Grab a Gruesome Day Out
Looking for a day out with a difference? Follow this gruesome tour and take photos of yourself to show your family and friends that could not join you.
Sometimes when we embark on days out with family and friends, they can fall a little flat as we wander around shops or stately homes aimlessly and then end up sitting in coffee shops eating cream cakes to give ourselves a lift. Let's ditch that and have some grisly fun.
In order for you to raise your game and do something a little different, we created a day out for you that is fun and exciting. The aim is that you’re on a quest to take a photograph of yourself at the strange spots in this piece. It works well if:
You find the spot. We’ve given you maps so that you’re almost there but we found that part of the fun was sleuthing just exactly where some of these places are.
You’ve got the story on your phone or printed it up to tell the folks or kids that you are taking out a blow by blow account of the horrors that happened in these ghastly but glorious places. If you scroll down, each story has a header with its number above it for easy access for you on the day out.
Take a photograph of yourselves on the grisly spot.
Tick them off your Take a Terrible Tour list. This is at the end of the article.
Let’s take a terrible tour together.
In this article you will discover:
Haunting music to listen to whilst on your journey to create atmosphere.
Spooky and horrific tales to listen to on your journey to get you in the mood.
Some dreadful dishes that have been eaten in the past – dare you take them for your guests on your gruesome day out?
The story of a 17th century screaming skull in the stately home of Burton Agnes.
An 18th century murder in the sleepy village of Nafferton
The haunting site of Watton Abbey where two violent murders took place in the 12th century and during the English Civil War.
Enjoy a cup of coffee or a bite to eat on the site where the accused were tried and led to the gibbet to be hanged in picturesque Bainton and Neswick.
The execution site of 13 supposed Anglo Saxon criminals in Walkington Wolds.
At each shocking site, you can regale your family and friends with these terrible tales from the past.
Preparing for your terrible tour.
Culture is one of the most important parts of any journey; often, the tales of adventure and the desire to seek something more is what has driven us throughout history. Therefore, on the journey that you will be taking after having read this article, it is important to recommend some works of fiction and food that you might enjoy whilst going on it. Whilst the places you visit will quench your thirst for gruesome history, it is also worth making sure that your desire for culture is as looked after as your desire for the gritty and grisly parts of history.
Music to listen to in the car.
As our journey will go through a number of different periods, it is worth having an eclectic mix of music for your trip. Some music will be particularly relevant to certain places; for example:
When visiting and or approaching Burton Agnes Hall it might be appropriate to listen to the music of Thomas Tallis, one of the great Elizabethan musicians whose work was still very much in vogue when Burton Agnes was being constructed. Tallis’ lyrical genius is ever-present throughout his work and it is a reminder of the shining image we have of the Elizabethan Court that we have in our minds’ eyes.
To recognise the grandeur of Burton Agnes during the reign of Charles the Second, the works of Henry Purcell might be appropriate to listen to; Purcell’s powerfully haunting works are mesmerising and ensure that anyone listening to them is transported away to a land filled with mistrust and intrigue in which everything was not as it seemed.
When visiting the remains of Watton Abbey it may be appropriate to listen to some Benedictine Chanting Music which may be particularly evocative when thinking of the story of the Nun of Watton and what befell her.
A great deal of early medieval music has similar religious undertones to them and as such it might be advisable to listen to some classic medieval music as well. Particularly good examples include De Fortune Me Doi Plaindre Et Loer, a charming and seductive piece of work that reminds us of the beauty of an age that was filled with such violence.
Equally appealing but more upbeat is Son Più Matti In Questo Mondo – an Italian song that is as uplifting today as it would have been hundreds of years ago.
Audios to listen to in the car.
The BBC Audio stories featuring Brother Cadfael are certainly highly recommendable and, particularly when going to Watton, they are atmospheric in their delivery of life during The Anarchy.
Also enjoyable are the Horrible History audio books which reveal the gruesome goings on during various periods of history in a way that is sure to entertain both adults and children alike.
Company of Liars by Karen Maitland is set in 1348. A small band of ill-assorted travellers try to outrun The Plague unaware that something far more deadly is within their company.
Martin Jarvis’ readings of the Just William stories are just as enjoyable in their capturing of the joys of childhood during the 1930s and as such can also be enjoyed on any day out. These can be on standby if you get over gruesome.
Gruesome food or is it simply historic?
When preparing for your trip it is wise to consider what sort of food you may want to take with you that will be enjoyable to eat during your visit. Below is a list of food that is enjoyable and historic mixed in with some recipes that may appear to be quite gruesome to our modern palate.
During the Middle Ages, pies of all sorts were often consumed as were meals consisting of chicken and rabbit as it was often difficult for those lower down the social spectrum to get the same sort of food that the rich did.
During the 17th century, sweet deserts were more readily available such as ginger bread and lemon marmalade and could be an enjoyable snack as you venture forth on your quest to visit the sites mentioned in this article.
The recipe for Marzipan Bacon can be found in ‘The Compleat Cook and Queen’s Delight’ (1671 edition).
The recipe for Neats’ Tongues and Fresh Udder in Stoffado can be found in ‘The French Cook’ (1653).
The recipe for Calves Chaldron Pye can be found in ‘The Queen’s Closet’ (1665).
17th century in Burton Agnes.
Burton Agnes Hall can be found can be found at YO25 4NE. Full details of the stately home can be found here.
Some basic facts.
Burton Agnes is a beautiful stately home.
The first house on the site is a Norman manor house which is still standing and a must see.
The main house, however, was built in 1598.
The first family to live there were the Griffith family.
The father was Sir Henry.
Sir Henry had a daughter, Katherine Ann. This is her story.
In 1620, she was 15 and adored her new home. In fact, she often stated that she never wanted to leave it.
Story number 1 - The Screaming Skull.
The story goes that Ann set off with her dog Bolder to visit nearby friends, the St. Quentins at Harpham. On her journey back, she was stopped by beggars so she gave them some coins. Normally, this would have been enough for Ann to go safely on her way. However, she removed her glove to get the coins out and one of the beggars saw Ann’s ring and demanded that she hand it over. The ring had been passed down from her mother and was precious to her so she refused. The beggars grabbed at Ann’s hand but she screamed while Bolder barked. Aware that all the noise might attract help, the beggars smashed Ann over the head and tried to grab the ring off her finger but she held onto it as the dog tried to protect her. The gang ran away leaving Ann with a serious gash to the head and lying bleeding in the dirt.
Some villagers arrived and carried Ann back to the home of Lady St Quentin whom she had been visiting. The next day, she was carried home to Burton Agnes. For days, she lay in her bed with her mind wandering as she steadily became more sick. As she was fading, aware that death was upon her, she made a strange request. Although she understood that her body would be buried under the flagstones at the nearby St Martin’s church, she wanted her skull to be returned to Burton Agnes Hall. Her family agreed in order to calm her and she died.
Her body was buried in the church alongside the Somervilles and Griffiths that were already interred there. The head was not cut off as Ann had requested because the family were sure that it was due to her illness that she was rambling. However, a week passed and there was crashing and banging in the upper floors as if heavy furniture was being over turned. Servants and family members alike rushed to the scene of the noise but there was nothing moved and no-one about. This put everyone off going to bed that night.
After another week had passed and everywhere became quiet once more, the family and servants began to relax. However, one night when they were all in bed, sounds crashed through Burton Agnes as if an army had arrived. The same racket of furniture being overturned could be heard but this time, there was also windows banging and smashing. The noise was so loud it seemed to make the house shake.
After cowering for a certain amount of time, the household, armed with lit candles, bandied together to find out who or what was causing all the commotion. Nothing. All the windows were closed and again no furniture had been moved. It was at that point that it seemed that the ructions were not caused by anything earthly.
It got worse. The following week, the sounds of footsteps running up and down the long gallery could be heard and long drawn out groans of someone dying echoed around Burton Agnes Hall. It had become unbearable. In fact, the atmosphere had become too frightening for the female servants and they left. Two male servants stated they would ‘wait a bit’. Something had to be done, if it carried on, the family would have no servants to run the hall for them.
News had spread over the haunting at Burton Agnes Hall from the servants that had left. Therefore, when the local clergy were called in to discuss the matter, they had already heard of it. The two remaining sisters decided that they would request that their sister’s body be dug up, the coffin opened and her head removed and placed in Burton Agnes Hall.
After much conversation, the coffin was removed and opened. Stomachs must have churned as eyes viewed a skull already off a body that had NOT decomposed. This is according to a newspaper from 1894. Make of that what you will. There may be a scientific reason that the head had already decomposed while the body had not or it may be journalists causing sensationalism – what do you think?
The skull was placed in the hall and all the unaccounted for noises ceased. That is until…
One day, one of the maidservants decided it was a disgusting, dirty thing and no-one would notice if she tossed it through the window. It landed in a cart load of manure that was heading for a nearby farm. Reports state that the cart suddenly stopped and couldn’t go on. Once the skull was removed, the load of manure could move once again.
The skull has been moved many times and each time, the groans, bangs and raps returned. There was an attempt at one point to bury the skull in the garden but this did not appease the spirit of Katherine Ann Griffiths.
Nowadays, the skull is still hidden in the hall. According to a newspaper report from 1909, the owner of the hall at the time, Mr Wyckham Boynton had the skull cemented up in the Great Hall behind the screen on the left hand side of the fireplace.
Take your photo at this spot. Burton Agnes Hall are one of the stately homes that are very generous in the fact that they allow visitors to use their cameras in the house.
Burton Agnes Hall is a true delight to visit. It has a substantial, eclectic art collection and exquisite wood carvings. The gardens are also a joy to experience.
What takes place in the sleepy village of Nafferton?
You can find Nafferton at YO25 4LJ.
On the day that we arrived at Nafferton, the only sound that could be heard was that of pigeons cooing and there was no-one around except one elderly man that looked remarkably like the late Tony Benn. He was most interested that we were taking photographs of the Mere and told us how he had sold it the council for £1. He also wanted to show us his old home but we had to politely decline. He looked a bit put out because he obviously welcomed the company but we had a murder scene to find and other gruesome sites to visit. We didn’t mention that to him as it seemed a bit out of place in the tranquillity of his surroundings.
The point here is that although villages appear to be where nothing ever happens, you have to remember Midsomer Murders. Nafferton is just like that – a lovely site but with dirty dealings hidden away.
Story number 2 – An 18th century murder.
In 1789, Francis Mason who travelled the county on a stallion and probably working as a horse-breaker was drinking in a public house with Thomas Brooks.
The newspaper articles do not mention which public house it is. However, in all probability it is most likely The Blue Bell Inn which is opposite the All Saints Church. However, it would not have been The Blue Bell Inn then but Hodgson’s Ale House which it had been from 1750 up until 1895.
The two left the public house but once outside an altercation broke out and Mason demanded tuppence off Brookes. Brookes refused to give the money to Mason who then threatened to cut Brooke’s arm off. When Brookes still declined to hand over any money, Mason took out a long thin knife and thrust it upwards into Brookes groin severing an artery. Brookes cried out “Thou hast done for me,” and stumbled back towards the public house. However, he was losing too much blood and dropped down dead in front of the building. Mason was arrested and taken to York Castle for trial.
At this point, we may imagine that Mason would be hanged for murder as so many times in the 18th century punishment seemed almost brutal in relation to lesser crimes than murder. Surprisingly, Mason was given 12 months in prison for manslaughter.
Watton Abbey – the haunting site of two horrific murders.
The postcode for this area is YO25 9AH. The house is actually at Watton Carr.
This is one of those spots where you can’t actually get into it but you can enjoy its haunting vision from outside.
According to a newspaper report from 1897, Watton Abbey was never really an abbey but a Gilbertine Priory. There is a probably nothing left of the original buildings and only the stable block is all that remains of the Tudor buildings but the main house which is privately owned does look like the clichéd haunted house. As you stand in the fields and gaze at it, it is easy to be transported back to a time when the terrible events took place.
It is interesting that according to the newspaper article from the 19th century most of the remains from the abbey were taken to repair Beverley Minster. However, according to the local postman, most of the bricks were taken from the abbey to build the local church of Saint Mary which is well worth a visit and extremely near to the abbey.
Recorded evidence tells us that there has been a nunnery on the site since 720 A.D. We know of this because St John of Beverley was supposed to have restored a diseased arm, that belonged to a nun, back to health. Things got a bit worse after that as the Danes pillaged and set fire to the nunnery but by 1148, the convent had been founded again by Eustace Fitzjohn, the Lord of Knaresborough.
It has to be noted for the sake of our terrible tale that a Gilbertine Abbey is somewhat unusual as it means that both nuns and monks live on the same site. In fact, there was only a wall separating them. In this particular case, there were 13 monks and 36 nuns in place.
Story number 3 - The tortured nun.
Murdoc, the Archbishop of York placed a 4 year old child named Elfleda amongst the nuns. The idea was that she would be groomed to take the veil when she was old enough. The child was jolly and beautiful but unfortunately, the nuns tried to bully her happy character out of her. Essentially, she grew into a stunning looking woman so when a handsome young monk came into the nunnery part of the abbey to help out with heavy duties, a bond was started between the two. Longing glances grew into furtive brushing of the fingers. Racing hearts agreed upon secret rendezvous after secret rendezvous. Until…
One day, Elfleda was called into the Mother Superior’s office to explain why she had a growing stomach. Elfleda could not hide the fact that she heavily pregnant and so asked to be banished from the community. The nuns were outraged at what shame the scandal would bring upon them and instead decided to punish the young woman.
Suggestions for her punishment were:
She should be burnt alive.
She should be walled up alive.
She should be flayed.
Her flesh should be torn from her bones with red hot pincers.
She should be roasted alive before a red hot fire.
The decision was made and the girl was stripped of her clothing, stretched on the floor and then hit and burned on her back by red hot rods. Even though she was heavily pregnant and her back was raw with lacerations, they continued. She was then taken to a filthy dungeon and had heavy chains tied to her hands and feet. Her only form of sustenance was dirty water and mouldy bread.
The nun’s young lover ran away but was caught, brought back and handed over to the nuns who castrated him and practiced torture on him until he died. When the baby was born, it was given away to two women who visited the abbey.
So what of Elfleda? Well! Apparently, the day after the birth when the nuns entered the dungeon, Elfleda was restored to full health without a mark on her body and all her chains had disappeared. The nuns called in Alured the abbot of Rievaulx Abbey who declared that God had performed a miracle by making the unclean clean. Interestingly enough, Elfleda was never reported upon again whilst she was alive. It is more likely that the poor woman died because of her mistreatment and the nuns buried her body outside the hallowed ground. They then politically turned the whole story around to their advantage and said a miracle had occurred.
The horrendous haunting.
First of all, before we start the tale of the second murder, we will talk about the sight that has often been seen at the private home of Watton Abbey but do remember that this account is from 1897. Apparently, one of the bedrooms or chambers has wainscoting and behind one of the wooden panels is a spring which opens a secret door. This leads out to a passage and down to the moat.
It is the room with the secret passage attached to it that is supposed to get the nightly visit of a headless lady carrying an infant in her arms. Furthermore, the bedclothes are always mashed up as if someone has slept restlessly in the bed whether there has been anyone in it or not.
Many put the haunting down to Elfleda, however, read on and then make up your own mind as to whom might be the haunted soul that cannot rest in peace.
Story number 4 - The headless lady of Watton Abbey.
It has been recorded that during the English Civil War, the family that lived in the house were Roman Catholic and on the side of Charles I. Just after the Battle of Marston Moor (1644), the master of the house was away fighting at Oxford and the lady was left to look after the family home. Unfortunately, a gang of Roundheads that had been drugged by the smell of victory at Marston Moor decided to go on a rampage at Watton and pike through anyone that didn’t agree with their politics or religion.
They arrived at Watton Abbey ready to plunder what they could. The lady locked herself in the wainscoted bedroom with her children and jewels as the roundheads pounded on the gates. She probably thought that if they broke in through the house she could escape down the passage which led outside to the moat.
Unfortunately, instead of breaking through the gates and main house, they found the side door to the moat, rushed up the passage and burst through into the lady’s chamber. The lady was prostrated in front of her crucifix when they barged in. She demanded to know what they wanted. They said they wanted to kill the Egyptian that worshipped idols and was an abomination in the eyes of God. They were, of course, referring to her husband and his Catholicism. They then demanded that she hand over anything of value. She refused so they ripped her child from her arms and dashed its brains against the wall and then cut off her head. Shocking times, indeed. Many guests that have stayed at the hall have seen a headless lady walking with blood on her hands. Who knows what such a violent incident could cause?
You decide – who is the spirit that walks the hall and grounds? Is it the tortured nun or the headless lady?
Refreshments at Bainton
The postcode for the Wolds Village at Bainton is YO25 9EF. You can get details for it here.
Our next stop is at Bainton. Like, Nafferton it would appear like a sleepy village where nothing takes place. However, if you visit the Wolds Village, you will be right on the spot of Bainton Beacon Assizes. (More about that in a minute.) The Wolds Village offers drinks and food and also lots of interesting arty objects for sale. You can go on a nature trail that has sculptures on it or you can enjoy a glass of beer or coffee outside in the courtyard while you muse upon the people of yesteryear that perhaps did not enjoy the experience as much as you are.
Story number 5 – Trials and Hanging.
This lovely refreshment place is where the accused were put to trial and then, if found guilty, locked in the cellars over night before being made to do the walk of shame along Dead Man’s Lane. The reason that it has such an endearing name is that if you were walking along it after being found guilty in the assizes, it meant that you were going to be just that – dead. The lane leads to the gibbet at Neswick and that is where you would be hanged. Today, it is just a field and no-one would be any the wiser of the horrors that had taken place on that spot before.
The postcode for this area is HU17 Walkington.
On the face of it, you would think that the picturesque village of Walkington was an ordinary village in rural East Yorkshire. But dig a little further and you will find a much more mysterious and malevolent past. For Walkington has a dark secret; hidden amongst the complex of Bronze Age barrows are a dark secret which was hidden for centuries.
The burial site is between Walkington and the now deserted village of Hunsley. This is actually adjacent to the hamlet of High Hunsley. You need to look for Wold Road.
Story number 6 – Hell’s Gate - 13 executions.
In the 1960s, whilst excavating the site, archaeologists found the remains of 13 human bodies. It wasn’t realised that there were 13 people present at first; originally, archaeologists found ten skeletons without skulls and eleven skulls and it was thought that twelve bodies had been found. A mixture of theories was presented as to what had caused the grisly occurrence. They were variously suggested to be the result of a Celtic head cult or a Roman massacre.
However, what was clear is that each individual had met a violent death suggesting that they had either died during a period of war or as victims of execution. Another theory suggested that the brutal killings were Anglo Saxon executions; it was not uncommon for later groups to reclaim or reconstitute areas that had significance during earlier periods. For example, prior to the executions the barrow complex at Walkington was likely a highly sophisticated community of individuals, not simply living but creating pottery and farming the surrounding land. A later discovery of Celtic coins in another area not far from the killing ground suggests that, whilst relatively isolated today, Walkington was never cut off from the world in times gone by.
It wasn’t until 2007 that the final theory was proved to be right. The skeletons at Walkington were Anglo Saxon and represented an execution site used by the Anglo Saxons from the seventh to the eleventh century. The end of the activity at the barrow was possibly due to the Norman Invasion of 1066 and the imposing of a more rigorous justice system than had previously existed. It is also interesting to note that during this period the Anglo Saxons went from being predominantly Pagan to mainly Christian; parts of early crucifixes have been found at Walkington, perhaps left by one of the unfortunate criminals slain prior to their fateful walk to their death.
As is mentioned in other parts of this article, execution as justice was not uncommon to East Yorkshire; there are certainly similarities between the executions of the Anglo Saxons and those conducted at Bainton in later centuries. Though the heads of those killed at Bainton were not placed on a spike, as seems likely with the Walkington corpses, the message was still the same – disobey the law and you will pay with your life. The gaps between the various deaths at Walkington suggest that this often worked; or at least it did for a time. The fact that, long after the ending of the executions, the area was still known as “Hell’s Gate” suggests that the cultural memory of the executions was passed down long after those who had orchestrated them had died.
Walkington Wold was one of the furthest north of these Anglo Saxon execution sites and it suggests that, though the belief in a particular brand of justice was spread far, it did not have the same grip in the north as it did further south.
When visiting Walkington, particularly on a colder day you can feel, in the chill of the air, that there is something lurking there, some malignant feeling of vengeance. Walkington, regardless of belief, often feels like a place where spirits linger and as such it makes it a truly fascinating and yet chilling place to visit.
Terrible Tour East Yorkshire Tick List.
Blue Bell Inn, Nafferton.
Screaming Skull, Great Hall, Burton Agnes.
Wolds Village – Bainton Beacon Assizes – Bainton.
Walkington Wold execution site.
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