A sinister story was collected by the folklorist Kingsley Palmer in 1969 about a skeleton nicknamed ‘Molly’ kept in Pythouse, a mansion near Semley:

Molly is the remains of a female who was hanged at Oxford for the murder of her baby girl by scalding, the father of which is rumoured to have been a member of the Benet Stanford family [owners of the house]. The crime is supposed to have been committed in what is known as the ‘Pink Room’ at Pythouse, which Molly is supposed to haunt, as well as walking in the nearby corridors. There is also a curse which states that should Molly be taken away from Pythouse misfortune will fall upon the family.

Three times Molly has been removed. The first time a wing of the house caught on fire. The second time the son and heir died. The third time the daughter died.

The explanation of Molly’s back-history is a mixture of plausible and implausible. In 1752, a law ‘for better Preventing the horrid Crime of Murder’ allowed judges, at their discretion, to replace gibbeting, which was the normal sequel to hanging, by handing over the corpse to medical students for dissection, and this remained the case until the Anatomy Act of 1832. A skeleton originating in this way could well have ended up as a memento in a private house, if a member of the family had trained as a surgeon. But that Molly should have been guilty of infanticide in the same house, and that the father of her child was one of the family there, is more dramatic than convincing. The rest of the tale echoes the widespread traditions about skulls kept in houses from which they should never be removed, on pain of supernatural disturbances and/or misfortunes to the household (see CALGARTH, Westmorland).



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

Related Articles


Upwood House was once lived in by the Hussey family. Charles Tebbutt in Huntingdonshire Folklore (1984) reports that, in 1757, the occupants were Thomas Hussey…