Hidden East Anglia:
Landscape Legends of Eastern England
The Devil and the church tower
The bells of the towerless church of St. Mary (TM070344) are housed in a unique timber bellcage in the churchyard, dating from 1531, and they have to be rung by a strong hand pushing on the wooden headstocks. Work on the west tower began in 1525, traditionally at the expense of Cardinal Wolsey, but his death five years later halted the flow of funds.
Source: White's 'History, Gazetteer & Directory of Suffolk' (1885), p.124.
On the line of the Icknield Way is Marmansgrave (TL840797), where the road between Elveden and Barnham meets the New Barnham Slip, and is also on the boundaries of the two parishes. Mar or Marman is thought by some to have been a suicide, but the usual tale has him as a gamekeeper who was shot or beaten to death by poachers who had threatened him in the past. Here he was buried, in an area referred to in the 16th century papers of the 'Court of Augmentation' as Deadman's Grave and Deadman's Lands. Modern tracks have obscured the site, and the exact spot is now unknown.
Source: W. G. Clarke: 'In Breckland Wilds' (Robert Scott, 1925), p.164.
Although the old place-name authority Ekwall was certain that 'Elveden' derives from Old English elfetdenu, meaning 'swan valley', locals always assumed it to mean the elves' or fairies' den. And they were probably right. The 12th century work 'Miracula sancte Wihtburge' refers to a location, almost certainly to be identified with Elveden, as uallem nunpharum or 'valley of the nymphs'. And at that time, 'nymph' was just another word for 'elf'.
One old lady in the 1800s recalled having heard, as a child, fairy music coming from a 'magic dell' by the roadside at Elveden. It supposedly still exists today, in a wood called the Milestone Slip (TL829804 area), next to the lane leading to Redneck Farm. She added that passing horses were liable to be snared by the enchanted music, and dragged down into the fairies' parlour.
St. Wendreda's Well
St. Etheldreda, sister of Withburga (see East Dereham), was traditionally born at Exning in 630 AD, has been called 'the most revered of all Anglo-Saxon women saints', and died of plague at Ely on June 23rd 679 AD. Like her sister, her body was found to be incorrupt long after death, and performed miracles which drew many pilgrims. She is said to have planted her staff in the ground outside Ely, where it promptly took root and burst into flower.
Her baptism was believed to have taken place at Exning, 'in a wood with 3 springs'. This would be St. Mildred's - then Mindred's (locally Minzin) - now St. Wendreda's Well (TL620645). (Wendreda is supposed to be yet another saintly daughter of King Anna, but she seems to have been invented in the 19th century). The Well was one of a group of 'Seven Springs' "good for ailments of the eyes", welling up in pools on a steep bank in a wood in the grounds of the Hamilton Stud - a spot marked on old maps as Favin's Head, and said close to the site of a 'Saxon palace'. It was reported in the 1980's that trainers sometimes took their racehorses there, to benefit from the healing properties of the water.
A small stream runs from
the Well through Exning village, beside Church Lane, and tradition says that, even in the harshest winter, the part that runs past the vicarage has never
M. R. James: 'Suffolk & Norfolk' (Dent & Sons, 1930), p.14.
Allan Jobson: 'Portrait of Suffolk' (Robert Hale, 1973), p.31.
White Woman's Lane
This road can be found at the north end of the village, running north-west from the A1152 (at TM320521), and petering out into a farm track as it heads for a footbridge over the river Deben. Supposedly named after the 'white lady' ghost that haunted it,1 it's also possible that it gained its name from a 'white witch or 'wise woman' called Widow Alchard, who lived in an isolated cottage beside the lane in the early 17th century.2 See also 'White Woman Lane' at Old Catton, in Norfolk.
2. 'Eyke' (Eyke Millennium Group, 2000.)