For more than two centuries, The Goat Inn in Strumpshaw was considered by some to be the central part of village life; a bustling rural public house that reflected the character of the area rather than that of a certain goat which was slaughtered in the pub and chose to haunt the place thereafter!.
For this tale, however, we need only to go back to 1908. That was the year when the landlord’s wife by the name of Mrs Newton, took a fancy to majestic white goat – her term! This animal was brought to the Inn by a passing pedlar, whoes only aim in life seemed to be to wander the county in search of bargins and selling on as ‘unbeatable’ items. Whether it was for this reason, or for another best known to herself, Mrs Newton not only bought the goat, but paid a whole half-crown for the animal. It was inevitable perhaps that its real fate lay with a knife, from which there was no return to the small patch of green at the back of the Inn which had been nothing more than a temporary home. Instead, the goat’s head was to hang indoors for many years and would be known as ‘Old Capricorn’.
In 1958, a local newspaper picked up on what to they tought was a good story, despatching one of its reporters to interview an 82 year-old ‘regular of the Inn’ by the name of Harry Thompson. He remembered actually slaughtering ‘Old Capricorn’. Harry could not remember why he was asked to despatch the goat, but afterwards he well remembered someone suggesting that the animal should have a permanent ‘pride of place’ hanging behind the Goat Inn’s public bar – with its long horns, beard and black and hazel eyes glaring down upon folk as they supped their ale. ‘Old Capricorn’ could vet those who came into the pub, and worry some, whilst being a ‘star’ attraction itself! The suggestion certainly worked, for the goat’s head hung above the bar for over 60 years – but here’s the rub! During all that time, there were more than a few reports of illness, disharmony and misfortune attributed to ‘Old Capricorn’. Added to this, and probably a means of counteracting such misfortune, someone or other contrived, from time to time, to cause the head vanish from it’s place in the Inn. However, ‘Old Capricorn’ always found a way to return to haunt the place. It was as if it he had grown to enjoy the havoc caused by his presence!
Landlord Frank Walpole, who came to the pub in 1967, appeared to be the least fond of this goat’s head than previous landlords; he was the eleventh since Newton in 1904 when the live version of ‘Old Capricorn’ was purchased for a half-crown. It was Walpole who was also the first to remove it from the bar after a series of mysterious events which seemed to upset him more than the pub’s regulars. He cited things like mirrors flying off walls, the pub piano playing by itself while the top was closed; water pouring through the ceiling and his wife Lily and daughter Jane, aged 16 years, seeing figures walk about the Inn at night. Certainly, the most worryingly of all, was the occasion when a 17-year-old boy was killed in a car crash the day after he had touched the goat’s head. The newspaper of the time reported that Mr Walpole said:
“That made me think seriously about taking the head down. Now I’ve done it – Some of the regulars don’t like it, but it’s for the best.”
Mr and Mrs Walpole’s theory was that the Goat’s Head was nothing less than a ghost; what’s more, it was none other than Mrs Walpole’s cousin, Alfred, who died on the British destroyer HMS Harvester on March 11 1943 – but that’s another tale, for another day. She had also spoken to both a medium and a priest about a possible exorcism.
These were serious misgivings of the Walpole’s, but the fact of the matter was that the goat was being missed by their customers. So, two years later, ‘Old Capricorn’ was found and reinstated on the wall behind the bar. However, with the its return came renewed misfortune. This time it was the family pets who suffered: a minah bird dropped dead, a monkey died from a head injury, one of the family’s three dogs ran away while another died giving birth and its companion passed away the next day.
On Valentine’s Day 1972 the newspaper again noted that Mr Walpole:
“……..once again removed Old Capricorn, weighted the shaggy head and threw it in the river. He had been told he must ‘drown’ the evil spell. Only Mr Walpole was to know just where the goat’s head was hidden. He did hope at the time that the place would not bode ill for any Broads visitors that summer.”!
But, within a month, a reed-cutter by the name of Alfred Stone caught sight of the head in Rockland Dyke, “looking more malevolent than ever” after its five-mile journey along the River Yare. Alfred Stone passed it to a Mr A Loades of Broad Hall Farm in Rockland St Mary, whose son Dennis, 24, hung it in the barn saying he would “start his own museum”. But, you guessed it – within days, the dogs on the farm started behaving aggressively and Dennis’ grandmother, who was staying on the farm, had such a prolonged attack of nose bleeding that she had to go to hospital. Consequently, the head was hurriedly given back to The Goat Inn, but by August of the same year, ‘Old Capricorn’ was discovered in a shallow grave at Strumpshaw gravel pit where the creepy cranium was found “in the ground, as if it was alive”.
Unsurprisingly perhaps, more ‘spooky’ events followed the discovery: tyres deflated, a driver was shot in the arm, dogs were filled with fear – then the trail went cold!
It was not until 1984, when the Goat Inn was bought by Paul Cornwall and renamed ‘The Huntsman’, that interest was rekindled. The new proprietor was keen to bring the goat back to his rightful home and, once again, the local newspaper renewed its interest in, what to them, was still a news-worthy story. They quoted Mr Cornwall:
“I’m all for local superstitions, and I am interested in the whole history of the place; I’m not a believer, but, having said that, we have all got to go some time and you might as well die through touching a goat’s head. Of course I’d like it back – I am a glutton for punishment”!
Further to this, it was never said if Mr Cornwall, proprietor of the Huntsman at Strumpshaw, was ever successful. As for the local newspaper, which made such play on the topic at the time, appeared to have been conspicuous by its silence on the matter ever since. So, it is not known if Mr Cornwall ever brought ‘Old Capricorn’ home, which means that this tale must end abruptly – unless, and until, someone comes forward to confirm that the Goat’s Head of Strumpshaw is still ‘alive’ and well and possibly still spreading panic and mayhem!
With special thanks to Stacia Briggs and Siofra Connor, authors of the article contained via the following link and on which this blog is based. This version is without the source’s extensive advertising and all extraneous matter, which would not only have be a distraction from a good read, but would have breached NTM&M aims as a non-commercial site and non-profit making site:
Photos: Eastern Daily Press and Google Images.
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