Historic East Yorkshire: The Screaming Skull of Burton Agnes

Turn the lights on, make a cup of tea and lock the door – and remember, always keep a promise made……

You might have passed or even visited Burton Agnes Hall. Dominating the village of Burton Agnes (near Driffield), it was built by Sir Henry Griffith in 1601–10 and is widely considered one of the historical gems of the East Riding.  Thankfully for you however, you won’t have clapped eyes on one of the more sinister inhabitants of this Grade 1 listed Elizabethan manor house.

Legend has it that before the hall was completed, one of the daughters of Henry Griffith – Anne –  was attacked by a cutthroat when walking in the park. Before falling into a fever and dying, she made her sisters promise that they would bring her head back into the hall so that she could see the completed structure, though they – perhaps understandably – chose not to honour the request and had her body buried. Shortly after, they began to be plagued by “strange moaning and weird sounds” until they made the decision to have their sister’s skull disinterred. When they visited the family vault to carry out their sister’s death-bed request, they discovered that her head was strangely fleshless and already separated from the torso.

The skull was taken to the hall as promised and peace was returned – until an interfering servant, disbelieving the story, wrapped it in a cloth and threw it on the back of a passing wagon whereby ‘the horses reared and trembled in fear, the hall shook and pictures fell of the wall’ until the skull was replaced. After this it was placed in a niche in the wall, and eventually walled up completely.

The exact whereabouts of the Burton Agnes screaming skull is now unknown, though the spirit of Anne is still said to haunt the hall and is known as ‘Owd Nance’. Local legend speaks of her appearance every year on the anniversary of her death.

Interestingly, the screaming skull seems to be an eerie tale particular to Britain. Although the stories regarding the origin of the skulls vary, the phenomena experienced when the haunted skull is moved tends to be very similar including ‘bad luck’, poltergeist activity and blood-curdling screams. There are other well-documented instances at Calgarth Hall in Windermere, Wardley Hall in Greater Manchester and Tunstead Farm in Chapel-en-le-Frith amongst others.

So if you’re feeling brave enough, why not take a trip to Burton Agnes Hall and see if the ghost of Owd Nance makes herself known to you? If history is to be believed, she isn’t exactly the shy and retiring type…

Dave Lee

Click  to here find accommodation near Burton Agnes Hall


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