Hidden East Anglia:
Landscape Legends of Eastern England
On the Neatishead side of Alderfen Broad used to be a spot known as Heard's Hole, supposedly after a man of that name who drowned there, and who had committed some horrible crimes. It was believed to be haunted by him, in the form of a 'Jack-o'-Lantern' light commonly called 'Neatishead Jack'. The spirit had a habit of smashing lanterns, knocking riders off their horses, and following people home, so three men "attempted to lay the ghost by reading verses of Scripture. But he always kept a verse ahead of them. And they could do nothing, till a boy brought a couple of pigeons and laid them down before him. He looked at them and lost his verse; and then they bound his spirit."
Source: Rev. John Gunn: 'Proverbs etc...in...Irstead', in 'Norfolk Archaeology', Vol. 2 (1849), p. 299.
A local man told me of a tunnel said to run from the restored 14th century church of All Saints (TF879098) to the Hall, in possession of the Mason family since the time of Henry VII.
From the remains of the Norman castle at TG084903, three tunnels are said to lead to the now-demolished Elizabethan mansion of Boyland Hall at Morningthorpe many miles to the east, to Kenninghall Place to the south-west, and to the scant remains of the priory that once stood on the site of Old Buckenham Castle just 1.5 miles north.
Source: Pamela Brooks: 'Norfolk Ghosts & Legends' (Halsgrove, 2008), P.90.
Cromwell is said to have stood his guns on Winchester Hill (TF837156 area) in order to demolish either Castle Acre castle, or the priory. An old rhyme says "Had it not been for Winchester Hill, Castleacre Castle would ha' stood still".
Source: 'Norfolk Fair', Vol.2, No.II, p.23.
The abbey treasure
Only foundations and the partial ruins of the church now remain of Creake Abbey (TF856395), founded in the 13th century as an Augustinian priory. In 1506 a 'sweating sickness' (probably the plague) killed all the monks, with the abbot himself surviving only until December of that year. By default, the establishment was dissolved, and parts of the abbey became a farm and a house. Over the following years rumours began to spread locally that 'treasure' had been left behind, buried by the monks before their deaths. In 1528, a monk named William Stapleton left St. Benet's Abbey, about 50 miles away, to go treasure-hunting. This same man turned up at Fritton, looking for a golden plough inside Bell Hill, as well as searching at Sidestrand, Felmingham and Norwich. At North Creake, he and two necromantic assistants tried invoking spirits to reveal the treasure, but found nothing.
Frank Meeres: 'Paranormal Norfolk' (Kindle edition, 2013
Brian P. Levack (ed.): 'The Literature of Witchcraft' (Routledge, 1993), p.447.
From beneath the altar at St. Mary's church (TF988215) a subterranean passage was said to have made a beeline for the manor house of Bishop Despencer, the ruins of which (usually known as the Bishop's Palace) stand a little to the north.1
In the grounds of the church are the remains of a Norman chapel, built on the site of what may have been a wooden Saxon cathedral. It used to be said that a tunnel once ran from here to the priory at Little Walsingham, 11 miles away. A group of youngsters back in the 1940s were supposed to have tried to explore this tunnel, but it collapsed after only a few metres, and they were lucky to have escaped.2
2. Currently offline: http://archiver.rootsweb.ancestry.com/th/read/NORFOLK/2001-02/0981244008
The Shrieking Pit
Along a track just south of Hungry Hill, east of the village, are several tree-shrouded, water-filled hollows known locally as the Shrieking Pits. These are very similar to the ones in the Aylmerton area, and like them, are thought to be the remnants of medieval quarrying for iron ore. Some have supposed the name to derive from sounds made by the once-exposed gravels.1 But the largest, at TG253391, is known as the Shrieking Pit, and is named for a wailing suicidal woman whose spirit might haunt the spot.
A board posted beside the footpath tells the long, elaborate, and undoubtedly invented tale of an 18th century girl named Esmerelda - but to cut the long story short, she was thwarted in her attempts to be with a young man, and tortured and lovesick, threw herself into the watery pit. Changing her mind too late, her shrieking as she called vainly for help gave birth to the legend. Supposedly something unwholesome haunts the pit at midnight each February 24th. As is common with such pools, it is said to be bottomless, an entire horse and cart - sent to clear out mud - was also said to have been swallowed without trace in its waters.2
Another source claimed that the Shrieking Pits were in fact to the west of the village, in a wooded area known as Grave Holes (TG236394 area). Wailing could be heard coming from the pits on certain nights, it being "where the old sea kings [the Vikings] buried their heroes".3 Pits do exist within this wood, with traces of others in fields to the south and east, but it's unknown whether these are man-made or geological in origin.4
2. Christobel M. Hoare: 'The History of an East Anglia Soke' (Beds Times Publishing Co, 1918), p.423.
3. Verily Anderson: 'The Northrepps Grandchildren' (Mallard Reprints 1979; orig. Hodder & Stoughton 1968), p.46.
Around the church backwards
Almost certainly invented as a joke in the 19th century, people leaving the White Swan pub at night used to be dared to run backwards around St. Nicholas' church three times. If they did this, they would hear the sounds of the organ coming from inside, even though the building would be empty (TG283302). Supposedly one man looked through the window after performing this ritual, to see spectral shapes walking towards the altar.
Although it actually conceals a stone staircase heading upwards, a small door in the north wall of the parish church here (TM407987) is, in local legend, the entrance to a secret tunnel that runs to an old farmhouse in Low Road. For some reason, this was once thought to have been the site of a priory.
Source: Jennifer Westwood & Jacqueline Simpson: 'The Lore of the Land' (Penguin Books, 2006), p.509.
The king under the mound
Dating from the Norman period, the keep of Norwich Castle (TM232085) sits on a pre-existing mound that was heightened and fortified in the 12th century. In legend, a king named Gungunt, Gungant or Gurgunt was said to have built the castle 'before Roman times', and when he died was buried under the huge mound raised for him. He sits there still with sword in hand, along with a huge table piled high with gold and silver treasures. I've lately come across a (rather dubious) theory that the king in question was in fact Boudicca's husband, Prasutagus of the Iceni.
Source: W. B. Gerish: 'Norfolk Folklore Collections' (unpublished, 1916-18, compiled by William de Castre), Vol.4, p.136.
In Richard Gough's 'Anecdotes of British Topography' of 1768, there is said to be a picture by Mehaux showing a south-west view of Norwich Castle (TM232085), under which is inscribed the following: "This castle was built by Julius Caesar, and the crack is supposed to have happened at the Crucifixion..."
Source: 'The East Anglian, or Notes & Queries', Vol.8 (1899-1900), p.237.
The first of a whole host of legendary tunnels under Norwich leads from the Castle (TM232085) to the Guildhall (TM231085) near the market-place, erected 1407-13 on the site of the old tollhouse. It still has a 14th century vault below it, that was the crypt (and prison) of the former building.
Yet another subterranean way links the
Castle with the Crown Derby near the Guildhall, plus another from the
Castle to somewhere near the Royal Arcade.
The cathedral and St. Gregory's church (TG228087) are two destinations of the passages believed to originate beneath the 16th century Augustine Steward House in Tombland (TG233088). There is certainly an undercroft beneath the House which extends beneath the pavement in the direction of the cathedral, and people have spoken of blocked-up tunnel entrances.
In the 1930s, the young sons of the landlord of the Three Tuns pub in King Street (TG23390845) are said to have found a tunnel leading from the pub cellar to both the castle and the cathedral. (As both are in very different directions from the pub, I'm not sure how that would have worked.) One of them told the tale to his son in the 1980s, and that son has passed it on to me. The cellar of the Three Tuns was in fact a 15th century vaulted undercroft, which has been restored in recent years. The pub itself is now the office of the Norwich Preservation Society.15
One or perhaps two tunnels are said to
run from Pond's shoe shop in Castle Meadow, either south across the road
to the Castle, or north to Blackfriar's Hall.
In Lower Goat Lane is the Raven pub, with a supposed underground link to St. Giles' Gate.
Monks supposedly used a tunnel from the cellars of the Shrub House at the corner of Charing Cross Street, to the site of St. Benedict's Gates.
A 19th century shop in London Street is said to have tunnels leading from its cellars going to, possibly, the Castle, Guildhall and/or St. Andrew's Hall; and from the Guildhall a passage heads for the Roman Catholic cathedral of St. John's (built on the site of the city gaol).5
From St. Peter Mancroft church, a tunnel traditionally used by priests led to the nearby White Swan Inn, which was demolished in 1965.6
Tunnels created during mining for flint and chalk, at least as far back as the 13th century, certainly exist under Norwich, but mostly around the outskirts of the medieval city.10
1. W. B. Gerish: 'Norfolk Folklore Collections', Vol.4 (unpublished, 1916-18, compiled by William de Castre), p.13.
2. 'The East Anglian, or Notes & Queries', Vol.2, p.340.
3. Michael Chandler: 'A-Z of Norwich: Places, People, History' (Amberley Publishing, 2016).
4. John Riddington Young: 'The Inns & Taverns of Old
6. currently offline: http://archiver.rootsweb.ancestry.com/th/read/NORFOLK/2001-02/0981193105
7. Former webpage: www.edp24.co.uk/Content/Features/SpookyNorfolk/
8. David Chisnell: 'Haunted Norwich' (Tempus Publishing, 2005), p.39.
10. Malcolm Atkin: 'The Tunnels of Norwich', in 'Norfolk Fair', May 1975, pp.6-7.
14. Michael Chandler: 'A-Z of Norwich: Places, People, History' (Amberley Publishing, 2016).
15. Information gratefully received from Bill Eastoe, November 2018.
Gog and Magog are the lesser-known names of two
statues in Norwich. Generally called Samson and Hercules (TG233089),
they stand either side of the entrance to the 17th century house (once
the site of a plague pit and more recently a night club) of that name in Tombland.
Tradition says when they hear the clock strike twelve, they step down
from their pedestals. The original statues were of timber, but were
replaced in 1993 after Samson lost an arm, and are now fibreglass replicas.
Conservation work has revealed that Hercules was actually already a
replica, made of wood, but dating to 1890. Samson, on the other hand,
has been dated to the mid-17th century, and having been stripped of 60
layers of paint, is now on display at the Museum of Norwich at the
Source: 1. 'Norfolk Archaeology', Vol.28 (1938-43), p.68.
"...All that is in print is not necessarily genuine, e.g. I much misdoubt me of - 'When (the) Dragon drinks, Heigham sinks' - said to be the warning given by a stone dragon's mouth, forming the keystone of the arch of a Norwich bridge".1
"It is said that there was once a dragon's head on St. Miles' Bridge, and that it bore an inscription, 'When dragon drinks Heigham sinks,' meaning that when the water got so high as to run through the dragon's mouth Heigham was sure to be flooded".2
Heigham itself has all but disappeared today under the Norwich ring road and later developments.
1. Walter Rye: 'Songs, Stories & Sayings of Norfolk' (Agas H. Goose, 1897), p.17.
2. Walter Rye: 'History of the Parish of Heigham in the City of Norwich' (Roberts & Co, 1917), p.3.
There are supposedly 'many' legendary battles associated with Bunker's Hill (TG184092 area) in Earlham, a western suburb of Norwich - but no one seems to have recorded anything about them.1 Although 'ancient' human remains were found there in 1955, it has been suggested that any such stories may have arisen because the area is named after Bunker Hill in Massachusetts, where a famous battle took place in 1775, during the American War of Independence.2
2. Rik Hoggett & Tom Williamson: 'Forgotten Heritage: the landscape history of the Norwich suburbs', (UEA, 2006), p.10.