Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Pilsdon Pen - Dorset

A trip across the border into Dorset. Pilsdon has a long history of occupation. Flint tools over 10,000 years old and two Bronze Age burial mounds are evidence that the site was in use long before the hill fort was built. The hill is topped by an Iron Age multivallate Durotrigian hill fort which was excavated in the 1960s by Peter Gelling of the University of Birmingham with his wife Margaret Gelling at the request of Michael Pinney. The remains of 14 roundhouses were uncovered near the centre of the hill fort. From 1795 to 1797 Dorothy and William Wordsworth lived at Racedown House - a property of the Pinney family, situated to the west of Pilsdon Pen. They walked in the area for about two hours every day. Thomas Hardy's Wessex has it as Pilsdon Crest.

Like the other hill forts in Dorset, Pilsdon was abandoned after the Roman conquest, after which it's thought that it was used for rough grazing, much as it is today. It was bequeathed to the National Trust by the Pinney family in 1982. It's the second highest point in Dorset, though there's not a lot in it, and the other one is nearby.

The Pinney family have an unusual legend associated with them, in that they have one of the best known 'Screaming Skulls'

As it says here a screaming skull is a type of paranormal object. Supposedly several such exist today or did so in the past. Screaming human skulls are only found in England, where most counties have at least one such tale. When a skull of this type is removed from a house, screams will be heard and general poltergeist-type disturbances will be felt. This will continue until it is replaced or returns on its own. Supposedly, the person that removes the Bettiscombe skull will die within a year. In some stories these skulls have almost become the 'luck' of the house, in much the same way as some stately homes and castles have an heirloom, which in tradition must be kept safe to maintain good luck for the home and the family. These screaming skull stories seem to originate in the 1600s.

The tradition (which has many variations) to account for its presence suggests that it was the skull of a black servant of the manor some time in the distant past. It was his dying wish to have his body returned home to the West Indies. Unfortunately the master of the house - a man called Azariah Pinney - had no intention of returning his earthly remains to the West Indies, and he was interred locally in Bettiscombe Churchyard. Soon after his burial terrible screams and strange guttural noises issued from the grave, and the house was plagued by poltergeist activity. Finally after the local villagers and family members could take no more, the skeleton was recovered and brought into the house, whereupon the haunting ceased. The bones of the skeleton became lost over the years until only the skull remained. Any attempts to rebury the skull are always said to have resulted in the same disturbances.

Apparently it was examined by an archaeologist called Michael Pinney (unknown if related) in 1963, who dated the skull to the Iron Age. He suggested that the skull was that of a female, and was most probably associated with the Iron Age settlement of Pilsdon Pen close to the Manor House.

The pointy hill in the third photo is not Pilsdon Pen but Colmer's Hill near Symondsbury, and the last, aerial view, is not one of mine but from somewhere else that I can't find at the moment.

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