Hidden East Anglia:
Landscape Legends of Eastern England
There are vaulted cellars beneath Abbey House at Barnwell (TL462589), built in the 17th century on part of the site of a 12th century Augustinian priory. A subterranean passage is supposed to run from here to Jesus College (TL452589), which itself was converted in the early 1500s from a derelict Benedictine nunnery dedicated to Saints Mary and Rhadegund. Legend says that a nun often used the tunnel to meet her lover, a canon from the priory, and her ghost now haunts Abbey House in the form of a 'grey lady'.1
Another tale has a tunnel running from Barnwell priory to the 12th century Stourbridge Chapel. Also known as the Leper Chapel of St. Mary Magdalene, it was built as part of a leper hospital that ceased admitting lepers in 1279, and thereafter became a free chapel. It still stands just north of Newmarket Road, at TL471594.2
Local rumour has many of the city's colleges linked by secret tunnels, often passing beneath Market Square.3 Vaults under the Cellar Bar (TL459588) in Napier Street are said to be part of this network, although they were probably cellars belonging to the old Victoria Brewery.4 Tunnels have also been mooted beneath Emmanuel Street3 and Haymarket Road.5
1. Enid Porter: ‘Cambridgeshire Customs & Folklore’, (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1969), p.147-8
2. The 'Cambridge Independent', 21/7/2019.
5. Nigel Pennick (ed.) ‘Geomancy of Cambridge’, (IGR Local Study, 1977), p.25.
Since the Fitzwilliam Museum (TL450579) in Trumpington Street opened in 1848, the two pairs of sculpted lions that flank the side entrances have gained some folklore that most often seems to apply to ancient stones. When they hear the clock on the Catholic church in Hills Road strike midnight, according to different versions they either jump down from their plinths, roar, go inside the museum, or walk down the steps to lap at the water in the gutters.
'Folklore, Myths & Legends of Britain' (Reader's Digest, 1973), p.232.
Jennifer Westwood & Jacqueline Simpson: 'The Lore of the Land' (Penguin Books, 2006), p.57.
In the grounds to the left of the Master's Lodge gate at Christ's College is said to be a tree in which the ghostly form of a young boy has been seen climbing, and the sound of his laughter heard.
Also at Christ's College, in the Fellows' Garden, is a mulberry tree allegedly planted in 1633 by the poet John Milton. It isn't his ghost that walks mournfully round the tree on certain nights of the full moon, but that of a Fellow named Christopher Round. He supposedly confessed on his deathbed to having drowned a love rival in the college pool, and for forty years afterward paced around the tree in deep remorse. At midnight, his stooping, despairing apparition can be seen circling both the tree and the pool.
Source: 'Legends and Folklore of Cambridgeshire' (Bradwell Books, 2016), p.9-11.
Behind Peterhouse College is a high stone gateway (TL448579) to a courtyard, near what is now the wild garden in the former churchyard of St. Mary the Less church. Until the 1960's, when an exorcism was performed, it was said that a dark, baleful spirit used to crouch on top of this gateway, whose presence (according to rumour) caused suicidal tendencies to students in nearby rooms. As many as ten are said to killed themselves after seeing the phantom. Some have said that sightings have been going on since the 1700's, or that the spirit is that of William Dowsing (1596-1668), who went around destroying "monuments of superstition and idolatry" in churches during the English Civil War.
Richard Holland: 'Cambridgeshire Ghost Stories: Shiver Your Way Around Cambridgeshire' (Bradwell Books, 2013)
Damien O'Dell: 'Paranormal Cambridgeshire' (Kindle edition, 2013)
Outside the modern village at TL626424 virtually nothing remains of the Norman motte and bailey castle. A farmhouse now occupies the site, and in 1744 a blocked-up arch found in the cellar was thought to be the entrance to a tunnel which legend said led to the castle at Castle Hedingham in Essex.
Cambridgeshire Federations of Women's Institutes: 'The Cambridgeshire Village Book' (Countryside Books, 1989), p.32.
On a hilltop some way south of the castle are some earthwork banks of indeterminate age known as Wigmore Pond (TL626416). Now heavily-wooded and dry, the site is unlikely to have been an actual pond, and may have been some kind of defence work. A very slight tale says that some unnamed 'soul' is buried there.
Cambridgeshire Federations of Women's Institutes: 'The Cambridgeshire Village Book' (Countryside Books, 1989), p.31.
The Giant's Grave
Shrouded by trees in the angle between the High Street and Cherry Hinton Road is a public space known as the Giant's Grave (TL486562). Although the name is nowadays applied to the whole area of the pond, spring and stream hidden within a steep dip, it properly belongs to the island in the pool. Here, tradition says is buried the giant Gogmagog, or Magog, who gave his name to the hills near Wandlebury a couple of miles further south. The spring itself used to provide an 'unfailing' supply of water for the village, and for Cambridge itself. See also Stapleford.
Along the High Street of Chippenham, the church of St. Margaret and the building known as the School House (TL663698) stand opposite each other. The latter was built in the late 17th century, then rebuilt in 1708 as a school, and is now a private residence. Cellars beneath are said to have an entrance to a bricked-up tunnel leading to the church, which was, once upon a time, used by 'the monks'.1 According to a previous owner, the tunnel was supposedly used during the Catholic persecutions to allow priests to escape from the church to the house.2
1. Ely High School Magazine, July 1950.
The moving church
All Saints church (TL455686) stands right at the northern extremity of the village, while Church Hill is much closer to the centre, near the moated site of the former Crowlands manor house (TL449681). This disparity seems to have given rise to the tradition that, long ago, the people wanted to move the church from its current location to Church Hill, but every night, the stones that they had moved that day mysteriously returned to the original site. It has been suggested that there may actually have been a second church, belonging to the manor, but no trace or record of it has been found.
Enid Porter: ‘Cambridgeshire Customs & Folklore’, (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1969), p.184.