Hidden East Anglia:
Landscape Legends of Eastern England
Secret tunnelThe Bacon family of Gresham had two 'castles' in this area, this one a few miles away at Baconsthorpe. In the 15th century Sir William Heydon bought the estate, and it was his son John who began the fortification of the house (TG121381). Of this, the gatehouses and curtain-wall still stand and are open to the public under the auspices of English Heritage.
Tradition tells of a secret passage running under the moat from a turret of the castle which acted as a 'sallyport'; that is, an opening in the defences from which a foray could be made against attackers (although there's no record of any siege having happened here). Investigations, however, are said to have proved that the 'tunnel' went no further than the moat, being the normal arched sewer of the house.
See also tunnel legends at Gresham.
Walter Rye: 'Norfolk Songs, Stories & Sayings' (Goose & Son, 1897), p.86.
Jennifer Westwood: 'Gothick Norfolk' (Shire Publications, 1989), p.6.
Mill Hill and Bloodslade Lane
There used to be a mound at approx. TG344336, east of Mill Lane, and now occupied by a chalet park. In the 19th century some thought it to have been a burial mound, others that it had once been the site of a windmill, giving the area its current name of Mill Hill. (There actually was once a very small post mill on the spot, last recorded in 1415.) The favourite tale was that, in 'olden time', Bromholm Priory (TG347332, see below) was under siege, and the attacking force carted earth from Bacton Green to make the mound, upon which they stood their cannon to bombard the priory.
However, they found that the mound was sited too close, and a local woman betrayed the priory by telling them that its weakest part was on the western side. They therefore moved their cannon further west, to the rather low but natural eminence of Butt Hill (TG339334 area), from which they successfully struck the priory and took it.
Along the southern edge of Butt Hill runs Bloodslat (or Bloodslade) Lane, where attackers and defenders are supposed to have met in a skirmish so fierce that they fought in blood "up to their ankles".1
Another version of the story above claims that it was Oliver Cromwell and his forces who were besieging the priory.2
1. Charles Green: 'The History, Antiquities and Geology of Bacton in Norfolk' (Simpkin, Marshall & Co, 1842), p.8-10.
2. W. B. Gerish: 'Norfolk Folklore Collections' (unpublished, 1916-18), Vol.4, p.14-15.
Bromholm Priory was founded in 1113 by William de Glanville for Cluniac monks, and in the following centuries its fame spread because of the miracle-working fragment of the 'True Cross' held there, which they called the 'Holy Rood of Bromholm'.
From the ruins of the priory is said to run a tunnel to Gimingham Hall (TG279365, on the site of the ancient-cellared manor house), 4 miles further along the coast. Midway between the two, the tunnel is said to be divided by a huge pair of golden gates.1
1.'Eastern Daily Press', Dec.15th 1953.
Cromwell and the snake pit
In Banningham they like to tell you that Richard, son of Oliver Cromwell, was a regular visitor here during the 17th century, and that (probably on the village green, TG216294 area) he had dug a pit that was 14 feet (4.2m) deep. into which he placed ten venomous snakes. If any man had suspicions about his wife's conduct and morals, he was allowed to throw her into the pit, and if she emerged unharmed, then she was innocent. An odd tale, for which there is no evidence at all. For a start, there is no record that Richard Cromwell ever came anywhere near Norfolk, let alone Banningham.
The houses of Hall Farm Place (TG157088) occupy the site of Bawburgh Hall (built in 1634, demolished in 1963), and a tunnel is said to lead from here, across and beneath the river Yare, to Church Farm (TG153087). This latter building was said to have once been the residence of priests.1
Another subterranean passage was once reputed to lead from the Hall east to Lodge Farm (TG167088), a restored Jacobean dower house of 1623.2
1. W. H. Barrett & R. P. Garrod: 'East Anglian Folklore & Other Tales' (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1976), p.91.
After travelling from Taverham via Costessey, a cart bearing the body of the 10th century saint Walstan, attended by a flock of wondering peasants, continued south towards Bawburgh, with the cart riding over the river Yare, where tradition says the marks of the wheels can still be seen in the water. Once across they paused, and a spring of pure water bubbled up.
They halted finally where Bawburgh's church of St. Mary & St. Walstan now stands. The north wall of an earlier church on the site opened up to admit them, and a blocked-up archway is pointed out as being the spot. A much-frequented shrine & chapel to the saint existed on the north side of the church until the Reformation, when Walstan's bones were burnt & scattered.
That final spring, Walstan's Well (TG153088), still exists near the river in the orchard behind Church Farm, looking rather like a wishing well nowadays. Six chantry priests came to serve at the shrine and to tend the well, whose reputation for healing properties, and indeed miracles, had brought pilgrims from far and wide. "Down to the Reformation", said M. R. James, "labourers came to Bawburgh once a year to obtain blessings for themselves and their beasts".
Even in 1892, Mark Knights said that "in recent years pilgrims have gone to this well to drink at the water". Tradition says the well 'has never been drawn dry', even though it's only a few feet deep. Services are still held at Bawburgh every year on the anniversary of Walstan's death (May 30th), including a procession to the well, which is often dressed for the occasion. Quoting a local newspaper, though giving no date, Carol Twinch has noted that "blue lights" were said to dance around the well on May 30th. No other source has ever mentioned this.
M. R. James: 'Suffolk & Norfolk' (Dent & Sons, 1930), pp.19-20.
Mark Knights: 'Peeps at the Past, or Rambles Among Norfolk Antiquities' (Jarrold & Son, 1892), p.68.
W. H. Barrett & R. P. Garrod: 'East Anglian Folklore & Other Tales' (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1976), pp.92-5.
W. A. Dutt: 'Highways & Byways in East Anglia' (Macmillan & Co, 1923), pp.159-61.
Carol Twinch: 'Saint Walstan, the Third Search' (Media Associates, 2015), p.77.
Hangour Hill & Bichamditch
The Devil is credited with making the round barrow called Hangour Hill (TF752087), by scraping the earth from his spade after digging out the Saxon Bichamditch or Devil's Ditch.1
Beneath the mound is said to be hidden a pair of silver gates.2
1. L. V. Grinsell: 'Folklore of Prehistoric Sites in Britain' (David & Charles, 1976), p.134.
2. L. V. Grinsell: 'The Ancient Burial Mounds of England' (Methuen, 1953), p.79.
A strange legend here, that is probably the remnant of 19th century antiquarian musings. The ruins of All Saints church (TF749046) are said to be haunted by the apparitions of 'Diana and her dogs'.1 This would appear to have developed from the (mistaken) idea that there were once temples to the sun (Bel), and to the goddesses Diana and Venus at, respectively, Beechamwell, and the nearby hamlets of Caldecot and Shingham, and the plantations around these areas were supposed to be haunted by a pack of spectral hounds known as 'Bel's dogs'.2
1. Norfolk Federation of Women’s Institutes: ‘The Norfolk Village Book’ (Countryside Books, 1990), p.23.
2. Henry J. Hillen: ‘History of the Borough of King’s Lynn’ (Hillen, 1907), Vol.1, p.24-5.
Within the churchyard (TG174431) is a large stone being used to cover a grave. It's approximately 1.2m long x 60cm x 45cm high, being a rectangular block of granite, with circular depressions on the uppermost surface. Each side is inscribed with the names of the grave's occupants. This is originally one of a pair which stood at TG167428, either side of a pathway in the yard of a now-derelict farmhouse, in the grounds of the ruined Beeston Priory. The path itself led to what is now known as the Abbot's Freshwater Spring Pond.
A local tale says that about 1938-43, when both boulders were in situ, the farmer (whose name was Reynolds) often drove his horse and cart along this pathway. Several times, a grey hooded figure would leap out from behind one of the stones at sunset, and try to grab the horse's reins before vanishing. This, although terrifying the animals, seems not to have perturbed the man unduly. However, he ordered that the stone in question be laid upon his grave after his death, in an attempt at 'laying' the apparition.
Source: Ivan Bunn & Dennis Fletcher: 'The Ghost & the Stone', in 'Lantern' No.4, (Winter 1973-4), p.4.
In a 1967 article entitled 'Barrow Treasure in Fact, Tradition & Legislation' in the periodical 'Folklore', the archaeologist Leslie Grinsell reported a tale about the round barrow known as Mill Hill (TG478018) in this parish. According to what Rainbird Clarke had told him, underneath this mound there was said to be hidden either golden gates, or a golden plough.
I find this odd, since Grinsell doesn't mention this barrow at all in his 1976 book 'Folklore of Prehistoric Sites in Britain'. However, in this later work he does note the tradition of a golden plough buried under Bell Hill, less than a mile away in the neighbouring parish of Fritton. Could there be some confusion between the two?
The White Heath mounds
A battle is said to have happened here, connected with the
allegedly Roman or pre-Roman mound on which St. Peter and St. Paul's church stands, and with
three round barrows a little further east. These stood very near the boundary with Thurton on White Heath, but have been ploughed away
1. L. V. Grinsell: 'Folklore of Prehistoric Sites in Britain' (David & Charles, 1976), p.134.
A subterranean passage between Besthorpe Hall (TM068955) and the church of All Saints just across the fields is said to have been used by the Catholic Harbord family during the repressions of the 16th century.
Source: former website http://besthorpe.com/
Town of the battle
Legend says that a battle was fought here in the Roman period, for which proof is offered that the village (near Diss) was known in the Domesday Book as 'Preleston' - 'town of the battle'.
David Butcher: 'Waveney Valley' (East Anglian Magazine Ltd, 1975), p.32.
Francis Blomefield: 'An Essay Towards a Topographical History of the County of Norfolk' (William Miller, 1806) Vol.5.
A Norfolk dialect tale told in the 19th century tells of a secret monks' tunnel that runs from the priory at Little Walsingham (TF935367) to the Benedictine priory (founded 1091) at Binham, a part of which still serves as the parish church (TF979399). The tunnel was supposed to be seen above ground as a "grate green bank" running over the meadows, and a hollow sound could be heard on the roads that it passed under.
The Norfolk Archaeological Trust themselves tell a slightly different version of the legend. According to them, the tunnel reached Binham from Blakeney Guildhall, rather than from Walsingham. When the fiddler's music stopped, it was thought that the Devil had caught both him and his dog, so Fiddler's Hill was built to mark the spot. They also say that actually skeletons of three men and a dog were found there in 1933, and suggest that the humans might actually have been criminals executed there.4
1. 'East Anglian
Handbook', 1892, p.223-4.
3. Walton Dew: 'A Dyshe of Norfolke Dumplings' (Jarrold & Sons, 1898), p.109.
On an unnamed hill near Binham Priory (TF979399), Cromwell is said to have "planted his guns to shatter that edifice".
Source: Walton N. Dew: 'A Dyshe of Norfolke Dumplings', (Jarrold & Sons, 1898), p.108.
A modern legend of an underground passageway seems to have grown up at the former Bircham Newton RAF base. Somewhere along the B1155, about halfway across the old site, a loud echoing sound emanates from the road when driving across it. This is allegedly caused by vehicles passing over the route of a subterranean tunnel used by airmen during World War Two, although there's no evidence that any such tunnel existed.
Near the north end of the High Street is the 14-15th century Guildhall (owned by English Heritage and open to the public), timbered and Flemish-bricked. A tunnel is said to go from the brick-vaulted undercroft here to the remains of a friary (TG032440) north of St. Nicholas' church. This was founded in 1296 for the order of Carmelites, or White Friars. Here an intrepid fiddler (some say with his dog, or according to the village sign, his white cat) ventured into the tunnel and failed to emerge the other end.
The 'Eastern Daily Press' on 4/2/1976 said a tunnel had been exposed in the yard of the White Horse Hotel. Another source said this ran in one direction to the Blakeney Hotel, and in another towards the British legion car park.
Sources: various, including:
Peter Brooks: 'Have you Heard about Blakeney?' (Poppyland Publishing, 1981), p.22.
Walton Dew: 'A Dyshe of Norfolke Dumplings' (Jarrold & Sons, 1898), p.109.
W. A. Dutt: 'The Norfolk & Suffolk Coast' (T. Fisher Unwin, 1909), p.231.
'Norfolk Archaeology', Vol.21 (1919-23), p.lxi.
The Round House
As at Langley, the Devil used to turn up every night to tear down the four walls of a building that was being constructed, but he was thwarted when it was decided to build it in a circular form. The existing Round House is actually a picturesque circular cottage with a conical roof, to which is attached a regular house.
Source: W. B. Gerish: 'Norfolk Legends' (unpublished, c.1914).
Shrieking Woman's Grove
A little east of the village there used to be a long wood, with only the westernmost tip left now, at TM301991. The heart of it is shown on old maps at TM304992, with the parish boundary between Brooke and Bergh Apton running through it. This was known as Shrieking Woman's Grove. There seems to be only a generalised 'haunted' reputation attached to it now, although at one time it may have been home to a more specific tale, such as at the Shrieking Pits further north in the Aylmerton area.1 Indeed, it has been suggested that the name indicates a former site of iron working, just like the Pits.2
1. Norfolk Federation of Women’s Institutes: ‘The Norfolk Village Book’ (Countryside Books, 1990), p.41.
"In 1465, according to the finding of a jury impanelled by the King's escheator for Norfolk, John Cans and Robert Hikkes called up a spirit of the air at Bunwell, and promised to sacrifice to him 'the body of a Christian man' if he would disclose the whereabouts of a hoard. Consequently the spirit showed them a 'vast treasure' buried in Nonmete Hill".1 Upon digging into the hill, they found coins (allegedly Roman) to the value of 100 shillings, suggesting that this was a coin hoard hidden in what may well have been a burial mound. It's thought now that Nonmete or Nunmete Hill stood where Hill Farm now stands (TM1158942), actually in the parish of Forncett.2
1. Augustus Jessopp: 'Hill-Digging and Magic' in 'The Nineteenth Century' (Vol. 4, Jan. 1887), p.111-2, 116.
Following on from Nonmete Hill above, Augustus Jessopp in 1896 on the other hand thought it to be the same location as 'Old Groggrams', the local name for a slight mound where boys used to play. Levelled after the enclosures of 1809, this mound stood just beyond the crossroads near Hill Farm, and Jessopp believed it to to have once been the meeting-place or 'moot' of the old Hundred of Depwade.1 It was possibly also the site of a gallows at one time. However, a later researcher has shown that Jessopp mistakenly conflated two separate mounds, as both had legends attached about the finding of a coin hoard.2
(See Moot mounds for other such landmarks).
1. Augustus Jessopp: 'Random Roaming' (T. Fisher Unwin, 1896), p.116-7.
The Devil & the church tower
St. Mary's church (TM493938) has a brick tower built in 5 stages, each smaller than the one below it. A local tale asserts that the tower can fold up like a telescope, shutting down at the end of the yachting season, and opening up again at the start.
Legend says a poor man made a deal with the Devil for money, and spent some of his wealth on building the church. Years later the Devil came back for payment on his loan, with the man's signature on a parchment, but too late, for the man had died just hours before and
been buried in the new graveyard, out of the Devil's reach. It's said that on the anniversary of the man's death, a skeleton haunts the churchyard, trying to reclaim his soul.
The Devil sits one night a year on the Devil's Stile, on a field path into the main road near the former rectory. (Devil Stile Hill is just north-west of the Old Rectory, in the TM480932 area.)
Source: W. B. Gerish: 'Norfolk Folklore Collections' (1916-18, compiled by William de Castre), Vol.4, p.52.
A little knoll south of Devil Stile Hill is known locally and on old maps as Dick's Mount (TM479925), where a tale says that a battle was once fought, on the slopes going towards Shrublands Farm.
The wishing wells
"From the friary the monks walked to the 'wishing wells' nearby to drink the cool water, which is claimed to make wishes come true." The Carmelite friary, founded in 1241, still has significant remains among the surrounding farm buildings (TF838428). These 'wishing wells' seem to be the same site as that marked on the 1887 Ordnance Survey map as 'Our Lady's Well', close to a small stream just north of the friary ruins.
Source: 'Norfolk Archaeology: Proceedings', (1933), Vol.25, p. lxx.