Skeletons in the Attic and Babes in the Wood: Surprising and Spooky Yuletide Traditions

Skeletons in the Attic and Babes in the Wood: Surprising and Spooky Yuletide Traditions

(Read the article on one page)

Although we nowadays associate ‘Happy Holidays’ with celebrations during Advent and the run-up to Christmas Day and then on to New Year’s Eve (or Hogmanay in Scotland) not that many years ago the ‘Festive Season’ extended beyond the end of December until at least Twelfth Night (5th January), while in the 19th century it was the convention to display Christmas decorations until Candlemas (2nd February, coincidentally Groundhog Day in the United States).

When I was a child growing up in the North of England in the 1950’s, Twelfth Night was an occasion for a large gathering of friends and family at which guests would entertain the party by performing songs, giving recitals, and telling ghost stories—the spookier the better.

Twelfth-night (The King Drinks) circa 1634.

Twelfth-night (The King Drinks) circa 1634. ( Public Domain )

Even today the tradition of the longer festive period is still kept alive in the UK by the pantomime (panto) season which runs until at least mid-January.

The Christmas Pantomime color lithograph bookcover, 1890, showing the harlequinade characters.

The Christmas Pantomime color lithograph bookcover, 1890, showing the harlequinade characters. ( Public Domain )

I was therefore intrigued, during the course of researching material for my upcoming book on East Anglian legends and folklore, to discover that two tales associated with the longer Yuletide tradition had their historical origins in my part of Norfolk (England).

The Skeleton in the Attic

Lying on the north bank of the River Waveney in south Norfolk is the village of Brockdish. Today, one of the many old and intriguing buildings in the village is Brockdish Hall, which was built in 1634 in an Elizabethan style. This “newer” building stands next to the moated site of the now long-demolished Brockdish Old Hall – and it is the legend associated with the original hall that is the focus of our attention, for this is one of the locations for the story of ‘The Mistletoe Bride.’

According to the legend (and this was a story I first heard as a child at a long-ago family Twelfth Night party) it was the Christmas season, the Old Hall was decorated with boughs of mistletoe and holly, and a party was taking place to celebrate the marriage of the lord of the manor’s beautiful daughter. At some point during the evening, the bride grew tired of dancing and suggested the guests play hide-and-seek. Knowing the house so well, the bride headed off to an attic room and hid herself in a large wooden storage chest.

Girl inspecting her open hope chest

Girl inspecting her open hope chest ( Public Domain )

Elsewhere in the house, the game of hide-and-seek drew to a close with everyone discovered – except the bride. A search then began of the house, both inside and outside. It continued with increased desperation throughout the night and into the following day but no trace of the bride could be found. Had she met with an accident – or perhaps had second thoughts about her marriage and had run away?

Days turned into weeks, turned into months and into years, but no sign was ever found of the missing bride. Her father died of a broken heart. The groom went mad with grief or, depending upon the version of the story being told, went off to war and was killed in battle. Eventually the family line died out, the Old Hall was sold and it was only then that mystery was solved.

While clearing out the building, the new owners found an old, locked chest in an attic room…


This FREE PREVIEW is just a taste of the great benefits you can find at Ancient Origins Premium. 

Join us there  with easy, instant access  ) and reap the rewards:  NO MORE ADS, NO POPUPS, GET FREE eBOOKS, JOIN WEBINARS, EXPEDITIONS, WIN GIFT GIVEAWAYS & more!

Top Image: Deriv; The babes, by now abandoned, wander the woods ( Public Domain ) and skull ( CC BY 2.0 )

By Charles Christian

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Top New Stories

Denisova cave, some 150 km (93 mi) south of the city of Barnaul, is the only source of Denisovan's remains. Pictures: The Siberian Times
The distance from the only currently known home of the Denisovans in Altai region to the nearest point of Australia is roughly akin to the length of the Trans-Siberian railway, and yet it is looking increasingly likely that these ancient species of humanoids somehow made this epic journey deep in pre-history, perhaps 65,000 years ago.

Myths & Legends

A vase-scene from about 410 BC. Nimrod/Herakles, wearing his fearsome lion skin headdress, spins Noah/Nereus around and looks him straight in the eye. Noah gets the message and grimaces, grasping his scepter, a symbol of his rule - soon to be displaced in the post-Flood world by Nimrod/Herakles, whose visage reveals a stern smirk.
The Book of Genesis describes human history. Ancient Greek religious art depicts human history. While their viewpoints are opposite, the recounted events and characters match each other in convincing detail. This brief article focuses on how Greek religious art portrayed Noah, and how it portrayed Nimrod in his successful rebellion against Noah’s authority.

Human Origins

Sumerian creation myth
Sumer , or the ‘land of civilized kings’, flourished in Mesopotamia, now modern-day Iraq, around 4500 BC. Sumerians created an advanced civilization with its own system of elaborate language and...

Ancient Technology

The School of Athens
Much of modern science was known in ancient times. Robots and computers were a reality long before the 1940´s. The early Bronze Age inhabitants of the Levant used computers in stone, the Greeks in the 2nd century BC invented an analogue computer known as the Antikythera mechanism. An ancient Hindu book gives detailed instructions for the construction of an aircraft –ages before the Wright brothers. Where did such knowledge come from?

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article