The Skull at the Pack Horse Pub, Affetside

Pack Horse Inn, Affetside

Strictly speaking, the Pack Horse in Affetside is in Greater Manchester now, but historically this whole area used to be part of Lancashire…

Built in 1443, this old pub is proud of the skull displayed above the bar. The skull is brown with age and indisputably human. It is also indisputably ancient. It is said to belong to George Whowell, and its story dates from the Civil War. However, unlike the majority of preserved skulls in Lancashire, its owner George was no religious martyr; he was a simple man whose tragedy was to witness the murder of his wife and children. Their murderers were Royalist soldiers, in the charge of James Stanley, the seventh Earl of Derby. George’s family were among over a thousand people killed in the Bolton Massacre. Stanley, Earl of Derby was later captured by Cromwell’s soldiers and sentenced to death for the crime of supporting the ‘pretender’ to the throne, Charles II. He was executed in 1651, in Bolton and, fittingly, his executioner was the local ‘headsman’ – none other than George Whowell.

No-one can say for certain how Whowell’s skull came to be preserved and kept at the Pack Horse pub, although it seems horrifyingly fitting that a ‘headsman’ should be remembered this way.

There is evidence that he may have been connected to a local farming family by the name of Butterworth, who later came to own the pub. Or perhaps it was simply one of his favourite watering places. However, the skull, whoever it belongs to, will surely be there forever, as rumour has it that if anyone tries to remove it, it screams…

Image © Copyright liz dawson and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

About LancashireFolk

Lancashire folklore, legends, ghosts, local history - author of 'Lancashire Folk' published by Schiffer Publishing 2016 - 9780764349836 £19.50. Please visit to see upcoming books. The Enchanted Valley and Manchester Folk will be published in 2020. Cumbria Folk almost ready!
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2 Responses to The Skull at the Pack Horse Pub, Affetside

  1. Max says:

    Beautifully written.


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