The headless lady of Muker, by Arthur Harwood Brierley

Now, about seventy years ago one Kit Brunskill – a bred and born Muker man, at that time approaching the prime of life – had his eye on a neat stone house, rather larger than those occupied by the general run of lead-miners, situated in the very centre of the town, not fifty yards from the church gates. He had “made it up” with a fair cousin who occupied the house at the time, when, without a word (she was much younger than Kit) she committed suicide by hanging herself in the kitchen through jealousy. Tradition passes over the formalities of the inquest, and goes on to say that the lady’s head was severed from the trunk and buried separately in a box at midnight in the church yard, and the trunk and the limbs buried under the kitchen flags. Matters do not rest here, for the Upper Swaledale folk are by no means unyoked from superstition. The headless ghost of Kit Brunskill’s lady-love remains one of the most fearsome things in Muker-land. She – or it – first appears in the dimly-lighted kitchen.

There is no accounting whatever for the presence of the eerie light. From the ground-floor she ascends the stairs in her white shrouds, the rustle of which is like that of a silk dress. Beyond the landing are three or four bedroom doors, always kept closed. She pauses at one particular door. She touches it, and it opens. With marrow-freezing gestures she enters, and walks straight to the rusty fireplace, above which hangs the portrait of her wronged lover, Kit Brunskill, painted by her own deft hand when in the bloom of her exuberance of youth. Tears she cannot shed, nor any kind of emotion show, for she is hopelessly headless; but she rests her bony arm on the dusty mantelpiece for some minutes, presents what one might almost venture to call an attitude of contemplation, and then without the slightest sound retraces her steps more slowly. The apparition descends the stairs to the kitchen, and disappears with phantom ease.

Kit Brunskill lived in the house for nearly three-parts of a lifetime as a bachelor, utterly disconsolate at the untimely end of the lady of his choice through unfounded jealousy. The too-frequent reappearance of the apparition, affecting as it did every time the most sensitive chord of his heart, also began to prey upon his nerves and brain. At last the Vicar of the parish prevailed over him to quit the house for one quite free from such intrusions. But the evacuation of the house made no difference to the conduct of its haunting immortal. Kit left his portrait behind for an obviously good reason – lest it should be followed – and the headless lady is supposed to still make her personal visits to it in the dead of night.

This story appeared at the end of a long article written by Arthur Harwood Brierley about Muker, which was published in the Leeds Mercury in 1897. The full article can be read at Muker 1897.

Return to Folk Lore menu.