Wales Interactive’s new horror game Maid of Sker puts you in the shoes of Thomas Evans, who ventures into Sker Hotel to save his lover, Elisabeth Williams, from the clutches of her scheming family. As you traverse the family-owned Sker Hotel, you find yourself avoiding the Quiet Ones, who are intent on killing you if they hear you.
Many sites have reported that Maid of Sker is based on Welsh mythology and the bloody past of the real-life Sker House near Bridgend, Wales; a location which is near where I live. However, few journalists covering the game have gone into great detail on some other interesting facts tied to both the game and the real-life location.
1. Based on Folktale of The Maid of Sker
The original folk tale was supposedly told by Thomas Evans to William Davies, a historian, in 1806. Evans provided Davies with the story of Elisabeth Williams; the woman he fell in love with. It is this tale that serves as the game’s back story.
Elisabeth’s mother died young, leaving her and her sister in the care of her controlling and exploitative father, Isaac Williams. Isaac had a heavy chip on his shoulder as, after many failed business ventures, his reputation, fiancés and house needed repairs he could not afford.
Elisabeth met Thomas Evans during the Festival of St. Magdalene, where he was performing as a harpist in the village of Kenfig. They fell in love almost immediately, and would dance together from dusk until dawn.
Unfortunately, Isaac discovered the lovers. He was furious with them, as he required Elisabeth to marry someone wealthy to restore the family’s wealth and reputation, and was also disgusted that his daughter was harboring affection for a man below her social status. The couple tried to flee, but were thwarted when the family dogs heard Thomas arriving outside the house.
From here on out, the tale changes depending on who is telling it. In one version of the tale, Elisabeth’s father locked her in her room where she either died of a broken heart or starved to death. In another version, he decided that Elisabeth was to marry Thomas Kirkhouse, a wealthy coal baron, in whose house she lived for nine years before dying of a broken heart. However, the one consistent detail through these versions is that Elisabeth’s ghost is still said to haunt Sker House to this day.
2. The Ballad of The Lady of Sker
After his lover died, Thomas Evans composed a ballad in Elisabeth’s memory. This is similar to the protagonist Thomas in the game, who is composing music for Elisabeth. However, in real life, that song was not Suo Gan but instead a song called Y Ferch O’r Sker (The Maid of Sker), which was how he memorialized Elisabeth and her woeful tale. This change may have been to allow the game to have a more hopeful or ambiguous end for the couple.
The song has two verses. The first is from Thomas’ perspective after Elisabeth’s death, while the second is from Elisabeth’s. Thomas’ verse recalls Elisabeth, telling the listener of how much he misses and loves her. In Elisabeth’s verse, it is unclear whether she is alive or dead and singing her part from beyond the grave. She also yearns for her lover, comparing their love to the other relationships surrounding them. Towards the end of the verse, she declares that she alone will say who her lover is while also resigning herself to her fate. While Thomas’ verse is hopeful and mournful, Elisabeth’s verse is weary and frightened.
3. Rumours of Isaac’s Criminal Misdeeds
In the winter of 1753, a French merchant ship called La Vainqueur mistook the Bristol Channel for the English Channel and crashed onto the rocks of Sker Point, killing everyone on board. It was neither the first nor the last ship to do so.
The ship was carrying several hundred crates of oranges and lemons from Portugal. Upon hearing of the shipwreck, hundreds of locals from Margam, Kenfig and Cornelly descended on Sker Point and Sker Beach to scavenge the fruit and anything else they could lay their hands on, including the silver buckles from the Captain’s shoes. (If rumour is to be believed, the orange trees which now grow in the nearby Margam Country Park started their lives as oranges taken from this wreck.)
When multiple people were arrested and tried for theft, many of those accused implicated the local magistrate Isaac Williams in participating in the same theft as they did. He was arrested and tried, and during his trial he took to claiming that he had taken the fruit to hide it in his manor. While he was found not guilty, one of the men were found guilty and was hanged.
Whether this part of Isaac Williams’ past will play an important role to the game will have to be seen.
4. Songs with Hidden Meanings
The epigraph at the start of the game comes from the very famous Welsh song Calon Lân, which can be heard in one of the trailers for the game. Another song known as Suo Gan can be heard in a different trailer.
Suo Gan literally translates into ‘lullaby’ from Welsh. While for the most part the song is about a mother comforting her baby into falling asleep, the final verse seems more relevant to the game than the others. The singer tells the child not to fear the noises it can hear, including the sound of the waves hitting the shore, and to smile instead.
Calon Lân is one of the most famous of the songs of Wales; it is sung at rugby matches and chapel. (It is so popular it has been translated into Spanish.) The song is about simply living a good and happy life with a pure and clean heart. It opens by saying the singer isn’t asking for a rich life but a good one, and goes on to declare that they will happily give up all riches and earthly pleasures to achieve this life.
The final song that was referenced on Wales Interactive’s website, but still remains to be heard in the game itself, is Ar Hyd y Nos. I imagine this song was chosen for its titular repeated line, which translates to ‘Throughout The Night’. However, the song refers to a grieving old man reuniting with the singer and putting out the weak lights together. This song could be used to refer to Thomas in the context of the game and the folktale, as the historical Thomas is said to have lived to be quite old.
5. Elisabeth is Not the Only Ghost
Sker Point near Sker House is an infamous spot in Wales’ maritime history. Along with La Vainqueur detailed above, it has seen many other ships sink just off its rocky shores, costing the lives of countless crew members over the years. The most recent and infamous example of this is the sinking of the steamship SAMTAMPA in 1947, in which both all the crew members died, as well as all the men in the lifeboat coming to save them.
Thus, it is no surprise that people claim to have seen ghostly lights, known as Canwyll Corff (Can-oil Corf), out at sea by the Sker Point. Others have claimed to have seen the ghostly remnants of some of the many ships that have crashed onto the rocks of Sker Point. Another common ghost allegedly seen by people at Sker Point is that of an old captain searching the rocks for his crew, ship or cargo.
6. Maid of Sker Book
As well as being a folk tale, The Maid of Sker is also a novel by R.D. Blackmore. While the game and folktale don’t appear to have much in common with Blackmore’s story, both the game and the book were inspired by the same area and the stories of the Williams family. R.D Blackmore spent most of his formative years at Sker and would no doubt have heard the stories.
Blackmore’s story is about a fisherman, Davy Llewellyn, who finds a very young girl, who calls herself Bardie, in fine clothes on the shore. Unable to raise her himself, he gives the girl over to be raised in the local manor Sker House. As she grows up, he keeps an eye on her from afar. Many years later, Davy takes a job as a trader between Devon and Glamorganshire. While in Devon, he starts investigating the mysterious disappearances of the local lord’s two children. Soon, Davy discovers that the disappearances may involve the Lord’s scheming Captain brother.
7. Not the Only Book About Sker House
During the 1950s, Ronald Felton wrote a crime thriller named Sker House. The novel follows petty criminals Anthony Fitzgerald and David Blackwell, as they begrudgingly work together to clear their names and track down a necklace that was stolen from them while one was trying to fence it to the other in Cardiff. The climax is set in and around the eponymous house.
In 2017, C.M. Saunders wrote a novel also called Sker House. It follows two students investigating the house’s supernatural sightings and macabre past. However, upon arriving at the house (now fictionally an inn), they meet the landlord and realise not all is as it seems, finding themselves caught up in the supernatural mysteries surrounding the house.
8. A Game with Legal Troubles
When Wales Interactive announced the Maid of Sker back in 2018, the owners of Sker House considered legal action against the developers. An image of the house had been used to market the game, which upset the current owners, as this was the first they had heard of the game.
However, Wales Interactive stood their ground, claiming that they were within their right to use the house and its histories in the game and its promotion. It is worth noting, however, that in-game the house is referred to as The Sker Hotel, having fictitiously been turned into a hotel during the 1890s. Additionally, the building shown in-game has more in common with the American idea of a horror Victorian gothic house, such as It (2017)’s Well House on Neibolt Lane and The Addams Family’s mansion, rather than the British 16th Century mansion it is in real life. Thus, the house portrayed in-game is Sker House in history only.
9. Spooky Past as an Abbey
Adding to its creepy setting with an unsettling past, the original Sker House is built on old monastery grounds, more specifically the outlying farmland of Neath Abbey. This meant that the Cistercian monks staying there had their own accommodations. One of the nearby buildings in fact dates back to the time of the abbey, and may have been the barn.
Not long after the dissolution of the monasteries, the property was turned into a house and more floors were added to the building. Unfortunately, as the building fell into disrepair during the 20th century, much of the older monastery has been lost to time.
10. Sker, I Don’t Think It Means What You Think It Means
The names “Maid of Sker”, “Sker House” (and thus “Sker Hotel”) all come from the nearby Sker Point. Sker is not, as widely reported, a Welsh word. It’s Norse, the name likely having been given to the region in the 11th Century by a band of invading Vikings.
Sker shares its roots with the English word Skerry, which means “reef” or “rocky island”, as well as the Welsh word ysgair (us-guyr), which means “elevated place”. This name was likely given to Sker Point due to the topography of the region, which is rocky and elevated out of the water. As mentioned above, this has claimed the lives of many seafarers. Additionally, in Welsh, Sker translates to ‘Sger’.
Thus the incredibly verdant Sker Island in-game is not necessarily as accurate a description as it first appears.
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