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Sunday, 29 June 2014

The ghosts of Saxmundham

The town of Saxmundham in Suffolk can trace its origins back to the Saxons and was first mentioned in the Doomsday Book of 1086. The name itself derives from the Saxon 'Seizmond's home'.

The town has at least three separate haunted locations and can even boast an appearance by the little people!

The High Street

Top hat and tails.

A man in Victorian or Edwardian evening dress has been seen walking down the High Street. One man is reported to have seen him during a trip to the local fish and chip shop. Upon reaching the shop, he was told by other customers that this wasn't the first time this ghostly gentleman had been seen.

One house in the High Street has been the subject of paranormal activity for the last few years. Parts of the property date back to the 17th century and a visiting medium confirmed that at least six residents ghosts were active in the building. These included, an old priest and a boy.

Orbs have been captured on camera, a woman's sigh has been heard and a duvet has been pulled off a bed late at night by unseen hands on two occasions .

The cottages
Monk's Cottages

On South Entrance, beyond the cross roads, can be found a group of small houses bearing the name of Monk's Cottages. They date back to the 17th Century and once formed part of a much larger property. They were built on the site of 14th century chapels - known as chantries - where priests said masses for the recently deceased, generally a benefactor to the chantry, in the belief this would help them pass on from Purgatory to Heaven.

In 2000, one of the cottages was occupied by Doreen Pelletier. In that same year, she decided to clear her cellar of rubble and called in a group of builders to do the job. However, they soon began to complain of ghostly activity, including lights being switched on and off. They finally said enough was enough and quit, suggesting that she contact an exorcist.

Doreen learned that previous owners had also experienced ghostly activity in the property. One woman had even seen a figure on the stairs and had sought out an exorcist to clear the house. Doreen finally decided to contact the House Detectives - a BBC series devoted to investigating the history of old properties - who eventually confirmed that the cellar had indeed formed part of a chantry.

Doreen also tried to take pictures of the cellar at the request of the BBC. It's interesting to note that her camera jammed and the film strangely rewound itself.

So does the phantom priest - if indeed it is a priest - walk the cottage still?


Harper's Lane

Two children claimed to have witnessed a group of dancing fairies, dressed in white muslin, in this narrow lane. They vanished after just a few seconds. This is supposed to have occurred in the early 20th century.



Copyright: John West

Friday, 27 June 2014

The Devil in Burgh St Peter


Burgh St Peter in Norfolk was at one time supposed to be one of the regular haunts of the Devil. There was a stile in a field, leading into the main road, which the Devil used to sit upon once a year. Unfortunately, the locals were not certain of the exact day and so shunned it all year round just to be on the safe side.

Stiles were often thought to the boundaries between this world and the next, especially those leading to churchyards.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Black Shuck: the Hell Hound of East Anglia




East Anglia has long been known as the haunt of a ghostly dog known as Black Shuck. He is usually described as being a very large black dog with blazing red eyes. His name may derive from the Old English word scucca meaning demon, or possibly from the local word shucky meaning "shaggy" or “hairy".

It is said that to see him is an omen of impending disaster or even death, although not always! A former acquaintance of mine once saw a very large black dog – described by him as being as the size of a pony – while driving down a Suffolk lane. He suffered no ill-effects!

On the 4th August 1577, Shuck is alleged to have entered St Mary’s Church in Bungay during a violent storm. He ran down the aisle, attacking several members of the congregation.

An old verse records:

'All down the church in midst of fire, the hellish monster flew
And, passing onward to the quire, he many people slew'


An account of Shuck's appearance was described in "A Straunge and Terrible Wunder" by the Rev Abraham Fleming in 1577.



"There were assembled at the same season, to hear divine service and common prayer...in the parish church...of Bongay, the people therabouts inhabiting...Immediately hereupon, there appeared in a most horrible similitude and likenesse to the congregation then and there present a dog as they might discerne it, of a black colour; at the site whereof, togither with the fearful flashes of fire which were then seene, moved such admiration in the minds of the assemblie, that they thought doomesday was already come. This black dog, or the divil in such a likenesse (God hee knoweth all who worketh all) running all along down the body of the church with great swiftnesse and incredible haste, among the people, in a visible fourm and shape, passed betweene two persons, as they were kneeling upon their knees, and occupied in prayer as it seemed, wrung the necks of them bothe at one instant clene backward, in so much that even at a moment where they kneeled, they strangely died… There was at ye same time another wonder wrought; for the same black dog, still continuing and remaining in one and the self same shape, passing by another man of the congregation in the church, gave him such a gripe on the back, that therewith all he was presently drawen togither and shrunk up ,as it were a peece of lether scorched in a hot fire; or as the mouth of a purse or bag, drawen togither with string. The man albeit hee was in so strange a taking, dyed not, but as it is thought is yet alive. The Clark of the said Church being occupied in cleansing of the gutter of the church, with a violent clap of thunder was smitten downe, and beside his fall had no further harme...there are remaining in the stones of the Church, and likewise in the Church dore which are mervelously renten and torne, ye marks as it were of his clawes or talans. Beside, that all the wires, the wheels, and other things belonging to the Church, were wrung in sunder, and broken in peces...These things are reported to be true..." 

It should be noted that the Churchwarden’s account book from the time does indeed mention the storm. The parish register also records the death of two men in the belfry. Neither mentions a dog or even attribute the incident to the work of the Devil.
Some modern scholars attribute the whole mysterious event to a lighting strike. And did it coincide with the appearance of a terrified dog seeking shelter from the storm?

Scratch marks on the inside of the north door are still pointed out as evidence of Shuck's visit. 

A few inhabitants of Bungay claim the dog haunts the town still. 



Copyright: John West

Sunday, 22 June 2014

The ghosts of Bungay, Suffolk


Bungay Castle

It's interesting to note that my camera failed on the first attempt to take the picture above. My watch also stopped at exactly the same time!

The ruins of the Norman castle can be found in the town centre. The former owners, the Bigods, were said to be notorious for their wickedness and were doomed to haunt the castle as a penance for all their naughty goings on.

On certain nights, they were or are supposed to appear in a coach drawn by four horses - the beast's mouths and nostrils issuing flames and smoke - and driven by the obligatory headless coachman with his head under his arm. And to cap it all, the hooves of the horses strike fire as they hit the ground. Shades of Hammer Horror this one!

The coach would then go from the town to Geldeston in Norfolk, past the church, down Lover's Lane into Bigod's Hill Lane and so home to the castle. Apparently, the coach is never both seen and heard. You either see it or just hear it rumbling by.

Is this the same ghostly coach that is supposed to ride from Bungay to Ditchingham and forces motorists off the road by driving at them?

One of the Bigod family, Hugh, is also said to haunt the castle grounds as a black dog. Or is it just Black Shuck up to his tricks again? See: LINK


The Three Tuns

The Three Tuns pub is also reputed to be haunted. In 1969, it was claimed to have 24 ghosts, including an 18th century highwayman, Tom Hardy, who used the pub to plan his robberies. He was later executed. Another ghost is that of Rex Bacon. He supposedly hanged himself in the building after killing his wife's lover in 1682.

It should be pointed that the above information was obtained by a landlady who used a Ouija board. Checks of local records can find no trace of either man. During one seance there, a Mr Beckett, claimed to have seen a white figure standing in the corner of a room. And a former assistant manager, a Mr Blakeway, said he'd witnessed a window open and close.

No ghosts have been reported since the removal of a wall dating back to the 1500's.

The nearby King's Head can boast of at least one ghost. Strange sounds have been reported, including creaking floorboards. However, one staff member puts that down to natural causes - it's an old building.


The ruins

Finally, the ruined Greyfriars priory in the grounds of St Mary's has an auditory haunting. The sounds of chanting and the ringing of bells have been reported at night from time to time. A ghostly black dog has also been seen in the churchyard.

Copyright: John West




Friday, 20 June 2014

The Suffolk mermaid


Somewhere in Rendlesham could be found an S shaped pond with a sinister reputation. Children in the 19th century were warned to stay away from it 'lest the mermaid should come and crome you in'.

Crome was a long-handled rake.

Some folklorists believe that these legends of water bogeys are distorted memories of water spirits which were worshipped by our pagan ancestors. Others suggest that tales like these have a rather mundane origin ..... to deter children from playing near water.


Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Walling up cats alive


The practice of walling up a cat in a building, often with the animal still alive, was a medieval precaution against evil spirits and witches. The tradition survived into later centuries in some parts of Britain, including East Anglia.

This mummified example can be found on display in Lavenham Guildhall, Suffolk.


Friday, 13 June 2014

The Haunted Wood - Potsford Gibbet




At the Potsford Gibbet, near Wickham Market, Suffolk

Potsford Wood – off the B1078 – can be a spooky place even on the brightest of days. Halfway down a long and overgrown lane can be found the rotting remains of Potsfold Gibbet.

It was last used on the 14th April 1699 when Jonah Snell was executed for the murder of John Bullard and his son at the nearby Letheringham Water Mill. He killed them with an axe - bizarrely hanging them upside down from a beam in the mill. His victims are supposed to haunt the mill still. 

Snell's body was left to rot on the gibbet as a warning to others. He was later buried nearby after the skeleton fell to the ground. Presumably it's still there!

Many locals will not visit the wood and some claim that they have seen strange lights hovering near the gibbet. Groans and chocking sounds have also been heard. A figure in black has been seen standing near the gibbet.

In 1997, a couple reported being harassed by a black figure that moaned at them one night after their car broke down on the main road. In the 1980's, another sighting supposedly took place in daylight - a truck driver walked down the lane and started reading the plaque on the gibbet. He felt a tap on his shoulder and, turning back, came face to face with a skeleton, hooded and robed. He fled in terror.

Sadly, it has proved impossible to verify the two accounts mentioned above as no sources have ever been given in previous accounts published online. Investigating hauntings can prove a frustrating business at times!

I should add that ghostly apparitions in this wood can sometimes have a more down to earth explanation!

During research for this article, I was talking to a retired poacher who used to 'visit' the woods. One night, he spotted several white figures standing by some trees. They didn't move and continued to stare blankly ahead, apparently unaware of his presence. He fled the scene. The next morning he decided to return to the wood to see if he could find a rational explanation for the eerie apparitions. Imagine his surprise when he noticed that the figures were still there! It was only when he came within 20 feet of them that he realised what they were - someone had dumped several stolen garden statues in the wood! 

One can only wonder if some of the other stories concerning ghostly sightings in Potsford Wood were down to the local poaching fraternity? After all, they would have a vested interest in ensuring that locals stayed away from the area - especially at night!

Copyright: John West




Tuesday, 10 June 2014

More death traditions


A few folk traditions for you.

If you hear three knocks and no one is there it means someone known to you has passed away. 

Don't leave your shoes on the table! It can bring sickness and even death according to folklore.

When you experience a chill up your spine it means someone has just walked over your future grave. 

Some cultures believe that tombstones prevent the souls of the dead from leaving their graves.

Love coffee? Well, if coffee grounds in the bottom of your cup form a long straight line you can expect a funeral. 

Finally, if you touch a loved one who has died you won’t have dreams about them.