Hidden East Anglia:
Landscape Legends of Eastern England
Smuggling was at its height in Essex in the 18th century, with Hadleigh and its surroundings being a prime area of activity for the various gangs. The ruins of the 13th century castle (TQ810860) were not only said to contain hidden chambers for the temporary lodging of smuggled goods, but the two remaining towers were also used by revenue officers to keep watch for the villains.
According to ‘A Guide to Southend’, written by ‘A Gentleman’ in 1824, “It is said that there formerly existed a subterraneous passage from the castle to the bed of the river, but its mouths are now stopped up, and little or no traces of it are to be found.”
At TQ808870, in the High Street, can be found the ancient Castle Inn. An inn has been on the site since at least 1664, then being called the Boar’s Head, and soon to be a famous haunt of smugglers who accessed the cellar and made a subterranean passage from thence to the castle a mile away.1
Another tunnel leading to the castle was believed to begin in the cellar of Castle House just to the west. This house, part of Castle Farm, was built in 1706, but demolished in 1974. The cellar frequently became flooded, so no one ever dared to explore this passage.2
Yet another subterranean route was supposed to start at the castle and finish at Rochford Hall (TQ870903) four miles away.3
A passage was also rumoured to connect the castle with the 16th century Thundersley Lodge (TQ792882) in Runnymede Chase at South Benfleet.4
Two more unlikely underground smuggling routes allegedly ran from Hadleigh castle, firstly to a house beside Denham Road,5 and secondly to the former Knightswick Farm (once said to have been a chapel) in the TQ795841 area, both on Canvey Island.6 Not only is the distance 1.8 miles in a straight line, but the tunnels would actually pass under Benfleet Creek.
1. Federation of Essex Women’s Institutes: ‘The Essex Village Book’ (Countryside Books, 2001), p.111.
3. J. W. Burrows: ‘Southend-on-Sea and District: Historical Notes’ (John H. Burrows & Sons, 1909), p.257.
4. 'The Echo', online news 10/7/13.
6. Jessie K. Payne: ‘A Ghost Hunter’s Guide to Essex’ (Ian Henry Publications, 1987), p.123.
St. Botolph’s Well
This well (TL558448) can be found on the north-western edge of the churchyard of St. Botolph’s, flowing out under the wall and into a small pond (on Google Street View HERE.) It was once the village’s only supply of drinking water, and was never known to fail.1 In addition to being a healing well, especially curative of scrofula, it used to be that young girls would drop a ring into the water, so that their dreams would be of the young men that they would marry.2 As far back as 1587, it was described as one of various wells that "have wrought many miracles in time of superstition".3
1. Samuel Lewis (ed.): ‘A Topographical Dictionary of England’ 1848, p.369.
2. Federation of Essex Women’s Institutes: ‘The Essex Village Book’ (Countryside Books, 2001), p.112.
3. William Harrison: 'The Description of England' (orig. 1587) (ed. Georges Edelen, Folger Shakespeare Library, 1994), p.274.
At one time it was thought that the battle of Assandun in 1016 was fought near Hadstock, rather than at Ashingdon. This apparently led to the tradition that a small piece of grazing land at TL567452 was cursed. This spot, where Bartlow Road turns at a right-angle just outside the village, came to be known as Traitors’ Field, as it was where Eadric Streona turned his men away from the battle in betrayal of the English, and it was forever after unlucky to plough this field.
Judging by rumour and legend, the earth beneath Churchgate Street in Old Harlow would seem to be riddled with subterranean passages. The main story has St. Mary’s church (TL482114) connected with the 17th century Queen’s Head inn (TL483114), and the Stafford Alms Houses just across the road, built in about 1600.1 Before the buildings became Alms Houses c.1630 a priest lived there. He built a chapel in the cellar, and when conversion work was being carried out in the 1970s, traces were found suggesting tunnels leading to the Churchgate Hotel (built around a 17th century chantry), Hallowbury Manor and chapel at TL477120, and the now-demolished Mark’s Hall at TL463108.2
1. former weblink: http://homepages.tesco.net/~patrica.hercod/stmary_history_Feb1996.htm
2. Glyn Morgan: ‘Secret Essex’ (Ian Henry Publications, 1982), p.545.
A former bakery in King’s Quay Street was said to have a smuggler’s tunnel from the basement, leading to the churchyard at St. Nicholas’ (TM261325).
Source: ‘Highlight’, the Harwich Society 2 Newsletter, No.160, Sept.2010.
Cheating the Devil in church
In the 11th century, a college of secular canons was founded here, supposedly by one Maud de Ingelrica. In about 1100 it became a priory, of which the only part that remains is the nave, now forming the parish church of St. Andrew (TL796110). Although there's no historical evidence for it, Maud was said to have been the lover of William the Conqueror and bore him a son, also named William. Legend says that, for her sins, the Devil swore that he would have her soul, whether her body be buried inside or outside the church. But she cheated him by having herself interred in the wall itself.
In East Anglia, this 'neither inside nor out' tale only occurs elsewhere at Runwell, but is common throughout the rest of Britain. During restoration of the church in 1873, a cavity was exposed within the north wall of the nave, and below it was found a stone coffin containing the bodies of a man and woman. Although the coffin was of a later date, the bones were of course believed to be those of Maud and her later husband, Ranulph de Peverel.
Federation of Essex Women’s Institutes: ‘The Essex Village Book’ (Countryside Books, 2001), p.116.
'The Archaeological Journal' Vol.30, 1873, p.404-5.
The double tree
Great Hawkwell Wood forms a part of the eastern section of Hockley Woods (TQ838916 area). In the middle was, and perhaps still is, the ‘double tree’ - an oak with a divided trunk that rejoined several feet above the ground, forming an opening wide enough for a child to pass through. According to a 19th century history of the region, “The neighbourhood of this tree was believed at one time by the weak and credulous to be haunted, as being at, or near the spot, where a woman is said to have killed her child, and during the night noises were heard resembling ‘Oh mother, mother, don't kill me.’ People used to assemble to listen to ‘the shrieking boy’, many from long distances, and when followed the voices used to retreat”.1
Apparently this same tree was the site of attempts at healing, as people would pass disabled children through the gap in the trunk, believing that it could 'absorb' their illnesses.2
1. Philip Benton: ‘The History of Rochford Hundred’ (A. Harrington, 1867.) vol.1, p.294.
2. Dee Gordon: 'The Secret History of Southend-on-Sea' (The History Press, 2014; ebook version).
Local legend speaks of an underground passage running from St. Mary's church (TL544285) to the nearby site of the old Hall (TL543287).
Just within the parish boundary are the few houses and farms that make up the tiny hamlet of Threshers Bush (TL498092). Often, it was marked on old maps as Thrushes Bush. Leading here from the north is Hobbs Cross Road, known in the middle ages as Triste Street. Opposite the only house at the crossroads, and close beside the road, is a small tree tightly enclosed by iron railings, the successor to the landmark known in 18th century deeds as Tricers Bush. Trist (or modern tryst) is a word meaning both an assignation between lovers, and a meeting place for a hunt. Certainly this was a known landmark on hunting trails into the 19th century, but perhaps the Tryst Bush was also known for its romantic encounters?
Source: Linley H. Bateman (ed): 'History of Harlow' (Harlow Development Corporation, 1969), p.57
Just a snippet here, that the 16th century Bull Inn (TQ833924) once had a smugglers' tunnel leading to the small river flowing through Hockley Woods.
Source: Dee Gordon: 'The Secret History of Southend-on-Sea' (The History Press, 2014; ebook version).
The donkey pond
South of the village, along Horndon Road, there used to be a pond (at c. TQ673822) out of which was believed to emerge the spectral figure of a woman sitting on a donkey. This figure (known as Mrs. Oman) swept across the lane, vanishing into a copse on the other side, and occasionally forcing cyclists to swerve.
Source: Federation of Essex Women’s Institutes: ‘The Essex Village Book’ (Countryside Books, 2001), p.124.
Legend talks of a subterranean connection between St. Peter & St. Paul’s church (TQ669833), and the 15th century Bell Inn (TQ670832) not far away in High Road.
Source: Glyn Morgan: ‘Secret Essex’ (Ian Henry Publications, 1982), p.54.