Hidden East Anglia:
Landscape Legends of Eastern England
The lost gold mine
"Reyce, in his 'Breviary' (1618), writes: 'I have heard that in ancient time there was a mine of gold oare about Banketon (Bacton) in Hertismere Hundred, but the experience of this dayly so much contrarying the same, made mee to receive it but as an unprobable heare say'."
Source: W. A. Dutt: 'Suffolk' (Methuen, 1904), p.60.
The churches of Badley (TM063559) and Battisford (TM055544) are both dedicated to St. Mary, and a tunnel is said to run between them.
Source: Allan Jobson: 'Suffolk Villages' (Robert Hale, 1971), p.105.
The monks' triangle
Long before the entire building was moved by 200 yards back in 1972, it's said that there used to stand three evergreen trees on the front lawn of the 16th century Ballingdon Hall (now at TL862401). They had been planted in the shape of an isosceles triangle, so that fleeing monks who saw them knew that here they would get sanctuary from those who pursued them, and would be taken down to the cellars, sheltered and fed.
Source: 'The East Anglian Magazine', Nov.1970, p.41.
Battle at Chapelfields
About half a mile north of St. Mary's church is Sandy Lane Quarry, an area that used to be known as Chapelfields (TM133515). In 1932, three skeletons were unearthed here, facing downwards, and in the first reporting of this in 1934, it was noted there was a tradition of a battle having been fought on this spot between the Danes and the Saxons. In 1967 many more skeletons were uncovered, and two further skulls in 1995. Indications are that all of these are of Anglo-Saxon date, but the lack of marks of violence on the remains, plus the name of the location, suggest that it's more likely to have been the site of a chapel and its cemetery.
Excursion report, July 20th 1943, in 'Proceedings of the Institute for Archaeology' Vol. XX11, Part 1 (1934), p. 131.
Elizabeth Owles & Norman Smedley: 'Archaeology in Suffolk, 1967' in 'Proceedings of the Institute for Archaeology' Vol. XXX1, Part 1 (1967), p. 73.
The haunted oak
Barking Hall (TM075534) was built in the early 18th century, and was the seat of the Earls of Ashburnham. It was demolished in 1926, but the original stables still stand, and are reputed to be haunted. Nowadays, a care home occupies most of the site. An oak tree used to stand in front of the stable block, upon which one of the Hall's coachmen is said to have hanged himself, with his spirit haunting the tree and the area long afterwards.
The hidden ford
King Edmund is said to have escaped his Danish enemies here by using a ford across the river Waveney known only to him. It was called 'Berneford' after the treacherous East Anglian that had betrayed him and put the Danes on his trail. After this he is supposed to have fallen upon the Danes somewhere between the ford and Carlton Colville and routed them. Some say this was actually the battle on Bloodmoor Hill at nearby Gisleham. See also 'Edmund of East Anglia'.
Edmund Gillingwater: 'An Historical Account of the Ancient Town of Lowestoft' (1790).
Rev. J. J. Raven: 'The History of Suffolk' (E. Stock, 1895), pp.53-4.
Rev. B. P. W. Stather Hunt: 'Flinten History' (Lion Press, 1953), p.20.
The highwayman's stone
Near the village school (TL760639) is (or was) a stone set into the pavement that is said to mark where a highwayman was once hanged. Mr. Macrow of Barrow Hall was collecting the parish tithes in 1789 when he was shot at by a highwayman. The villain's horse lost a shoe, which enabled him to be tracked down and hanged on that spot - even though he didn't actually hit his intended victim. Since that time, a tale has attached itself to the stone that it's supposed to turn over at midnight on every New Year's Eve.1 The only pavement anywhere near the school is in Church Road, but there's no obvious sign of any unusual stone there now.
That, at least is the local legend. The truth of course turns out to be somewhat different. On the evening of January 6th 1783 (not 1789), Mr. Macro (not Macrow) of Barrow Hall was returning from the Red Lion Inn (no longer in existence, but on the south-east edge of the village), where he had indeed been collecting his tithes. Near his home (which is not far from the school) he was stopped by a mounted highwayman who demanded money at pistol-point. After handing over the money, Macro struck at the pistol with his walking stick, upon which the robber fired, the shot just grazing Macro's cheek. They were actually close enough to Macro's home that the shot was heard within. The highwayman fled with his loot across open fields, but Macro was determined not to let the matter lay.2
The next morning he revisited the spot and found the tracks of a horse wearing a particular type of 'bar' horseshoe (not with a shoe missing.) Following the trail to the Bull Inn at Kentford, he found the horse in the stable and the rider - James Steggles, a former blacksmith of Tuddenham - in the kitchen. Manfully, Macro arrested the man himself and dragged him off to Bury gaol, where he was taken into custody.3 Over the next few days Macro continued his investigations, following the movements of the robber's' brother as far as Cambridge, where he found that Steggles was suspected of burglary in that town also. Returning to the scene of his own robbery, Macro had the bushes cut down in search of the highwayman's gun and any other evidence. He found, wrapped in an old handkerchief, a brace of horse-pistols, one of which had been fired.4
Although the evidence wasn't much more than circumstantial, James Steggles was tried at the assizes on March 18th, and was hanged on Wednesday April 2nd 1783 - but this was at Bury St. Edmunds, not at the scene of the crime in Barrow.5
1. Gill Elliott: 'Hidden Suffolk' (Countryside Books, 2000), p.15.
2. 'Ipswich Journal' 11/1/1783.
3. 'Norfolk Chronicle', 11/1/1783.
4. 'Norfolk Chronicle', 18/1/1783.
A subterranean passage is said by tradition to have run from St. Mary's church (TM054543) to Battisford Hall, about 150m to the north. Not the present hall however, rather the Old Hall (TM056545) which stood on the site until it was demolished in about 1763.
In the grounds of the 16th century mansion Roos Hall (TM414900) beside the road to Bungay there is said to be an oak known as Nelson's Tree - so-called in honour of the admiral's associations with nearby Barsham. But the 'contorted' tree was once said to have been used as a gallows, and is haunted by the souls of its victims. Also, the apparition of a white lady is supposed to circle the oak at night, and walking round it six times will conjure up the Devil.1
East Anglian Magazine', Vol.23 (Nov.1963-Oct.1964), p.41.
In medieval days a local man named Ramp is said to have been miraculously cured of leprosy after bathing in a (long-gone) natural spring on St. Mary's Hill at the southern end of town (TM420900 area). In thanks he endowed a leper hospital on the site, which survived the Dissolution, but closed in 1685. The War Memorial Hospital has been built on the site.
Source: William Page (ed.): 'Victoria History of the County of Suffolk' (1975) Vol.2, p.132.
On an inside wall of Roos Hall (TM414900), within a bedroom cupboard, there is said to be the imprint of the Devil's hoof, burned into the solid brick.
Mr. W. J. Chambers of Saffron Walden told me an old family tale of a certain window in Roos Hall (TM414900) "which can never be kept closed, no matter how it is locked or ironed-up". He said that the story "comes from family tradition on my mother's side. It was said that my maternal grandfather, who was a blacksmith and a skilled worker in wrought iron, tried to iron the window up so that it COULD not open, but the next morning it was found open as usual".
The Gooch estate at Benacre is locally said to have been the site of some battle, with the dead being buried in the park, in a hollow known as Blood Pit. (Several disused pits are marked on the 1:25000 map in the area of TM504835).
Legend says there was once a subterranean passage between what was known as the nunnery (the Old Hall at TM070343, an old manor house that became a convent in the 19th century) at East Bergholt, and the 12th century Augustinian Dodnash Priory (TM103356) at Bentley, south of Dodnash Wood.
Source: Suffolk Federation of Women's Institutes: 'The Suffolk Village Book' (Countryside Books, 1991), p.27.
There is supposed to be only one large stone remaining of the 12th century Dodnash Priory (TM103356), and a local tale says that if anyone can lift it, they'll find a hidden treasure underneath it.
Source: Suffolk Federation of Women's Institutes: 'The Suffolk Village Book' (Countryside Books, 1991), p.27.
A trapdoor into the cellars of the timbered, 15th century, much-haunted Crown Inn is said to be the entrance to a tunnel from there to the 1864 clock tower in the market place, hardly 100 yards away (TL992495). The landlord in the 1970s knew about it when I spoke to him, but said he'd never ventured down there.
The Blaxhall Stone
The Blaxhall Stone (TM355568) is a circular sandstone boulder some 1.52m across and 0.6m high, presently in the yard of Stone Farm, between outhouses and orchard. A legend asserts that it was ploughed up from a nearby field called 'Wrong Land' at the end of the 19th century by the foreman of that farm. When he found it and later dropped it in the yard, it was "only the size of two fists", having since grown to its present size and weight of about 5 tons. Once, said George Ewart Evans, a cat was unable to pass beneath the lip of the stone, whereas now a dog could go under with ease. Another 'growing stone' once existed at Magdalen Laver in Essex.
Source: G. E. Evans: 'Ask the Fellows Who Cut the Hay' (Faber & Faber, orig.1956, new edition 1972), pp.210-11.
Just across the road from the 15th/16th century Queen's Head Inn is the partly-Norman church of All Saints (TM425768). Leonard Thompson tells a story of how one particular cargo of smuggled brandy made its way from Dunwich to Westhall church and beyond, via temporary storage at the inn and church at Blyford. Alterations in the cellar in the 20th century revealed a blocked-up doorway, generally thought to be a tunnel under the road to the church. But the two are so close together, was it really needed? At the same time, tales of haunting began at the pub - odd lights, noises and footsteps.
Source: Leonard Thompson: 'Smugglers of the Suffolk Coast' (Boydell Press, 1968.)
The Lady's Well
The Lady's Well (TM450762) is an arched shelter of brick and stone holding two low stone seats, set into a high earthen bank, on the right side of the Blythburgh to Beccles road, just before the turning to Blyford. The road itself was known as Spring or Springhole Lane, from the fact that a small stream used to rise under this arch or 'bower', trickling down to the flooded estuary at Blythburgh. Claude Morley remembered the spring at the arch up to about 1900, and thought it to have been possibly a 'travellers' rest', as at one time it was said to have had brass cups inside chained to the brickwork for the use of wayfarers.
1. Quoted in a letter in the 'East Anglian Magazine', Vol.7, No.5 (Jan.1948),
Where the Walberswick road meets the A12 and continues as an old path over Blythburgh Common is said to be the crossways (TM443743) where Black Toby was hanged, then gibbeted on the same spot for the rape and murder of a local girl named Anne Blakemore in 1750. After death, his corpse was dipped in tar and left to rot on the gibbet, and his ghost is said to roam on Toby's Walks, in Blythburgh church, and at midnight, in a large barn that used to stand until recent times by the roadside called Toby's Barn (TM446743).
When seen in the open, he is more often than not driving a huge black coach or hearse, drawn by four headless horses. The barn in later years was not thatched but tiled, as tradition told that the thatch would never stay on it. When the gibbet finally collapsed about 50 years after the event, a master thatcher is said to have made a thatching comb out of the nails, while the posts were taken to a shed at Westwood Lodge.
Source: The 'East Anglian Magazine', Vol.23 (Nov.1963-Oct.1964), p.187.
According to a
local man, smugglers had either made or used a tunnel that ran from Holy Trinity church
(TM451754) to the sea.1
1. Information from Ivan Bunn.
2. M. Janet Becker: 'Blythburgh' (private, 1935), p.50.
A legend says that the valuable plate and other treasures of the church were hidden in one of the box-tombs in the church in 1644, to save them from the looting and destroying activities of William Dowsing. (He and his men came there on April 8th, broke various 'superstitious images, and fired hundreds of rounds of shot into the doors and wooden roof angels). But when the tomb was opened in the 19th century, no such treasure was found.
This tomb was also said to have been the grave of the Saxon king Anna, who fell in the Battle of Bulcamp nearby in 654 AD. Actually, the tomb is of the 15th century Lords of the Manor, the Swillington family. But Anna and his son Firminius may indeed have been originally interred within the church before being moved to Bury St. Edmunds - and two black marble slabs in the floor near the font are pointed out as being the burial site.1
It used to be said many years ago that to save the church bells from being stolen and melted down for cannonballs during the Civil War, the locals removed and buried them one night on the common, in Toby's Walks.
According to another Civil War story, bales of wool were piled up against the north side of Holy Trinity church to save it from Cromwell's guns that were set up on Bulcamp Hill.2 Although such bales were used in some areas for protection from cannon, there's no evidence that the Roundheads ever attempted to bombard the church here.
1. Blythburgh Church Guide (1974), p.9.
2. M. Janet Becker: 'Blythburgh' (private, 1935), p.36.
The mighty Bramfield Oak (TM399738) fell on June 15th 1843, but the dead trunk is still in the grounds of Bramfield Hall. Legend says that Elizabeth 1st once sat beneath its branches, and that it was a 'waymark' on the route from Framlingham to Bungay. An old ballad tells how, in 1174, Earl Hugh Bigod fled from the anger of Henry II, towards his castle at Bungay, two lines of which read: "When the Baily had ridden to Bramfield Oak, Sir Hugh was at Ilk'sall bower." (See also Spexhall). In fact, one local tale says that Bigod actually hid in the tree from the king's men, but that's rather reminiscent of the old Charles 11 legend.
North of Bramford, Blood Hill (TM113484) was so named long before the discovery in 2006 of the bodies of a murdered 4th century family. Buried in the same grave, a Roman woman and a child had been hacked about the head with a sword, while another child had been bludgeoned to death. Two Bronze Age burials were also found nearby. Although no legend seems to have survived, the name of Blood Hill suggests at least a memory or superstition of death at that spot.
A tunnel is said to run from Brampton Old Hall (TM435816) to Hollybush Farm (TM424825).
Source: 'The East Anglian Magazine', Vol.39, no.7, p.340.
The Druid's Stone
One of the very few well-known stones of Suffolk stands in St. Mary's churchyard (TM337898). Called variously the Druid's Stone, Devil's Stone or Giant's Grave, it is alleged to have been the scene of Druid rituals. Apart from being rather rough and mossy, it could at first glance be mistaken for just another gravestone, but it's actually an embedded granite glacial erratic 60cm x 30cm x 76cm high. In the early 1920s it was referred to as a "fallen monolith", but was re-erected on its original site in about 1925.
One theory proposed it had been taken from the ruins of Bungay Castle for use as a headstone. The legend of the Druid's Stone says that after having danced about it, or knocked upon it, 12 times, young girls would place their ears against the stone to hear the answers to their questions or wishes. Another version states that children would dance around it 7 times on a certain day of the year, then wait for the Devil to appear. A local writer said in 1934 that "some consider it to be a Ley or Direction Stone..."
Sources: various, including:
W. A. Dutt: 'The Ancient Mark-Stones of East Anglia', (Flood & Sons, 1926), p.12.
Oliver Cromwell was said to have built a tunnel between Bungay Castle
(TM334897) and Mettingham Castle (TM360887),
1½ miles to the south-east. The latter is really a manor house, fortified in 1342 and taken over by a college of priests
fifty years later. A house was added to it in 1880, and little now remains but the tall towered gatehouse and fragments of the
It seems, however, that the legendary tunnels originated in a Gothic romance novel published in 1796, written by Elizabeth Bonhote, a local author (and owner of the castle). Called 'Bungay Castle', it was very popular for a time, and although set in the 12th century, it didn't take long for the author's fictitious 'labyrinth of tunnels' to become linked with the activities of Oliver Cromwell.2
1. Local tradition, plus: 'The East Anglian Magazine', Vol.20, pp.58, 189.
A tunnel is said to run from a shop, later a café, to the site of
much-haunted Borley Rectory (TL846429), 6½ miles away in Essex,1 while
another heads from somewhere in Bures to Borley Place, an old house
opposite the Rectory site. A tunnel from Clare is supposed to connect
with this one somewhere in the Rectory grounds. Another runs beneath the
river Stour from Bures church (TL906340) to Wormingford, and was allegedly used by
East Anglian Magazine', Vol.14 (Nov.1954-Oct.1955), p.54.
3. Anon: 'The Ancient Chapel of Bures' in 'Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology & History' Vol. XV part 2 (1914), p.220.
The hanging tree
Sycamore Road, which leads northwards from the church in this tiny village, is said to be named after the Great Sycamore tree that used to stand here, and from which a murderer was hanged. Some think it was the ghost of this villain that haunted the glebe land near the rectory.
Burgh's church of St. Botolph (TM223523) sits on and within a huge Iron Age enclosure, that was also home much later to a Roman villa. Some of the bones of that saint were housed at a chapel on the site until the mid-11th century, when they were moved to the abbey at Bury St. Edmunds. And somewhere beneath the Castle Field enclosed by the earthwork there is said to be hidden a 'golden calf', buried near the chapel by villagers for safe-keeping.
Edward Martin: East Anglian Archaeology Report No. 40: 'Burgh Iron Age & Roman Enclosure' (Suffolk County Council, 1988), p.1.
Former weblink: www.matthewbartholomew.co.uk/book5.htm
Somewhere under the B1079 road in this parish there used to be a pit originally called Skellet Hole, scoured out by a stream. Here, after a heavy fall of rain, it's said the ghostly sound of an old lady washing her pots and pans (or 'skellets') could be heard. At some point the name was corrupted to Skeleton Hole.
Source: Lady E. Gurdon: 'Folk-Lore from S. E. Suffolk' in 'Folklore' Dec. 1892, Vol.3, No.4.
Also in this parish is a haunted lane, avoided at night, known as White-foot Lane because of the ghost with white feet that walked along it.1 The lane runs east from the B1079, around the northern side of Mill Hill. Others have related the name of the lane to the half dog/half monk phantom of Clopton.2
1. Lady E. Gurdon: 'Folk-Lore from S. E. Suffolk' in 'Folklore' Dec. 1892, Vol.3, No.4.
2. A. A. MacGregor: 'The Ghost Book' (Robert Hale, 1955), p. 71.
The Mermaid's Pits
Some stretches of water "in the low grounds, on the right-hand side of the road" just outside Bury were called the Mermaid's Pits (TL857658 area). These are the Babwell Fen Meadows, where the abbot kept his own private fish stock. It's said that "the springs here (which) yield an abundance of beautiful water...derive their name from the story of a love-sick maid, who perished there".
Source: Samuel Tymms: 'A Handbook of Bury St. Edmunds' (F. Lankester, 1859), p.72.
St. Peter's or Risbygate Cross, now in the grounds of West Suffolk College, formerly stood on the pavement in Risbygate Street, near the staggered junction with Chalk Road and Springfield Road, to where it was moved in 1878. What is left is an octagonal cross-base of Purbeck stone set on a rougher block, and there was for some time a contention by various antiquarians that it was really the pedestal of a statue of 'Our Lady of Risbygate' - but that actually stood on top of the nearby Risby Gate itself.
The cross was one of four defining the 10th century banleuca, the area of land that surrounded the shrine of St. Edmund.
Source: 'The East Anglian Miscellany' (1907-8), Notes 2446, 2477.
At the dissolution of the monasteries in the 16th century, the incorrupt body of the martyred St. Edmund was moved to a secret location by the monks for safety. No one knows where it is, but there's a treasure waiting to be found with him, for he was said to have been buried with a foot-high image of the archangel Michael, made of solid gold - or as Jocelin de Brakelond described its appearance in 1198 in his 'Chronicle': "Above the breast of the martyr, and on the outside of the coffin, there lay a golden angel of the length of a man's foot, having a golden sword in one hand and a standard in the other. And beneath it was a hole in the coffin's cover, where the former guardians of the martyr were wont to put in their hands to touch the holy body". See also 'Edmund of East Anglia'.
The Benedictine abbey at Bury was one of the grandest and most powerful in England. The first monastery on the site was founded in AD 633 by King Sigeberht, but all that remain are sections of flint wall inside the precinct, and massive gateways facing onto Angel Hill (TL855643). The Angel Hotel was built in 1779 on the site of three adjoining inns, the Angel, Castle and White Bear. Although records show the Angel Inn existed as far back as 1452, the arched vaults beneath date from the 13th century. Some antiquaries suggested the cellars were actually the abbey's charnel house, and that a bricked-up doorway there was the entrance to a tunnel to the abbey itself. But the actual charnel house was really within the precinct, in the cemetery across the Hill.
West of Angel Hill is the Buttermarket, where a vague tale says that a tunnel (haunted by spectral monks) used to run from what is now a bookshop to a vanished priory.
L. P. Thompson: 'Old Inns of Suffolk' (East Anglian Magazine Ltd, 1946), p.75.
The suicidal prior
In the 1800s, when the 14th century gatehouse (TM375594) of Butley Priory was being used as a vicarage, one of the rooms was kept constantly sealed, and known as the 'Ghost Room.' The phantom was thought to be the spirit of Robert Brommer (or Browner), prior of Butley in the early 16th century. King Henry VII had granted to him the Benedictine priory of the Virgin Mary at Snape, which from about 1508 caused Brommer to be heavily in debt to the king, with no hope of repayment. On May 25th 1509 Brommer committed suicide at Ipswich, and was buried in Butley churchyard. In June the following year, one John Tostington gained Papal authority to remove the body from the western part of the churchyard, and re-inter it near the north door, in the 'Devil's Portion'. Then at dawn on September 26th, the 'unhallowed' corpse was "exhumed and buried again as a suicide by lay hands outside the sanctuary, namely in the nearest road leading from (the) church at Butley to the lane called Hausen Street, where there are four cross-roads". Presumably the unhappy spirit then took up residence in the gatehouse.
Allan Jobson: 'In Suffolk Borders' (Robert Hale, 1967), pp.105-6.
A. G. Dickens: 'The Register or Chronicle of Butley Priory, Suffolk' (Warren & Son, 1951), p. 25-6.
In the 18th century, the former gatehouse to Butley Priory was being used as the residence of the Marquis of Donegal. To enhance the approach to it, in 1790 he planted Butley Clumps, four beeches at the corners of a square, with a pine in the centre. Although later becoming more of an avenue, a legend grew up that the Clumps was where monks were known to rest while they bore an abbot to his final resting-place.
Source: Gill Elliott: 'Hidden Suffolk' (Countryside Books, 2000), p.36.
Michael de la Pole was 2nd Earl of Suffolk, brother to William, the 1st duke, and slain in 1415 at the Battle of Agincourt. Although his monument can be found in St. Andrew's church at Wingfield, legend says he was interred in the priory chapel at Butley in a silver coffin.
Source: J. W. Day: 'Harvest Adventure' (Harrap & Co, 1946), pp.30, 50.
A mile east of the priory in the marshes is Burrow Hill (TM390485), which may be partly a natural feature, and partly a defended settlement. Beneath it is said to lie a ship and a Danish king, with all his weapons and treasures about him. Excavations between 1978 and 1981, before gravel was dug from the hill, found evidence of 8th century iron working and a Middle Saxon cemetery.1
There is also apparently a persistent oral tradition of a battle having taken place at Burrow Hill.2
1. J. W. Day: 'Harvest Adventure' (Harrap & Co, 1946), p.43.
The Bloody Meadow
At TL996566 stands a 17th century farmhouse, all that's left of the old manor house, Fasbourn Hall. A field on the estate used to be known as the Bloody Meadow, "so called on account of a noted duel fought there between two harvest men with scythes. The result of the conflict was somewhat serious to both, for each cut the other's head off — at least, so tradition sayeth."
Source: Walter A. Copinger: ‘History of the Parish of Buxhall’ (H. Sotheran & Co, 1902), p.194.