Bettiscombe is a tiny hamlet on the northern side of the Marshwood Vale. The church of St. Stephen was rebuilt in 1862, re-using some of the medieval windows and leaving the medieval tower almost intact. Probably the most famous building in Bettiscombe is the manor, also known to many as the 'The House of the Screaming Skull'. It has belonged to the Pinney family for hundreds of years and it is a member of this family that is connected to the ghostly tale surrounding the house.
According to local legend the skull is that of a black slave. In 1685 Azariah Pinney was banished to the West Indies for supporting the Duke of Monmouth. He soon became a successful businessman and eventually returned to England. With him he brought one of his black slaves but soon after they arrived in England the slave became ill and died. His last request was that he be buried in his native home, but instead Azariah buried him in the local churchyard. The slave had told his master that if the promise was not carried out a curse would fall on Bettiscombe Manor.
Almost at once terrifying screams and moans came from his grave and doors and windows banged and rattled in the Manor. Finally, the owner of Bettiscombe Manor had the body dug up. In the process however, his head became separated from his body, but for a time all the noises and activities ceased.
A few years later a new occupant of the Manor was so appalled by the sight of the old skull that he threw it in the lake. As soon as he did so a piercing scream filled the air and only stopped when the skull was brought back in to the house. Another time the skull was buried in a hole nine feet deep. Within three days the skull had burrowed to the surface. The owner of the house found it waiting to be taken back inside. Ever since, the skull has reacted in the same way when it is removed from the house. The present owner keeps it in an old box tucked safely inside the Manor.
Other ghostly tales are also attached to the skull. According to one, on a particular night of the year a phantom coach goes from Bettiscombe Manor, along a lonely road, to the churchyard. Local people call it "the funeral procession of the skull." Many think of the skull as sort of a good luck charm. It is supposed to protect the house from ghosts and evil spirits.
To add to the puzzle, scientists who have examined the skull say it really belongs to a woman. And a prehistoric woman at that. Where did it come from? How did the story about the slave start? No one today can answer those questions.