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School curse which fooled the head

By Toby Neal | Bridgnorth | Features | Published:

As excavations were undertaken to create a new swimming pool at a Bridgnorth school, the discovery of an old clay pot containing an ancient parchment which warned of a curse created a sensation.

These excavations uncovered a pot containing an ancient curse.

Excitement among pupils, and even some teaching staff, at Bridgnorth Boys Modern School at Oldbury Wells reached fever pitch.

Fired with enthusiasm after learning that the ancient document mentioned treasure of silver and gold in the vicinity, many began to make excited inquiries all over the town.

The writer of the document threatened that if the parchment fell into the wrong hands, a curse would prevail. Eternal and everlasting torment of the soul was threatened.

Ahem. Step forward, Clifford Craddock, William Humphries, and Robert Thorne. It was this trio of pupils who were behind it. If they are still around, they must be getting on a bit now, because their clever hoax was enacted more than 60 years ago, in October 1959.

Presumably they did not get any punishment, because in their little escapade they had enlisted the help of a local historian, Mr Ernest Pee, who wrote on the parchment, and Mr J. Wells, a member of the teaching staff.

The story, as reported by the contemporary Bridgnorth Journal, had begun when pupils discovered an old stone grinding wheel while excavating for the pool.

A few days later they found the clay pot about eight feet down. Inside was a roll of parchment which had been stuffed inside with other paper. The parchment was obviously old and crumpled and the writing was in script style and in "olde English."

Initiative

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The message was purported to have been written by one John Tyler, who was lying in jail under sentence of death. He was supposed to have been wrongly accused of some crime and in the message he was directing his daughter, Mary, where she could find his treasure of silver and gold.

The message was supposed to have been handed to a fellow prisoner, who was being released from jail the next day.

The old stone wheel was all part of the hoax, and the message referred to the wheel in connection with the treasure.

It seems that it was inquiries by the Bridgnorth Journal reporter of the day that led to the hoax being revealed. Apparently those behind it had not wanted it to go too far.

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"I was completely fooled," admitted the headmaster, Mr W. B. Unitt, who had, before the hoax was revealed, said he was a little suspicious of the discovery, but there were certain aspects which led him to believe the document was authentic.

"I was quite certain that the message was a hoax, but thought that it was a hoax being played on someone about 100 years ago. Instead, it was a hoax being played last week," he said later, adding that he was pleased that those concerned had chosen the proper time to reveal the hoax, as he had been going to call in expert opinion.

"It was well carried out and showed initiative on the part of the boys."

The parchment mentioned old names and places in the town which turned out to be historically correct, but the newness of the ink aroused suspicion, he said. Also, the pot did not appear to be too old and the crumpled paper accompanying the parchment was obviously of recent manufacture.

Toby Neal

By Toby Neal
Feature Writer

A journalist in Shropshire for 40 years, mainly writes features and columns, especially about aspects of Shropshire history. Lives in Telford and is based at the Ketley headquarters.

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