The Haunted Hexham Heads

I first came across the story of the Hexham Heads some years ago, which resulted in my own strange experience one dark and stormy night, but we’ll get to that. 

For now, we’ll travel to Northumberland, where a chance find leads to one of the most obscure tales in modern British folklore.

Drawings of the Hexham Heads by Mary Hurrell of the Museum of Antiquities.

The Discovery of The Heads

Our tale begins in 1971, on Rede Avenue in Hexham, Northumberland, home of the Robson family. Their two boys, ages eight and eleven, were playing in their garden, as children of that age are inclined to do. Whilst doing so, the two unearthed a strange pair of stones that preceded an even stranger chain of events. 

Both stones were around 6cm tall, and were remarkable due to their apparent carving in the shape of little heads. Each was different from the other.

The first came to be known as “The Boy”, and featured a face of regular proportions, with carved lines across the skull, indicating hair. The other was known as “The Girl”, and appeared to sport a bob-like hair cut with rather bulging eyes.

Rightly so, the boys were ecstatic with their new found treasure, and rushed them inside to show the rest of the family. 

If this were the end of the story, the discovery of the Hexham Heads would have remained unknown. It’s likely that similar items are unearthed in gardens up and down the British Isles with some regularity – I myself have a collection of glass bottles unearthed from the garden of my former Georgian home.

It was not the discovery of the heads themselves that earned their place in modern British folklore, so what caused the stir that still ripples across the lake of public consciousness today? 

The Haunted Happenings

Strange happenings are said to have begun in the Robson home the very first night the stones were unearthed. The family were said to have placed them in their living room, but come morning, they had rotated of their own accord. 

This was the first in a series of paranormal events surrounding the heads, which is said to have included electrical anomalies, the feel of invisible hands and, allegedly, a strange glow in the garden where the heads were unearthed. In my research, I have struggled to find any first hand accounts of further events in the Robson residence, although the activity is said to have spread to the house next door, where the neighbouring Dodd family began experiencing their own terror. 

The Dodd’s reported that their son, Brian, had his hair pulled by unseen hands, but this pales in comparison to the experience his mother, Nelly, suffered one terrible night.

A Puppy

The Strange Were-Creature

Nelly Dodd awoke in the middle of the night, which would not be a particularly unusual occurrence, were it not for the strange creature in the corner of her bedroom. A detailed description of the creature is lacking, but Mrs Dodd described it as “half-sheep, half-human”. Upon being discovered, it turned around and walked or “padded” out of the room, down the stairs and out of the front door”. 

It may be simple enough to write this encounter off as a case of hypnogogic illusion. We must also take into account rumours of a “prank” involving a man wandering Rede Avenue with a sheep carcass, stolen from a near by abattoir. I can only assume that was a drunken case of “it seemed like a good idea at the time”. 

However, this is not the last to be heard of the were-beast. 

Perhaps due to these strange events, the Robson family passed the heads on to Hexham Abbey where they eventually fell into the hands of Dr Anne Ross, an expert in Celtic artefacts. 

With the heads in her possession, the strange creature was said to visit the Ross household. 

Similar to Mrs Dodd’s encounter, Dr Ross awoke in the night to find the terrifying creature looking down at her. From here, it again walked downstairs, followed by the doctor, who then lost track of it on the ground floor. 

Only days later, her daughter, Berenice came home from school to find the figure on the stairs. It is said to have jumped over the banister to the corridor below before vanishing. Other encounters followed, with the family’s dinnertime disturbed by a loud crash “as if something as large as a man had leapt down the stairs, landing on all-fours on the floor”.

Both mother, daughter and an additional son, Richard, have reported witnessing the strange beast, describing the creature as a werewolf, dark in colour and bipedal. The incidence only ceased when the heads were removed from the property.

Newspaper Extract

Subsequent Claims

After their encounters, Dr Ross passed the heads on and although some who have come into contact with them report supernatural experiences, they have since been lost. Before their eventual disappearance, Ross examined the heads and claimed they were of Celtic origin, suggesting that the Robson garden may have once contained an ancient shrine. 

Allegedly, Ross believed  the Hexham Heads were of Celtic origin, comparing them to similar archeological finds. That in itself is not surprising, as the Celts did indeed revere the symbolism of the head, considering it “the seat of the soul”. Heads were a symbol of heroism, often taken as trophies during times of war, but also came to represent supernatural power, sometimes depicting a deity.

Ross had the heads examined at Southampton University, where they concluded they were made from “very course sandstone with rounded quartz grains”, indicative of the heads being carved from natural stone, supporting the theory that they were of Celtic origin. However, upon further examination in Newcastle University, it was discovered that the heads had indeed been made from artificial cement and moulded, rather than carved. 

If this is the case, it’s probable that the Hexham Heads aren’t very old at all. Who then could have made them and for what purpose? 

This mystery was solved by a man named Desmond Craigie, who came forward to put this little tale to bed. Craigie, who once lived in the house the Robson’s occupied in ’71, worked with a concrete manufacturers and claims that he made the heads as toys for his daughter in 1956 – including a third, which broke and had been discarded.

To prove this, he made replicas of the two surviving heads, by moulding the form and carving the details with a knife. Surprisingly, these replicas are said to have been “subpar” to the originals, with many seeming to believe that Craigie could none have been responsible for them. Surviving photographs of the original heads are of poor quality, and no images of the replicas have been verified, so we are, unfortunately unable to examine them ourselves.

The image below features Craigie, but whether the heads are the originals or replicas is  uncertain.

An Extract from the Fortean Times, via the brilliant series of articles from The Urban Historian

An Analysis 

So, all things considered, what can we make of this relatively unknown chapter of British folklore? 

I am inclined to agree with the Newcastle analysis of the stones, which I believe, was based on an invasive sample, rather than the surface visual, as was the case in Southampton. This along with Craigie’s claims, do suggest that the heads are likely of modern origin. 

It’s a shame that the current location of the heads is unknown and we are unable to subject them to a modern analysis. 

But, if we are to believe the heads are modern, what do we make of the were-beast?

The low level paranormal activity experienced by both Robson and Dodd families is not extensively reported on. In fact, the story of the Hexham Heads only reached public attention a year or so after the events, leading to some uncertainty in reported dates. I have come across contradictory reports on whether or not Dr Ross was aware of Mrs Dodd’s “were-sheep” experience before her own encounters, but we should bear in mind that the Ross’s werewolf was witnessed by multiple family members. 

The problem we have is that all these are eye-witness reports, and as such, we are unable to prove or disprove them categorically. 

Wolves and werewolves have a long history across European folklore, and the Celts were no exception, but Hexham had its own encounter with a renegade wolf in 1904. A large, male wolf escaped from a zoo and spent weeks feeding off local livestock until it was struck by a train. Although the werewolf linked to the Hexham Heads revived the old story, there’s likely no connection between the two tales, but it makes for an interesting side note.

Do I believe the creature seen by the Dodds and Ross’s was a living, breathing were-creature? No, I don’t, but that doesn’t mean we should write their experiences off completely. For my thoughts on this case, I refer back to Volume Two of my handy, dandy Ghost Guide, where we discussed Inhuman Spirits. 

Whatever the origins of the Hexham Heads, we know they were unearthed after decades underground. Is it possible that an inhuman spirit – by that I mean an elemental or nature spirit, rather than your stereotypical demon – became attached to the heads through their connections to the land? Perhaps the presence of this entity would have faded in time, returning to the ether as the heads became accustomed to their new home, wherever it may be. 

Then again, who knows. Perhaps some tall, bipedal creature lurks in the depths of a long forgotten archive in a little museum where staff are too frightened to go.

As for my own experience? Well, the very first night I learnt of the heads, I dreamt of a strange creature at the foot of my bed. 

It held out a contract of some kind, and accompanying it was a disembodied choir. Their voices echoed through the room with a description of this vile creature, as if to imprint it’s terrible visage onto my subconscious forevermore.

It’s words, to the tune of a well known Salt-N-Pepa song, went: 

“What a man, what a man, what a man, with the head of a man and the body of a wolf.”

Quite how my subconscious made a connection between the two is unknown.

Until next time,

Dr LJ Hawthorn

Let me know what you think, and follow The Hawthorn Files on social media for more and keep up to date with all manner of strangeness.

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