Bettiscombe Manor is a grand old Tudor house – and long-time residence of the Pinney family – which lies in the tiny village of Bettiscombe, in the Marshwood Vale of Dorset. Although there are several ghosts associated with the building, the most famous story is that of the Screaming Skull. A legend inextricably entwined with the Pinneys, the story begins two hundred years ago when John Frederick Pinney returned to the Manor from the West Indies, bringing with him an African slave who was his manservant. Supposedly the skull belonged to this slave who, on his death-bed, begged his master to send his body back to his homelands so that he might be buried there.
Pinney promised, but after the slave had died he broke his word and the poor man was laid to rest in a churchyard near the Manor. Very soon chilling shrieks began to emanate from the grave and ghostly activity plagued the house. The slave’s body was disinterred and moved to the Manor, where it was kept in the loft. The screams and other spooky activity stopped and there the skeleton remained for a time. Somehow, during the passing of many years, the rest of the bones were lost, and only the skull was left.
Several more attempts to bury the skull were made, but all of them reached the same impasse; it was said that each time it was buried it began to shriek, and hauntings, death and misfortune followed. So the skull was duly brought back to the Manor, bringing the troubles to a close; although there have been a handful of stories told of screams emanating from the attic where it was kept, and weird rattling noises have also been heard, which were believed to be the sounds of strange people or spirits, known only – rather ominously – as ‘them’, playing a game of ninepins with the skull. It has even been said that the skull once sweated blood.
Whichever story you hear, to this day it is thought that anyone who removes the skull from the Manor will be troubled with ghostly screams and poltergeist activity. It was even believed, once upon a time, that the person who took the skull out of the house would meet their death within a year.
And so, even now, the skull resides within the house – although forensic tests carried out a number of years ago have shown it to be the ancient fossilized skull of a European woman, perhaps killed as part of an Iron Age sacrifice. But although the story of the African slave has been thus discredited, the legend remains and as long as it does so the skull will stay safely in a box inside the Manor walls…hopefully silent.