Hidden East Anglia:
Landscape Legends of Eastern England
The Devil's escape
The Devil crept into the 13th/14th century church of St. James (TM323813) during harvest time many years ago, but was seen by some children who raised the alarm. The harvesters cornered him with their pitchforks in either the porch or the base of the squat Norman tower, and kept him at bay till the priest arrived. When he came, amid the pealing of bells and the chanting of prayers, the Devil let out a shriek, tore a hole through the wall and fled back to Hell. The black sooty marks that scorched the flintwork were washed away, but the plastered-over hole in the wall is still said to be there.
Source: R. H. Mottram: 'East Anglia' (Chapman & Hall, 1933), p.226.
On a corbel in the church is the carved image of a gilded cuckoo. Once, a series of wooden panels could be seen there showing blacksmith, carpenter, wheelwright etc trying to build a hedge round a cuckoo sitting on top of a bush, to trap it and keep its song for themselves. Not far from the church is Cuckoo Farm, claimed as proof of the story.
Source: R. H. Mottram: 'East Anglia' (Chapman & Hall, 1933), p.226.
St. Peter's Hall (TM336854) is a 13th century building, now a brewery, and those who lived there were often told of the secret passageway that led under the moat from the front porch of the Hall, to St. Peterís Church about 500 yards to the south. The tunnel was supposedly used by the Tasburgh family who lived there in the time of Henry VIII, so that they could pursue their Catholic practices without persecution. Despite much digging and searching by the children of the Creasy family in the 1940s, no trace of a tunnel was ever found.
Smugglers are reputed to have been at work at Shottisham, using (or perhaps making) an underground passage between St. Margaret's church (TM321447), and the nearby 16th-17th century Sorrel Horse inn.
Source: Suffolk Federation of Women's Institutes: 'The Suffolk Village Book' (Countryside Books, 1991), p.205.
A smuggler's tunnel is said to run from the cellars of the Vulcan Arms (TM473627) to the beach a few hundred yards away.
A narrow lane called Mill Road runs from the hamlet of Hulver Street past the Sotterley Hall estate, and branching off from this is a rough track known as 'Round the Duffins', which leads to a small copse called Duffin's Wood (TM467867 area). Here there is said to be an old oak tree around which no grass will ever grow. Dancing round it three times at midnight will cause a ghost to appear.
Just before reaching a tiny bridge on the edge of the Sotterley Hall parkland, Mill Road dips steeply down to form Jay's Hill. Towards the bottom of the hill, about 100 yards beyond a gamekeeper's cottage, is a sudden gap in the dense hedges on one side. One or two beech trees still grow on the low grassy bank, but the otherwise empty spot is known as Kate's Parlour (TM461862).
Source: 'The Secret of Kate's Parlour', in 'Lantern' No.28 (Winter 1979), p.3.
The Fairy Hills
A. D. Bayne in the 19th century speaks of a hill called Eye Cliff here, on which could be seen "vestiges of ancient encampments, and in many parts of circular tents...most probably of Danish origin".1 Another source says "even the 'Eye-Cliff Hill' and those called 'The Fairy Hills of Southwold', are still pointed at as the landmarks here".2
An earlier source, of 1769 (paraphrasing Gardner's 'Historical Account of Dunwich....' 1754), is more explicit about the fairy connection: "On this hill, and several others that are near it, are the remains of a camp; and where the ground has not been broken up, there are tokens of circular tents, called by the people Fairy-hills, round which they suppose the fairies were wont to dance".3 Only Gun Hill (TM509759 area) remains of that location now, the rest having been claimed by the sea. Several burial mounds are certainly known to have stood there.
1. A. D.
Bayne: 'Royal Illustrated History of Eastern England' (Macdonald & Co, c.1873.)
3. Anon: 'A Description of England & Wales' (Newbery & Carnan, 1769), Vol.8, p.282.
Tradition says that King Edmund was martyred at 'Hailsdune', a name some have derived from 'The Hail', the local name for a raised knoll on the seabed just north of Southwold harbour. It's said that the scant remains of a chapel to the saint could once be seen there. See also 'Edmund of East Anglia'.
The old gaol was pulled down in 1819, but another built on the same
site, and the 'mantrap' windows of the cells are still visible beneath a
greengrocer's shop in the market place. Barely 20 yards across the road is the Town Hall, once the court house, and a tunnel is said to link them. In fact, the tradition seems to have arisen from the existence of a deep alcove with a bricked-in arch which the owner of the shop showed me in the 1970s. But ironically, the alcove is actually on the opposite side of the old gaol to the Town Hall.1
From the haunted 15th century Sutherland House (currently a hotel and restaurant), a tunnel is reckoned to run for about 180 metres to St. Edmund's church (TM505762).4
1. 'The East Anglian Daily Times', 5/10/1977.
3. 'The East Anglian Magazine', Vol.26, (1966-7), p.463.
An anonymous ballad called 'The Pleasant History of the King and Lord Bigod of Bungay' tells how the rebellious Earl Hugh Bigod fled from King Henry's forces in 1174, towards his stronghold of Bungay. One verse in particular is of interest:
'Ilk'sall' is actually a local contraction of 'Ilketshall', the prefix of four parish names south-east of Bungay, while a bower, according to the dictionary, is an arbour, "a shady retreat with sides and roof formed by trees, or lattice-work covered with climbing plants".
1. Alfred Suckling: 'History of Suffolk' (John Weale, 1846.)
The Wild Man pub (TM122449) in Sproughton dates back to the 16th century, its name supposedly deriving from an actual 'wild man' who was caught by villagers on the inn site; some say, while it was being built. Some sources call the man a ruffian or a hermit, and he seems to have lived in Devil's Wood on the north side of the river Gipping, where until recent years stood a huge sugar beet factory (TM135447 area). There was also Devil's Wood Pit, where Paleolithic and Neolithic finds have been made. The name suggests the man perhaps have been somewhat more than 'wild'.
Suffolk Federation of Women's Institutes: 'The Suffolk Village Book' (Countryside Books, 1991), p.212.
During the Napoleonic Wars the house called Monks Gate (c.TM123445, now demolished) was used to house French prisoners. It was rumoured that an underground passageway ran from here to All Saints church (TM125450).
Source: Suffolk Federation of Women's Institutes: 'The Suffolk Village Book' (Countryside Books, 1991), p.213.
Just south of the village, out in the fields a little west of the A140, is Colsey Wood House (TM110691), in the centre of a large medieval moat. Once upon a time it was a Benedictine nunnery, but when the dissolution of the monasteries occurred, legend says that the nuns hurled into the moat for safekeeping a considerable treasure, in the form of a golden statue.
Colsey Wood House is reputedly linked by tunnel to another moated house, about half a mile away. Wood Hall (TM108699), just to the north, dates to 1600, while the moat is of the late 14th century.
Source: Suffolk Federation of Women's Institutes: 'The Suffolk Village Book' (Countryside Books, 1991), p.214.
Gifford's Hall (TM018374) is mainly of the early 16th century, but incorporating traces of an earlier building. Tradition says that a subterranean passage connects the Hall with the early 13th century chapel of St. Nicholas, about 100m to the south. Only a few partial walls now remain of the chapel.
Source: Report of General Meeting, 23/8/1883, in 'Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology', Vol. VI, Part 2, (1886), p.323.
The Devil & the church tower
The church of St. Mary and St. Lambert (TM133596) is of the 14th-15th centuries, with the tall flintwork square tower of the 14th. The uppermost 20 feet of the tower is made of wood, weatherboarded and pinnacled (now a rebuilding of the 1990s). It appears that originally the tower was wholly of stone, and 60 feet high. In 1740 Theodore Eccleston of nearby Crowfield Hall offered to replace the church's 5 bells with a peal of 10, the first in the county. Two years later the bells were delivered, but no one had thought how a tower designed for 5 bells could hold 10.
In 1743 the topmost level of stone was removed, used to resurface the churchyard path, and a specially-constructed upper stage of wood grafted onto the tower. 'Where do you have to walk over a tower to get into the church?' was a popular local riddle from that time. But legend says it was the Devil who stole the top of the tower.
The stone by the gate
Near what was a turnpike gate "somewhere around the Stonhams", on the
A140 Norwich-Ipswich road, was said to be a "round, flat-topped stone a yard
across". This was said to get up and turn round when the gate banged shut.1
1. 'The East Anglian Miscellany', 1907-8, Note 2414.
2. 'The East Anglian Miscellany', 1907-8, Note 2452.
Between the Finborough Road and the Rattlesden River, at about TM403583, there used to be a spot known as the 'Dane Croft', which was believed to be the site of a Danish encampment during their battles against King Edmund, and from which they attacked the Saxons in 869 AD, driving them out of their camp at Haughley. An old house called Danecroft, as well as the modern roads Danescourt Avenue and Danes Close still occupy the area. A few parishes west, the Danes are even supposed to have sailed up the little river and established the village of Rattlesden itself. See also 'Edmund of East Anglia'.
Rev. A. G. H. Hollingsworth: 'The History of Stowmarket' (F. Pawsey, 1844), p.19.
'The East Anglian Miscellany', 1907-8, Note 2344.
The Danes are said to have attacked Columbine Hall here (TM068608). Various overgrown trenches in the grounds were said to have been dug by the Danes when entrenched there for a siege, but are of course late Medieval works connected with the flint and timber-framed house (originally of the 14th century, but on an earlier site). The house looks down towards the alleged battle field of Stone Bridge at Old Newton. (See also 'Edmund of East Anglia'.)
Rev. A. G. H. Hollingsworth: 'The History of Stowmarket' (F. Pawsey, 1844), p.20.
Allan Jobson: 'Suffolk Villages' (Robert Hale, 1971), pp.118-19.
The Four Sisters
Nowadays, Four Sisters is a junction of multiple slip-roads where the B1070 meets the A12, on the boundary between Stratford St. Mary and East Bergholt (TM067364.) Back to at least the early 19th century it was a simple crossroads bearing that name. Apparently drivers have long felt a sense of unease and dread there, with at least one having multiple encounters, one of which ended in the car spinning and crashing for no apparent reason. Others have reported seeing four ghostly figures there, which local legend says are the spirits of the sisters who met at that crossroads long ago, then went their own ways. Exactly why they should haunt that location is unclear.
Source: Peter Underwood: 'Guide to Ghosts & Haunted Places' (Judy Piatkus Ltd,1996), p.61-2.
The Plague Stone
An object called the Plague Stone (TM136768) used to be seen on the Roman highway between Norwich and Ipswich, at the corner of a turning between Brome and Stuston, and close to the Swann Inn. The hollow base, on a parish boundary, was said to have been used as a receptacle for either water or vinegar during a plague. As this seems to be the only place in England called Stuston, it seems likely that Alfred Watkins was talking about this object when he spoke of a 'plague stone' at Stuston called the 'White Stone'. This supposedly indicated by its name "that it was an ancient mark stone, not a more recent boundary stone, which was thus made a market point for the time being".1
A visitor to this site has pointed out that the area at the turning from Brome to Stuston is now known, and marked on the O. S. map, as 'The Devil's Handbasin'.4 And indeed a garage on the spot is known by the same name, and stands where there used to be a smithy. The story goes that, when the smith had shoed travelers' horses, he wouldn't touch the payment for fear of catching the plague - the people had to put their coins into a basin of vinegar to wash them.5 Alternatively - or perhaps additionally - there was a tollgate at this spot where the gatekeeper would make travellers drop their money into a bowl of vinegar.6 So the Devil's Handbasin would possibly have been the Plague Stone itself, at a threeways on the edge of the two parishes. For other such 'plague stones', see Bury St. Edmunds, Rickinghall Inferior, Felsted, Feltwell and Thetford.
1. Alfred Watkins: 'The Old Straight Track' (Methuen, 1925), p.97.
4. Information from Nick Pye.
5. 'Diss Express' 9/12/2012.
A. D. Bayne in 1873 remarks on a mineral spring near Sudbury which may be the spring that once existed beside the A131, near the turn into Woodhall Road: "About half a mile from the town is a spring of pure water, which, from its supposed efficacy in curing many diseases, is called by the inhabitants 'Holy Water'." By the time of Hope's 'Legendary Lore' in 1893, this was being called a 'holy well'. (See also under Sudbury in 'Other notable wells & springs'.)
Source: A. D. Bayne: 'Royal Illustrated History of Eastern England' (Macdonald & Co, c.1873), p.365.
Not too far from the famous mounds of Sutton Hoo there is a narrow stream-valley called Saxtead Bottom, but the locals know it as 'Saxon's Bottom', and say that here was another of those ubiquitous battles between the Danes and the Saxons.
Source: W. G. Arnott: 'The Place-Names of the Deben Valley Parishes' (Norman Adlard & Co, 1946), p.74.
Despite the fact that all other legends place the body of Edmund, king, martyr and saint of East Anglia, firmly in his own shrine at Bury St. Edmunds, there's one tradition (of uncertain origin) that makes him yet to be discovered under one of the unexcavated mounds at Sutton Hoo. (See also 'Edmund of East Anglia').
Source: Nicholas Comfort: 'The Lost City of Dunwich' (Terence Dalton, 1994).
Despite being the most well-known and historically valuable Anglo-Saxon royal cemetery in Britain, the Sutton Hoo mounds have remarkably little folklore attached to them. In the late 1930's, just before the mounds were excavated, there were tales of 'shadowy figures', an 'armed warrior', and 'a man on a white horse' being seen there1,2 - but it seems these were more 'spiritualistic visions' than actual apparitions. Supposedly the then landowner Mrs. Edith Pretty told the archaeologist Basil Brown that girls in the area would lay down on the earthen mounds in the hope that they would become pregnant.3 However, that fact only appears in a modern novel, based on the alleged events of the time.
It's said that an elderly Woodbridge man who lived on her estate4 told Mrs. Pretty an old local tale that there was gold (or at least treasure) beneath one of the mounds. But it's surprising that such a tradition has never been recorded - especially since the Redstone family wrote extensively on the history and lore of the Woodbridge area.
1. John Preston: feature on Sutton Hoo in 'The Telegraph' online, 26/3/14.
3. John Preston: 'The Dig' (Viking Press, 2007).
The church the Devil moved
The isolated church of St. Mary (TM205790) stands at the end of a long causeway next to the river Waveney. The Devil supposedly stopped it being built anywhere else, by removing each night the stones that had been laid at its original site.
Source: W. A. Dutt: 'The Ancient Mark-Stones of East Anglia' (Flood & Sons, 1926), p.21.