EPISODE XXXII: THE HEXHAM HEADS
Dr Anne Ross had gone to bed as usual that evening. Her work as a celtic scholar had taken her down some unusual avenues, but none so strange as the two miniature heads which had recently come into her possession via a colleague in the archaeology department.
She flicked on the night light in the hallway before settling in for the night. It was a mild evening, but that would soon change. In the wee hours of the morning, Dr. Ross felt her eyes flutter open. Her body was frozen with icy dread permeating her flesh, enveloping her mind and body entirely. The room was pitch black, her field of vision absent of the light that should have shone in from the hallway beyond. Instead, her eyes focused in on a dark figure… a gaunt, human-like entity hunched in the doorway of her bedroom. It stood on two legs, with a thick shaggy fur coat, but what terrified Dr. Ross was the head of the beast - distinctly animalistic. The creature gestured towards the doctor, then shifting its posture, proceeding down the hall, disappearing from Ross’s view.
Compelled by an unknown force, Ross felt herself rising from bed, the distinctive sense of dread building as she slowly get to her feet. The doctor felt her legs move, one foot in front of the other, faster and faster until she found herself at the foot of the staircase, alone and terrified. The creature had vanished, the only sign of its appearance being the kitchen door left ajar, the curtains swinging ominously in the night breeze.
This was just one of several strange events that would follow the seemingly innocent discovery of two small stone objects at No. 3 Rede Avenue. Curious little things with a potentially dark past. Such is the history of the Hexham Heads.
The story of these oddities begins in 1972 in an English backyard garden on the outskirts of the county of Hexham. Hexham is a borough in the valley of the Tyne, 32 kilometers far from Newcastle. The strange find took place in idyllic suburbia, a place where the everyday monotonous comings and goings of residents speaks to the character of the place. It was the last place a person would expect to find a whirlwind of poltergeist activity.
The dates are varying, written statements and accounts of the original find. But most state that 1972 is incorrect, so we will go with 1971. One afternoon two young boys, brothers Leslie and Colin were playing in the backyard of their new residence (of two weeks, No. 3 Rede Avenue. Here, one afternoon in February 1971, 11 year old Colin and his brother were weeding and at the same time playing around in the dirt digging, when they came across the first of two small stone heads buried in their garden. some versions say they each found one head at slightly different location in the garden at the exact same time, if true would be very odd. However, according to Tales of the Hexham Heads, by Paul Screeton, the eldest brother Colin was weeding in the garden in the far corner of the property near a hedge when he came across the first head. His brother Leslie witnessed the find from the upper story window and came down to see what his brother had discovered. It was then that Leslie found a second head in the weeds...
“They had an appearance like two grotesque dolls heads, the first one known as ‘the boy,’ had hair etched into the head an open face with wide set eyes and a long nose. The other, had a far more severe look, and has been described as having a ‘strong beaked nose’ and wild bulging eyes. It would later be known as ‘the witch.’”
- Unexplained Podcast
The boys didn’t think much of these funny little faces. And so, they brought the heads into the home with them. Within 24 hours things start getting very strange for the Robson family. It would seem that the act of unearthing the heads, although seemingly harmless, would end up driving the Robson family nearly right out of their minds. It all started relatively benign. The family would leave the room with the two heads placed on the table, but when they would return, the heads had been moved… seemingly all by themselves, as no one else was present in the house. Most often, the ‘boy’ and the ‘girl’ would position themselves to be facing out the window, toward the spot where they had been formerly buried.
This was just the beginning, as things would get more and more bizarre for the Robson family. In another instance, the head dubbed ‘girl’ for its feminine, borderline witch-like appearance, was said to have levitated and flown by itself across the room, smashing into the wall with a loud bang and a thud on the ground. The object never broke, and there was no rational explanation the family could come up with. It seemed as if the Robson’s had awoken something unnatural… something, devious, poltergeist-like in its antics. Items in the house would be moved. Glass bottles would shatter for absolutely no reason, or be thrown across the room smashing into the walls. The shattered remains of a mirror were found in a frying pot.
The key time for activity centered on 2:30 AM ; at least, that was when the most frightening activity was said to occur. A breaking point came for the family one night, when their youngest daughter awoke in a state of complete terror, her bed littered with glass, the shards surrounding her bed in some strange, ritualistic arrangement. Needless to say, the poor girl was petrified and refused to sleep in the room anymore. Another disturbing fact was the addition to the household of an unexplainable ‘whiplash’ like sound originating from behind the television set. After a time, it appeared to the Robson’s that these palm-sized heads had taken over the entire house, their energy emanating throughout the furniture, decor and the walls themselves.
Just when the Robson’s thought it couldn't get any more bizarre, it did. The next door neighbors, The Dodds, would experience their own brush with the supernatural. Mrs. Dodds related to a Tyneside newspaper in 1972 that she had gone to sleep in her child’s room. As the story goes the child was ill and restless, and so Mrs. Dodds was doing what any good mother would do to comfort her youngest. Allegedly, the young girl (or boy, in some accounts) had been complaining that something was touching him, brushing past him, pressing on his legs. Mrs. Dodds, believing it was fever, thought nothing of it, turning off the light and settling into bed for the night.
Shortly after 2 AM, In the pitch black night, Mrs. Dodds’ eyes fluttered open. Her heart skipped a beat as she watched a dark shape move across the room, on all fours. The woman lay still, petrified, as the dark beast came towards her and her daughter, watching it as it brushed up against them both. Stunned, Mrs Dodds held her breath as the creature retreated out of the room, as soon as it disappeared she screamed bloody murder for her husband who bolted in to find the two laying in anguish over the terrifying encounter. Mrs. Dodds would go on to describe the creature as half-sheep, half human… The Dodds did not stick around. Shortly after the terrifying encounter with the man-beast creature, they applied for housing reassignment.
The Robson’s were eager to put and end to their misery. The mysterious stone heads were sent away to archaeology experts Roger Miket and David Smith of the Newcastle University Museum of Antiquities. The two professionals quickly discerned that the heads were most likely of Celtic origin, perhaps thousands of years old, and the two heads were passed on to Celtic cultural expert Dr Anne Ross.
This is where the story takes another unexpected turn. Dr. Ross related how upon receiving the heads, she brought them to her home in Hampshire for closer examination. Dr. Ross has been described as an eccentric scholar, dabbling in the fringe areas of Celtic history that some academics would frown upon. However, Dr. Ross stunned the world when she insisted (on National television) that her Hampshire home had been invaded by a ‘were-creature’ - an ambiguous half-human, half-beast entity.
Many experts would come to weigh in on the heads over the years. One such individual was Dr. G. V. ‘Don’ Robins, Geologist trained in inorganic chemistry, PhD in solid state magnetic attractions and author of Secret Language of the Stones (1988). Robins had some very interesting ideas on the potential powers held within the heads, and contacted Screeton in 1977 after hearing about the heads. At the time, Robins was attempting to link psychic phenomena with the structures of minerals, and had developed a particular fascination with the composition of the crystal lattices (molecular frameworks) of certain minerals. Robins was attempting to uncover and understand how these certain minerals could potentially store or encode an electrical charge. This in turn could result in particular minerals having an imprint or image of a particular charge.
“At the simplest level, [Robins] suggests that places and also artifacts can cause specific manifestations…”
- Paul Screeton, Tales of the Hexham Heads
Don Robins’ curiosity got the better of him, and so in 1977 he decided to set up a meeting with Dr. Ross’ senior academic adviser, Dr. Hodson, the same man who did the original composition analysis on the heads, to discuss the heads further. During this meeting, held in Dr Hodson’s office, the Celtic researcher suggested to Robins that the heads were not of modern cement origins because they lacked a major component - calcium silicate. The heads were stored in a little box in the professor’s desk; they were ‘of two distinct types’ as Robins explains: the first (the ‘boy’) had a greenish grey appearance with crystal quartz sparkles, the hair is described by Robins as Celtic stripes, or, front-to-back - with a weight much heavier than concrete or cement. The second, the ‘girl’ , “resembled a ‘wall-eyed hag’” - with traces of yellow and red pigment on the top of the head according to Robins. This last observation is interesting, and was not included in the descriptions of the heads we had come across before this. Robins related how immediately he felt uncomfortable in the presence of the heads, and stated categorically that any energies/influences emanated from the pair came from the ‘girl/hag.’ It appears from Screeton’s Tales of the Hexham Heads that Robins was clearly convinced that the heads retained some type of paranormal powers.
Robins wasn’t the only person with an opinion on the heads. Desmond Craigie was another individual that staked a claim in the case of the Hexham Heads. Craigie claimed that the heads could not be more than 18 years old, as he had fashioned them himself for his daughter Nancy to have as playthings. Craigie was a tenant of No 3 Rede Avenue for over thirty years, long before the Robsons took possession that winter in 1972. According to Screeton, Craigie was a worker at an artificial cast stone plant during the time he lived at No. 3 Rede. As a small girl, Nancy had queried her father about where he went everyday for work, and Craigie could think of no other way to explain his job to the young child other than fashioning something out of the material he worked with all day. And so Craigie’s story goes, he made the heads during his lunch time at the casting plant. Craigie claims to have fashioned Nancy not two but three heads out of cast-stone, using his knife to whittle tiny, crude faces on them.
"She would use the silver paper from Penguin chocolate biscuits as eyes. One got broken and I threw it in the bin. The others just got kicked around and must have landed up where the lads found them."
- Desmond Craigie, from Tales of the Hexham Heads
Many would come to doubt Craigie’s claims, and the man would be relentlessly ridiculed by critics in his self described attempt to clear the record on the mysterious stone heads. Craigie’s claim tat the heads were of modern origin became a much disputed fact, as two expert Geologists studied the heads and came to two different conclusions: Professor Hodson, of Southampton University, concluded the heads were a natural sandstone of local origins. Another expert, Dr Douglas Robson of Newcastle University, concluded that the material was artificial and unlike any naturally occurring sandstone in the area, more like an artificial cement.According to the Urban Prehistorian,“The former and earlier analysis seems to have been based on microscope work and limited visual analysis, while the latter appears to have been based on the invasive removal of a sample for analysis.”
Whatever the origins of the two mysterious stone heads, the mystery of Hexham may never be solved. The pair were lost to the annals of British history. Many believe that Robins were passed the heads off to a colleague known only as Frank Hyde. Hyde was purportedly a gifted dowser, the art of finding hidden water, and Robins had a strange theory that the powers of the heads could be revealed with the practice of dowsing. However, Hyde was never heard from again, unavailable after a devastating car accident at which the heads were present. It seems that the story is forever cursed to remain in the shadowy realm of folklore and urban legend, until perhaps one day they were again be unearthed by another unsuspecting person in the distant future. Only time will tell.
Written by Amber Rae Bouchard