Hidden East Anglia:
Landscape Legends of Eastern England
The remains of the 13th century Augustinian priory of St. Olaves, later converted into a house, stand above the river Waveney here. From beneath the floor of the former entrance hall a subterranean passage was once said to have led to Burgh Castle. As at many other such sites, the last man to go down it was supposed to have been a fiddler, whose music could be heard at first above ground, then faded away as he was never seen again.
Source: W. A. S. Wynne: 'St. Olave's Priory and Bridge' (Goose, 1914), p.35
In the early part of the 20th century, the Dawson family lived at the Manor House in Cross Street (TG077436.) Their son and daughter were born there, and when they were young, they often heard tales of "a smugglers’ tunnel from the beach to the Manor House, but we looked in vain to find this."
No surviving story here that I can find, but a name that's highly suggestive of one existing in the past. Old deeds of 1328 show that a mound called 'Drakenhowe' (the dragon's mount) could once be seen somewhere on the Sandringham estate.
Source: Charles Lewton Brain: ‘Tale of Destruction’ in the 'Eastern Daily Press' 1975, reprinted in Brain’s ‘Walking on Buried History’ (Larks Press, 2009), p.40.
St. Helen's Well
"It is said that a man who was working in the harvest field suffered from extreme heat and expressed his intention of going to St. Helen's Well to get some water to drink. His companions endeavoured to dissuade him from drinking icy-cold water in his heated condition, but he was obstinate, went to the spring and drank till he died. His spirit thereupon haunted the pit in which the spring was situated".
Source: W. G. Clarke: 'In Breckland Wilds' (Robert Scott, 1925), pp.102, 172.
"A tale as to the burial of three silver bells is also associated with Santon". Unfortunately, I can't find any more details about this.
Source: W. G. Clarke: 'In Breckland Wilds' (Robert Scott, 1925), p.165.
The golden cradle
A 'golden cradle' is said to be buried in or near the village of Sculthorpe.
Source: The 'East Anglian Magazine', Vol.27 (Nov.1967-Oct.1968), p.107.
The Devil & the windmill
The wild and unpopular Baronet Sir Berney Brograve (1726-97) was one of those landed gentry about whom all manner of unlikely tales seem to have gathered over the centuries. On stormy nights he, like his ancestors before him, is said to ride between Worstead and his manor at Waxham - where he was also supposed to dine every New Year's Eve with six ghostly ancestors who all died in battle. Once he wagered his soul that he could out-mow the Devil over two acres of bean plants. Although he won through trickery, he later sold his soul anyway.
It may have been while the Devil was trying to claim it that Sir Berney is said to have hidden in Brograve Mill, at TG448235, just in the parish of Sea Palling. This drainage windpump, built by Berney in 1771 on the banks of Waxham New Cut, now leans heavily to the westward, said to be the result of Old Nick trying to blow it down to get at his old adversary.
Alternatively, another local tale says that it subsided and was straightened five times, calls it the Devil's Mill, and says the miller was in fact a necromancer.
Former Ramblers.org.uk webpage.
Former webpage: www.friendsofnorfolkmills.org/events/horsey-walk-sept06.html
A tunnel was once believed to run between the church (TF707354) and Magazine Cottage (TF722369, pictured), built in the 17th century as a gunpowder store during the Civil War.1 Another is said to lead from the Cottage to the sea, presumably several miles to the west, at Heacham.2
The candlestick in the pond
The 'Monthly Magazine, or British Register' records the death in Shelfanger on December 1st 1814 of "the wife of Mr. C. B. Freeman; she had been for some time confined to her bed with a fever, and, in one of those paroxysms which sometimes impart to the sufferer an unusual portion of strength, she escaped from her room, and precipitated herself into a deep pit. A neighbour found means, at the hazard of his life, to extricate her from [a] watery grave, but the sudden transition from heat to cold terminated her life in a few hours".1
Those are the prosaic facts of an unhappy death, which have been twisted and embroidered over the years into a far more ghostly and interesting tale. The events took place at Bumbler's Farm, long-since ruined and gone from the landscape. The nearby pond into which Mrs. Freeman cast herself remains, though now dried-up and disappearing. According to a later inhabitant of the farm house, a Mr. Porcher, the woman actually cut her own throat following a dispute over the land, and carrying a lighted candlestick staggered from the house and threw herself into the pond. Although the body was recovered the candlestick was left there, and Mr. Porcher said a warning had been passed down through his family that, if the pond should ever be drained, the candlestick should not be touched.
In about 1885, when Mr. Porcher was six and his father held the farm, the pond was cleared of several tons of mud. That night, weird and frightening things began happening at the house. Objects in the parlour were hurled about by an unseen force, doors opened and slammed shut on their own, and the ghostly figure of a woman was seen by some. Eventually Mr. Porcher's father hired someone to search through the mud, find the candlestick, and throw it back into the pond. Although most of the activity then ceased, the ghostly woman was still occasionally seen, and even after the family left the farm, they always made sure to keep away from the ruined house and the pond.2
1. 'The Monthly Magazine, or British Register' Vol.38 part 2 for 1814, p.486.
The cock-crow stones
A tale has been told of two stones lying outside a Sheringham barn that are said to rise up and run across the road when they hear the cock crow.1 A local man has given a slightly different version, in which the stones were haunted in some way, and at night would roll to the other side of the road.2 By the location he has given, these stones would in fact have been just within Beeston Regis parish, on the north side of the A149 Cromer Road, against a wall outside the tithe barn once owned by Abbey Farm (TG168426.) As it turns out, I had actually seen these stones in the summer of 1975, and had already recorded them separately in the Stone Index on this site. They were not particularly large, and of black granite - but there was a third stone hidden by undergrowth about 10m further along the road. The tithe barn had recently been demolished when I visited, and in more recent times the wall itself has evidently been rebuilt - but at least one of the stones was still there when I revisited the spot in August 2019, at TG16784259. It measures 70cm x 45cm, with only 20cm visible above ground, as seen in the colour photograph top left. The black and white pic shows a stone a little further east along the wall, as it was in 1975. This and the third stone might still be there, but hidden by vegetation.
1. W. A. Dutt: 'The Ancient Mark-Stones of East Anglia' (Flood & Sons, 1926), p.19.
Sometime in the 19th century, tradition says the bodies of twelve sailors were washed ashore here, after a huge gale in which their ship sank. Rather than being given a Christian burial, they were thrown together in a ditch at a gap in the cliffs, and covered over with a great heap of stones and shingle. They say that if anyone visits the heap at night during a storm, they'll hear the 'ill-omened sound' of stones being cast onto the grave, just as they were more than a century ago.
Source: A. Campbell Erroll: 'A History of the Parishes of Sheringham & Beeston Regis' (private, 1970), p.111.
A haunted pond
To the south-east, outside the village, Black Moor Road runs from south-west to north east, and somewhere near here is said to be a pond haunted by the ghost of a young housemaid from an earlier century. Dismissed after an improper relationship with her master, her body was found in the pond soon afterwards.
The Silver Well
W. B. Gerish records of the Silver Well here a similar tale to that of the Callow Pit at Moulton St. Mary, where men tried to wrestle a treasure chest out of the Devil's hands.1
B. Gerish: 'Norfolk Folklore Notes' (unpublished, 1892.)
No story survives here that I can find, but the name 'Oliver Cromwell's Camp' applied to the faint traces of some earthworks once visible here suggests that one once existed. One minor reference places these earthworks in a now-wooded area just south-west of Bartholomew's Hills, south of the tiny village of south Acre, at about TF817130.
Source: 'Norfolk Archaeology' (Norfolk & Norwich Archaeological Society, 1945), Vol.28, p.184.
The Bloody Water Dykes
"He wur an old man of 76 when he died, and he call to mind right well how when he help his father cut down trees at (Letton) Hall, they used to take bullets out of the trees, and they said they were the remains of an old war in Norfolk. His father too used to tell about the old dykes at Reymerston and Herdingham, how they were the remains of that same war. My old gentleman's father died at 97, and he told how there were traces of blood in those dykes, and in certain rains they ran coloured. They called them there about 'the bloody water
'The East Anglian, or Notes & Queries', New Series Vol. 4 (1891-2), p.332.
A vanished ring of earthworks (TF848352) approximately 1½ miles south-west of the church was said to be the scene of 'dismal slaughter' when the Saxons fought the Danes. Dead bodies were piled up to the height of the defences, both the earthworks and the road running by coming to be known as Bloodgate.
Source: Rev. Thomas Cox: 'Magna Britannia-Norfolk' (E. Nutt, 1720), p.260.
The Magic Stone of Southery
Described as a large, blue-coloured stone, the so-called 'Magic Stone of Southery' supposedly appeared in a deep hole one night at Halloween 1642 after a violent thunderstorm. A mighty bolt of lightning supposedly struck the earth near the old mill. The local parson found the hole next morning, but a fierce fire raged in it for several days afterwards until quenched by torrential rain. Locals believed the hole to be a tunnel straight to Hell, and called it the 'Way In.' The parson became quite unhinged and disappeared the following year. The hole had by then filled with water, later to become known as the 'Wayin Pond', but when it had drained and been cleared out some years later, deep in the mud was found the massive blue stone - and with it the skeleton of a man trussed up with iron chains (who they believed to be the mad parson.)
For years I had located this spot as the sharp bend at the western end of Westgate Road. However, it turns out that Stocks Corner was actually on Stocks Hill, at the junction of Westgate, Upgate Street, Churchgate Street and Common Lane, and the author Peter Tolhurst has found that the garden wall in question belonged to Hill House (TL62079459).2 Unfortunately the Magic Stone is now lost as Hill House and its wall were demolished in the 1950's, while the Wayin Pond was filled in during the 1940s.
1. W. H. Barrett: 'More Tales from the Fens' (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1964), p.77-81.
2. Peter Tolhurst: 'This Hollow Land: Aspects of Norfolk Folklore' (Black Dog Books, 2018), p.40.
The Ox-Foot Stone
At O.S. map reference TM05178098 is the 'Ox-Foot Stone', an oblong slab of weathered sandstone 1.2m long x 1m wide x 15cm high. When I saw it in the late 1970s, it was in the garden of Oxfootstone House, but I understand that it was later placed in the conservatory, and is now back in the garden. Once, it stood in a meadow called Oxfootpiece, and was moved to several places in the parish before reaching Oxfootstone Farm sometime in the 1800's. There is supposed to be, on its upper surface, the impression of a cow's hoof print, but the stone is so pitted and wrinkled that all manner of patterns can be seen.
Often the villain in this old tale is an evil witch, but a local man's poem of 1893 says that this time it was a passing juggler.3 Another story says that an ox with a large thorn in its foot embarked on a rampage through the village before finally stamping its hoof so hard on the stone that it left a print.
A. Dutt: 'The Ancient Mark-Stones of East Anglia', (Flood & Sons,
3. 'South Norfolk News', June 27th 1975.
For more than two miles under river and marsh, a subterranean passage supposedly runs from Chamery Hall Farm (TG356127) to St. Benet's Abbey (TG383157) at Ludham. The Hall was said to have once been the home of the abbey's chamberlain, hence the earlier (and unlikely) name of 'Chaimberlainery' Hall. (See also Ranworth.)
Source: Former webpage: www.glavenmail.co.uk/southwalsham/southwalshamhistory.pdf
St. Mary's church (TG373251) is just across the road from the (former) Maid's Head pub. This building - now home to several shops - was built in 1380 according to the deeds, to house the masons who were constructing the church, and a tunnel was said to connect the two. But as the church guide says, "why anyone should go to that trouble Heaven knows - the traffic in the High Street cannot have been that bad!" Some have suggested they were trying to keep some of the drunken workers out of the public gaze.
The battle pit
Like Sturston (below) Stanford is now an empty parish, part of the Stanford Training Area established in 1942. The inhabitants were moved out and many buildings demolished in order to create a battle training zone for the British Army. The redundant All Saints church remains, but the Cock Inn - which used to stand at TL853946 - fell into ruin and is long gone. In 1909, an old man from the village of Thompson told W. G. Clarke of the tradition that a pit about half a mile from the Cock Inn had been the site of a "desperate battle" in the "English war against the Danes". This pit was on the way to Thetford, which would place it at about TL855938 - and Ordnance Survey maps up to 1905 do indeed show a pit at that spot.
Source: W. G. Clarke: 'In Breckland Wilds' (Robert Scott, 1925), p.165.
The Devil's Hole
At the Devil's Hole (TF972426), by the roadside between Stiffkey and Cockthorpe, is said to be a spot where, rain as hard as it may, the ground will never become wet, "owing, as tradition saith, to some terrible crime having been committed in that identical place".
Source: Walton N. Dew: 'A Dyshe of Norfolke Dumplings', (Jarrold & Sons, 1898), p.31.
Stockton Stone stands on a grassy slope between a lay-by (the old road) and the modern road, on the west side of the main A146 from Beccles to Norwich, at TM387947. This is an oblong sandstone glacial erratic weighing several tons, 75cm x 60cm x 60cm high, pitted and riven in several places, but apparently not worked, with the sharp top axis aligned along the road.
It had a curse upon it that anyone who moves it will suffer dreadful misfortune or death before a year has passed. But in fact it WAS moved in the 1930s during work to straighten the road and, so I gather, one of the workmen involved actually collapsed and died.1
Glendenning himself said that the stone had been moved diagonally eastwards about 4.25m, and the disturbance was "regarded locally with some misgiving".2 Before the existence of the Geld Stone was more widely known, some had suggested that the Danegeld was paid here (see Geldeston).
1. Keith Payne of Stockton, in the 'Waveney Clarion', Vol.1, No.6, p.3.
2. S. E. Glendenning, in the 'Eastern Daily Press', Nov. 4th 1947.
3. Information from Miss Elisabeth Crowfoot of Geldeston.
4. White's 'History, Gazetteer & Directory of Norfolk', 1883.
A field on the former Waterloo Farm was known as Hangman's Round, and "there, so the tale runs, a Parson-squire hanged himself from the branches of one of the ancient oaks which still stand."
Source: Lucilla Reeve: 'The Earth No Longer Bare and Other Essays', by 'A Norfolk Woman', p.86. (G. R. Reeve, 1939.)
On the right hand side of the road from Thetford, just before reaching Swaffham, is a place called Bride's Pit (TF821072), after a fathomless pool once to be seen there. The name was actually a corruption of Bird's Pit, but tradition says that a couple returning home from their wedding in a horse drawn coach plunged into the pond one dark night, and the bride was drowned.
Ben Ripper: 'Ribbons from the Pedlar's Pack' (Quaker Press, 1972), p.215.
W. G. Clarke: 'In Breckland Wilds' (Robert Scott, 1925), p.167.
Human remains have been found in a small field just south-east of the church, that has long been known as 'Cromwell's Burial Ground'. This is often linked to the shot marks once found in the church 'roof angels', traditionally ascribed to Cromwell's troops firing blunderbusses in the building. Almost certainly, they were actually caused by locals firing to get rid of troublesome birds, such as happened in 1667.
Source: Ben Ripper: 'Ribbons from the Pedlar's Pack' (Quaker Press, 1972), pp.17, 50.
The way to St. Martin's Land
"I have heard it said that until quite recently there was a hole in a field beside the Swanton Morley-Bawdeswell road. It was neither an old well nor a drain. It did not appear to have been used by fox, badger or rabbit. Surrounded by coarse clumps of grass and bracken and of unguessed depth, the hole remained a mystery. A whisper spread that it was an entrance to St. Martin's Land where it is always dusk and where the Green Children live. These pixies have always been a constant trouble to the people of East Anglia. The hole was filled!"
St. Martin's Land, in one version of the famous folktale, was the home of the mysterious 'Green Children of Woolpit'.
Source: M. S. Tyler-Whittle: 'Witchcraft', in the 'East Anglian Magazine', Vol.11, No.12 (Oct.1952), pp.653-4.
It's not much of a tale, but there is or was supposed to be a tree at Swanton Morley that was haunted by the ghost of the highwayman that was hanged from it.
Source: former webpage www.e-goat.co.uk/forums/archive/index.php/t-1153.html
In 1950 the amateur archaeologist and folklorist L. V. Grinsell obtained from local man Charles Lewton Brain the story that, if you wanted to see the Devil, you should run around All Saints church (TG019173) at midnight, then whistle through the keyhole.1 A variation on this was that you had to whistle through the grill that looks into the crypt under the chancel after running round the church several times.2
1. Samuel Pyeatt Menefee: 'Circling as an Entrance to the Underworld' in 'Folklore' Vol.96, No.1 (1985).
2. former webpage: http://swantonmorleychurch.co.uk/article5.html