Hidden East Anglia:
Landscape Legends of Eastern England
A farmhouse and barn contain the remains of Denny Abbey (TL492684), originally a Benedictine monastery of the 12th century but also occupied at different times by the Knights Templar and Franciscan nuns. It has long been a tradition that a subterranean passage, passing beneath both the fens and the river Cam, somehow connected this site with Spinney Abbey (TL554718) at Wicken.
At the dissolution of the monasteries, the forces of Henry VIII supposedly marched on the 13th priory at Spinney, forcing the monks to flee down the tunnel towards Denny, taking their valuables with them. Half-way along they encountered monks fleeing from Denny, so decided to give up their treasures and turned back towards their own abbey. Unfortunately, the soldiers had already started to known the abbey down, and rubble filled the tunnel entrance. All the monks died there, their ghosts still haunting the place and knocking at times on the tunnel roof. Members of the writer James Wentworth Day's family were said to have tried exploring the tunnel at the beginning of the 20th century, but were foiled by water and noxious gas.1
There is rumoured to be another underground way from Denny Abbey, going to Bulmer Bridge over Coldham's Brook on the outskirts of Cambridge - or perhaps rather to the nearby 12th century leper chapel, which still stands at TL472595. Apparently here, a canary was put down into the tunnel but was brought out dead, so no further investigations were made.2
1. James Wentworth Day: 'Here are Ghosts & Witches' (Batsford,1954), p.22-4.
2. Shirley Toulson: 'East Anglia - Walking the Ley Lines & Ancient Tracks' (Wildwood House, 1979), p.196.
Some 'lumps and bumps' in a rough field a little south of Denny Abbey are known as Soldiers' Hill (TL492680). It has been suggested that the name might be connected with the Knights Templar,1 and an old tradition has been recorded that, if you walk around it seven times, you will 'hear the monks sing'.2
1. Rev. Edward Conybeare: 'Highways & Byways in Cambridge & Ely' (Macmillan & Co, 1910), p.298.
2. Enid Porter: ‘Cambridgeshire Customs & Folklore’, (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1969), p.378.
The White Lady at the Gate
At the meeting of High Street, Mill Road and The Common is the entrance into West Wratting Park known as Spanney's Gate (TL608518), the favoured haunt of the local phantom White Lady.1 Some say she walks there along The Common from near Concordia House, occasionally being seen glowing in car headlights as she stands in the road near the Gate, or drifts into the Park.2
1. James Wentworth Day: 'Here are Ghosts & Witches' (Batsford,1954), p.28.
2. Polly Howat: 'Ghosts & Legends of Cambridgeshire' (Countryside Books, 1998), p.107.
The Chronicle Hills
On the slope above the Hoffer Brook between Whittlesford and Thriplow there used to stand a group of early Iron Age burial mounds, known as the Chronicle Hills (TL452475). Originally there were four or five, but by the time they were levelled in 1818, there were only three left.1 They stood in a roughly north-south line in an area then called Got Moor, along with a section of 'ancient wall' and a well or pit. A human skeleton was found in one of the mounds, with another below it in a sitting position, holding a spear. Apparently one of the labourers levelling the mounds stole the skull of this sitting skeleton, and took it home with him to Whittlesford. Almost immediately, the tale arose that the headless skeleton started knocking every night on the door of the labourer's cottage, demanding the return of his skull.2
2. 'Antiquities etc discovered at Whittlesford', in the 'Cambridge Chronicle' November 13th, 1818.
Built about 1600, the Burystead (or Berristead) is the former manor house of Wilburton, beside Station Road (TL486749). A secret passage is alleged to lead from an old well in the Burystead gardens, heading about half a mile west to St. Peter's church (TL480750). Another tunnel is said to run from the church to the 15th century rectory, nearby at TL479749.
Source: Ely High School Magazine, July 1950.
With an embankment only 2m high at its best, and not much more than 5m above sea level, this isn't really much of a hill. It seems to be a medieval 'ringwork ' bank and ditch fortification built on top of an Iron Age settlement enclosure, but in tradition, it is supposed to have been created by William the Conqueror during his siege of the Isle of Ely.1 A variation on this is that it was built by Saxons as a defence against William.2
1. Daniel & Samuel Lysons: 'Magna Brittania' (1808), Vol. 2, part 1, p.74.
2. W. H. B. Saunders: 'Legends & Traditions of Huntingdonshire' (Simpkin, Marshall, 1888), p.298.
Although there are extensive cellars and vaults beneath the market place and the castle, there seems to be little evidence that these are all connected by a web of tunnels, as rumours in Wisbech suggest. Of the town's Norman castle, only a Regency villa remains above ground on the site (TF462096). Nevertheless tales persist of passages running from the castle towards the market, linked by some to the redevelopment of the castle in the 15th century. Similarly, cellars below many shops and houses in the market area are said to extend to the quays of the nearby river Nene. Often mentioned as part of this network are the Rose and Crown, the Tidnams Tipple Inn, and the Anchor Chambers.
Local rumours say that a tunnel was discovered when the A142 Witchford bypass was being constructed in 1989, thought to have been used during anti-Catholic persecutions by priests escaping from Ely Cathedral to St. Andrew's church (TL504788).