Hidden East Anglia:
Landscape Legends of Eastern England
more odd burials:
They may not be 'landscape legends', but just to show that tales of suicides and others being buried at crossroads or by the roadside are not simply folklore, we have the following historical reports from the region:
Ballingdon, Suffolk: The 'Ipswich Journal' of October 4th 1783 records that "a man named Hurwood, millwright of Ballingdon, took arsenic in a fit of discontent. At the inquest the Jury returned a verdict of 'self-murder', and on Sunday morning early he was buried in the crossway, with a stake driven through his body, near the pound on Ballingdon Hill".
Banham, Norfolk: A 70 year old labourer called Stephen Cutting drowned himself at was buried at a crossroads here, according to the 'Bury and Norwich Post' on April 18th 1821. This was perhaps the 'Deade Mans Grave' crossroads noted on a map of Banham in the 16th century.
Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk: Again from the 'Ipswich Journal', but from July 31st 1779: "William Snell and John Carter for sodomitical practices to stand on the pillory at Bury - On Wednesday William Snell and John Carter stood on the pillory at Bury previous to which Snell took several doses of arsenic which he said he had kept for several years, it had no effect on him till he was being carried back to the gaol when it began to operate and he expired about 7 in the evening. The coronerís verdict was self murder in consequence of which he was to be buried in the Kingís highway and a stake driven through his body, Snell was severely pelted by the populace but Carter came through unhurt nothing being thrown at him the fury of the people having subsided".
I don't know the exact location, but the 'Ipswich Journal' of June 10th 1775 records another crossroads burial in Bury St. Edmunds. This one was a shoemaker named John Neal who hanged himself, perhaps due to financial problems.
From the 'Bury and Norwich Post' on May 7th 1823 comes the tale of a suicide pact. What happened to her lover I don't know, but 19 year old Mary Gooch killed herself with laudanum and was buried at a crossways here.
Castle Camps, Cambridgeshire: The parish boundary meets Broad Street west of the village at TL608440. Here used to be the Barrack Tree, which marked the grave of George Miller, a man from Shudy Camps who hanged himself in Langley Wood. The parish registers note that he was "buried in the field near the highway in the bounds of the towne of Castle Camps, December 19th 1655."
Cawston, Norfolk: Deadman's Hill is the old name for a spot on the eastern edge of Cawston Heath, and is recorded in the 1843 Tithe Award. A man's body was once found there, with the responsibility for burial being disputed between Cawston and Marsham, into which parish the area extended. (See also under Cawston below).
Chignal St. James, Essex: At TL66860975, the Mashbury Road from Chelmsford meets the road to Chignal's church, where there is a small stretch of grass with a telephone box and an old pump on it. A well was being dug here in early 1898, when a human skeleton was found only a few feet below the surface. The archaeologist Robert Miller Christy, a local man, investigated at the time, and deemed it to have been the roadside burial of a female suicide.
A. J. Wilkins: 'The Chignals 1888 to 1988' (Chignal Parish Council, 2nd ed. 1988).
R. Miller Christy: 'Re: evidence for a roadside burial of a suicide' in 'The Essex Review' Vol.VII (1898), p.119.
(Thanks to Rosemary Susan Hall for the information).
Ely, Cambridgeshire: "All ye that pass by pray to God to preserve and keep you from the crime of self-murder on which occasion this stone was erected in memory of John Layton 1799." This was the inscription on a stone raised over the burial-place, by the roadside, of a porter from Ely. He hanged himself in July of that year, according to the 'Cambridge Chronicle' of September 21st.
Hempnall, Norfolk: Nobb's Corner is a staggered crossroads at TM264939, where Hempnall, Topcroft and Woodton parishes meet. It is named after a brick maker called Richard Nobbs, whose suicide in 1785 is recorded in the 'Norwich Mercury' on June 4th of that year. The skeletal remains of Nobbs' son were found half-buried in a ditch at Tasburgh, and being suspected of the lad's murder, he hanged himself in Pope's Wood. At the time, the crossroads was known as Sisland Cross, but after the 'self-murderer' was buried there it became Nobb's Corner, and sometimes, Nobb's Grove.
Hunstanton, Norfolk: In the churchyard just north-east of Old Hunstanton church (TF689420) is an oval mound 2.4 metres high, which once was thought to be an ancient burial mound, but which turned out to be a natural gravel deposit. In 1908 it was excavated, to reveal that a presumed suicide from the 18th or 19th century had been placed into it.
Ipswich, Suffolk: The exact site is unknown, but a suicide was buried at a crossroads here in April 1792, according to the 'Ipswich Journal'. The man was due to be hanged for highway robbery at Ipswich Gaol, but instead hung himself the day before in his cell, and according to the newspaper was subsequently "buried in the crossroads with a stake driven through him".
Source: currently offline: http://archiver.rootsweb.ancestry.com/th/read/SUFFOLK/2003-11/1068159165
King's Lynn, Norfolk: The 'Bury and Norwich Post' on October 12th 1814 records the burial "in the public road" of one John Saunders, a travelling bookseller. An attempted bigamist, he took his own life with laudanum.
Source: Robert Halliday: 'The Roadside Burial of Suicides: An East Anglian Study' in 'Folklore' Vol.121, No.1 (2010), p.86.
Litlington, Cambridgeshire: A schoolmaster named Thomas Howard fatally shot a man, then cut his own throat, later being "buried in the crossway", according to the 'Cambridge Chronicle' of January 11th 1766.
Littleport, Cambridgeshire: On August 16th 1806 the 'Cambridge Chronicle' noted that Jacob Sallis, one-time landlord of the White Hart in Ely, had hanged himself, and was buried in "the public highroad".
Little Waltham, Essex: When a road in this parish was widened in the 1950's, at a spot which used to be a crossroads, a skeleton was unearthed that had stakes driven through it. Adjacent was Witch's Field, though where it was and whether the name existed before the find, I don't know. This is apparently unconnected to the dubious tale of the witch of Scrap Faggots Green.
Source: R. Phillips & R. Bazett: 'Ages in the Making: A History of Two Essex Villages' (Poole & Sons, 1973), p.69.
Lowestoft, Suffolk: Round about the beginning of the 20th century, work was being carried out to improve Whapload Road, when "a human skeleton, pinioned in its grave by a stake, is said to have been unearthed." This was where a narrow and steep alley known as Wilde's Score ran down from the High Street, at around TM55289358. Rumour was that this was the body of a witch, perhaps even one of the town's famous witches - Amy Denny and Rose Cullender - who were hanged in 1662. Denny's Score was an old name for Wilde's Score, and Amy Denny had, among other crimes, supposedly bewitched a child who lived in a nearby house.
Gilbert Geis & Ivan Bunn: 'A Trial of Witches' (Routledge, 1997), p.106.
Lesley M. Bunn: 'Scores of Interest' (Heritage Workshop Centre), p.12.
Melbourn, Cambridgeshire: At TL378440 is the crossroads where Edward Neaves was buried in 1818. On December 21st he had hung himself from a bed-post in his Melbourn lodgings, the inquest rendering the verdict of felo de se ('self-murder'). This was reported in the 'Chronicle' on January 2nd 1818.
Merton, Norfolk: Close to the Merton Stone is Capp's Bush, a spot where two tracks meet the course of Peddar's Way. The records of the Ordnance Survey show this to be the burial place of a suicide. Capp's Bush is recorded on maps as far back as 1794, but it's not known if Capp was the suicide's name.
Monks Eleigh, Suffolk: Manorial records show that in about 1285, an inquest was held to determine where 'the damned' of the parish should be buried. The spot chosen was where a suicide named William Fant had previously been buried. Here also a woman and her cow had been burnt in a ditch for 'transgressing'. This spot was where the boundaries of Monks Eleigh and Lindsey, and where the boundaries of the Hundreds of Babergh and Cosford also met. If, as seems likely, this would have been at a road junction, then the only candidate would seem to be TL977462. If simply at the roadside, then only a hundred metres either side of this point is possible, along the bend in the road just south-east of Boyton Hall.
Source: Andrew Reynolds: 'Anglo-Saxon Deviant Burial Customs' (Oxford University Press, 2009), p.217.
Nayland, Suffolk: A spot called Horsecroft's Gate (possibly a crossroads) is mentioned in the 1599 parish register as the burial place, on November 29th, of a certain Robert Mylles, who hanged himself.
Newmarket, Suffolk: Another burial at a crossroads is noted in the 'Bury and Norwich Post' of November 25th 1784, but without mentioning the location. I'm grateful to Dr. Maureen James for pointing out another mention, this time in the 'Ipswich Journal' two days later, where the location is given as "in a cross road leading from Newmarket to Ashley". This burial was of a man named John White, a servant at the Ram Inn, who hanged himself. My guess is that this would have been at what is now the staggered junction at TL653629, where Cheveley Road and Ashley Road meet.
Norwich, Norfolk: "My father, who was a freeman of the City of Norwich, by apprenticeship, remembered, when living in St. Laurences', seeing a suicide carried past his house at twelve at night, to be buried at the crossroads at Hangman's Lane (outside St. Giles' Gate, c.TG224086). An immense crowd followed, to see the stake driven through the body".
Source: 'Norfolk & Norwich Notes & Queries', August 15th, 1896.
Another historical suicide burial in Norwich occurred at the junction of Dereham Road, Heigham Road and Old Palace Road in 1794. At the time, it was where Heigham Road and St. Benedict's Road crossed. In August of that year a local porter named John Stimpson hanged himself at the Bull Inn, and the coroner instructed that he should be buried "in the crossroads of St. Benedict's Road" (TG219090).
The 'Norfolk Chronicle' of September 6th 1821 records that a skeleton had just been uncovered at the bottom of Bethel Street, which leads from Upper St. Giles to the market place in Norwich. It was said to be "laid exactly in the crossway of the roads", and was thought to have been "the body of a criminal who died in prison and was buried there."
This may be the same crossroads (TL396630) where twelve skeletons were found in shallow graves in 1977. A rescue excavation was mounted when the crossroads was being turned into the Dry Drayton-Oakington flyover on the A14. A nearby field had long been known as Gallows Piece, with the gallows being maintained in the Middle Ages by Crowland Abbey.
Source: Gerard, Gutierriez (eds.) 'The Oxford Handbook of Later Medieval Archaeology in Britain' (Oxford University Press, 2018), p.861.
Rattlesden, Suffolk: In about 1815, "it is said that a boy named Otterwell, aged from 14 to 15, hung himself, having been caught stealing beans. His body was dragged upon a slide to the place where the sign post is at the Water Run and there buried".
Source: Rev. J. R. Olorenshaw, 'Notes on the History of the Church & Parish of Rattlesden' (private, 1900).
Saham Toney, Norfolk: An unnamed suicide was buried in around 1790 at a crossroads here, where Bell Lane, Ovington Road, Cley Lane and Chequers Lane meet (TF907019). For some reason he had been pouring wine and beer into the river, was 'sent to Coventry' by the locals as a result, then killed himself!
Sedgeford, Norfolk: Peddar's Way crosses the B1454 at TF722368, which is where at least two skeletons were uncovered with their skulls missing. As they were buried at a crossroads, it has been suggested that these were suicides, although there are other possibilities.
Shotesham, Norfolk: According to records in a private collection, in the early 19th century a man who cut his own throat was buried at a crossroads here, with nails in his joints, bound with a chain, and with an oak stake through his heart.
Source: Neil Storey: 'Norfolk: A Ghosthunter's Guide' (Countryside Books, 2007), p.115.
Snape, Suffolk: Another crossroads burial from the 'Ipswich Journal' of January 16th 1819: this one of a young servant girl called Elizabeth Emerson, who took a reprimand from her mistress very hard and hanged herself.
Stowmarket, Suffolk: The 'Bury and Norwich Post' of July 15th 1784 reported that a 16 year old boy named Smith, after hanging himself, was "buried in the crossway and had a stake drove through his body."
Swaffham, Norfolk: At TF814091 on the western edge of Swaffham is a crossroads where a track called Shouldham Lane and a road once known as Allotments Lane meet. The triangular area of land between the crossroads and Lynn Road used to be called Meg Chauncer's Grave, after a woman of that name being buried there. According to Ben Ripper, "The 1750 tithe maps name two fields here as little and big meg". However, I think he got the date a little wrong, as tithe maps were only made between 1836 and about 1850.
Source: Ben Ripper: 'Ribbons from the Pedlar's Pack' (Quaker Press, 1972), p.216.
Tunstead, Norfolk: There's no real evidence of a suicide burial here, but that has been suggested to account for the discovery in the 19th century of an 'ancient pistol' and a thigh bone beneath the "great ash tree at Tunstead".
Wetheringsett, Suffolk: In 1651, the skeleton of a 10 foot (3m) tall man was dug up from the road at the bridge (TM117669) in Brockford Street, on what is now the A140. This giant - which some thought to be a Dane, others that he belonged to the time of King Arthur - was buried in line with the road, with his head pointing towards Ipswich.
Although no stories seem to survive, the names of some crossroads, lanes or specific spots seem to indicate a burial of one kind or another:
Barton, Cambridgeshire: Deadman's Hill (TL414558) is a spot now covered by houses and the A603 Cambridge Road, but there was possibly once a Roman burial mound here, and perhaps later a windmill. The site had been leveled by 1909.
Beetley, Norfolk: A tithe map from 1842 records the area at TF961183 as being called Deadman's Close. Some have interpreted this as referring to a suicide burial at the nearby crossroads.1 In 1390, the field name 'Dedmansgrave' is also recorded here.2
2. G. A. Carthew: 'The Hundred of Launditch and Deanery of Brisley' Part 2 (1878), p.453.
Source: P. M. Warner: 'Blything Hundred' (PhD thesis, University of Leicester, 1982), Fig.52.
Cawston, Norfolk: A map of Cawston dating from 1599 shows Dead Man's Grave on the boundary with Haveringland, while 'Jone Metton's grave' was on the Marsham boundary; both were at the roadside. (See also under Cawston above).
Cockley Cley, Norfolk: Deadman's Plantation is a stretch of coniferous woodland just west of the village, on the road to Beechamwell. Also, a map of 1579 refers to "Dead man's grave in Lynn Way", probably the road that heads north towards Narborough.
Colchester, Essex: Dead Lane, sometimes called Deadman's Lane, used to run north from St. Peter's Street towards the river. It was renamed Factory Lane in the middle of the 19th century, but no longer exists.
Source: National Archives, Kew, reference PROB 11/95/151.
Source: National Archives, Kew, reference IR 29/23/288.
Various undated pits and bones were found in the 1970s at a spot known in 1623 as Deadman's Grave, now in the grounds of a school at TF676400.2
Source: Robert Halliday: 'The Roadside Burial of Suicides: An East Anglian Study' in 'Folklore' Vol.121, No.1 (2010), p.86.
Little Cornard, Suffolk: The 1842 tithe map mentions 'Dedmans hill field' in this parish, which would have been on the hillside overlooking the river Stour, not far from Grasmere Farm. Suggestions have been made that there might have been either a gallows or a burial mound here.
Little Gransden, Cambridgeshire: The northern boundary of the parish follows an old single-track road now called Primrose Hill, but once known as Deadwomen's Way. It was apparently named in connection with a spot called Deadwomen's Cross, in the north-east of the parish.
Little Waltham, Essex: There is or was a field called Deadman's Field on Great Stonage Farm beside the A131 north of the village. The parish registers of the 18th century record that "a stranger dyed at Jn. Smith's Stonage", but whether that has any connection, I don't know.
Paston, Norfolk: A crossroads called Deadman's Grave (TG305324) in the parish of Paston, just north-east of North Walsham. The Norfolk Historic Environment Record says there's no trace of a barrow here, and the name probably derives from some roadside burial.
Also in this parish was a field called Deadmans Close, as recorded in the 1839 Tithe Award.
Finally, I'll mention a slight tale that I've come across from only one source, and whose location seems difficult to pin down. It may be that it's a modern bit of urban folklore, existing only on the web, but I'd be remiss if I didn't include it:
Ipswich, Suffolk: There is supposed to be a spot known as the 'Seven Sisters', not far from the Orwell bridge, where the seven eponymous siblings allegedly committed suicide together, being buried in a nearby graveyard. It's now said to be one of those places where 'scary' things happen, and people won't go there alone after dark. No one has come up with exactly where it is, but one suggestion was that it's the 'Seven Sisters Interchange', the A14/A12 northbound. The trouble is, that's actually called 'Seven Hills'....