Early in October while exploring the woods around Savile Road near Hebden Bridge I came across a plaster head.
It was lying in a place difficult to get to, but why would anyone want to put it there and who is it supposed to be?
It sparked the storytelling imagination of friends who came up with all kinds of possibilities.
On the night of Hallowe’en 2020, as we faced another Covid lockdown, I joined an online gathering of friends where the conversation went on in late into the night.
Over several glasses of wine we began to share our thoughts and stories about the mysterious face without a name.
But, rather than let our stories spirit away into the midnight air I decided to reproduce them here. See what you think, perhaps you have a story to tell of your own.
The Lost Love of Lainey Jones by Sarah Burrell
In the early summer of 1976, Lainey Jones met Charlie Gordon. She fell for him quickly and was convinced he was the love of her life. After a few blissful weeks, Charlie ended the relationship and moved on to someone new. This was definitely not part of Lainey’s plan, but she consoled herself in the belief that he would recognise the deep connection they had, and return to her.
Weeks passed and Charlie moved in with his new love. Lainey became quite desperate and although friends advised her to move on, she just wouldn’t accept it. She knew a little magic, and as Hallowe’en was approaching, she decided to perform a ritual to bring Charlie back to her. In preparation Lainey crafted a likeness of Charlie’s head out of clay, and kept it with her in the days leading up to Hallowe’en.
On All Hallows’ Eve, Lainey performed her ritual with the clear intent to bind Charlie to her as her one true love, for all eternity and to never leave her again. A few miles away, at that moment, Charlie was knocked off his bicycle on his way home from the pub, and was killed instantly.
At the funeral, Lainey stood weeping by Charlie’s grave, with his head in her hands. She realised she’d failed and thought it would be best to bury the head along with Charlie. A few days passed and one morning Lainey found the head in her front garden. She believed someone had seen her bury it and decided to play a trick on her. Feeling ashamed, she put the head in the bin which was collected the next day.
A week later Lainey returned home from work to find the head on her doorstep. This unnerved her but she thought it was the bin men thinking they’d returned a treasured item. Charlie’s face seemed to look reproaching as she put him back in the bin, this time wrapped in paper. But, next week the head was back, and Lainey was in a complete state of nerves. Over the following year she tried taking the head to locations further and further away, but it always came back.
Lainey left her job and her flat, believing a change of location would make the difference. Before she departed, she got a friend to take the head with them on a trip to London, where they left it by the Serpentine in Hyde Park. Lainey settled in Scotland and rebuilt her shattered nerves. But it was only a few weeks until the head appeared on her bedroom windowsill.
Lainey moved all over Scotland, unable to hold down a job or a home, and with her mental health deteriorating. Eventually she moved to Hebden Bridge, as she felt comfortable there and at home in the community. No Doctors or therapists had been able to help her, so she eventually sought the advice of a local witch. Lainey told her the story of the head, and the witch explained she had indeed cast a powerful spell. As a result, Charlie’s spirit was now bound to her inside the head and this could never be undone. Lainey went home, realising what she’d done, and finally brought Charlie into her home.
Lainey and the head settled peacefully in Hebden. Sometimes she would talk to Charlie and put him on the pillow next to her for company. They existed like this for many years, and as Lainey got older, she was comforted to see that Charlie’s head was ageing too. One Hallowe’en Lainey went to bed and never woke up again. Her cause of death was deemed “natural”, although she wasn’t very old and had been in good health.
Lainey’s family had her cremated, and her ashes were scattered in the grounds of the home where she’d lived so happily. Her possessions were disposed of and Charlie’s head was taken to Oxfam, as they believed it was some kind of quaint local art. But of course, he returned to Lainey. 🎃👻
The Head by Lindsay Eavis
Grunwald Frackenberg was a German immigrant who landed in West Yorkshire in the early years of the 20th century where he found employment as a Gamekeeper for Lord Savile. Despite anti-German prejudices after the first war everyone liked Grunwald. He was a highly respected member of the community in Hebden Bridge and a trusted employee of Lord Savile.
It has recently come to light that during the 1930’s Aleister Crowley, the notorious occultist and self appointed magician visited Hebden Bridge to try and convert people to his new religion. If you’ve ever wondered why the town has attracted so many bohemians, it’s the legacy of this visit.
Crowley was a very charismatic individual and quite a number of young people were persuaded to join his cult. It came to the attention of Lord Savile that suspicious goings on were taking place on his land. Knowing that his gamekeeper Grunwald was quite a fearless, pragmatic type chap, Savile asked him if he would sort them out and clear them away. Of course, Grunwald did not hesitate and vowed he would go out that evening to track them down.
Grunwald was indeed fearless particularly when he carried his shooting gun, so off he set into the woods opposite the old Stubbing Wharf Inn around 11pm one night. As soon as he entered the woods he heard the distant sound of chanting and the smell of wood burning. He knew that area like the back of his hand and using his acute senses fathomed out that people were gathered on a slope just a few hundred yards away from the road. Off he set creeping forward stealthily as if he were stalking a deer.
In next to no time, Grunwald was approaching a fire in the heart of the wood. He counted 13 people circling it all dressed capes or gowns. Some had head coverings and one had a pair of antlers. Hanging above the fire were two steaming cauldrons. ‘Gott in Himmil’, he muttered to himself. He also noticed some of the trees had markings and peculiar scribbles on them. The gatherers were chanting but not in a language Grunwald could understand and Grunwald knew quite a number of European languages but it was nothing he had ever encountered before.
Grunwald hadn’t made a sound. He was very adept at keeping silent when he hunted his prey so he knew not even a twig had cracked under his weight – but suddenly, in unison, all the gathered folk turned around and looked in his direction. It rather startled Grunwald. Nevertheless, once the gathering started to move forward towards him, he stood up, cocked his rifle and marched out of from behind his tree towards them.
‘Stop vere you are!’ he shouted, ‘You are trespassing. Put out zis fire instantly and get off zis land otherwise zere will be consequences.’
This threat didn’t seem to have any effect whatsoever on the encroaching group. They continuing moving forwards.
‘Stop I say – move no further. You are on ze private land of Lord Savile and you must remove yourselves immediately otherwise I vill be forced to shoot.’
The man wearing the antlers stepped in front of the others and said, ‘Please my friend, come and join us. We invited you here and you come at the appointed hour.’ The man beckoned at one of the young women.
‘Bring this man some refreshment – it is a cold night. Please my friend, come and sit with us.’
The young woman poured some liquid from one of the cauldrons into a goblet and offered it to Grunwald. ‘Please drink. You’ll like it.’
‘Vot is it?’ asked Grunwald as he sniffed at the steaming liquid. It smelled peculiar.
‘Only some herbs from the forest.’ said the young woman. ‘Please taste it. You’ll like it.’
Growing less suspicious of this motley crew Grunwald took the goblet and sipped it carefully. It did taste herbal with a touch of sweetness and an after taste of something metallic.
‘Quite nice. Thank you – but I must insist you leave now.’ he said.
‘Drinks some more.’ said the Antler man.
Grunwald did sip some more. And then some more. It had a most pleasant effect. Then strangely the gatherers started to laugh and giggle.
‘Thank you for joining us.’ said the man. ‘Now, please be seated.’
Grunwald began to feel a bit strange. Not drunk exactly but as if things were slowing down. His gun, which he was holding in his right hand dropped to the ground. He began to feel weak as if all strength was waning from him. Two other men walked to his side, took hold of his arms and dragged him to a tree stump where they sat him down without any trouble. By this point Grunwald had lost the use of any of his muscles. Nothing in his body would respond to his wishes. In fact he couldn’t even blink his eyes. What was in the potion they’d given him? He was completely paralysed.
The man with the Antlers stood over him. ‘Dear friend. We know you are a man of the woods. We summoned you here. These woods are ancient and they need a protector – that will be you.’
Despite being paralysed Grunwald’s senses were heightened and this usually fearless man was now terrified. What were they going to do to him?
He didn’t have to wait long to know. With his eyes wide open and unable to close, Grunwald could see what was about to happen. The man in the Antlers came towards him holding a pair of white hot pliers. He lifted them to Grunwald’s face, gouged out his eyes and threw them into the woods. Grunwald’s screams echoed throughout the woods like a howling banshee. Without his sight and in excruciating agony – he didn’t remember much else – only that he was conscious of being dragged towards the fire and his head plunged into a cauldron of boiling wax.
The following morning, Grunwald’s dead body lay by the embers of the fire. Before the gathering dispersed, one of the group sawed off Grunwald’s wax covered head and set it on the tree trunk where he’d last sat. His body was left for the woodland creatures to forage. The Head remained there for several months before a storm blew it onto the ground. With the head laying on its side many creatures could then feast away on his brains until only the wax shell remained. Eventually even the back of Grunwald’s skull became detached from his features at the front.
The wax effigy of Grunwald Frackenberg’s head remained in the woodland until very recently. Only a matter of weeks ago someone reported finding a strange head in woods behind his house. He posted on social media asking for information of what it was.
Should we tell him?
Heads You Win, Feuds You Lose by Marie Parker
Sir Marcus de Hardcastle dismounted from his horse, exhausted after his trip over hill and dyke to visit Sir Oliver Hebbers High Sheriff of Calderdale. His mission, to secure the rights to the sculpture of his late ancestor Sir Richard de Hardcastle, which was stolen by Henry, bastard son of Francis de Coursey, whose great great grandfather, Thomas de Coursey,had eloped with, but never married Lady Maybelline, Sir Richards great great aunt.
The feud began between the De Hardcastle’s and the De Courseys centuries before, when the fight for land between Barons de Hardcastle and De Coursey caused the rift which never healed, both families hated each other with a passion, taking any and every opportunity to continue with the poison started by their greedy ancestors long before.
Now, with his mission completed, to get back his inheritance, or so he thought, Sir Marcus settled back into his chair, celebrating his success with a large tankard of ale, inwardly relishing the day when this beloved sculpture would finally take its rightful place within the walls of Hardcastle Manor, a residence which had been held securely by the Hardcastle family since the reign of King Edward 1.
As an illustration of why this feud still festered between the De Hardcastle’s and De Courseys, picture the scene, a crisp autumn day,10 years previous.
Sir Marcus was out hunting at his usual haunt, the Forest of Hepstallwhiting, his loyal dog Bosun by his side waiting patiently ready for the kill, his prey a large male boar snuffling in the undergrowth, unaware of the danger present. A shot rings out, but it is not the boar, which is the recipient of this bullet, it is Bosun who falls at the feet of Sir Marcus, dead. Sir Marcus looked to the place where the shot was fired and sees the shape of a man fleeing, this man he recognised as Henry, bastard son of Sir Francis de Coursey, he had followed Sir Marcus purposely to deal this tragic blow, his beloved dog Bosun was no more.
From this day, Sir Marcus determined he would avenge Bosuns death, whether it be sooner than later he did not know, he only knew it would happen, one day.
Fast forward to present day happenings when a new day was dawning and Sir Marcus enters the dining room for breakfast feeling rather smug; he had finally secured the rights to what he considered was his property, the specially commissioned alabaster sculptor of Sir Richard de Hardcastle, which although worth much in monetary value,£100 or more, to Sir Marcus it was priceless.
Sir Richard was a hero to Sir Marcus, who had fought and won back land and properties owned by the De Hardcastle’s, stolen by the De Courseys centuries before.
The De Courseys plan to keep this sculpture had failed, he had won the right to take back what was rightfully his, and there it would remain for ever.
With a feeling of deep satisfaction, Sir Marcus took his place at breakfast which Alice the maid had been busy preparing.
Whilst enjoying his plate of poached eggs and freshly baked bread, Alice brought a letter delivered that morning to Sir Marcus, from the High Sheriff’s office.
Sir Marcus started to read in disbelief, his temper rising with each sentence, Henry the bastard De Coursey son had vanished, taking the sculpture with him, no doubt to sell to the highest bidder, and by all accounts, had told no one where he was going.
What was Sir Marcus to do, he could not let this ne’er do well get away with this, he must pay dearly for his theft. He thought carefully of his plan of action, and made the decision to travel to the Black Gibet the nearest tavern to De Coursey Towers, to ask if anyone knew the whereabouts of the De Coursey pirate.
Drinking himself into a stupor was the achilles heel of Henry, who could be found at the Black Gibet on many a night, with his rowdy companions, which would on occasion end in fisticuff action, also a favouite pastime of this volatile individual.
Sir Marcus dashed up the huge stairway of Hardcastle Manor, his heart beating fast in a state of trepidation, he flung open the door of his bed chamber and grabbed his sword and dagger, in readiness for the battle ahead, wrapped his cloak around him and hurried back down the staircase to find his horse waiting for him in the courtyard, leaping into the saddle and with a crack of the whip, he was gone.
The chase was now on, Sir Marcus entered the Black Gibet and asked if Henry de Coursey had been there recently. Yes, came the answer, he had been seen there last night declaring victory over his enemy brandishing what looked like the figure of a man’s head and shoulders made of alabaster.
Sir Marcus was furious, which made him even more determined to find this blaggard and give him his just deserts, he set off once more to seek his revenge.
It was 7pm in the evening when Sir Marcus came to a crossroads at Hangman’s Hill, on the bleak moors of Calderdale, dusk was falling, and the nearest tavern he knew was just ten minutes ride away, which would come as a welcome rest, however, his plan could not be realised because far in the distance he could see his quarry, the bastard Henry making his way to the same tavern.
Here was his chance to catch this thief, Sir Marcus took the reins and set off at a gallop, his sword and dagger swinging precariously at his side, faster and faster, Henry had not yet seen his assailant, Sir Marcus was sure he would catch him unaware.
Suddenly Henry turned to find his mortal enemy closing in on him and took off like a bullet from a musket.
The chase continued, onwards and upwards through the moors, climbing higher and higher up into the hills, until they came to a forest, which slowed both riders down considerably.
Henry was still in sight, but both horses were sliding dangerously within the foliage which was now at a menacing angle for both horse and rider.
Suddenly Henry gave a shout of pain, he had fallen off his horse landing on some rocks, which caused his prized booty to spill out from his saddle bag, to be broken into pieces by the rocks beneath far below, out of sight.
Sir Marcus took the opportunity, and grabbed Henry, throwing a punch into his face, demanding he hand over his stolen goods.
Henry returned the same, and Sir Richard hit ground with a thud, taking his breath away.
Henry crawled towards his horse and grabbed the reins in order to get into the saddle to escape, but Sir Richard saw what was happening, and struck the horses side which made it speed away at a gallop.
Both men were now face to face in combat, they rolled around the rocky ground, each determined to overcome the other, Sir Marcus made a grab for his dagger and plunged it into Henrys chest. Henry reeled but managed to retaliate and pierced his sword into the stomach of Sir Marcus, which sent him plunging down the hillside to his death. The fight was over, but no one could claim victory, both had lost, one his booty, the other his life.
Henry managed to call his horse and scramble back into the saddle with pain searing though his body. It took him several hours to reach De Coursey Towers, by which time he had lost a large quantity of blood and was fading fast.
The doctor who arrived sometime later at De Coursey Towers however, found Henry dead, death was pronounced through exhaustion, and by wounds inflicted at the hand of Sir Marcus De Hardcastle, whose body lay at the bottom of the ravine, where the mortal combat took place, together with the broken pieces of his beloved ancestor Sir Richard de Hardcastle lying silently beside him. Sir Marcus was indeed reunited with his ancestor Sir Richard, but it was under tragic circumstances, held within his own hands, that had ordained it.
The feud between the De Coursey’s and De Hardcastle’s ended at the deaths of these two men, both families now live on conciliatory terms having learnt the lessons of how feudal in fighting will ultimately end.
It is said that the sound of horses whinnying in distress, frantically searching for their respective riders can be heard during the twilight hours just before a storm breaks, echoing eerily over the bleak moors of Calderdale, but no one as yet has dared to put this report to the test, and travelled to the very same spot where the dark deeds of retribution took place, to see for themselves whether this is true.
This cautionary tale is now at an end, but one question still remains.
You ask, whatever happened to the shattered sculpture of Sir Richard, which Sir Marcus fought so hard to retrieve, well that remains one of life’s mysteries, as it was never seen again, unless that is, you know otherwise.
The Face at the Window by Derek Webster
Derek found the head while walking in the woods. The white plaster face of an elderly man looking up from the mossy earth beneath the trees.
He had no idea what possessed him in the moment, but felt a strange compulsion to carry the head home, where he placed it in the garden, by the window. The face without a name, without a life, seemed to gaze through the window – eyes closed shut as if frozen in time and moulded into a mask of death.
The Head, once moulded by unknown hands, came into Derek’s life just a week ago. Since then, with every day that passed he has known only fear. He tried but could not explain the strange feeling that began to inhabit his thoughts. Derek just wasn’t himself and didn’t go out very much. His friends stopped calling and soon he felt the world closing in on him.
But now he realised what was really going on. There was something deeply disturbing about the blank expression looking in at him. Derek noticed the extra detail appearing on Wednesday morning after the full moon of the night before. He could have sworn he saw a likeness in its features. Was that a glint of light in an eye that was staring in at him or just a trick of his imagination.
Derek looked in the mirror and saw a blank lifeless face looking back at him. He could see nothing of himself in the reflected light . Something was lost as if stolen, taken away for ever. No more laughter or plans left to make.
Meanwhile, outside, the once lifeless face, now lit by moonlight, looked up with a knowing smile. Now clean and bright in the lunar light it appeared no longer made of plaster and began to shift slightly with a chilling air of purpose in the night breeze.
When the sun broke through the clouds next morning Derek lay still on the chair supporting his lifeless bones. He could no longer move or see beyond his prison like head. Derek was dead inside but appeared to be looking out from within a broken statue.
When they found him, Derek had no expression on his white plaster face.
The last thing he saw through the window was the empty space in the garden where only a week ago he carefully placed the plaster cast head. Now it was gone.