreds of the inhabitants of the locality for miles around, have full and firm faith in its mystical performances. How long it has been located at the present house is not known ; to whose body in the flesh it was a member, is equally as mysterious, save that it is said, (but what has not been said about it that is not pure fiction?) that one of two co-heiresses residing here was murdered, and who declared in her dying moments that her bones should remain on the place for ever. It is further said that the skull did not, some years back, appear the least decayed.*
Well and truly has it been said and written that truth is stranger than fiction; and the fact of the implicit belief of so many people at, and for a great distance around Tunsted, in the following doings of the ghost or apparition belonging to this skull, is marvellous indeed. One former occupant of this habitation, a Mr. J. Bramwell, declared that it prevented the house and farm from being robbed; and that he would have sooner parted with the best cow he had than with this efficacious and venerable relic of humanity. A neighbour, a Mr. A. Fox, could and did, during his life, tell wonderful stories of this unearthly visitant or rather resident. Once the skull was buried in Chapel-en-le-Frith churchyard, but the apparition appeared, and then commenced “weeping and wailing,” if not “gnashing of teeth;” cattle strayed, some died, others came to sundry misfortunes; and during the “witching hours of night” the furniture was tossed up and down in utter confusion. In this direful dilemma, it was suggested to the then occupant, to exhume the skull—restore it to its old quarters—an old cheese vat in a window bottom in the staircase; this done, order was immediately restored, and soon all went on as before charmingly and pleasingly “as a marriage bell.” On the occasion of the house being rebuilt, Dickey was carelessly thrown aside at some distance; but as before, the spectre appeared, and to the utter mortification of the workmen, their works were damaged every morning, and they averred that they could occasionally, while they were hammering and hewing, hear very clearly a low unearthly moan. The skull was sought and replaced as before, and all was right.
Among the articles of belief respecting the apparition of this skull, there are a few that make us wonder they could by any possibility have been gulped down, even by the most credulous and superstitious. That this skull should be, and has been held in such veneration is no marvel when such services have been rendered by it as the following:—if a cow was near calving in the night, Dickey or the ghost gave an alarm; if any of the cattle got wrong, in the buildings or on the land, an instant intimation was given from the same source. The approaching death of relations and friends were all in due course truly foreshadowed; the servants desirous of rising soon were unfailingly aroused, and if the horses were required at an early hour, they were always found ready geared; indeed so many good offices have been done by the apparition at various times, that it (the skull) is looked on as a sort of guardian, never disturbing them much, except when spoken of with some disrespect, or when its awful memorials of mortality are removed. Such are only a very few of the wonderful particulars of the miraculous skull, or Dickey of Tunsted.
* Hutchinson’s “Tour through the Peak of Derbyshire”.