Chilton Cantelo

A farmhouse in this village, Higher Chilton Farm, displays a skull in a cabinet on a high shelf in its hall, facing the main door of the house. It has been in the building since at least 1791, when it was mentioned by John Collinson in his History and Antiquities of Somerset in connection with the epitaph of a certain Theophilus Brome who died in 1670, aged sixty-nine, and was buried in Chilton church. Collinson writes:

There is a tradition in this parish that the person here interred requested that his head might be taken off before his burial and preserved at the farmhouse near the church, where a head, chop-fallen enough, is still shown, which the tenants of the house have often endeavoured to commit to the bowels of the earth, but have as often been deterred by horrid noises portentive of sad displeasure; and about twenty years since (which was perhaps the last attempt), the sexton, in digging a place for the skull’s repository, broke the spade into two pieces, and uttered a solemn asseveration never more to attempt an act so evidently repugnant to the quiet of Brome’s head.

The reason for this curious request, according to local tradition, was that Brome had fought in the Civil War on the Republican side, and had been shocked to see how after the Restoration some of those responsible for the death of Charles I had been exhumed and posthumously beheaded, with their heads displayed at the Tower. Rather than be disgraced in this way, he preferred to arrange for his head to be kept safe in what had been his home in the latter part of his life. According to some authors who repeat the story (but not all), Brome’s grave was opened and restored in the mid nineteenth century, and it was noted that the skeleton was indeed headless.

Nowadays, popular ghost books and folklore collections regularly refer to all house skulls as ‘screaming skulls’, on the model of the one at BETTISCOMBE MANOR, Dorset, but this is not fair to Theophilus Brome, whose ‘horrid noises’ might well have been groans rather than screams. Recent owners of the farm, Mr and Mrs Kenton, regarded the skull as friendly and protective, provided it is not handled too much, and in 1990 Mr Kenton wrote to a researcher:

I would be interested to know where the ‘screaming skull’ information came from; my family have lived here for 75 years, and he has always been a quiet and respected gentleman.

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SOURCE:

Haunted England : The Penguin Book of Ghosts – Written by Jennifer Westwood and Jacqueline Simpson
Copyright © Jennifer Westwood and Jacqueline Simpson 2005, 2008

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