The Hexham Heads

In 1971[1], two young boys were digging in the back garden of their family home at 3 Rede Avenue, Hexham in Northumberland. Deep in the soil, they unearthed two small stone, carved heads which they immediately brought into the house.

The heads appeared to be made from stone and very rudimentary in design, being spherical with stumpy little necks, as though they were once connected to something larger.

[Image via Northern Echo] [Paul Screeton Holds Replicas]

Descriptions of the heads – from those who had held them – varied wildly, but generally were regarded as being palm-sized, a little smaller than a tennis ball.

The heads were no masterpieces, being basic humanoid approximations of a face with little pointy noses. However, despite this simplicity, many people interpreted the barely expressive heads in curious gender-centric ways. Language used around the female head is particularly unpleasant, especially when contrasted with the other, ‘male’ head (although how one can attribute a gender to two small stone balls is another mystery.)

The Urban Pre-Historian, writing about Paul Screeton’s 2010 book ‘Quest for the Hexham Heads’ explained that,

‘One was known as ‘the boy’, with ‘hair modelled in stripes, running from front to back’. The other is treated less favourably in Hexham Heads literature, dubbed (depending on the source) as the girl, old woman or ‘hag’, whose characteristics include ‘wildly-bulging eyes’ and, according to Don Robins, ‘a strong beaked nose’.’[2]

Whether these interpretations came to light before or after the reported paranormal activity is unclear, but the gendering and subsequent demonization of the feminine would make for a hefty study in itself.

[Image via The Urban Pre-Historian]

Historical Importance

When the discovery of the heads hit newspapers, specialists in pre-history and archaeology examined and documented the heads, but struggled to date them. They were closely analysed and sampled, but any resulting evidence was in contradiction to the last. Nonetheless, the discovery was regarded as having immense historical importance and studies of the heads, particularly by Dr. Anne Ross were published in collections regarding ancient Celtic artefacts. The heads appear to have vague similarities with several Celtic heads of antiquity, so this keenness to link the heads into this tradition is understandable, and to have exclusive study rights, or be the first to publish on such a new discovery would similarly be quite the academic coup. .

Once in the house, the heads turned from mere curiosities to objects of terror. Paranormal phenomena began to plague the family; the heads were moved by unseen hands and bottles were violently thrown across rooms.

[Drawings of the Hexham Heads by Mary Hurrell of the Museum of Antiquities]

The ghostly happenings were not linked to the house of the Robson family, but soon blighted the Dodd family next door, who reported similarly frightening experiences. Their young son had his hair pulled by ghostly hands and his mother Nelly reported to have seen a strange goat man figure leaving the house.

[Screenshot via the Urban Pre-Historian]

Dr Anne Ross

After becoming quite the local curiosities, the heads were passed on to expert in Celtic artefacts, Dr. Anne Ross.

While the heads were in her possession, she reported to have woken one morning and saw a part wolf (not a goat this time, things are escalating) part man figure leaving her bedroom. Following it through the house, she tracked it to the kitchen after which it disappeared. Shortly afterwards, her daughter Bernice recounted a similar experience. After coming home from school, she saw a ‘werewolf’-esque creature leap from the stairs and into a corridor before disappearing. The doctor also reported to have experienced other phenomena, such as her study door flying open with no apparent cause, the appearance of a dark figure and the frequent sensation of a cold figure beside her.

Dr. Ross had heard of the Dodds’ families experience and subsequently attributed these frightening instances to the supernatural influence of the Hexham heads. After removing them from her house, the incidents promptly stopped.

The Hexham Wolf

Sightings of strange wolf creatures were nothing new to the people of Hexham, who suffered the wrath of the Hexham Wolf in 1904. Although swiftly mythologised, the incident involved an escaped wolf from a nearby zoo who killed livestock before being hit by a passing train. Naturally, many believed the wolf to still be at large, and to have taken some magical and ancient revenge in the 1970s, summoned by the heads’ powers.

Fate of the Heads

The mysticality of the heads came tumbling down when a local man named Desmond Craigie claimed to be their originator. Craigie explained that in 1956, when living at the residence that the Robsons later occupied, he made three small heads for the amusement of his daughter. The third was lost to the ether, but the other two remained. He was working at a business that dealt in concrete at the time, and used his ‘local stone, sand and water’ to craft the little faces.

[Craig with the heads. Image via Ian Jarvis, Writer]

However, Craigie’s claims were tested when he was asked to replicate his methods. When scrutinised, these replicas were regarded as sub-bar to the originals, and not of the same quality, which – judging by the less-than-artistic qualities of the original – was quite the feat in itself. However to flip the story once more, after analysis by Professor Dearman of the University of Newcastle, he believed the heads to have been artificially moulded (much like the concrete methods) rather than carved from solid rock.

Craigie said in an interview with the Evening Chronicle that,

I made them – about 16 years ago. I made the heads from bits of stone and mortar simply to amuse my daughter when she was a little girl. I actually made three but one appears to have got lost. They were out in the garden for years. I definitely made them. I have been laughing my head off about these heads and I cannot understand why all this attention is being paid to them’.[3]

The Heads Today

After being passed from expert to expert, the heads fell into the hands of Southampton university and then onto a physic in 1978 and were promptly lost thereafter. The exact location, and guardian, of the heads today is unknown.

I hope they turn up in some half-forgotten garage somewhere, but we can only hope they’re causing carnage in some small corner of the world.

*

And that’s where this post should end.

After reading about the Hexham Heads, I desperately wanted to see the little beasties and was gutted to realise that their location is but another frustrating mystery. So, I did what any good citizen would do and I made my own, recreating them in potato form. Why? I’m still figuring that one out.

If you fancy recreating any landmarks in root vegetable form, please do it, tag me in the pictures on Twitter (@BurialsBeyond), Instagram or Facebook (@Burialsandbeyond)and we’ll embrace our mutual slow descent into madness.

***

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***

This is very much a short-short history of the heads -delving into all the press reports alone would take weeks. Thankfully, some very passionate head aficionados have written extensively on the Hexham Heads, including the scientific investigations and controversies.

Two sources that may prove most useful are:

https://theurbanprehistorian.wordpress.com/2014/01/27/the-hexham-heads-part-1-the-discovery/The Urban Pre-Historian is a very well-humoured archaeologist who wrote a fantastic four part investigation of the history of the heads. It’s a great, easy read.

Quest for the Hexham Heads –  Paul Screeton, 2010. Published 2012 by Fortean Words.

https://www.ianjarviswriter.com/post/2019/09/04/if-you-want-to-get-a-head

[1]Could be 1972, these accounts are wilfully inaccurate.

[2]https://theurbanprehistorian.wordpress.com/2014/01/27/the-hexham-heads-part-1-the-discovery/

[3]https://theurbanprehistorian.wordpress.com/2014/01/27/the-hexham-heads-part-1-the-discovery/

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