The Screaming Skull of Bettiscombe Manor
A human skull is kept in the manor house at Bettiscombe. This skull must not be removed from the house or dire consequences will follow.
One legend concerning the origin of the skull and which has been tolded by generations of families who have lived at the house. States that during the time of the Monmouth Rebellion, Azariah Pinney, son of the owner of Bettiscombe Manor, was captured and brought before Judge Jeffreys at the Bloody Assize on 10th September 1685.
Azariah, along with twelve others was sentenced to be executed at Bridport for his collaboration in the rebellion. However, a payment of sixty-five pounds saved Azariah from the gallows and he was deported to the West Indies as a slave to work on the sugar plantations at Nevis. After many years working on the plantation, Azariah Pinney became a free man where he prospered as a merchant and sugar planter.
As years passed, Azariah Pinney 's wealthy descendant John Frederick Pinney disposed of the Nevis estates and returned to the family home of Bettiscombe Manor in the early nineteenth century, accompanied by one of the family's faithful black servants. While in his master's service, the servant was taken seriously ill with suspected tuberculosis. As he lay dying, the servant swore that he would never rest unless his body was returned back to his homeland of Nevis.
When he eventually died, John Frederick Pinney refused to pay for such an expensive burial and had the body interred, against the servant's dying wish in the grounds of St. Stephen's Church cemetery.
After the burial, permissive ill fortune plagued the village for many months and continuous screams and crying could be heard coming from the cemetery. Other disturbances were reported from the manor house; windows would rattle when there was no wind and doors slam of their own accord. The villagers could not take much more and went to the manor to seek advice. The body of the servant was subsequently exhumed and the body taken to the manor house.
In the process of time the skeleton has long since vanished, except for the skull where it has remained in the house for centuries.
However the manor's still retains the tradition,
'that if the skull is ever removed from the house, the house itself would rock to its foundations, whilst the person whom such an act of desecration was committed would certainly die within the year.'
The Ghost Story
Extremely popular as a novelist at the turn of the twentieth century, Francis Marion Crawford was born in Italy in 1854, of American parents and was educated at Heidelberg, Rome and Harvard. During Crawford's adult life he continued to travel extensively and his novels and stories reflect a variety of exotic settings. From 1883 Crawford had his base in Italy, principally at Sorrento. He died in 1909.Best remembered for his ghost and horror stories, Crawford's landmark horror story, originally collected in "Wandering Ghosts" was "The Screaming Skull". Published in 1911, Crawford's inspiriation for the story came from discovering the legend of the Bettiscombe Skull."The Screaming Skull" is one of the longer stories in the collection, concerning a skull that, as the title states, periodically screams and a retired naval captain, who may be indirectly responsible for the death of the skull's original owner. The tension is emphasized by the narration being a first-person monologue by the captain, to a visiting friend, as the events occur.
To read the chilling story for yourself click THE SCREAMING SKULL
The Screaming Skull (1958)
The novel was later adapted into a 1958 American film. Though Crawford was not credited in the films titles. In this adaptation the story centers around newlyweds Eric and Jenni Whitlock retire to his desolate mansion, where Eric's first wife Marianne died from a mysterious freak accident. Jenni, who has a history of mental illness, begins to see strange things including a mysterious skull, which may or may not be a product of her imagination. Suspicion falls on Mickey, the estate's mentally challenged gardener, who was seemingly was very attached to his former mistress.