Ghost Of A Hurt: Who Put Bella In The Wych Elm

GOAH paperback mock-up WEB

In 2007 I found an article in the news about a decades-long mystery in the English Midlands, a long-forgotten story of mystery, murder and witchcraft that had resurfaced after some enigmatic graffiti was found daubed on a crumbling Victorian folly. The article included a photograph of said folly, The Wychbury Obelisk, a spike of stone standing on a bleak-looking hillside under brooding skies. Written on its base in white paint were the words: WHO PUT BELLA IN THE WYCH ELM?

I was immediately fascinated by the story, and still am. My research at the time led to a painting and then to the writing of what I hoped was the definitive study of the case, which all started in 1943 when four Black Country lads were in the woods, looking for bird’s eggs, when inside the trunk of a wych elm tree they found a human skull. The full story that unfolded from there is incredible, involving Nazi spies, Rudolf Hess, Aleister Crowley, corpse-robbing and witchy happenings by moonlight.

The case has always been aligned with another from that time and place – the ritual murder of Charles Walton in Lower Quinton in 1941 – and my article covered both, as it seemed to me that together they expressed something about the technology-reliant city dwellers disquiet for the wild countryside and its ancient ways, the nightside of something to watch while waiting to die tosh like Escape To The Country which finds its most potent expressions in David Pinner’s Ritual or The Wicker Man.

Unable to find anyone who would publish the article, it eventually became part of my true crime magnum opus The Hangman’s Breakfast. Just as I was finishing my two years spent writing that book, my friends in the musical collective The Sinister Insult were preparing to make field recordings at Hagley Wood, the very location of the Bella mystery. These recordings were taken to their Tomb Of Doom studio where producer and aural wizard Anthony Fielding cast his spells. The finished result was a six-track, 60+ minute soundtrack for “a film that need never be made, because no single interpretation could do justice to the strange and haunting story.” Here’s what some had to say about the album:

‘…a dense horror yarn enriched with the sort of recondite historical and fictional references that Alan Moore would be proud to have scribed… fans of cult TV such as The Changes, Children of the Stones, The Tomorrow People and The Owl Service should snap this up.’ The Sound Projector
‘The music comprises loops, guitars and ambient sounds, and my immediate impression was that of ‘white noise folk’. I haven’t bothered to reconsider my initial opinion because I like the concept of white noise folk. It’s a great package, limited to ninety copies only. You should get it.’ Headpress
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In 2013 a special ‘Hex’ edition of the album was released. Limited to 20 copies, the packaging was all hand-made by myself, using my own designs applied to a gatefold ‘book’ cover that featured sleeves for the (hand-decorated) CD and all the supporting paraphernalia, which included my original article designed to resemble a Penguin paperback from the 1960’s, prints of found imagery, and an individual hand-drawn illustration, all behind a new painted cover. This replaced the original 2008 painting (given away to one of the buyers of the Hex edition):
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All copies of the ‘Hex’ edition are now sold out, but copies of the original CD-R release are still available via Martin Jones at Bedabbled! Price in the UK: £5 (plus £1.50 p+p). Payable via Paypal, please email payment to bedabbled@hotmail.co.uk. For other forms of payment and orders outside the UK, please get in contact.
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Alternatively, you can get the album on cassette through Cruel Nature Recordings. Cover design (above) by myself. Go here for samples from the album and to order online as download or cassette.
What started as a small news item, became a painting, then an article, then an album that’s been released in several different formats. All testament to the enduring power of the mystery of Who Put Bella In The Wych Elm.
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