"...we should pass over all biographies of 'the good and the great,' while we search carefully the slight records of wretches who died in prison, in Bedlam, or upon the gallows."
~Edgar Allan Poe

Monday, July 9, 2018

Hexham's Hexed Heads




Some years ago, right after my family bought our current home, we were digging a hole in the back yard to plant a tree. We were dismayed when we unearthed the skeleton of a cat, presumably the previous owner's pet. For some time after this accidental exhumation, some mighty odd things went on in the house. Our cats would suddenly stop and glare at something...something we humans couldn't see. At night, one or other of us would feel and hear what we assumed was one of the cats jumping on the bed. However, we'd look to find...no one there. Objects would mysteriously disappear, only to reappear someplace else. On one occasion, I was in the house alone. I was sitting in the living room, minding my own business, when I saw, down the hallway, a book from my bedroom being hurled across the hall into another room.

I stared for a moment, wondering how one should react to such an occurrence. Then I saw another of my books being flung in the same manner.

Now I was getting annoyed. "Stop that!" I yelled. It stopped.

Things quieted down after that, although to this day the cats periodically react as if to some intruder, and every now and then small household items unaccountably get teleported about. We have always attributed it all to the "ghost cat"--perhaps that long-dead feline annoyed at us for disturbing its eternal rest.

The point of my little autobiographical digression is that digging up unexpected objects often has unexpected results. One of the more contentious examples of this is that peculiar case of the "Hexham Heads."

Our story opens in the spring of 1971, at the council house of the Robson family in Hexham, England. One day, eleven-year-old Colin Robson was digging in the back yard, when he came across something very strange. It was a small, round stone head with a crude human face. Soon afterward, Colin's brother Leslie unearthed a second "head." Closer examination revealed that the objects were of a sandstone-like material, and clearly man-made. The two "heads" had distinctly different faces, but were both equally sinister in appearance.

If subsequent accounts can be believed, those heads were as malevolent as they looked. As soon as the objects had been excavated, the Robsons found themselves a target for some particularly nasty poltergeist activity. Paul Screeton, a local journalist who was one of the first chroniclers of the case, reported that "The heads would turn around spontaneously, objects were broken for no apparent reason--and when the mattress on the bed of one of the Robson daughters was showered with glass, both girls moved out of their room." The family would often see a mysterious light glowing over the spot where the heads had been unearthed. Later, a "strange flower" began to grow on that same place.

Curiously, their next-door neighbors, a family named Dodd, also experienced similar paranormal persecutions, with Mrs. Dodd undergoing the most frightening event yet: one night, she encountered a tall dark figure that she could only describe as half-animal, half-human. The experience so terrified her that the town council had to move the family to another home.

After a few months of this, the Robsons decided they had had enough of those damned--in every sense of the word--heads and donated them to the Newcastle Museum. After ridding themselves of the objects, peace returned to the family home, and the Robsons essentially drift out of our story.

This was not the end of the Hexham Heads saga, however. In fact, you might say the little guys were just getting warmed up.

Museum staffers, baffled by the strange objects, gave them to a Celtic scholar and archaeologist, Dr. Anne Ross, for examination. Dr. Ross was of the opinion that the stone balls dated from around the second century AD, and were examples of ancient Celtic "head worship."

Dr. Ross soon came to the conclusion that the heads were also outstanding examples of The Weird. In 1978, she gave an interview to paranormal researcher Peter Underwood where she described her frightening and uncanny experiences with the objects. She claimed that as soon as she saw the heads, she felt a strong instinctive aversion. When she brought them into her home, very disturbing things happened. Inexplicable crashes and other sounds were heard by the family. Doors opened and slammed shut by themselves. Early one morning, Dr. Ross awoke feeling an unnatural coldness in the room. When she opened her eyes, she was horrified to see a figure very like the one described by Mrs. Dodd--a large dark creature that appeared to be half-wolf, half-man. As she saw the eerie being creeping out of the room, she felt an irresistible urge to follow it.

When she came on to the landing, she saw the figure moving down the staircase. It vaulted over the balustrade--landing with a loud thud, indicating it was more than a mere apparition--then scurried out of sight. She and her husband searched the house, without finding the creature--which must have been rather a relief--and no sign of any forced entry or exit.

A few days later, Dr. Ross and her husband made a day trip to London, leaving their 15-year-old daughter to look after her younger brother. When they arrived back in Southampton, they found the poor girl practically in hysterics. When she returned from school about an hour earlier, she entered the house only to encounter the same bizarre man/wolf creature seen by her mother. The figure was crouched half-way up the stairs. When the girl came in, it leaped over the stair rail and trotted on all fours into a back room of the house. The teenager felt the same curious fascination Dr. Ross had experienced in the creature's presence. She was compelled to go search for it upstairs, but the being had vanished. It was only then that she began to feel increasing shock and fear. Soon afterward, the other two Ross children also saw the "werewolf-like" creature.

Oddly enough, it was only at this point that Dr. Ross began to link these strange events to the mysterious stone heads in her possession. Feeling that there must be something cursed about the objects, she returned them to the museum.

"Newcastle Journal," January 14, 1974


The next academic to make a study of the heads was G.V. Robins, an inorganic chemist from the Institute of Archeology. His book "The Secret Language of Stone" proposed that minerals are able to store information in the form of electrical energy. He suspected that the Hexham Heads, which contained a high proportion of quartz crystals, were acting as something of a paranormal tape recorder, "replaying" energies from the far distant past. Although Dr. Robins was spared seeing that sinister wolflike being who had stalked previous custodians of the heads, he noted his own share of peculiar events. He felt a "stifling, breathless" atmosphere in their presence, and when he first put the heads in his car to bring them home, the auto's electrical system suddenly and mysteriously died.

Around this time, a spoilsport named Desmond Craigie stepped forward to pour some cold water on everyone's Fortean fun. Craigie, the previous occupant of the Robson home, claimed that he had carved the stones in 1956 as toys for his young daughter. Eventually, they had lost them in the garden, never to be seen again until excavated by the Robson boys. He said cheerfully, "I have been laughing my head off about these heads and I cannot understand why all this attention is being paid to them."

As far as I can tell Craigie's story is neither proved nor disproved, although it must be said that primitive-looking stone heads seems like an odd toy for a small child. But if he was telling the truth and the now-infamous heads were merely innocuous playthings, how to explain the weird phenomena experienced by three different families--particularly that black, crouching wolfman?

Unfortunately, any discussion of the Haunted Heads of Hexham is now purely theoretical, not to mention futile. In 1978, Dr. Robins gave the stones to a dowser named Frank Hyde, who wished to do some experiments with them. The heads have never been seen again, and their current whereabouts are unknown. As a matter of fact, we can say the same about Frank Hyde.

Whether the heads were a harmless amusement or cursed Celtic idols, we're probably well rid of them.

6 comments:

  1. Your backyard find reminds me of the true crime show: Buried in the Backyard, where innocent homeowners find murder victims at the bottom of the garden. Great post!

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    1. I hadn't heard of that show until now. Oh Lord, that must be the greatest reality show concept yet...

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  2. Just https://archyfantasies.com/2016/09/16/hexham-heads/

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  3. My guess is that Desmond Craigie's daughter must've been little Rhoda Penmark from "The Bad Seed"...

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  4. Dr Ross didn't seem to conduct much research into the heads; you'd think she'd be able to prove something about them, such as the carvings' rough age.

    However, your own experiences were very interesting to read. It seems highly fitting that you would meet a spectral cat - and one which, while petulant, certainly is not malevolent.

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    1. We've always felt the "ghost cat"--or whatever you care to call it--is essentially friendly. I get the sense that like all felines, it just wants attention.

      And, yes, being a Cat Lady--spectral and otherwise--does seem to be my destiny. I recently did some online research on the home where my family was living when I was born--I was curious to see if by some miracle (the home was built in 1870, after all) it was still there. Much to my surprise, it is, and looking pretty much the same. A woman who lives nearby told me that she's always thought of it as "The Cat House," because so many cats hang around the place.

      That seemed almost too perfect.

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