Halloween: Bolton executioners skull remains in The Pack Horse pub, Affetside

Do you ever get the feeling that you are being watched…if you’re paying a visit to The Pack Horse pub in Affetside, Tottington, then it might just be true.  

Over the years, the Watling Street pub has developed its own local legend, mainly due to a human skull dating back hundreds of years, which is encased at the bar.  

The skull is thought to belong to an old regular at the pub, George Whowell, a headsman who executed James Stanley in 1651.  

When civil war divided the country from 1642 to 1651, there were two main sides, the Royalists and Parliamentary supporters.

King Charles I, who was feeling threatened at the time, found his northern stronghold in York was besieged, and Parliamentarians had allied with Scotland to create a new army. 

The Bolton News: Skull in The Pack Horse Skull in The Pack Horse (Image: Public)

In a bid to get back on top, the King’s nephew, Prince Rupert, arrived in Shrewbury preparing to relieve York and secure the north.

Rupert began his “York March”, heading through Lancashire to gather reinforcements, and secure the county for Royalist troops heading back from Ireland.

Along the way, local magnate James Stanley, the 7th Earl of Derby, joined, just in time for the Bolton Massacre on May 28, 1644.

They stormed a Parliamentarian outpost in Stockport, bypassed Manchester and advanced to Bolton.

It was here that Royalist soldiers murdered, stole and ravaged the town, unchecked by Rupert or the Earl of Derby.

Given free reign by the duo, they are suspected to have killed around 1,600 of Bolton’s defenders and inhabitants.

Residents were slaughtered during and after the fighting, residents which included the family of George Whowell.

Leaving Bolton a bloodied mess, they continued until the Royalists lost control of the north, Rupert escaped south and Bolton was recaptured.

In 1651, the Earl of Derby was captured in Cheshire and court-martialled before being sentenced to execution.

He was taken back to Bolton, the place where the bloody massacre had taken place and executed outside Ye Olde, Man and Scythe in the town centre.

Found guilty of assisting the Royalists, the Earl placed his head on the chopping block, passing coins to the executioner for a swift clean cut.

Those coins were passed on to George Whowell.

The man, whose family perished in the massacre, was fittingly called to be the Earls executioner.

It was reported that he kissed his axe and brought it down on the neck of the Earl.

Thought to have been a local at the Pack Horse, Whowell lived on his family farm and to this day, no-one quite knows how his skull ended up at the pub.

Many are said to have moved the skull in the past and been met with mysterious happenings, meaning it has become an unmovable part of the pub and a permanent resident of Affetside.

If you have a story tweet  @Heywoodharriet_ or email Harriet.Heywood@newsquest.co.uk. 


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