The Famous Screaming Skulls of England

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Photo by like a fool | CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 CC

Screaming skulls are ghosts in/attached to human skulls that haunt a location, most commonly places in England. Most often, these spirits seem to be attached to their homes and will exhibit poltergeist or ghostly behavior when removed. According to mental_floss, the origins of these legends are ambiguous:

Britain’s screaming skull legends are fascinating for both their persistence—they’ve been passed down orally for generations—and the mystery surrounding their origins. Though little academic literature exists regarding the skulls, many paranormal enthusiasts have noted a tenuous link to Celtic mythology, in which the strange powers of the human head figure prominently. However, others note that if the skull legend were Celtic it would likely appear throughout England, Ireland, Wales, and Scotland. Instead, the legend is restricted to rural England, which means its origins may be part of a uniquely British superstition.

The following are some of the most famous screaming skulls in England. You’ll notice some common threads!

The Bettiscombe Skull

Location: near Lyme Regis, Dorset, England

In the 17th Century, Azariah Pinney brought a slave back to his home (Bettiscombe Manor) after traveling for the English Civil War. The slave died under mysterious circumstances, and he requested that his body be returned to his homeland in the West Indies. His request was ignored and he was buried in a local graveyard. Screams were heard coming from his grave. Repeated attempts to dig up and bury his body elsewhere were followed by the same angry screams.

In 1963, the skull was tested by Professor Gilbert Causey of the Royal College of Surgeons and the professor concluded the skull belonged to a prehistoric woman in her 20s. The skull still remains at the manor today. You know, just in case the professor is wrong.

The Burton Agnes Skull

Location: near Driffield in the East Riding of Yorkshire, England

Burton Agnes Hall was built in 1598, during the reign of Elizabeth I, by three sisters of the Griffith family. The youngest sister, Ann, was attacked near her home by robbers. They beat her after she refused to give them her mother’s ring. Townspeople heard her cries, rescued her, and returned her home. She died 5 days later. On her deathbed, she requested that her head be placed within the walls of the manor.

The family ignored her request. Shortly after she was buried and the house’s construction was complete, the sisters began to hear noises throughout the house. Her sisters returned to her family’s burial vault to undo their mistake. The body was completely intact, but the head was separated and placed away from the body. Some stories say the head was even grinning. The head was taken back to Burton Agnes Hall. The noises stopped.

The noises would happen again when later residents tried to remove the skull. They put it back. The skull was later placed within the walls for safety. Although the noises have stopped, Ann will sometimes make a ghostly appearance on the anniversary of her death.

The Calgarth Hall Skull 

Location: Windermere, Cumbria, England

Myles Philipson, a Justice of Peace, owned Calgarth Hall and much land. He wanted more land and pursued the property of a young couple. The young couple refused to give up their home.

He somehow hid one of his silver cups and their home, told the authorities the young couple stole from him, and they were arrested. Since he was the Justice of Peace, they were found guilty and sentenced to death. On the scaffold, the young woman uttered a curse on the Philipson family: “Hark’s to here, Myles Philipson, that teenie lump o’ land is t’dearest grund a Philipson has ever bowte. For ye shall prosper niver maur, yersl, nor yan of o’t breed. And while Calgarth’s strong woes shall stand, we’ll haunt it day and neet” (Source).

Shorty after their execution, two skulls appeared in Calgarth Hall. They screamed loud every night. Although they were removed from the property, they always appeared back in the hall. Philipson faced many hardships (because of the curse?). The skulls were eventually boarded up in the walls of the house.

The Theophilus Brome Skull

Location:  Tunstead Milton, Derbyshire, England

Theophilus Brome was a local man who requested to have his head buried in his farmhouse, separate from his body. His fellow villagers followed his instructions, but someone later tried to remove the skull. The villagers’ heard piercing screams and quickly returned the skull to the farmhouse. In later years, villagers tried to remove the skull again, only to have their spade split in half when digging it up.

The Tunstead Farm Skull

Location: Chapel-en-le-Frith, England

This story is about a skull named “Dickie.” It was kept on a windowsill and its origin is unknown. Could it be the skull of a woman who was murdered in the very room it resides? Could it be Ned Dixon, an ancestor of the farmhouse? No one knows.

The skull is said to serve as guardian of the house, making noises whenever strangers are present. Dickie has also alerted residents to the births or illnesses of farm animals. Dickie has even warned of the coming death of a family member.

Mental_floss  explained that the skull is also protective over of the land:

[…] the Tunstead Skull […] mostly looked out over the farmlands making sure nothing was amiss—that is, until the Railway Company tried to build a new track through part of the Tunstead land. According to locals at the time, each day the company would start building the track, and each night, Dickie would undo their work. In 1863, a magazine called The Panorama reported: “It was the steadfast belief in the district that the ghost would undo, at the Coombs embankment, the work which had occupied many men during the day, and that Dickie was only propitiated at last by an interview with the engineer, at which he was promised a free passage over the line forever.

According to legend, robbers tried to steal the skull, but returned it after its incessant screams.

I recommend checking out this great site for some interesting primary sources.

The Wardley Hall Skull

Location: few miles outside Manchester, England

The story behind the skull of Wardley Hall has one unlikely legend and one possible legend.

  1. Roger Downes owned the house during the time of the English Civil War. One day while out drinking, he proclaimed that he was going to kill the first man he met. Downes thrust his sword through a local tailor. He was eventually tried for murder, but was let off due his influential family. Shortly after, he was drunk again and attacked a watchman with his rapier on The London Bridge. The man fought back and successfully cut off Downes’ head. His head was returned to Wardley Hall. Historical records mostly disprove this story.
  2. Another, more probable legend says the skull belongs to St. Ambrose Barlow, one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales. Before the English Civil War (and its persecution of Catholics), Francis Downes, a devout Catholic along with his wife, owned the property. They allowed mass to happen in the Hall’s chapel. A Benedictine monk named Barlow who officiated in the chapel was caught by authorities when working in a nearby chapel (Morleys Hall). He was arrested, tried, and sentenced to death. He was hanged, drawn and quartered. His head was impaled publicly, but Downes took his head and secretly took it to Wardley Hall.

The skull later appeared in a box that fell out of a wall in Wardley Hall. The current owner, Matthew Moreton, threw the skull in the moat, believing it was that of an animal. That night, a large storm broke out. Moreton thought the skull caused the storm, so he emptied the moat and retrieved the skull.

Sources: mental_floss, real-british-ghosts.com, and The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits.

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