Saturday, October 27, 2007

Murder and Skulduggery in the Fylde & Wyre

We’re only one night after Halloween (well...we are at the time of writing this, and that's what counts) so we’ve decided to take this opportunity (mainly because John Steventon requested it in one of the comments boxes and we're always happy to oblige wherever possible) to include a small collection of grisly tales on this board.

And where better to start than with a severed head?
Anybody who knows anything about the Wyre’s ancient past (especially if they’ve read our ‘History of the Wyre from Harold the Elk to Cardinal Allen…excellent value at £9.95 and available from most of the outlets mentioned in the right-hand column of this board) will already be aware that in 1824 the skull of a young girl was unearthed at Pea Hall Wood in Pilling. It was wrapped in a piece of coarse woollen cloth along with a large amount of plaited auburn hair and two strings of jet beads.
In more recent times archaeologists discovered another skull at Briarfield Nurseries in Poulton, this time belonging to a thirty year old man. It was carbon-dated to the Bronze Age but, unlike the 1824 discovery, didn’t cause quite so much consternation amongst the locals. You see, the trouble with the skull at Pea Hall Wood was that it was discovered far too close for comfort to Bone Hill.
Bone Hill Baby Farm has to be one of the Wyre’s darkest historical secrets. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries well-to-do gentlemen (so it's reckoned) were known to journey here accompanied by their pregnant daughters and/or mistresses. For a fee any illegitimate off-springs would be discreetly ‘disposed of’.

As you’d expect, grim legends abounded, including ghostly lights that glowed around the house at night, blood stains being witnessed on the flagstones and the notion that it was impossible to dig in the orchard without uprooting any bones.
In the ‘Over Wyre Historical Journals’ our old colleague, the late-great Headlie Lawrenson relates the tale of how Miss A. Butler’s grandmother, the village midwife at the time, was awakened one night: “…by a stranger, who demanded she should accompany him to a difficult confinement. He took her to a lonely farm where, after the birth, the child was snatched from her and taken from the room. After she had attended the mother she wandered into the kitchen, where to her horror she surprised the man in the act of disposing of the child’s remains on the roaring peat fire.”
Sticking with the theme of decapitations, here’s a Fylde murder that you don’t often hear about. According to Kenneth Fields’ ‘Lancashire Magic and Mystery’ at St. Roberts church in Catforth, amongst other holy relics, is the severed head of a martyred priest. Unfortunately we don’t know anything about him or the nature of his death (other than that his head was chopped off, of course).
At Garstang in August 1664, another infamous murder took place, this time resulting in a ghost that still reputedly haunts Gubberford Bridge. (Naturally this makes the tale doubly fitting for our ‘Almost but not quite Halloween Edition’.)

It seems that, when Greenhalgh Castle (shown in the photograph above) was under siege from Cromwellian troops, one of their order, a certain Peter ‘Hallelujah’ Broughton (so called because of his God-praising battle-cry) was leaning on the parapet of the bridge when, to his surprise, he saw his estranged wife approaching. Five years previously she’d deserted him for another man but now seemed willing to patch-up their differences. Unfortunately, just as their passions were being rekindled, Captain Rupert Rowton (a cavalier, and therefore sworn enemy of Cromwell, living at Woodacre Hall) leapt out from the hedge and stabbed Mrs Broughton through the heart.
It soon transpired that, following the breakdown of her marriage, Mrs Broughton had fallen in love with Captain Rowton and had bigamously married him. Her desire for romance, however, still wasn’t satiated and, on the evening of her murder, she’d been planning to clandestinely meet with a third party, that being Captain Lord Alban.

Despite their political differences, Captain Broughton and Captain Rowton agreed to keep ‘schtum’ about the whole affair, burying Mrs Broughton/Rowton secretly on the bank of the Wyre where her flirtatious antics had been so abruptly curtailed. Only on his death bed did Peter Broughton reveal the whole sorry tale. Nowadays, at least according to George Mould’s ‘Lancashire’s Unknown River’: “In August each year it is said that the ghost of Peter Broughton’s errant bride comes to the neighbourhood of Gubberford Bridge and to the river bank to look for him.”
It might also be worth mentioning at this point that Greenhalgh Lane itself is apparently haunted, by a ghostly coffin that floats across the road at midnight and ends up in the ditch.
And there’s another murdered female said to haunt Garstang. Let’s return to Kenneth Fields’ ‘Lancashire Magic and Mystery’ for the story: “In picturesque Garstang lives the Boggart of the Brook, which is associated with the spirit of a murdered woman. She would beg a lift from any passing horseman, then when mounted behind him would unwrap her cloak and hood to reveal she was a skeleton. The shock of feeling her bony fingers would cause so much terror that the horseman would fall and inevitably die.” (All of which raises the conundrum of how he managed to relate the event to anybody afterwards…)

Again we’ve no idea who the woman was, or where she’s buried. However, in this instance, as with Mrs Broughton’s missing corpse, it’s probably a case of archaeology that you’d be better off not digging up.


John said...

Excellent, although grisly, spooky, and in some cases an unpleasant, post. If I ever get stuck at a Halloween party where I need to scare the rest of the group silly, I will definitely unload some of these tales!

In fact, the Bone Hill story may haunt me for a while.... I've heard that some people will do anything for money, but it's nonetheless difficult to believe when you hear how far they will actually go! As you mentioned, there are some places not worth digging up... not even on a bet.

As for the martyred priest, can I ask, "are there not instances where Holy Relics are actually much older than their told tales?". Couldn't this be a Peat Head, or some other ancient relic once collected and given a tale more 'churchlike'? Once upon a time, weren't the sale of fossils and other oddities quite common, especially as Holy Relics?

Actually, I suppose the questions I should ask are "Is the head still around?, and "Has it been dated or studied in any way"?

Maybe it really is a martyred priest's head?

Also, doesn't your book mention a few other heads from around the Wyre, found in Peat bogs, and being ancient?

All in all, I guess if anyone wants to get 'a head' in the world, they should seek their fortunes in the Fylde and Wyre!

Cheers, and 'boo!', JOHN :0)

Brian Hughes said...


Ancestral heads and screaming skulls crop up all over the place. I've absolutely no doubt, the vast majority of them originally belonged to local farmers and had nothing to do with saints, priests or martyrs.

I seem to recall that, during the mediaeval period, there was one aristocratic woman who was trying to collect fragments of the 'One True Cross of Christ' from the Holy Land. By the time she'd done, said cross turned out to measure about 400 foot high by 500 foot across.

A slight case of too many touts, it seems. Such is life...or death as the case might be.

JahTeh said...

Rum lot you poms and to think they shipped the bad 'uns to the colonies.

Brian Hughes said...


Most of this lot recorded here were back in the 'Dreamtime' before we had a big orange island to ship 'em all out to now. Nowadays, of course, you're shipping all the crims back in our direction. Rolf, Kylie, about the 'sins of the fathers', eh?

The Actor said...

I've walked over Gubberford Bridge and I own the book that's mentioned.

She certainly was a frisky filly. ;-)

Brian Hughes said...


She reminds me of a girl I used to go out with many decades ago. (Long before I met Michelle, obviously.) I had to kill her and bury her corpse on the river bank too. Fortunately no-one'll ever find out until I reveal all on my death bed. I'm much too clever to let anything slip about the incident during an innocent conversation.