The Gallows Stone

The landlord has promised for some time to replace all the pebbledash (‘harling’ in Scottish) on the north end of the house. It’s cracked, damp gets in, in heavy rain the drains can’t cope and water leaks in through the base of the door… it’s a constant battle against black mould at that end of the house.

This week, it began-

You know when you start picking at a loose bit of cement and get carried away…

First thing I noticed was the big difference between the left and right sides of that double-roof section. On the right, there are big granite blocks. On the left it’s just made of whatever stones were lying around in the fields. A few things started to click into place.

The mysterious alcove in CStM’s craft room. It mirrors exactly the alcove of the window in my office but that wall backs on to the bathroom. We’ve been wondering about that alcove.

The strange staircase behind a cupboard door that is not at all like the main staircase, and which leads to two upstairs rooms that are not accessible by any other route. One of those rooms has bare stone wall part way up the end of it.

Conclusion? That ‘alcove’ was once a window and the house was roughly T shaped. The right hand part was added later. Bathroom, utility room, large cupboards and two upstairs rooms.

On the extreme left is likely to be the original door.

I just hope nobody is walled up in there.

So I did a bit of digging. The house is on a map dated 1768, so it was already here then. I haven’t been able to find anything earlier so don’t know exactly how old it is. I did manage to pin down the ‘new’ extension though.

There is an entry in a ledger from 1865 that refers to a load of stone tansported here from a place called Gallowshill, 30 years earlier (so around 1835). The stone was used to build the extension.

The thing is… the large stone blocks were cut from a much bigger stone. A stone with large holes in it to support wooden uprights.

It was the stone from the base of a gallows. The record is quite clear on this point.

Oh yeah. I live in a house built, in part, using a cut-up gallows stone. I found this hilarious. CStM, strangely, does not share my enthusiasm. She merely wonders how I always manage to find creepy places to live. It’s purely accidental. I had no idea, and if that coating had not come off the wall, I would never have known.

I won’t put the documents online here, obviously. I might as well just put my address up. Even the small clues in them lead to no other location. The map, well, little has changed in this part of Scotland for centuries. Roads have moved but the old ones are still there, including milestones. Place names are mostly exactly the same. Including this place.

The photos aren’t going to be much of a clue. We’re not on Google Streetview because we’re not visible from the public road and they weren’t allowed to go up private farm roads.

Anyhow, work is progressing. The entire wall was exposed and today they’ve been filling the gaps. Which is good – the old fireplace in the right side of the house has a very thin wall at the back and there was daylight coming through. No wonder it’s cold in there! Or maybe that’s the chill from the gallows stone. Woooo!

Anyhow. Fully exposed, the wall looks like this –

I’d love it if it could stay like that but it’s not an option. It wouldn’t be weatherproof against a north wind, and some of the random rocks used on the left side might be porous. Still, I have photos before it gets covered up again. Both chimneys are capped and out of use. The only live ones are at the far end of the house.

Also, the drain issue is being simultaneously solved. Looks like I’m getting a moat…

There has been some progress since then, most of the wall has been re-pointed and next week should see it completed. I hope.

I have until next week to finish with Justin Sanebridge’s book, despite all these distractions, because then my parents will be visiting. As soon as they leave it’ll be time to start on the Halloween anthology.

I might name it something along the lines of The Gallows Stone.


Update: No work on the house today or tomorrow so I grapped a couple of pics of progress so far.

The ‘moat’ is still there and has in fact extended – you just can’t see it from this angle.

Work resumes on Monday – it’s just two guys working on this and they’re moving pretty fast!

30 thoughts on “The Gallows Stone

  1. Really interesting. My house is a bit like this, excepting only one part. Built of stone found around here. Basically, Brittany is one big pile of rocks. My house has also been sort of pebble dashed with rough cement. I would love it to be pointed stone but wouldn’t be prepared to take a chance on that as the walls behind both fire places are a bit on the thin side by comparison to the rest of the walls, although I suppose they knew what they were doing.
    No damp course, of course, but never a hint of damp, and I only get condensation when the temperature outside is equal to the temperature inside.
    It is actually three small cottages with two of them having been turned into one. I am still trying to figure out what happened to one of the staircases and the dividing stone wall. But it has been like this for at least at least 80 years and hasn’t fallen down yet.
    The existing staircase is almost certainly original. Not conducive to having had a couple.
    No sign of any gallows, but I doubt there would be as Madame la Guillotine was the preferred method of dispatch.

    Liked by 1 person

    • There’s a huge lintel across the top of the fireplace so the thin wall at the back is only holding up a thin ‘skin’ of the wall.

      I’d have liked it left as pointed stonework but the stones look pretty random – some of them might be porous. Too big a risk when the north wind hits that wall in winter!

      In the old days there were three fireplaces in that wall. One at the base of each chimney and one in the room above the gallows stone. It would have been almost constantly warm in winter so pointed stonework would have been fine. Now, no active fireplaces that end of the house šŸ˜¦

      Liked by 1 person

      • I know all about it, Love. I actually took a tape measure to the inside and outside once upon a time when I needed another nervous breakdown. The walls behind the fire places are about a quarter of a metre thick when the main house walls are over a metre thick. Personally, I don’t think that this is at all funny, but might account for the cement that was added later. I can only hope that they knew what they were doing.
        My youngest son who is a great fire raiser, actually cracked the outside cement, and killed off the Ivy in his enthusiasm, which I swear to God is the only thing that keeps the wall standing. The Ivy, that is. Ditto the other end.
        However, there are some massive great rocks at the base of the fireplace next door which could be keeping the whole thing up. I can’t see the base in my house because it is raised. I can only hope. But it does seem to be quite normal in old, stone built houses. Most of them are like this around here, although I haven’t actually measured any of the others. Perhaps this thin skin is held up by the rest of the wall. But I haven’t worked out for why yet. I can only suppose that there must have been a reason. The people who built these houses weren’t stupid, and a few more stones were no odds to anyone.
        Anyway, I have got a wood burner now, the chimney of which does not touch the wall. I made sure of that just to be careful.
        I think that good pointing would probably do the trick, but it is very, very expensive.
        And Brittany does have a saltpetre problem. Mainly due to nipping down to the nearest beach for sand. And why not, I ask myself. They didn’t have builder’s merchants in those days.
        But these lovely hovels go on standing. You make the best of them that you can. And thank God that you don’t live in a suburban semi.
        My two old houses have history, of which I am a latter day part, and always will be.

        Liked by 1 person

        • If you buy a brand new, just built, house these days it comes with a guarantee that it will stay up for 20 – 25 years.

          This one has stood for at least 250 years and probably a lot longer.

          Oh they knew what they were doing all right šŸ˜‰

          Liked by 2 people

  2. Fair play Leggy your place sounds like a really interesting place to live. Certainly beat my vastly overpriced Ā£900 a month 3 bed modern house in a traditional “2.4 children” semi-posh estate.

    Liked by 2 people

    • They have a cottage down the hill they’ve had to renovate pretty much from scratch. They are replacing everything except the walls, and it had no power or water and the bathroom was in a shed outside. It looks really impressive so far.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. A few years ago Mark Gatiss wrote and featured in an excellent tv serial involving a house whose materials had included wood from the gallows. It was called “Crooked House” – worth watching.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Well, if anyone ought to be living in something out of an M R James story, it’s you!

    Without wishing to pry, are you in the same neck of the woods as the indomitable author of ‘MacPherson’s Rant’? If so, and you’re feeling brave, I’d suggest getting hold of a fiddle and trying a rendition one night…

    Farewell, yon dungeons dark and strong,
    The wretch’s destinie;
    Macpherson’s time will not be long
    On yonder gallows-tree.
    Sae rantingly, sae wantonly,
    Sae dauntingly gaed he;
    He play’d a tune, and danc’d it roon’
    Below the gallows-tree.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Two things strike me here. Firstly, there is already enough online to identify where this house actually is, if you are as devious a git as I am.

    Secondly, given the spurious level of history that some ghost hunts have been embarked upon for, I’d say you have a very good site to let loose amateur ghost hunters upon. I would observe that these ninnies frequently buy 3-axis electromagnetic sensors (which exist already in most smartphones, but let’s not tell them that) and use these to try to divine the presence of ghosts. A cynical observer might use fine copper wire looped around door or window frames to create large Helmholtz coils, which could be remotely triggered for laughs.

    A cynical and physics-minded chap might also devise hydraulic door opener/closers that operate on the hinges, for that extra-spookiness factor, along with infrasound speakers operating on the floor beams…

    Finally, if you happen to have a big, long stone and a couple of uprights knocking about, then a fake “remains of Druidical circle” thing could well be mocked up in the garden. Aberdeenshire is lousy with recumbent stone circles, and the uprights are the first things to get nicked for gateposts, hence pointing ghost hunters towards the remains of the circle, and describing a blue-faced but much faded bloke occasionally seen in one part of the building would just give the place that little extra kick.

    Don’t overdo it though. Black dogs are a bit much for a house (they’re a bit much in pubs in Wakefield, too) and are better off being reported down on the main valley road, where they are much more likely to have been misreported in the past.

    Liked by 2 people

    • The best way for a door slam is a metal plate embedded in the door and an electromagnet in the frame. No visible components šŸ˜‰ Better yet, a magnet in the door and reversible electromagnet in the frame so it can slam, then fly open šŸ˜€

      I’ve seen them use those EMF meters. They never seem to do a proper 3-axis measurement, just wave the thing around and get all excited when the fridge turns on and sends a pulse through the electrics…

      Lots of wildlife here for a bit of rustling bushes at night. A rabbit in the rhododendrons can sound a lot bigger than it really is. Properly primed, I bet they could be induced to ‘see’ pretty much anything.

      I’d have to get the landlord’s permission but a ‘pay per scare’ night out is a real possibility.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Getting a little late in the year now, but if you can persuade the local hedgehog population to view your residence as a happy place with food on offer, then this too will help with the ghostliness. Hedgehogs make an inordinate amount of noise for their size, and some scared twerp standing on watch outside could get the shock of their life that way.

        Most ghost-hunting equipment is an expensive version of dowsing rods, without the mind of the user being engaged. Quite a few of the “electronic voice phenomena” detectors (Google this, then sit down with a glass of something nice and prepare to laugh for hours) are wideband radio receivers, which pick up almost anything from taxi radios to locals with walkie-talkies to whatever, and present noisy, poorly tuned mush as a real phenomenon.

        About the only ghost-hunting equipment worthy of the name would be the home-made infrasound detectors, which are nothing more than bass speakers being fed into an amplifier. Infrasound of certain frequencies causes human eyes to vibrate in sympathy, and this makes the hapless human see things that aren’t there. One “ghost” in the old Harland and Wolf shipyard offices turned out to be a particularly resonant infrasound hotspot, the initial energy being supplied by diesel generators in ships moored out in the harbour (the engine being fairly well coupled to the ship hull, and water being a really good sound conductor).

        The old-time ghost hunters never used much of this equipment that is so easy now to spoof. Old-time ghost-hunting kit consisted of multiple ways to spot if someone was pulling a spoof; modern kit should be more of the same, but rarely is. “Kreed Kafer”, an anagram of “Derek Faker” is a famous case in point; someone carefully fed the star of the show “Most Haunted” with that name, claiming it to be the name of a South African whose restless ghost haunted an area; quite by happenstance that very same spirit happened to turn up that very night…

        I have a low opinion of ghost hunters in general, but they do have their uses. A magical, nay mystical transference of money from their pockets to yours is one worthy use they have, and a suitably cunning scientist might devise many a trick to pull on them.


        • I remember seeing tri-field meters on sale to ghosthunters. Detectors so sensitive they’d react to your pocket change moving around. You’d need to be a PhD in physics and/or engineering to use them properly – and they were expensive too! Absolutely useless in untrained hands, and really not much use outside a well-controlled lab.

          Also infrared detectors. More likely to be set off by a mouse or a large moth. The logic escaped me – if ghosts produce a drop in temperature, why would an IR detector ‘see’ them?

          Speaking of mice, I recall an episode of Most Haunted where they spent at least 10 minutes trying to communicate with a mouse scratching in the wall. It ‘responded’ by stopping when they tapped, pausing, then scratching again. Like they do in this house and in other places I’ve lived.

          Living most of my life in the countryside, I suppose I had a bit of an unfair advantage on that one. Also the highly mirthful occasion when they panicked because something tapped against a window.

          It was a tree.

          I have a hydrangea I need to cut back after every flowering or it taps insistently on the greenhouse whenever the winter wind blows. Forget to trim it and it’s ‘tap-tap-tap’.

          I wrote a ghosthunting book once. ‘Ghosthunting for the Sensible Investigator’ by Romulus Crowe. A non-fiction book by a fictional author. Put it on Lulu, had a couple printed for my own amusement and forgot about it. Then Lulu sent a royalty payment. I thought ‘People are buying this?’ so I put it on Amazon and wrote a second edition.

          It had one review. A photographer who thought Romulus (me) was dissing the image quality of digital cameras. He (I) wasn’t. I was pointing out that digital images are really easy to manipulate. Sure you can do that with film too but it’s a lot harder. Anyone with a digital camera and image manipultation software can insert a ghost now. The Daily Mail even fell for ghost images where the ghost was inserted using an app with stock images. Easily debunked – but they published ‘ghost’ photos at least twice.

          There was a case, can’t remember where, where a ‘haunted’ laboratory was traced to the vibrations from a ceiling fan.

          Oh there are some that can’t be easily debunked away, including a few I’ve experienced myself, but I’d say 99% at least of alleged hauntings can be explained in non-supernatural terms.

          As for orbs, oh don’t get me started on orbs!


          • Were I running a TV show purporting to depict ghosts, then one of the first things I would do is set up some webcams. I would allow access to these cameras in such a manner that grabbing images off them would be rather difficult, and then I would bring my own rather devious skills into play.

            I trained as a biologist so many, many years ago, but these days I work with computers. Linux by preference these days, and Linux systems come with so many interesting little applications. Take a publicly-available webcam, for instance. The system is taking a feed from cameras, and making it available via an Apache web server, but that does not mean that the server in the middle need be idle. Not when you have such applications as Imagemagick!

            No, much better that in a low percentage of the webcam shots, an artificially generated ghost is shown on one or two frames, and sent to just a tiny minority of the viewing public. That way only a few reports of the supernatural are generated, and careful testing of what is at the far end of the link to try not to send images to recording systems should ensure that a low level of completely genuine ghost reports get phoned in by the general public.


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