Hidden East Anglia:
Landscape Legends of Eastern England
The cursed cross
Langley Cross (TG347006) used to have a curse on it, in which it was said that if it were ever removed from its original site near the abbey, Langley Hall would be gutted by fire. The story goes on to say that the prophecy was fulfilled (almost) in 1801, when a certain Lady Beauchamp moved the cross into the park. Whether a result of the curse or not, a single turret of the Hall actually did catch fire at that time, but was quickly extinguished.
Actually, Sir Thomas Beauchamp Proctor, whose family had owned the Langley estate for centuries, moved the cross into the park when a predecessor of the present Abbey Farm was destroyed by the 1801 fire. The cross - which had actually been removed before the fire - was there used to mark the meeting-place of Langley, Chedgrave, Thurton and Carleton St. Peter parishes, at the corner of a wood known as The Thicks.
The abbey itself was founded for the Premonstratensian order in 1198, and its scant remains are embedded in a farmhouse close to the river Yare. The cross may be of the 15th century or earlier, and stood just north of the abbey precincts, on the Common.
W. A. Dutt: 'The Norfolk Broads' (Methuen, 1903), p.333.
'The East Anglian, or Notes & Queries', 1st Series Vol.3 (Aug.1866-Oct.1868), p.18.
When the previous Abbey Farm (TG362028) was burnt down in 1801, the labourers are alleged to have come across "a large subterraneous arch far larger than a common sewer, but...none were found who dared to penetrate the mysterious way..."
'The East Anglian, or Notes & Queries', Vol.2 (Jan.1864-July 1866), p.249.
'Norfolk Archaeology', Vol.21, p.177.
The Devil's Round House (TG388027), actually a standard brick cottage and not round at all, stands on the banks of the Yare, far out across Langley Marshes. A tradition says "whenever it was built by day, the Devil overturned at night". It seems that originally the building was six-sided and of clay lump construction, made in that shape so the Devil couldn't destroy it. Whether or not this has anything to do with the nearby site of the 19th century Langley Roundhouse drainage mill, I don't know.
Source: W. A. Dutt: 'The Norfolk Broads' (Methuen, 1903), p.333.
Just on the edge of the Ministry of Defence training area south-west of the village is Bell Hill, a large Bronze Age burial mound (TL861986). A tradition used to be current that the bells of Little Cressingham church are buried within the earthwork. This might have something to do with the fact that the south side of the tower of St. Andrew's collapsed during a storm in 1781, and the bells were lost. A single, later, bell now resides in a bell cote above the roof.
The holy wishing wells
Little Walsingham was once the greatest shrine in Europe, with commoners and kings all following the many pilgrim paths to the shrine of 'Our Lady of Walsingham'. It had a sacred image of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a phial of her milk, and many other spurious relics, not to mention the two miraculous wells in the priory garden.
In 1061 the Lady Richeldis de Faveraches, wife of a Norman lord of the manor, is said to have had a vision at Walsingham in which the Virgin Mary appeared to her, took her in spirit to the 'Sancta Casa' - the home of Christ in Nazareth - and commanded her to build in Norfolk an exact replica. Aided by angels, the shrine was built of wood and later encased in stone, the site being ordained by the welling up of two clear streams at the behest of Mary. Rumours began to spread that Mary herself had fled there before the threat of Mohammedan invasion, and then that the chapel was the Sancta Casa itself, transported there by angels.
A priory was built there in the early 12th century, which the scholar and theologian Desiderius Erasmus visited in 1511, writing in his 'Colloquy on Pilgrimage': "Before the chapel is a shed, under which are two wells full to the brink; the water is wonderfully cold, and efficacious in curing pains in the head & stomach. They affirm that the spring suddenly burst from the earth at the command of the most holy Virgin".
The circular wells (TF934367) and a square stone bath can be found near an isolated remnant of Norman archway in the priory ruins, in the grounds of a house called Walsingham Abbey. The wells are most noted nowadays for being wishing wells. If you remain totally silent within about 10 feet of the water, you should kneel first at one well, then at the other, and make a wish as you drink - but tell no-one what you wish for. Committing one error in the ritual is said to be fatal.
Another version mentions a stone between the wells on which one must kneel with their right knee bare, then put one hand in each well up to the wrist, and drink as much of the water as you can hold in your palms. Provided your wishes are never spoken aloud, they will be fulfilled within the year.
W. A. Dutt: 'The Norfolk & Suffolk Coast' (T. Fisher Unwin, 1909), p.256.
M. R. James: 'Suffolk & Norfolk' (Dent & Sons, 1930), p.22.
Mark Knights: 'Peeps at the Past, or Rambles Among Norfolk Antiquities' (Jarrold & Son, 1892), pp.69, 153.
The bound ghost
A parson named Solly or Solley is said to have once bound a ghost into a now-vanished oak tree here.
Source: W. B. Gerish: 'Norfolk Folklore Collections' (unpublished, 1916-18, compiled by William de Castre), Vol.3, p.131.
The Devil's hills
Version 1: The Devil dug a deep pit at Hall Farm, Neatishead, and carried away a large load of gravel in his wheelbarrow, for purposes unknown. The barrow spilled some of its load at Irstead, forming Bunker Hill, and again by the riverbank, creating two mounds called the Great and Little Reedhams (TG368197). Finally it toppled at Ludham, where he kicked the barrow in exasperation, yelling 'How!', thus forming windmill-topped How Hill (TG373191).
Version 2: The Devil dropped a load of gravel at a place in the river Ant called Irstead Shoals (TG366207). The cart jumped again at Ludham, making him howl with rage, resulting in 'Howle' Hill. Tired of it all, he dumped the last load, wheelbarrow and all, on the spot where the ruins of St. Benet's Abbey now stand (TG383157). "And itís a queer thing", say the locals, "but all the places are in a dead straight line, and they're the only spots for miles around where you'll find gravel underfoot!"
W. H. Cooke MSS (unpublished, 1911), pp.54-5, Colman Collection, Norfolk Record Office.
The 'East Anglian Magazine', Vol.1 (1909), pp.152-3.
A manuscript in the Norfolk and Norwich Record Office relates this legend, but gives no hint as to when it was supposed to have happened. Apparently, a dragon 12-15 feet long appeared and proceeded to terrorise the village. It dug for itself a lair of tunnels between the corner of St. Catherine's churchyard (TG388183), the main street, and the Carpenter's Arms inn, which the people tried to fill in with rubble every day. But each night the dragon burst out again.
Then one fine day the beast came out and spread its length along the street to bask in the warm sun, and a brave man crept to the mouth of the tunnel, where he completely blocked it with a single boulder. When the dragon returned, it couldn't shift the rock, so howling with rage it flew off towards the Bishop's Palace (where Ludham Hall now stands). From there it hurtled along the causeway over the marshes to St. Benet's Abbey, where it smashed its tail against the walls, and vanished forever into the deep vaults beneath (TG383157). T. H. Bryant, however, in his 'Norfolk Churches' of 1900, records that a dragon is asleep under How Hill (see above).
The story may have its roots in an actual event, as the 'Norfolk Chronicle' of September 28th, 1782 contains the following: "On Monday the 14th inst. a snake of an enormous size was destroyed at Ludham in this County by Jasper Andrews of that place. It measured 5 feet 8 inches long, was almost 3 feet in circumference and had a very long snout. What is remarkable there were two excrescences on the forepart of the head which very much resembled horns. The creature seldom made its appearance in the day time but kept concealed in subterranean retreats, several of which have been discovered in the town, one near the bake-office and another on the premises of the Revd. N. V. Jeffrey and another in the land occupied by Mr. Popple at the Hall. The skin of the above surprising reptile is now in the possession of Mr. J. Garrod, a wealthy farmer in the neighbourhood".
Enid Porter: 'Folklore of East Anglia' (Batsford, 1974), p.130.
W. H. Cooke MSS (unpublished, 1911), pp.54-5, Colman Collection, Norfolk Record Office.
At TL840876 in Thetford Forest, right on the parish boundary between Lynford and Santon, is the Bronze Age round barrow usually called Blood Hill. Also known in the past as Bloody Knoll and Haye Meer, this burial mound is now all but leveled, but was once said to have been where "ancient battles" had been fought.
The present Lynford Hall was built around 1860, not far from the Old Hall, which was demolished in 1863. Nothing now remains of
the Old Hall, which stood in the area of TL818936. A tunnel here was believed to lead to the Catholic chapel, attached to the parish
church a little way south, even though the chapel wasn't built until 1879. As usual, a local man said that he and his friends used to
crawl along the tunnel when they were boys, until their candles guttered out through lack of air. Another local claimed to have filled
in the tunnel entrance during the 1970s.
The chalice in the river
A river channel was said to run from the river Wensum to and under St. Edmund's Chapel (TG079173) at Lyng Estaugh. Once, two watermen found a silver chalice in the channel and quarreled over who would keep it. The argument grew more bitter till one swore at the other, and at that, the chalice leapt into the air, fell into the water, and was never seen again.1
Another little tale tells that, when the chapel was closed in 1176, the bells were hurled into the river and on occasional nights, can still be heard ringing.2
1. Enid Porter: 'Folklore of East Anglia' (Batsford, 1974), p.129.
2. Pamela Brooks: 'Norfolk Ghosts & Legends' (Halsgrove, 2008), P.81.
Phantom nuns are said to cross the road at Lyng Estaugh from 'the old nunnery' (probably the ruins of the chapel dedicated to St. Edmund mentioned above) to the 'Druid Stone' in a grove.1 Called the 'Great Stone of Lyng' by the antiquarian Tom Martin in about 1730,2 this is actually a huge boulder of conglomerate (a glacial erratic) about 2m long by 1.5m tall, and can be found in woodland about halfway along a public footpath, a post-medieval 'hollow way' known as King's Grove, that runs southward from the Lyng-Eastaugh road towards Collen's Green (TG079170).
According to one source3 there is a treasure buried beneath the stone, no birds sing near it, and it bleeds if pricked. Some say the blood belongs to Druidic sacrificial victims, others that the rock contains blood from a great battle that happened nearby. This is supposed to have been a battle between the Danes and St. Edmund, with the latter losing and falling back to Castle Acre. As well as phantom nuns, ghostly soldiers and headless horses haunt the area.
A local landowner is once said to have tried to remove the Great Stone with up to a dozen horses - but it merely moved a little, then settled down again even deeper.
1. John Copsey, in 'Lantern' No.38 (Autumn 1981), p.9.
3. 'Eastern Daily Press' March 13th 1939.
A ghostly coach and four are said to haunt 'Balors Pit' (TG068174), an old sand-pit at the top of Cadder's Hill. By tradition, the coach was going down the old road when something frightened the horses and they went into the pit, drowning all inside.
Source: John Copsey, in 'Lantern' No.38 (Autumn 1981), p.9.