Cauldrons to coffins: creepy curios in our collection
Many of the historic houses that we look after have their fair share of dark and grisly tales and some are even said to play host to a ghost or two. Although we cannot guarantee you a ghostly encounter when you visit, we have plenty of eerie and macabre objects in our collection to send shivers down your spine. Here are just a few.
Charles Paget Wade of Snowshill Manor, Gloucestershire
Charles Paget Wade was an avid collector of magical and astrological objects. Our Head Curator Sally-Anne Huxtable takes us through a few of Wade's objects.
Wade's collection of objects includes armillary spheres, witch bottles, and a magician’s chest. He also designed objects including the ‘Nychthemeron’ (‘Night and Day’ in Greek) clock which features astrological and zodiac symbols, and another ‘Unicorn’ clock for which he created his own Tarot designs based on the Marseilles deck.
Tucked away at the top of Snowshill Manor is a secret room, which is closed to the public, called the ‘Witches Garret’ (image on the left). Wade decorated this room with a Ceremonial Magic circle on the floor, and on the walls he created images of male and female mandrakes based on a 15th-century herbal. The mandrake is a plant closely associated with witchcraft and alchemy.
The stuff of nightmares
This fierce snake-like creature with golden glowing eyes sits atop a Japanese Samurai helmet. The helmet is part of a collection of 26 suits of Samurai armour at Snowshill Manor, Gloucestershire.
The figure of death
The Hall at Lacock Abbey, Wiltshire is home to 27 terracotta figures by Austrian artist Victor Sederbach (fl.1755-1756). Most are of Biblical and historical figures, but there is also a skeleton among the set, representing death.
The head of Medusa
The snake-haired Medusa, one of the three monstrous Gorgons of Greek mythology, can be seen on Andrew Carpenter’s 1705 statue ‘Fame borne aloft by the Winged Horse Pegasus’, in the gardens of Powis Castle, Wales.
Coats of arms often include fierce-looking creatures. This heraldic wolf or lion appears on the standard of Jean de Daillon. It’s depicted in a rare 15th-century tapestry at Montacute House, Somerset.
Listen to the National Trust Podcast: Halloween special
In episode 67 of the National Trust Podcast, recorded in 2019, curator James Grasby visits 500-year old Little Moreton Hall in Cheshire, to find out how the Tudors protected their homes against evil. James meets house staff who reveal strange relics of our past.
Throughout history people have often looked for ways to control or prevent misfortunes and catastrophe, and events which we might now pass off as just part of life were frequently blamed on the forces of evil. Individuals or groups of people were labelled as witches who cast spells or curses on people, property, places, crops or livestock.
With belief in the powers of darkness so common, people found ingenious ways to ward off evil spirits and deeds.
" Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn and caldron bubble."
What are witch marks?
Apotropaic marks, known as witch marks, were thought to be used to ward off evil spirits. Many can be found in the houses we care for. Could this one, at Woolsthorpe Manor, Lincolnshire, have been made by Isaac Newton?
Where are they found?
Witch marks are usually found near the openings of buildings, like fireplaces and windows. Perhaps these were thought of as high-risk areas for evil spirits getting in. This one was found in the basement at Clandon Park, Surrey.
Daisy wheels, such as this one at Little Moreton Hall, Cheshire, are the most common witch mark found on buildings. Why they were so popular and what the symbol represented is still a mystery.
Deliberate burn marks are often found on beams, such as this one at Oxburgh Hall, Norfolk. One theory is they were thought to protect the building against fire.
A rare protection sign called an Auseklis Cross (which looks a bit like a star) can be found on the Stable Block at Belton, Lincolnshire. The symbol is more commonly found in eastern Europe.
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