Writing the Bernie Quist series of detective mysteries has involved plenty of research on werewolf legends, but one story that I was already well aware of was the strange Hexham legend from the 1970s.
I remember this being covered by the Nationwide television show, a popular factual programme back then, and I still recall the bizarre details. which I found quite unnerving as a young teenager
I recently tracked down and photographed the house involved in the story, and most of what follows is taken from the various internet accounts of the strange happenings. It's up to the reader to decide if some of this might be sensationalism mixed with a slight bending of the true facts.
Steeped in history, the town of Hexham lies in Northumberland, just a couple of miles south of Hadrian's Wall. In 1971, Colin and Leslie Robson were digging in their garden at number 3, Rede Avenue, and discovered two carved stone heads. Living where they did, the Robsons believed their finds were Roman, or possibly even older.
Unfortunately for the Robsons, bizarre and terrifying things then began to happen.
As the story goes: "They perceived a change in the environment of the place. It was an indescribable feeling of disturbance, as if something very bad was happening. Objects suddenly rushed to the ground, with no one responsible for moving them - shelves simply seemed to reject vases, portraits and books. A phone was constantly threatening to fall to the ground until the cable was torn off the wall. A lock broke in two after the door slammed hard. The walls began to crack and the pictures to twist. One night, the Robsons woke to the sound of a crashing glass, for no apparent reason the living room window had simply exploded, throwing splinters everywhere. Even more strange was the fact that at the exact site where the stone heads were found, all kinds of harmful grass and spiny ivy began to grow and insect pests devastated the garden. But the most annoying thing was a constant stench, a smell of wild animal urine that permeated every corner of the house."
The neighbour Ellen Dodd was also suffering weird phenomena.
Her small son exhibited bite marks, as if "a large dog had savaged him", and there was a "wet dog" stink in the house. Ellen felt an "unseen presence" knock her to the ground and felt thick fur rubbing against her skin. Later, she and her daughter were up late when both witnessed a “half-man, half wolf” or possibly "half man, half sheep" (the two are easily confused) entering the bedroom. The pair screamed, but the creature seemed oblivious to them and left the room. They heard it “padding down the stairs on its hind legs”, and the front door was found wide open. They said it seemed like the creature was searching for something, and had left the house to continue elsewhere.
Interest in the local legend of the Wolf of Allendale was rekindled – a werewolf-type creature that plagued the Hexham area in 1904 - and the stone heads became associated with the possible re-appearance of the monster.
The Robson children returned home from school one day to find the werewolf creature in their lounge. They raced out terrified and a group of men ran in to find nothing, save for the stink of the animal.
The family had experienced enough and the heads were sent to Newcastle University, whilst a Catholic priest was brought in to bless the houses in Rede Avenue.
Thought to be Celtic in origin, they were then given to the expert Doctor Anne Ross in Southampton, as she had several others in her collection and wished to compare them.
Anne Ross claimed she felt a strange coldness emanating from these two objects and, a few nights after taking possession, Dr Ross awoke at 2am one morning, feeling chilled and very frightened. Looking up, she saw a wolf creature standing in her bedroom doorway:
She said: “It was about six feet high, slightly stooping, and it was black, against the white door, and it was half animal and half man. The upper part was a wolf, and the lower part human. I would have said that it was covered with a kind of black, very dark fur. It went out and I just saw it clearly, and then it disappeared, and something made me run after it, a thing I wouldn’t normally have done, but I felt compelled to run after it. I got out of bed and I ran, and I could hear it going down the stairs, then it disappeared towards the back of the house.”
Living in Southampton, Dr Ross knew nothing of the Allendale legend and the association of the Hexham Heads with the possible return of the werewolf.
Later, Dr Ross came home with her archaeologist husband Richard to find their daughter Berenice in a distressed state. Berenice explained that she'd unlocked the front door and entered that afternoon to witness a large, black wolf rushing down the stairs; halfway down the creature vaulted the bannister, landing with a soft, heavy thud like a large animal with padded feet.
The creature was seen several times more by other people in her house and, convinced the stone heads to be responsible for these horrific events, Dr Ross passed on her whole collection of heads, along with the Hexham pair to other collectors. The Hexham Heads soon found their way back to Newcastle University and were kept in their museum. Again, odd things happened there, but the werewolf was never spotted again.
A truck driver named Desmond Craigie (above) then contacted the media in 1974 to say that he'd lived in the Rede Avenue house prior to the Robson family. Weirdly, he claimed he'd carved the heads himself in 1956 as a present for his daughter to play with and they'd become lost in the garden. Apparently, Dr Ross didn't believe him and, when you look at them, this does seem even more bizarre than the werewolf stories.
The heads below are held by Paul Screeton, the authority on this story. Although these aren't the actual Hexham Heads (one was made by Desmond Craigie and the other by Colin Robson for a school project), they're very similar. Try to imagine anyone (apart from perhaps Josef Fritzl) giving these to their little girl as playthings.
The definitive work on this story by Paul Screeton.
After her terrifying encounters, Anne Ross gave them to Dr Don Robins, who also experienced paranormal happenings. Don then gave them to investigator Frank Hyde on a temporary basis. Where they are right now is something of a mystery, mystery, but have you dug in YOUR garden recently? now.