For several hundred years this farm was home to a broken skull nicknamed Dickie or Dick. The first published account dates from 1807, in A Tour Through the High Peak of Derbyshire by John Hutchinson, who stated that it had ‘remained on the premises for near two centuries past, during all the revolutions of owners and tenants in that time’. Hutchinson was told by the tenant of the farm that Dickie ‘is looked upon more as a guardian spirit, than a terror to the family: – never disturbing them but in case of an approaching death of a relation or neighbour’. But if anyone spoke disrespectfully about the skull, or tried to remove it from the farm, it showed its displeasure:
[T]wice within the memory of man the skull has been taken from the premises, once on building the present house on the site of the old one, and another time when it was buried in Chapel churchyard; – but there was no peace! – No rest! – It must be replaced!
However, it could be moved about inside the house. G. Le Blanc Smith in 1905 said the family insisted its place was on a downstairs windowsill looking out over the farmland. It was still there in 1938, but has not been seen for many years now; it is said locally that the wife of one of the owners buried it in the garden because so many visitors came to see it.
Stories about Dickie’s powers flourished in the nineteenth century. For instance, it was said that in 1863 he forced railway engineers to divert their planned route away from Tunstead Farm by causing the foundations of their bridge to sink in a swamp; the new route passed over what is still called Dickie’s Bridge. The best recent investigation was carried out in the 1990s by Andy Roberts and David Clarke, who found many vivid anecdotes still circulating, though these were mostly about events long past. One informant, Margaret Bellhouse, told them in 1993 that Dickie could be very helpful but that:
People wouldn’t dare walk across Dicky’s land after dark, and there was a strange black dog which used to follow people down from the main road and then vanish into the hill. The tradition was that this was Dicky’s spirit seeing them off his land.
As to the skull’s identity, Hutchinson is silent. Most nineteenth-century accounts say that a certain Ned Dickson in the sixteenth century, the rightful owner of the farm, went abroad and on his return was murdered by his cousin to gain the property. Ned haunted the place till his grave was reopened and his skull brought into the house; alternatively, it reappeared of its own accord, and could never be got rid of. Others thought ‘Dickie’ was a woman and identified her as the murdered sister in a story told by S. O. Addy (1895) of ‘an old farmhouse in the Peak Forest’, said to be DUNSCAR FARM.