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Tuesday, 11 December 2012

The Cursed Cauldron

Deep in the cellar of a North Lincolnshire farmhouse there is an old iron cooking pot said to carry a curse as deadly as any wrought by the ancient Pharaohs.

(Above) Manor Farm. East Halton 

  It was once common practice, particularly in rural communities, to conceal lucky charms in the fabric of newly constructed houses. Over the years, as many old building have been demolished or modernised, objects such as leather shoes, pins and old tobacco-pipe heads have been found in walls, under thresholds and inside chimneystacks.

  Occasionally more unsavoury items are found, such as mummified cats (see older post) and bottles containing a foul concoction of animal hearts and urine, believed to have been put there for the purpose of protecting the house and its occupants from witchcraft and all manor of evil spirits.

Few relics pertaining to this practice have inspired more fear and superstition upon discovery than a plain old iron cooking pot that, for nearly four decades, has been bricked up in the cellar of  the historic Manor Farm in the small North Lincolnshire village of East Halton.

The story goes that sometime during the latter part of the 19th Century, the farm was so badly haunted that the owners exorcised the ghost by trapping it in an iron cooking pot- which they filled with pins and earth- and locking it away in a small, disused cellar.
It was said that if the pot were removed from the cellar, the ghost would be free to resume its haunting.

In the late 1800's, a woman who lived at Manor Farm when she was a girl, told Lincolnshire folklorist Mabel Peacock that she believed the house to be haunted by a "Hobthrust", a household goblin similar to the Scottish Brownie and the Yorkshire Robin-Round Cap. she added that the cauldron contained sand and "children`s thumb bones", and that if the bones and sand were stirred at midnight, the Hobthrust would appear.

"Hobthrust" a mischievous household goblin

 The cauldron soon acquired an even more sinister reputation, for it was said to carry a curse of violent death to whoever disturbed it. Indeed, at least three people are said to have died because of the curse. The first victim, a young boy, took the cauldron from the cellar and threw it into the village pond. Within an hour he was dead.... run over and killed by a hay wagon. Sometime later, the cauldron was retrieved from the pond by an unknown man and returned to the cellar. Within hours he too died in mysterious circumstances.

The most recent supposed victim of  the curse was six year old Charles Atkins, whose family lived at Manor Farm in the 1930`s.
Oddly, he was also killed by a hay wagon, like the first victim, just hours after touching the pot. In 1975, Charles' older brother, the late John Atkins, spoke of the incident in a local news paper:

" I remember our father always telling us never to go near the cooking pot. But we were playing in cellar one day and Charles bumped into it. The next day we were out in the fields near the {river} Humber and Charles was playing around one of the wagons when it went right over him. "I was always a bit scared of the pot. There was a lot of superstition in the village about it and we were told that it contained the ashes of a dwarf who was killed at Thornton Abbey. There was a story that there was a tunnel between the Abbey and the cellar and that after the dwarf was killed, he was brought through the tunnel by the monks and remains were disposed of in secret."

Thornton Abbey: Acording to legend a tunnel leads from Manor Farm to this magnificent old building.

Mr Atkins concluded by saying; "Another family lived in the house before us, and I seem to remember they moved after a baby died in the house."
 After the death of Charles Atkins, the cellar containing the cursed cauldron was bricked up, and there it remained in its dark, dank prison for 35 years.

In 1974, local business man John Morton bought the property and began extensive renovations, which included breaking into the old cellar. However, after hearing the legend, the workmen refused to go anywhere near the corner of the cellar where the the battered old pot had lain undisturbed for so long. At length, local minister Rev Bob Kenyon, a firm believer in the curse, offered to remove it, convinced that being a priest he would be immune from its evil influence. He said:

 " I have come across things like this before. It is very easy to scoff but there is far more in something like this than we care to think about."
However, Mr. Morton decided to put an end to the matter once and for all by having the pot placed in a steel cage and buried in the cellar. The man charged with this unenviable task, local builder Alfred Darwood, said:

"No one really believed the legend but no one would touch it either. We put the steel plates in without moving the pot. If it had really been in the way, I suppose we would have had to have moved it. However, I wouldn't like to have been the one to do it."

Last seen: A 1970`s photograph of the cauldron taken before it was sealed up in an iron cage in the bricked up cellar

So, some 37 years on, is one of the most reputedly evil relics in British folklore still buried deep in the cellar of a North Lincolnshire farm house? This is the question I asked the current owners, Jason and Louise Wilks, when I paid an impromptu visit to the house on a stormy day in July 2010.

"We have only been here a few months," Said Mr. Wilks, "but  we heard all about the legend from the previous owners and from people in the village. We assume the pot is still here but we couldn't`t go looking for it even if we wanted to. The old cellar has been bricked up and there is no access to it now."

So far they have experienced nothing strange or ghostly in the house. Except on one occasion:
"I went into the living room one morning to find all the family photographs had been turned against the wall." Said Mrs Wilks.
"It gave me quite a turn, but our son said that he had done it for a joke to try and scare me!"

 Site of the bricked up cellar. Resting place for one of the most evil objects in British folklore.

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