Hidden East Anglia:
Landscape Legends of Eastern England
Soldier's Hill & Devil's Ditch
Garboldisham Heath is covered with earth works from the Bronze Age, plus Roman and Saxon. Several Bronze Age round barrows are said to be the graves of soldiers "killed in the wars".1 Nearby is the two mile long Devil's Ditch, a Dark Age dyke flanked by low banks, little of which can now be seen. "Soldiers used to lie in it when they fought in the wars", said W. G. Clarke.2 One of the barrows, called Soldier's Hill, is said to be Boudicca's grave (TL991818).
1. L.V.Grinsell: 'Folklore of Prehistoric Sites in Britain' (David & Charles, 1976), p.133.
A cursed cross
At the meeting of Lime Kiln Road and Lynn Road (TF72881930) there used to stand, in the early 19th century, the base or pedestal of a wayside cross. At some point it was taken to the church to support the font. Then in 1850 it was moved again, to serve as a mounting block in the yard of the nearby Crown Inn. The mortise hole had been previously sealed with lead, but three men apparently opened it up again in a vain search for "papers or writings" they thought might be hidden within. In 1878 it ended up on the lawn of Bridge House in Winch Road, the home of local doctor Philip Candler Shepheard. He also owned Abbot's Hall just north of Aylsham, and when he moved back there in 1884, he took the surviving part of the cross with him. According to Gayton's vicar in 1889, "There was a supposition that every time it had been moved somebody died or was killed." Apparently there are some entries in the parish registers that possibly support this, including a man crushed by a horse at the time of its removal to Bridge House. "But", continues the vicar, "at the stone's last journey certainly no one suffered, and so, it is hoped, the superstition is 'laid' as well as the relic."
Source: William A. Cutting: 'Gleanings about Gayton (Norfolk) in the olden time' (Agas Goose, 1889), p.125-7.
The Hill of Peace
A little north-west of the church, only a low wide bump now remains to show the position of a bowl barrow from the Bronze Age (TF742188.) Although known as the Hill of Peace, locally it's called 'the soldiers burial ground'.
The Geld Stone
In the garden of Geldeston Lodge (TM397921) there used to be a small sandstone rock 45cm x 60cm x 45cm high, known to some as the Geld Stone (though it's likely this was invented by an antiquarian to account for the name of the village). It once stood at a threeways junction called The Clumps (TM399919, also called The Gelders and Dunburgh Corner), and led the way to Dunburgh Hill. Legend says that it was where the local populace paid the 10th century Danegeld, and known as a haunt in the 19th century of the 'Hateful Thing' (see under Geldeston in Shuckland.)
Around 1900, children of the Thornhill family, who then owned the Lodge, uprooted the stone for fun and loaded it onto a cart. After setting it up in their own garden, they garlanded it with flowers and did 'pagan' dances around it. My informant told me that "we were told the story [of the Danegeld] when we came to the village in 1921, and my mother probably helped to perpetuate it by writing a play for us and the village children about the Danes coming upriver and demanding 'gelt', which we acted in our own grove with a makeshift stone not long after".1 (In fact the Danegeld was a tax levied by the Normans to 'buy off' the Vikings - the Danes never collected it themselves).
1. Letter to me from Miss Elisabeth Crowfoot of Geldeston.
At some time in the 19th century, the occasional overflowing of a large 'horse pond' in the parish caused it to be dug out and deepened. The workmen found in the mud at the bottom a skeleton, with a piece of millstone chained around its neck. Memories were awoken of a tale from many years earlier, when a 'wicked felon' was to be buried at the crossroads, but was instead laid to rest in the pond. The rector of Geldeston apparently agreed to have the millstone removed and the body buried on the north side of his churchyard. Almost straightaway, the felon's ghost began to walk every night, rattling his chains as he haunted the field between the churchyard and a path known locally as Lover's Lane, and did so for many a year afterward.
This pond was apparently towards the end of a grassy path through a park, that was a short-cut to the 'next village'. Since the only park in the area is that around Geldeston Hall, the next village must have been Stockton, leading me to suggest the pond to be that at TM39669279, in the northern part of the park, just south of Norwich Road. Lover's Lane is now called Snake's Lane, and runs southward from near the church to meet with Sandy Lane, a haunt of the 'Hateful Thing'. Both of these lanes were also once said to be haunted by a coach and horses whose passengers were the restless souls of the 'wicked' Bigod family - and by a ghostly donkey, again rattling chains.
Source: M. H. James: 'Bogie Tales of East Anglia' (Pawsey & Hayes, 1891), p.16-17.
Deadman's Lane runs between Geldeston Road and Folly Corner, and is said to be named after a man who allegedly starved himself to death in a ditch there.
Source: former webpage: http://www.enterprise-link.co.uk/gillingham/DisplayArticle.asp?ID=2426
"There is a haunted gate which will not stay shut on the meadows near the old Tithe Barn, sometimes called the Old Chapel because it has a window rather like a church window".
Source: former webpage: http://www.enterprise-link.co.uk/gillingham/DisplayArticle.asp?ID=2426
The low road above the marshes leading from the village towards Dunburgh Hill has the name of King's Dam, allegedly after a king of 'olden days' who came that way. Some say that it was Edmund, last Saxon king of the East Angles, who supposedly had a 'palace' at Hales, about 8 miles to the north-west.
The parish contains the site of a 'lost village' known as Wyndale or Windle. In the angle between the roads leading from Gillingham to Haddiscoe and Aldeby is a wooded and overgrown area hiding the remains of a gravel pit - known locally as Church Hole (TM426931) - that is said to be the site of Wyndale's church of St. Andrew. A little distance away is Windlehill Farm (TM424934) which, according to Emma Thornhill, "is supposed to have a secret passage to the river which can be traced by the hollow sounds when a horse is ridden over it". A bricked-up doorway in the cellar is pointed to as the tunnel entrance, while the farm itself is said to be haunted, possibly by the ghosts of smugglers.
Source: Emma Thornhill: 'Historical Rambles in East Anglia' (Sydney Lee Ltd, 1924), p.59.
As well as a tunnel heading here from Bromholm Priory at Bacton, another passage is said to lead from Gimingham Hall (TG279365) to the sea, about a mile and a half away, presumably once used by smugglers.
Source: 'Norfolk Fair', Vol.2, No.10 (February 1970), p.20.
The Gull Stones
At approximately TM525033 is said to have once stood a stone circle, the only one known in East Anglia. These "ten huge stones, like unto those of Stonehenge", were situated in a field called either 'Stone-close' or 'Stone-piece', a site now covered by a housing estate. They were known as the 'Gull Stones', but this is probably a piece of folk-etymology. Here the Druids supposedly gathered to watch the midsummer sun rise out of the eastern sea. The stones were "removed by vandalistic bands" in 1768, the remains being used to form an early harbour pier.
Suckling in 1846 seems to be the earliest written source: "Many large stones, however, arranged in the form of a circle, which were removed from a field called Stone-close, in the year 1768, and three from a neighbouring enclosure, of a large size, and full ten feet high, attest in a great measure the truth of a tradition, that Gorleston was a spot selected by the Druids for the celebration of their mystic rites".
C. J. Palmer: 'Perlustration of Gt. Yarmouth' (George Nall, 1875), Vol.3, p.307.
R. H. Teasdel: 'A History of Gorleston' (Powell & Co, 1933), pp.6-7.
A. W. Ecclestone: 'A Yarmouth Miscellany' (private, 1974), pp.17, 31.
A. Suckling: 'The History & Antiquities of the County of Suffolk' (1846), Vol.1, p.360.
Close to the side of the main Gorleston to Beccles road (now the A143) is a deep pond, a little west of the former Ottey's or Otter's Farm, once known as the Lily Pit (TG518049). A cottage of the same name still stands, but the actual farm site is now occupied by residential houses. At midnight a phantom pony and trap used to thunder along the road and disappear into the water.
Three legends have been told to account for the apparition:
1) A mail-coach missed the road one night and careered into the pit, vanishing forever.
2) A young farm-hand eloped with his master's daughter, but she fell into the pool and drowned. In remorse, the lad hanged himself on a nearby tree.
3) The Lily Pit was the well of 'Old Canoba', an ancient chieftain who traditionally had a castle close by.
W. B. Gerish: 'Norfolk Folklore & Miscellaneous Notes on General Folklore' (unpublished, 1898), p.171.
The 'Yarmouth Mercury', May 26th 1950.
N. I. Shelton: 'Gt. Yarmouth Ghost Walk' (private, 1983), p.16.
Information gratefully received from Mark Dyball.
The Rev. Forbes Phillips, referring to the old vicarage near the junction of High Street and Garnham Road, wrote in 1909: "I live on a part of the coast that is nearest to Holland, and therefore conveniently situated for running the 'stuff', and I live in a house that was constructed with a view not only of the Yarmouth Roads and the North sea, but a further one of plundering the Revenue, and with the definite object of conveniences for this particular work. Beneath my feet as I write are large and roomy cellars, once used for the storage of imported goods, and until a few years ago a subterranean passage connected these with a landing-stage by the waterside; and let full truth be told, the designer of all was the vicar of the parish, and this house was, and is still, the vicarage".1
From another house in the High Street, demolished some time ago, another smuggler's tunnel was supposed to run for several miles to Burgh Castle. Others were said to head from this street south to Baker Street.2
Smuggling was again the purpose for tunnels between both the Anchor & Hope pub and the Feathers Inn, and the river. Virtually nothing is left of the 14th century Augustinian friary that used to stand in this area, but a tunnel is said to have led from there, once again, to the river.3
1. Athol Forbes: 'The Romance of Smuggling' (1909).
2. 'Peggotty's Porthole' in 'Yarmouth Mercury' October 8th 2009.
The Cliff Hill area of Gorleston was once called Prospect Hill, but in the early years of the 19th century it was locally known to some as Deadman's Hill. This is tied to the story that a group of boatmen once murdered a rich Jew while at sea, and made off with his 'treasure chest'. They buried this in the sand below the hill, returning later to divide the gold and 'rich laces' between them. One of the gang was caught and transported to Australia, where he supposedly wrote a confession of his deeds in 1826, although there is no evidence that the events of the tale ever actually took place.
Source: C. J. Palmer: 'Perlustration of Gt. Yarmouth' (George Nall, 1875), Vol.3, p.361.
The Bircham Common mounds
A group of four Bronze Age Barrows (TF775310 area) on the common are said to have been "thrown up by soldiers". Two of these bell barrows were opened by W. C. Lukis in 1842, revealing that one held an inverted urn with cremation, while the other had probably been robbed, yielding only a fragment of pottery. One of these mounds was also where the Court for Smethdon Hundred met.
Source: L. V. Grinsell: 'Folklore of Prehistoric Sites in Britain' (David & Charles, 1976), p. 133.
The Blow Hill pit
At Coldblow or Blow (now Bow) Hill, in a field divided from the river Yare by a carr alongside which the old Norwich Road ran, there was once a water-filled pit, said to be bottomless. Each midnight and noon a coach with four horses, headless coachman and carrying four headless women in white, would rise from the pond, travel round a nearby field and silently go back into the pit.
that long ago a wedding party going along the old Norwich Road accidentally
careered into the pond and vanished. (A similar tale is told of an
unlocated pit in a field near Bury St. Edmunds).
W. B. Gerish: 'Norfolk Folklore' (unpublished, 1892), pp.48-9.
The 'East Anglian Handbook' (1885), p.80.
The Devil's Seat
In 1582 a huge 'northern sperm whale' was washed up on the beach at Caister-on-Sea. The skull and part of the vertebra were made into a chair, originally known as the Whalebone Seat, and moved to outside St. Nicholas' church (TG524081) at Yarmouth. "When the old Guildhall occupied the site of the present church gates", says C. J. Palmer, "this bone was placed beside it, and acquired the name of the 'Devil's Seat'." He adds that, "in 1606, the churchwardens expended eight shillings in painting it".
1. C. J. Palmer: 'The Perlustration of Gt. Yarmouth'
(G. Nall, 1872-5), p.48.
The British Archaeological Association held their 36th annual meeting at Yarmouth in 1879, and on page 84 of their report speak of a lost treasure there. The vicar gave them a lecture in St. Nicholas' church (TG524081) on its history, and the report ends that "most of all he (the vicar) would be glad to know where to find that crock of gold, whose value was not less than 30 or 40,000 pounds, to be laid out in the completion of the church; and of all of which he would like to have the fingering!"
A former oddity of St. Nicholas' church (TG524081) was the crooked steeple: 'Whichever way you turned your eye, it always seemed to be awry', was the popular rhyme. The spire was taken down at the beginning of the 19th century, but not before two tales had grown up about it. 'When an old maid dies, the steeple nods', they said, and backed it up by reference to the burial registers of the 1600s, where is written "Jayne Hart, a mayde", and "Elizabeth Austen, an old mayde", and that was when the spire became bent, they claimed.1 Others said with a sly wink that it became crooked "through a virgin having once been married there".2 The spire was actually hit and twisted by lightning in 1683, taken down in 1803, and a new one finally built in 1807.
1. Walton Dew: 'A Dyshe of Norfolke Dumplings' (Jarrold & Sons, 1898), p.90.
2. E. R. Suffling: 'History and Legends of the Broad District' (Jarrold & Sons, 1891), p.162.
For reasons unknown, there used to be a legend that, if you ran round the 18th century St. George's churchyard three times without stopping and shouted 'Bloody Queen Mary!', then the face of Mary Tudor would appear at the nearest window. This tradition was apparently current in the late 1800's.
Source: W. B. Gerish: 'Norfolk Legends' (unpublished notes, c. 1914.)
It's common local knowledge that an underground passage runs from St. Nicholas' church (TG524081) to 'the priory' - but which one I don't know, as there were once four in the town.
Only a few are left of the 145 narrow alleyways called 'rows' that once scored the old town of Great Yarmouth. In one of these, Money Office Row, a chest of treasure was said to be buried, that had the habit of disappearing every time anyone came near to dig it up.
Source: W. B. Gerish: 'Norfolk Folklore Collections' (unpublished, 1916-18).
In front of a modern bungalow in a suburban road called Crosstead, there stands the 'rubble core' of a 13th century boundary cross, known as Midsands Cross (TG52511003.) Once, the area was part of the North Denes, a sandy swathe of land dotted with marram grass next to the shore, and the pile of flint and pebbles mortared together - now about 2.5m high - was referred to as a 'stone cairn'. Some apparently believed that it covered an ancient burial, and whether it was legend or rumour, the idea arose that there was some kind of treasure beneath it. In early 1859, crowds gathered when tales began to circulate that treasure-hunters had been digging around and beneath it. Although trenches had been dug, and there were rumours of finding bones, metal and a coin in a 'vault' or 'subterranean passage', it came to nothing, and the 'cairn' luckily survived its brief ordeal.
Frederick Danby Palmer: 'Yarmouth Notes' (1889), p.233.
'Yarmouth News' section in the 'Norwich Mercury', March 5th 1859.
Gresham or Aylmerton Cross (TG18073879) is a 4m high medieval wayside cross on the parish boundary with Aylmerton, that was said to be a guide to Little Walsingham. Three roads meet here, and a rough track heading westwards is said to have been part of the pilgrim's way heading to the holy shrines to be found there. In the base is a niche, identified as a place for votive offerings to be left. In the mid-19th century it was known as a 'stump cross', as only the base was left, but the shaft was restored in the 19th century and a cross placed on top. The cross was removed after the monument was struck by a vehicle in about 2002, but the whole structure has now been restored.
In 1844 though, the moat was cleaned out, leading to the disclosure of the remains of a timbered draw-bridge, and the alleged entrance to a tunnel. Walton Dew describes another tunnel from the castle, so which entrance this would be I don't know. This one is supposed to leave by way of the moat for the round-towered parish church of All Saints (TG167385), and then virtually double-back on itself to head for St. Andrew's church (TG167371) in nearby Bessingham parish.
'The East Anglian, or Notes & Queries', Vol.1 (1885-6), p.60.
Walton Dew: 'A Dyshe of Norfolke Dumplings' (Jarrold & Sons, 1898), p.109.
St. Botolph's Springs
Immediately behind the hedges opposite the churchyard is a pool fed by springs emerging from the chalk of the roadside bank, and from below the west wall of the church (TF721218). White's 'History, Gazetteer and Directory of Norfolk' for 1836 describes this spot as having "three copious springs" which form one of the sources of the little Gaywood river, but only two are now visible. The springs are named for St. Botolph, an obscure 7th century East Anglian saint to whom the nearby church is dedicated. While a 1923 history of the church may be correct in suggesting that Saxon baptisms were carried out in the pool,1 this has transmuted in local tradition into the baptisms being conducted by St. Botolph himself.2
1. Armitage Goodall: 'History of St. Botolph's Church, Grimston' (King's Lynn, 1923), p.6.