THE guest of honour at Bettiscombe church's first Christmas fair proved a powerful magnet to the masses.

That honoured guest was the Screaming Skull of Bettiscombe seen in public for the first time in St Stephen's Church on Saturday.

By computer magic the actual skull, subject of so many scary stories, appeared at an exhibition of Bettiscombe's art, crafts and working history in the church, part of the fair in the village hall.

The fair, organised by Trish Shakeshaft made more than £900 for church funds.

The fair had a continental theme including hand-crafted gifts, plants, cakes and puddings, preserves, table linen, Christmas trees, Christmas decorations and holly wreaths while the exhibition will also feature exhibits from local artists, craftsmen and gardeners led by Penelope Woodhouse and Tim Hurn.

Mrs Shakeshaft said: "It went very well and we were lucky with the weather. There was a constant flow of people and we made over £900.

"We couldn't have expected better and as we are limited with parking up here if we did it might have been a problem finding somewhere for more cars.

"The exhibitions in the church were beautifully done and the artists over there sold quite a bit of their work.

"This is the first time we have done one and it was well supported and we have had good feedback so we will try and do it again, although it was a lot of hard work! We would like to thank all the people who supported us and all the willing workers who helped beforehand."

Visitors would have learned of the story of the skull which stared when Azeriah Pinney of Bettiscombe Manor was exiled to the West Indies for his part in the Monmouth rebellion.

He became a wealthy man from the sugar trade. His grandson John Frederick Pinney, detested the slavery that financed the family business so gave it up to return to the manor. His manservant, a negro slave, came with him but soon fell ill in the damp cold of Dorset.

Before he died, the loyal servant asked for his body to be returned to his homeland and swore he could not rest unless this was done.

However his body was buried in the graveyard of Bettiscombe's St Stephen's church. The curse then caused ill-fortune in the village, screams from the churchyard and disturbances at the Manor. This was alleviated when the body was removed to the Manor house. Subsequent attempts to rebury the mortal remains or even throw it into a pond set off the curse once more. Nowadays, only the skull is left, resting content in his master's house but still unburied, while the story has reached a world-wide audience.