The Beastie in the Walls
Fortean Ireland is, inherently, incredibly parochial. So, in an effort to break away from this – and, hopefully, help me deal with my lockdown cabin fever – I've decided to take us on a virtual trip in time and space.
This week we’re in March 1934, in Tarves, a small village in Aberdeenshire, in north east Scotland, where Mr & Mrs Wilkie, a couple in their 80s, along with their nine-year-old granddaughter, Bunty Ross, have been living since November 1933 ...
Shortly after moving into Gateside Croft, the Wilkies began to hear a voice coming from the walls. At first, they were alarmed, but soon they were on conversational terms with their unexpected lodger.
The following exchange between Mr Wilkie and the “beastie” - as it became known - was reported in Dundee’s The Courier and Advertiser:
Mr Wilkie: “What are you? Have you four legs?”
Mr Wilkie: “Have you a tail?”
Voice: “No, but I have a beak.”
In addition to answering the Wilkies’ questions, the “beastie,” which spoke in a “broad Buchan dialect,” could repeat the alphabet, count to 90, say the Lord’s Prayer, and would sing “A Bicycle Made for Two” and the hymn “Jesus Loves Me.”
When news of the Wilkies’ strange and talented ghost - for that’s how it was being reported - reached the village and beyond, it brought a steady stream of visitors to their home.
The “beastie” wasn’t shy, and it seems no one left the croft without having heard it speak. It could be quite direct and would often call out anyone it felt was asking “too much about its identity.”
For the most part, though, the “beastie” had a wicked sense of humour, as illustrated by this exchange with a local curiosity seeker:
Woman: “I’ll need to be going down the road now.”
Voice: “And I’ll come hame wi’ ye.”
Woman: “Deed, ye will no’ do that.”
At that, she grabbed her hat and coat and ran out of the house.
While the newspapers t were reporting this as a haunting, and it seems that the Wilkies believed that something supernatural was going on, according to The Courier and Advertiser, “the general opinion is that a trick is being played on the old folks.”
But who would play such a mean - but convincing and entertaining - trick on an elderly couple?
Within a few days of the “beastie” making the news it suddenly stopped talking. The Evening Telegraph of 26 March reported: “The voice died on Tuesday night, and the family here are at a loss to explain the reason.” It would be another two days before it was revealed that the voice had stopped because the mystery had been solved. The “voice” belonged to Bunty, the Wilkies’ granddaughter.
Exactly how this was discovered is not clear. There are at least three accounts. And while each account credits one of Bunty’s teachers with solving the mystery, they vary in how the teacher made the discovery.
According to The Evening Telegraph, the teacher became suspicious during a reading lesson after Bunty “lapsed unconsciously” into the “voice.”
“The teacher noticed something unusual about her voice and became convinced that the little girl was a ventriloquist,” explained the Telegraph. “When questioned, Bunty, a bright youngster, admitted that she was the voice.”
Another newspaper (for which I failed to note any details), claimed that the “voice” had “followed” Bunty to school. And while the class was being entertained by the “beastie” - one of the teachers was closely watching Bunty.
The account that appeared in the Aberdeen Press and Journal on 29 March seemed to suggest that something more troubling than a practical joke was going on: a child in genuine distress, perhaps?
“When she first attended Barthel-Chapel School some months ago she was a fluent speaker and reader. Last week, however, she developed a serious stammer, some of her words being entirely incoherent. In consequence of inquiries then made, it was found that she possessed a ventriloquial voice.”
Following Bunty’s confession, other details began to emerge that appeared to confirm her “guilt.”
The Aberdeen Press and Journal reported on a separate incident that happened one day when Bunty and a classmate were walking home from school. Seemingly, a voice began to talk to them from the ditch at the side of the road. When the classmate became frightened, Bunty told her “it was just a trick.”
And it seems that the locals – well, most of them, were now claiming that they’d never been fooled by Bunty’s antics.
Two of those locals were Mrs Bonnar and Mrs Sinclair, both of whom had made multiple visits to the croft to hear the “voice.” According to Bonnar and Sinclair, the “beastie” never spoke until Bunty was in bed. And when it spoke, Bunty always had her face covered - with a book, a newspaper or a knitting pattern. And her head could be seen to move as the “beastie” spoke.
“Anybody wis have kent it wis her,” said Mrs Sinclair.
So, was Bunty responsible for the “voice”? If so, why did she do it? How did she do it?
Unfortunately, Bunty’s willingness to talk about the “voice” ended with her confession. She never spoke of it again. On trying to get her to talk about it, a reporter from the Aberdeen Press and Journal wrote: “She simply smiled, but would not speak a word. She would not even reveal how she came to use her unnatural voice, but it is almost certain that she never saw a professional ventriloquist on the stage.”
Eleanor Castel, also of the Aberdeen Press and Journal, got the same response from Bunty. And though the girl was happy to spend time with the journalist, she would not talk about the “voice.”
However, spending time with Bunty did give Castel some valuable insight into the girl’s incredibly lonely life. “She told me she had a cat, a black one, and its name was Topsy, but this was her only playmate. There was no schoolfellow who came to share her romps. She spent all her spare time with the old couple.”
Despite having made a full confession to “responsible persons,” there were some – including her grandparents – who refused to believe that Bunty had been behind the “voice.”
“Bunty hid naething tae dee wi’t,” Mr Wilkie told Castel. “I tell ye it wis a beastie thit wis ahin the wa’.”
Lizzie Stott, who worked on a neighbouring farm, also firmly believed that Bunty was innocent. In fact, Castel noted that “nothing would shake her [Stott] from her conviction that a supernatural agency had been at work.”
So, why were the Wilkies and Miss Stott so confident that Bunty was innocent?
It seems that they all had encounters with the “beastie” at the croft while Bunty was away at school.
And that, to the best of my knowledge, was the end of the Tarves “beastie” story.
I love this story. I pieced it together from newspaper coverage; but if you know of any other resources, please get in touch (leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org).
Aberdeen Press and Journal, 29 March & 2 April 1934
The Courier and Advertiser (Dundee), 26 March 1934
The Evening Telegraph (Dundee), 28 March 1934
Weekly Telegraph (Larne), 7 April 1934