Hidden East Anglia:
Landscape Legends of Eastern England
The Tudor manor house Sawston Hall (TL488491), which definitely has a 'priest hole' dating from the times of anti-Catholic persecution, is also locally said to have a subterranean passage connecting it with St. Mary's church (TL488492), a few hundred metres away.
There are several rumoured tunnels beneath Soham, all centred on St. Andrew's House (TL593731), the former vicarage south of the church. There may have been a vicarage on the same spot as far back as the 15th century, although the present building (now flats) dates to about 1840. Extensive cellars underneath were investigated when redevelopment was proposed, and as usually happens, blocked-up doorways were suggested as entrances to the tunnel network.
One such passage is alleged to lead to St. Andrew's church (TL593732). In the 1950s, a group of people were said to have negotiated this tunnel, ending up amongst coffins in a crypt under the church - which actually has no crypt. Another tunnel is mooted to pass beneath Church Alley, emerging in a house in Clay Street, while a third leads to the Fountain Inn in Churchgate Street. This inn (TL593733) may be 15th century in origin, although mostly rebuilt in 1900. Used as a local court from the 1780s, some have suggested that the tunnel was used to take prisoners to holding cells under St. Andrew's House. The least likely passage traditionally heads for Spinney Abbey at Wicken, several miles away across marshland (TL554718).
Gog and Magog
The Gog Magog Hills (or Downs) arise in the north-east of Stapleford parish, the highest points being Wandlebury Hill and the nearby Little Trees Hill. Old traditions used to say that the gods (or giants) Gog and Magog were buried in the hills1 (see also Cherry Hinton). This may or may not have a connection with the figure of a giant cut into the turf within the ditch of a former iron Age hillfort on Wandlebury (TL494534). The figure is long-gone, but was first mentioned in 1605, and was possibly cut by Cambridge students.2
1. Enid Porter: ‘Folklore of East Anglia’ (Batsford, 1974), p.94.
Before both the tradition and the figure, a legend existed that, if a mounted knight were to enter the ring-ditch of the hillfort on a moonlit night and call out 'Knight to knight, come forth', a supernatural warrior would appear to challenge him. They would ride at each other and fight until one was dismounted. This appears in the 'Otia imperialia' written by Gervase of Tilbury between 1210 and 1214, where he also recounts a tale told to him by locals, in which this very scenario was played out not long before by a knight named Osbert son of Hugh.1
The idea that a golden chariot lies buried in Wandlebury,2 or under a Bronze Age mound called Copley Hill3 to the east (TL509530)has probably been mixed up with the similar tradition at Mutlow Hill (see Great Wilbraham).
1. Arthur Gray: 'On the Wandlebury Legend' in 'Proceedings of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society' (1911), Vol.15, p.53-5.
3. Polly Howat: 'Ghosts & Legends of Cambridgeshire' (Countryside Books, 1998), p.94.
Under the barrow on Little Trees Hill (TL488529) a giant horse is supposed to be buried1 (although another source merely says 'a horse'.2)
1. Enid Porter: ‘Folklore of East Anglia’ (Batsford, 1974), p.94.
2. T. C. Lethbridge: 'Gogmagog: the Buried Gods' (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1957, p.175.
The spire & the well
The church of Saints Peter & Paul has a wooden spire that was built in 1866. The original spire, of stone and brick, fell in the 1620s after long years of decrepitude, badly damaging the chancel and nave. Outside the churchyard and across Station Road is a footpath sign, and around it, if the grass is parched, you might just about be able to make out a circular shape that is all that remains of the parish well (TL286424). It used to be visible as a circle of bricks, in-filled with gravel. A plaque on the signpost explains the local tradition: "The Parish Well. In use until the coming of piped water in 1936. Legend has it, when the church steeple fell around 1620, the spire penetrated the earth at this point and formed a well." If it did, it fell an awful long way from the church.
The lady's treasure
The long-vanished manor of Stow was home to the Engayne family from 1184 to 1367, when the last lord died without issue. His wife, known locally as 'Lady Gains', is said to have buried treasure nearby, and her chain-laden spirit still walks beside the Quy Water, offering to reveal the treasure to any who will follow her.
The old chapel of St. Nicholas stood at TL520606 near the centre of Quy village, but fell out of use in the 1500s. After it had lain in ruins for many years, the legend emerged that the Devil didn't want Quy to have its own church, so pulled down every night what they had built during the day.
Source: Cambridgeshire Federations of Women's Institutes: 'The Cambridgeshire Village Book' (Countryside Books, 1989), p.157.
The former manor house of Stuntney Old Hall (TL556785) is on a slight slope just north of the village, and south-east of Ely. Oliver Cromwell's mother was born here, and he lived here himself for a time. An old history of the area claims that "Several hillocks in the vicinity of the hall are supposed to have been thrown up by [Cromwell], when he was preparing to level his cannon against the cathedral." There don't appear to be any 'hillocks' nowadays, and the story isn't true anyway: Ely cathedral wasn't attacked at all during the Civil War.
Source: J. H. Clements: 'A Brief History of Ely and neighbouring villages in the Isle' (Clements, 1838).
The usual 'blocked entrance' at St. Andrew's church (TL448790) is pointed out as evidence of a tunnel that is said to lead to the site of a monastery about two miles away. However, there's no evidence that such a site ever existed.1
Another passage runs from Burystead Farm (TL432789) at the western end of the village all the way to Ely cathedral, or so legend says.2
1. Cambridgeshire Federations of Women's Institutes: 'The Cambridgeshire Village Book' (Countryside Books, 1989), p.161.
The Abbey (TL558634) is a house built around the remnants of a 12th century Benedictine priory, with a supposed tunnel to the Jacobean house called Anglesey Abbey, on the site of an Augustinian priory (TL530622) two miles away at Lode. A second tunnel heads for the former Gilbertine priory of Fordham Abbey (TL628701) six miles distant. A third rumoured passageway runs about the same distance, due north across the fens to Spinney Abbey at Wicken (TL554718).