Hidden East Anglia:
Landscape Legends of Eastern England
Mary Miller's grave
Many years ago a local man said that a small grassy mound by the side of the Hadleigh to Layham road, "at a corner outside the park of Holbecks", had been pointed out to him as being the grave of Mary Miller, a suicide, and that her ghost walked there.
Source: The 'East Anglian Miscellany', Vol. unknown (c.1936), Note 9857.
are said to start at the church of St. Mary (TM025424, where King Guthrum is said to have been buried in 889 AD, by
tradition in the 14th century tomb-recess with a decorated arch that graces the wall in the south
aisle). One runs from the recess, under the Guildhall at the edge of the churchyard, to an unspecified house in Duke Street,
the road which ends at Toppesfield Bridge. The other leads from the church to the remains of a
supposed monastery, now embedded in buildings at Priory Farm (TM031416) on the outskirts of the town.1
A tunnel has also been rumoured to run from the 15th century Pink House in Angel Street, to the 16th/17th century Pond Hall, once owned by the leader of the Hadleigh Gang. It seems likely that a culvert is responsible for this particular tale,3 while the same smugglers were said to have had underground escape routes leading all over town from the cellars of the George Inn in the High Street.4
1. Rev. Hugh Pigot: 'Guide to Hadleigh' (private, 1866), pp.66-7.
The Devil's tomb
A local woman recalled hearing in her childhood about a huge railed tomb in the graveyard at St. Mary's church (TM386774), where the Devil was said to live. If you ran round it five times, he would pop out.
The immovable stone
A large boulder is believed to be hidden under bushes here close to the Haughley-Harleston road on Rush Green, once Gallows Fields (TM019609 area). Although I failed to find this stone, it's said to be immovable. Tradition asserts that Protestant martyrs were burnt alive there during Bloody Mary's reign (1553-58), "the chief prosecutors being Tyrell of Gipping and Sulyard of Wetherden".1 Rush Green used to be at the centre of a crossroads, with the stone marking or commemorating the site of the burnings. I probably wasted my time searching for it, as by 1903 it was noted that the stone "used to be" there.2
1. The 'East Anglian, or Notes & Queries', Vol.7 (1897-8), p.6.
2. Rev. Arthur Dimock: 'Haughley Park and the Sulyards', in 'Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology', Vol.12, Part 1 (1904), p.90.
The Hartest Stone
The Hartest Stone is a big limestone boulder, 1.2m x 1.2m x 1m high, standing at the north end of the village green (TL833525). It is said to have been hauled on sledges from a field on top of Somerton Hill on July 7th 1713, by "twenty gentlemen and twenty farmers", to celebrate the Peace of Utrecht and Marlborough's victories in the War of the Spanish Succession.1 After its erection on the new site, there is supposed to have been an 'erotic debauch' among the village people, rather like the one at Merton in Norfolk - although it was actually just a day of festivities.
1. The 'East Anglian Magazine', Feb.1962, p.235.
2. Clive Paine (ed.): 'Hartest: a Village
History' (Hartest Local History Group, 1984), p.137.
5. Russell Edwards: 'The River Stour' (Terence Dalton, 1982), p.45.
6. Russell Ling & Lester Hawes: 'Otley Past: Folklore & Local History' (private, 2012), p.94.
The deep, deep moat
The moat around Haughley Castle (TM025625) was said to be so deep that a miller's horse and cart once fell into it and were swallowed up, never to be seen again.
Source: Shirley Toulson: 'East Anglia - Walking the Ley Lines & Ancient Tracks' (Wildwood House, 1979), p.135.
Built just outside the castle bailey is Haughley House, basically late medieval, and now an hotel. As well as a priest hole, the house has two sealed-up passages, one of which is said to lead to the church close by (TM026623).1 This may have partly arisen because of the actual brick 'tunnel' beneath St. Mary's church. Running from the east to the north-west end, it has an entrance near the pulpit, but is probably just a drain.2
2. Josephine Gibson: Guide to St Mary's Church, Haughley' (1998).
In the early 1930's a 'never-failing' spring was still said to run beside Whepstead Road (once called 'Caldwell Street') from near Hawstead Green. It was a brick-lined well enclosed by a rough oak fence with a wooden door - not very deep, "yet only empty for an hour or so even in the worst droughts". This was born out by an inscription on the stone surround which read "Jacob's well. Empty the sea, and empty me". By 1935, when council housing was built beside the road, the well was capped and replaced by a pump. Once found at TL86005820, it was long ago filled-in and erased from existence.
'The East Anglian Miscellany', 1930/31, Note 8505.
Sir John Cullum: 'History & Antiquities of Hawsted & Hardwick in the County of Suffolk', (2nd edition, 1813), p.6.
'Hawstead Journal' Nov/Dec 2016, p.12.
Joan Cook (ed.): 'Hawstead 2001: A West Suffolk Village Record' (Hawstead Millennium Project, 2001), p.20, 203-4.
The home of the Tollemache family for centuries, the magnificent Helmingham Hall stands in its own former deer park. Creke Hall once stood on the site, being replaced by the beginnings of the present hall in the late 15th century. About 750m west of the main house stands an artificial mound about 7m high, known as the Mount. It seems to date from the 18th century, constructed as a viewing platform in a 'wilderness' garden (TM179576). On top of it a summerhouse was built in about 1760, but a century later, this was replaced by the 20m high red brick needle-like obelisk that stands there today. According to locals, a secret tunnel runs from the house to this plain, enigmatic structure. They add that, at a certain time of day, the shadow of the obelisk points along the direction of the tunnel.
Source: Information gratefully received from Sadie Cable, 15/8/16.
The Henham Oak
The ruins of the Henham Oak (TM450784 area) stand in front of the Old Stables in Henham Park near Blythburgh. Savagely lopped in 1764, its last remaining branch fell in 1903, and the bole is now fastened together with iron pins (so I last heard). The 19th century author Agnes Strickland first obtained this story from local people, and it was she who identified the tale with members of the Rous family of Henham Hall (after whom the tree was sometimes called the Rous Oak). But she added "it is possible, however, that the tradition may belong to a period still more remote". The tree itself was said to have been used by the family as a summer-house, with a door built into it, faced with bark and so cunningly disguised that no-one would ever think it anything but an ordinary, wrinkled oak.
Source: Alfred Suckling: 'History of Suffolk' (John Weale, 1846), Vol.2, p.365.
On a sharp bend of the A12 outside Henham Park is a tiny bridge over a choked and overgrown little stream that flows from Blyford to Reydon. This spot is known hereabouts as Fool's Watering (TM458767), from the tale that an old woman, on her way home to nearby Wangford, saw the brown scum floating on top of the grimy water and, thinking it was really yeast, tried to gather it to make her bread.
The soldiers' mound
Until it was completely ploughed out, there used to be a rectilinear earthwork bank in a field near the brook at Thorpe's Hill. In the 1920's it was thought to have been an 'early British encampment', but there's no evidence for this. A little further west, at the junction of the A1071 George Street and a lane/path to Kiln Cottage (about TM097435), is where the chiefs of this 'encampment' were supposed to have been buried. Formerly a distinct mound with an oak tree on top, this spot is where locals say "soldiers are buried beneath it."
The howling demon
"A howling demon" is said to have been bound under the old Homersfield Bridge (TM283857) "to stay for so long as the water flowed under the arch". As repairs were needed at one time, "a sort of coffer dam" was made round one of the abutments, the water ceased to flow, and then "a nearly got away, that a did, and a shruck and growled awful". This tale was had from "a user of the Bungay-road quite half a century ago" (sometime in the 19th century).
Source: Unknown clipping found in W. B. Gerish: 'Norfolk Folklore Collections', (1916-18), Vol.3, p.193.
St. Edmund's Oak
In a field on private land just off the road a little south of the village can be seen a stone cross. This is St. Edmund's Monument (TM183767), a stone memorial on a plinth of three steps, upon which can be seen Edmund's symbols of the crown and the arrows, and beneath which are inscribed the words: "St. Edmund the Martyr, AD 870. Oak Tree fell August 1848 by its own weight". Although other dates are sometimes given, I think the tree originally split (possibly during a gale) in August of that year, then totally collapsed on September 11th.
'Suffolk Fair, June 1975, p.34.
Beneath the Goldbrook Bridge (TM179769, originally just Gold or Golden Bridge), on the road from Hoxne to Cross Street, Edmund is said to have hidden from the Danes, but was given away by a newly-wed couple who saw the moon glancing from his golden spurs in the waters of the Goldbrook. As he was dragged to his death by the Danish soldiers, he cried a curse on all bridal couples who should ever cross the bridge. It's said that until well into the 19th century, many local wedding parties would go the long way round rather than chance the curse. The shine of his spurs can still be seen from the bridge on moonlit nights. See also 'Edmund of East Anglia'.
Source: Alfred Suckling: 'History of Suffolk' (John Weale, 1846), Vol.1, p.xxii.
A little north of the timber-framed Abbey Farm (TM184764) on the site of a Benedictine priory (founded in 950 and dedicated to St. Athelbright or Ethelbert) is a deep moat or square pond enclosing a small 'island' on which was a freshwater spring, said to have emerged on the spot where Edmund's head was found between the paws of a grey wolf. This spring "the occupiers of the field have never been able to divert". The ill and infirm journeyed there in the Middle Ages for healing. See also 'Edmund of East Anglia'.
Source: 'The Eastern Counties Magazine & Suffolk Note-Book', Vol.1, p.111.
A local tale says there used to be a tunnel from the moat mentioned above, that ran for three miles to an unnamed spot in the village of Eye. Another led just over a mile to the south, emerging beneath the altar in the towerless church of St. John the Baptist at Denham (TM188748).
Source: 'The East Anglian Magazine', Dec.1951, p.222.
At TL979677 south of the village is a somewhat damaged earthwork known as Mill Hill, consisting of a small mound surrounded by a waterlogged ditch, now completely cloaked in trees. Theories have ranged from it being the site of a timber castle to a burial mound - but as the name implies, it was actually home to a mill (that was later moved to Badwell Ash.) There are supposed to be tunnels emanating from it to the Castle Ditches at Langham (TL982691), and to the surviving mound of Gt. Ashfield Castle (TL991675). A local farmer supposedly lost some pigs in the tunnels when he was young.
Source: Peter Tryon: 'The Castles of Suffolk' (Poppyland Publishing, 2004), p.87.
The Queen's Oak
At the gate to the grounds of Huntingfield Hall a public footpath strikes off to the right, running beside an overgrown ditch nearly to Cookley church. A little way along this track and just to the right of it stands a tree known as the Queen's Oak (TM344743). In 1836, this oak with a trunk of 33 feet girth was reckoned to be 1000 to 1100 years old. 19 years later it was described as "now verging fast to decay...being now hollow, it has shrunk considerably, and is 'bald with dry antiquity'." However, in 2020 it still stands and seems to be thriving.
'Suffolk Fair', June 1975, p.32.