Tales and Traditions of the High Peak

By William Wood (1862)

Transcription by Rosemary Lockie, © Copyright 2009

The Miraculous Skull


SOMEWHERE about midway between Chapel-en-le-Frith and Whaley, there are a few substantial farm houses known as Tunsted; and at one of them, now occupied by Mr. Samuel Dickson (or Dixon) this fragment of mortality, - the mysterious skull, - has had an abiding place from time immemorial. The skull has always been said to be that of a female; but why it should have been baptized with a name belonging to the male now seems somewhat anomalous; still not more wonderful than a many, I not all of its very singular pranks and services. To enumerate all the particulars of the indubitably serviceable acts and deeds done by Dickey would born a wonder, but not a wonder past belief, for hundreds of the inhabitants of the locality for miles around have full and firm faith in its mythical performances. How long it has been located at the present house is not known; to whose body in the flesh it was a member is equally as mysterious, save that it is said that what has not been said about it that is not but pure fiction that one [Page 182] of two co-heiresses residing here was murdered, and who declared in her dying moments that her bones should remain on the place for ever. It is further said that the skull did not, some years back, appear the last decayed.[1]

Well and truly has it been said and written that truth is stranger than fiction; and the fact of the implicit belief of so many people, at and for a great distance around Tunsted, in the following doings of the ghost or apparition belonging to this skull, is marvellous indeed. One former occupant of this habitation, a Mr. J. Bramwell, declared that it prevented the house and farm from being robbed; and that he would have sooner parted with the best cow he had than with this efficacious and venerable relic of humanity. A neighbour, a Mr. A. Fox, would and did, during his life, tell wonderful stories of this unearthly visitor or rather resident. Once the skull was buried in Chapel-en-le-Frith churchyard, but the apparition appeared, and then commenced “weeping and wailing”, if not “gnashing of teeth”; cattle strayed, some died, others came to sundry misfortunes; and during the “witching hours of night” the furniture was turned up and down in utter confusion. In this direful dilemma, it was suggested to the then occupant, to exhume the skull - restore it to its old quarters - an old cheese vat in a window bottom in the staircase; [Page 183] this done, order was immediately restored, and soon all went on as before charmingly and pleasingly “as a marriage bed”. On the occasion of the house being rebuilt, Dickey was carelessly thrown aside by some disturbance; but, as before, the spectre appeared, and to the utter mortification of the workmen, their works were damaged every morning, and they averred that they could occasionally, while they were hammering and hewing, hear very clearly a low unearthly moan. The skull was sought and replaced as before, and as was right.

Among the articles of belief respecting the apparition of this skull, there are a few that make me wonder they could by any possibility have been gulped down, even by the most credulous and superstitious. That this skull should be, and has been held in such veneration is no marvel when such services have been rendered by it as the following: If a cow was near calving in the night, Dickey or the ghost gave us alarm; if any of the cattle got wrong, in the buildings, or on the land, an instant intimation was given from the same source. The approaching death of relatives and friends were all in due course truly foreshadowed, the servants desirous of rising soon were unfailingly aroused, and if the horses were required at an early hour, they were always found ready geared; indeed, as many good offices have been done by the apparition at various times, that it (the skull) is looked on as a sort of guardian, never disturbing them much, except when spoken of with [Page 184] some disrespect, or when its awful memorials of mortality are restored. Such are only a very few of the wonderful particulars of the miraculous skull, or Dickey of Tunsted.

It may not be out of place here to just mention that certain places are more favoured with ghosts, goblins, witchcraft, superstition, and fortune-tellers than others. Some forty years ago Chapel-en-le-Frith, or neighbourhood, was the residence of “old Becca”, one of the most noted fortune tellers of this age. The old hag was visited by numbers from all parts for a long series of years. This locality has some interesting objects and marvels. At Comb's-moss there are the remains of some military works near the north extremity of the mountains. In Barmoor Clough, a mile-and-a-half from Chapel-en-le-Frith, is one of the seven wonders of the Peak, the Ebbing and Flowing Well. The following entry is made in the register, Chapel-en-le-Frith: “On March the 16th, 1716, one Poenix, a girl about 13 years of age, a parish apprentice with W. Ward, of Peak Forest, went from George Bowden's house, at Lane-end, about five o'clock in the morning towards her master's house. She sat down on Peaslow, between the ruts on G. Bowden's part (or road), and stayed that day and the next, and the Friday, Saturday, and Sunday following, two of which days - viz, the 16th and 17th - were the most severe for snowing and driving that hath been seen in the memory of man. She was found alive on Monday, about one o'clock, by W. [Page 185] Jackson, of Sparrow Pit, and W. Longden, of Peak Forest, and after a slender refreshment of a little hot milk, was carried in her master's house, and is now (March 25th, 1717), very well, only a little stiffness in her limbs. This was the Lord's doing, and will be marvellous in future generations. She eat [sic] no meat during the six days, nor was she hungry, but very thirsty, and slept much”.[2]

[1] Hutchinson's “Tour through the Peak of Derbyshire”.
[2] Bradshaw Hall, the residence of the ancestors of the notorious Judge Bradshaw, is in the parish of Chapel-en-le-Frith.

Transcribed by Rosemary Lockie in January 2009.

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