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> England's screaming skulls <

Ancient peoples kept severed human heads in their homes as war trophies; sometimes as family relics, as we keep photographs of relatives; and often to ward off evil. Some English houses still hold guardian skulls which legend says have a life of their own. Bettiscombe Manor, Dorset, has one of the most famous, a skull said to shriek 'like a trapped rat' when moved, to rattle by night in ghostly bowling games - and to have heralded World War 1 by sweating blood.
Several owners tried to scrap the grim relic: some reinstated it when local disaster ensued; others were thwarted by the skull itself, which returned whether thrown into a pond or buried deep in the ground. Legend variously says is is the skull of a murdered girl, or of an 18th century slave whose master failed to return his body to Africa for burial; scientists say it is prehistoric.
The screaming skull of Burton Agnes Hall, Yorkshire, truly belongs there. Anne Griffith, whose father built the Hall in 1590, so loved her home that on her deathbed she asked her family to keep her head there - and haunted them with dreadful noises when they tried to disobey. The skull screamed horribly if removed, and Anne's ghost walked the house to guard the relic - until, in 1900, the owners allayed her fears by building it into one of the walls. Theophilus Brome was equally set on keeping his skull at the house, Higher Chilton Farm, Somerset, where it remains today.
But as a Puritan he may have been motivated less by love of his home than the wish to thwart Royalist supporters, who celebrated the Restoration of King Charles 2 by digging up dead Roundheads to exhibit their heads on stakes. Long after such risk was past, Brome's skull is said to have made 'horrid noises ... of sad displeasure' when anyone tried to move it.


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