Hidden East Anglia:
Landscape Legends of Eastern England
The Bartlow Hills
According to the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’, in 1016 the conquering Danish army under Cnut was marauding across England. King Edmund Ironside pursued them into Essex, meeting them in a furious battle “at the place called Assandun”. Partly through the betrayal and desertion of one Eadric Streona, the king was beaten, and “there Cnut gained the victory, though all England fought against him.” Cnut became king of all England in 1020, and the ‘Chronicle’ then says that in this year, “the King [Cnut] went to Assandun, and caused a Minster to be built of stone and lime, for the souls of those who were slain there.”
It was long a bone of contention as to which village could lay claim to being ‘Assandun’ – Ashdon or Ashingdon. Some had even suggested Hadstock, all of these being in Essex. Nowadays, it seems to be generally accepted that Ashingdon was the actual site of the battle.
Nevertheless, based on the battle having occurred instead at Ashdon, tradition says that while that village’s church was built in remorse by Cnut over the graves of the English, his own Danish slain were buried in the (actually Roman) burial mounds called the Bartlow Hills – once in Essex, but now just over the border in Cambridgeshire, a little north of Ashdon. Dating from the first century AD, there were once at least seven of these remarkably large barrows. Three remain standing, with the slight remains of a fourth just visible (TL586449), by some also once known as the Battle Hills. See also Hadstock and Ashingdon.
Source: J. Westwood & J. Simpson: ‘The Lore of the Land’ (Penguin Books, 2006), p.250.
It seems that there was always a 'village witch' in Bartlow, with each one passing on her magical paraphernalia to the next. Before the First World War, the incumbent witch was buried at the crossroads, with the 'bump' of her grave still being visible in grass years later. This would probably be at the junction of Dean Road and Camps Road, where the village sign now stands (TL584453). The tale is told of a farmer who wanted to move house, possibly because the then-current witch had put a hex on him, and he needed to get away - but when the moving van carrying his furniture reached the grave at the crossroads, the vehicle broke down.
Source: Enid Porter: ‘Cambridgeshire Customs & Folklore’, (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1969), p.161.
The dancing statues
Although much of Burrough Green's current school (TL638555) is a new build, the oldest portion dates back to 1708. Above the main doorway of this two-storey building are the stone effigies of a boy and girl in period clothing. On the evening of May Day every year, these statues are said to come alive, and jump down to dance happily on the nearby village green, leaving their footprints on the dewy grass next day.
Peter Jeffery: ‘East Anglian Ghosts, Legends & Lore’ (The Old Orchard Press, 1988), p.85.
Opposite St. Mary's church in the High Street is a Victorian house known as the Old School (TL590661), and local rumours say that the two are connected by an underground passage.
The name of the village is derived from 'spring by the burh' (fort or earthwork). The name is first recorded in 1060, so there must have been an earthwork here before Burwell Castle was started, but never finished, in the mid-12th century. Just west of the church, springs arise beside the castle's former moat (TL588661), but one of these gained fame - perhaps in the Middle Ages - as a 'fertility well'. It was said that women who drank from it were destined to always give birth to twin boys.
Source: Enid Porter: ‘Folklore of East Anglia’ (Batsford, 1974), p.21.
This is the name now given to a former clay-pit on the northern edge of the village, by the side of which a witch named Judy Finch (or Old Judy) was said to have lived in the mid-19th century. In recent days the locals have erected a roadside plaque (at c.TL589682) that reads "This area once an open claypit is known as Judy's Hole named after a wise woman who lived in the nearby Squatters' Cottages".
'Newmarket Journal', October 28th 2008.
Enid Porter: ‘Cambridgeshire Customs & Folklore’, (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1969), p.161.