Hidden East Anglia:
Landscape Legends of Eastern England
In the middle of Danbury the A414 bends, and northwards from this bend leads the narrow ‘Main Road’. After a little way it narrows further into not much more than a metalled footpath called Moores Bridge Lane. It continues heading north past the Scout Hut, through woodland, heading towards Lingwood Common. Before it reaches the Common, it bridges a narrow stream, and this is Moores Bridge (c.TL780055.) According to a former Essex man, here is located a brief but intriguing haunting, where the ghostly figures of “a sow and 12 piglets” are seen crossing the bridge.
Source: W. J. Chambers: ‘Essex Ghosts’ in ‘Lantern’ No.4, (Winter 1973-4), p.9.
The tale recorded in Holinshed’s 16th century ‘Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland’ of the Devil visiting St. John the Baptist’s church (TL779051) in 1402 is quite a well-known one. On Corpus Christi day, at evensong, at the height of a huge storm, the Devil entered into the church “in likeness of a grey friar, behaving himself very outrageously, playing his parts like a devil indeed, so that the parishioners were put in a marvelous great fright. At the same instant, there chanced such a tempest of wind, thunder, and lightning, that the highest part of the roof of that church was blown down, and the chancel was all to shaken, rent, and torn in pieces”.
When he was finished raging, he left the broken church – but local tradition says that he came back later, to steal one of the church’s six bells. The congregation chased him, forcing him to drop the bell at the spot now named after the event, Bell Hill, a little to the north.1 The impact of the bell falling is said to have created a pond, which people sometimes visited, in hope (and presumably fear) of actually seeing the Devil.2
A rather more modern version says that the Devil took the bell and walked away down the hill on which the church stands – but it became too heavy for him, so he dropped it where the Bell Inn now stands, in Main Road to the west at TL773053. This is supposed to explain how the pub got its name, and why the church now has only five bells instead of six.3
1. ‘Devilish Danbury’ in ‘Danbury Times’, No.17, Autumn 2005, p.7.
2. Jessie K. Payne: ‘a Ghost Hunter’s Guide to Essex’ (Ian Henry Publications, 1987), p.8.
The giant’s footprint
Once thought of as the founder of Colchester, the fictitious King Cole (or Coel) has at Dedham become known as a legendary giant. About a mile outside the village, heading west from the B1029, is Cole’s Oak Lane. Along here, on the ridge above the Black Brook, is Cole’s Oak House (TM050325), named after a long-vanished oak tree. In the bed of the stream below the house there is said to be a huge footprint that was made by the giant King Cole, when he strode out one day with his seven league boots on, from his castle at Colchester to Ipswich.1 The area between road and house used to be known as Boot’s Hole.
I was trying to figure out why King Cole would ever be regarded as a giant when I came across a version of the ‘Old King Cole’ nursery rhyme expanded into a Scottish ballad. Although it appears in David Herd’s ‘Ancient and Modern Scottish Songs, Heroic Ballads, etc’ of 1776, it was William Stenhouse’s commentary in 1853 which suggested that ‘Auld King Coul’ was in fact the father of the mythical Celtic warrior and giant, Finn McCool.2 This seems an unlikely blending of mythologies – but it’s relatively common for legendary figures to be thought of as ‘larger than life’ over time.
1. ‘Local Curiosities’, in ‘Lantern’ No.17, (Spring 1977), p.9.
2. William Stenhouse: ‘Illustrations of the Lyric Poetry and Music of Scotland’, (W. Blackwood and Sons, 1853), p.417-18.
A large sarsen boulder stands against the south wall of St. Mary’s church (TM057331), with a rough inscription upon it (barely legible nowadays), reading ‘Edw’rd Ward and Martha his wife’, but with no dates given. The story goes that Ward was a ploughman whose plough struck the stone one day out in a nearby field, and thought for some reason that it would make a suitable gravestone for himself. An entry in the Dedham burial register records a ‘Martha (wife) of Edward Ward 23rd September 1690’, but whether or not this is connected is unknown. It certainly hasn’t stopped the development of a local belief that the stone was actually a meteorite, with the idea that God struck Ward with a ‘thunderbolt’ for his persistent drinking and swearing.
The Essex Field Club Newsletter No. 22 (August 1997), p.9.
Henry Laver: ‘More Recollections of By-Gone Essex’, in ‘The Essex Review’ (T. F. Unwin, 1907), No.61, p.2.
Glyn Morgan: ‘Secret Essex’ (Ian Henry Publications, 1982), p.37.