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Home > Projects > Community Heritage Fund > Heads and Tales – St. Cuthbert’s, Elsdon

The Heads and Tales project celebrates a very unusual aspect of the church’s heritage: the discovery of three horses’ skulls that were built into the belfry. St Cuthbert’s Church, Elsdon, was awarded £1,983 to install a new and well-lit interpretive display case for the enigmatic skulls has been installed at St. Cuthbert’s, Elsdon.

The newly installed display cabinet at St. Cuthbert’s, Elsdon, September 2019. Photo: Marcus Byron Design

By properly displaying and raising the profile of the skulls, this project:

  • Adds to the offer and enhance the experience of the church for local people and visitors
  • Helps protect these significant artefacts for the future
  • Enables local people and visitors to see and appreciate the skulls, and explore their story within the historic building where they were discovered
  • Is part of the process of uncovering and developing their story – nobody knows for sure why they were put so carefully into the bell tower but lots of theories have been put forward. Contribute towards preserving and sharing the theories, adding new ideas and suggestions

Previously, the skulls were informally displayed in an unsecured cabinet in a dark corner at the back of the church, with just a simple label that hints at their curious story. The skulls were very difficult to see, and at risk of being damaged or stolen.

The original, unsecured and unlit display, September 2018

Installing the skulls in a secure, attractive and accessible bespoke case, with integral lighting, is enabling everyone using the church to see and appreciate them much more easily. Through promoting the skulls, the display case and interpretation, new and different people are being encouraged into the building, including local people, visitors, and those with a special interest in history, archaeology, myth and mystery.
The new display has been a springboard to work with local people, including writers and storytellers, generating new heritage and creative resources for the church, village and parish, and supporting new activities such as an annual storytelling evening with Elsdon Writers’ Group.

The team at St Cuthbert’s Church is absolutely delighted to have Revitalising Redesdale’s support for our Heads & Tales project. No-one knows for sure why three horses’ skulls were placed in the bell tower at the church, but they are a unique and intriguing part of Elsdon’s heritage and have stimulated many theories over the years.  It’s very exciting that we will now be able to display and interpret the skulls properly in a bespoke new case, and we will be using their mysterious story as inspiration for other community myth-making and storytelling events and activities in the village this summer, including new creative writing, a film about the church, and potentially the creation of a brand new Elsdon legend! – Beryl Charlton, St. Cuthbert’s Church Elsdon

The display case was designed by Marcus Byron Design and interpretation design by Jo Scott.