Hidden East Anglia:

Landscape Legends of Eastern England











Landscape Features




The turning stone

Two sarsen boulders the largest 1.2m long) are sunk into the grass verge at TL811388, on the corner of North End Road and Church Street. Apparently the taller of the two rocks is supposed to turn round at midnight. The stones are visible either side of the tree on Google Street View

Source: Terry Johnson: ‘Hidden Heritage: Discovering Ancient Essex’ (Capall Bann Publishing, 1996), p.94.





Secret tunnel


Right next to St. Peter's church, at a threeway junction, stands the 15th century Chequers Inn (TL904088). Just like almost every inn along the Essex coast, the Chequers is said to have been heavily involved in the activity of smuggling in past centuries. Stories tell of a secret cellar behind the inn, where contraband was stored, and the inevitable tunnel that linked the building with the nearby Goldhanger Creek.


A little way north is a grassy triangle where Maldon Road meets Little Totham Road (TL903093). Although long since demolished, here once stood Pitt Cottages, used as the village school in the 1860's, and with an alleged smuggler's cellar or passageway beneath. When a bus fell into a hole that opened in the road behind the cottages in the 1950's, the old tales surfaced once more.


Source: http://www.churchside1.plus.com/Goldhanger-past/Smuggling.htm



Great Baddow:

Secret tunnels

As in many places, there are rumours of monastic buildings having once existed in Great Baddow, but there’s no evidence for it. In this case, they cluster about St. Mary’s church (TL729048), and various buildings at the nearby junction of High Street and Bell Street. A ghostly figure seen in the church was supposed to have been a monk who was trapped in a tunnel beneath it and then bricked in.1 This presumably is the passage said to lead from St. Mary’s to the 17th century White Horse Inn (TL728048.)2

Two other old buildings at the junction, one housing a carpet shop, and another called The Munnions, are believed to have a tunnel linking them.3

1. http://greatbaddow10.blogspot.com/

2. http://h2g2.com/dna/h2g2/classic/F130046?thread=294892&post=4680191

3. https://greatbaddow.org.uk/info/secret-tunnels

Deadman’s Lane & Well

This lane runs along the southern boundary of the parish, between Beehive Lane and Galleywood Road. Deadman’s Well is a muddy pool hidden behind trees beside the road, at TL715037. The name of both road and well traditionally originate with a duel at some point in the past, when two men met in combat over a woman, and one was shot dead.1 As it happens, there actually was a duel at Galleywood Common in 1806. Nowadays the common is over a mile to the south-west, but perhaps in those days it stretched as far as Deadman’s Lane. The duel was between two officers of the 6th Regiment of Foot, who were barracked there. One of the men received a fatal gunshot wound, while his opponent fled. An inquest recorded the incident as ‘wilful murder’, but there is no record of the cause of the duel.2

1. Posted 17/9/2009 on former webpage: http://message.snopes.com/showthread.php?t=48421&page=2
2. J. G. Millingen: ‘The History of Duelling’ (R. Bentley, a1841), Vol.2, p.181.

Great Chesterford:

The sunken church

“About two miles from the Town, close to the Road leading from thence to Neumarket, is a place called Sunkin Church: of which I could never meet with any account from any author. The Inhabitants are told (but it is only Tradition) that there a church sunk into the ground: I have gone to the place and could find stones and mortar; some building there has been…perhaps a Crosse or fort, or mark for the bounds of the counties of Essex and Cambridgeshire. I can’t think it a Church.’

So wrote Benjamin Orwell to the minister and historian William Holman in 1724. Holman’s correspondence, seeking information for the history of Great Chesterford that he was preparing, is now preserved in Essex Records Office.1 ‘Sunken Church Field’ on the border of Hadstock and Linton may have once had a similar tradition, although now only the name remains – but both have seen the discovery of the remains of Roman villas.2 See also the sunken churches of Dilham and Oby in Norfolk.

1. http://www.recordinguttlesfordhistory.org.uk/gtchesterford/benjaminorwell.html

2. Janet Cooper: ‘The Battle of Maldon-fiction and fact’ (Continuum, 1993), p.156.

Silver in the tunnel

A secret tunnel is said to run between the Crown House Hotel (TL505428), the Old Vicarage (TL506427) and All Saints church (TL505427), and in it legend says are hidden the church’s silver bells, secreted there to save them from the Roundheads. Although the bells have never been found, it’s said that traces of the tunnel have been disclosed in the past.

Source: http://www.recordinguttlesfordhistory.org.uk/gtchesterford/grchesterford.html

Great Dunmow:

The Jumping Stone

A large recumbent stone, once hidden by undergrowth, sits on a low grassy bank near the junction of Beaumont Hill, Lime Tree Hill and the Causeway, at TL626227. See it on Google Street View
HERE. Known as the Jumping Stone, it’s said to be able to leap over the nearby brick wall. Far worse for some, legend says that if a maiden touches it, she will become pregnant!

Source: Terry Johnson: ‘Hidden Heritage: Discovering Ancient Essex’ (Capall Bann Publishing, 1996), p.103.

Great Leighs:

Secret tunnels

The present St. Anne’s Castle Inn (TL727171) at the centre of Great Leighs is a 19th century building, but likes to call itself the oldest pub in England, since it’s mentioned in Domesday Book. That’s not strictly true however – what is true is that it stands on the site of a Norman hermitage known as St. Annes, and was certainly an inn by 1636.1,2 Tunnels are supposed to start in the cellars here, leading to the church of St. Mary the Virgin more than a mile outside the village, and another heading for the site of the 13th century Leez Priory at TL701185, 1.6 miles in the other direction.3 (This allegedly-haunted inn also features in the dubious tale of ‘The witch’s stone of Scrapfaggots Green’ – see Little Waltham). For other tunnels to the Priory, see Felsted.

1. http://www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/en-112655-st-anne-s-castle-inn-great-and-little-le

2. https://www.heritagegateway.org.uk/Gateway/Results_Single.aspx?uid=MEX20171&resourceID=1001

3. Jason Day: 'Haunted Chelmsford' (History Press, 2012).



Priory treasure


A rumour still known in the early 20th century was that, at the Reformation, all the 'treasures' of Leez Priory were thrown into the nearby lake.


Source: 'News from the Greens' in 'Felsted Focus' (October 2020), p.11.


Great Wakering:

Baker’s Grave

Baker’s Grave or Corner is a threeways at TQ935879, just on the boundary with Little Wakering, at the junction of Barrow Hall Road and Little Wakering Road. The legend here is that “many years ago, there lived near Barling a somewhat eccentric baker. He prided himself upon his professional skill : he could make and bake a loaf better than any man for miles around, and Barling folk were wont to say that he would be a baker for pleasure even if he came into a fortune. Now, this worthy man either committed some great crime or imagined he had done so - local tradition is not clear upon the point. His guilt, whether real or imaginary, preyed upon his mind so greatly that one evening he wandered out to a lonely spot and there hanged himself from a tree. It was a bad day for Barling when he did this, for his perturbed spirit found no rest, and the countryside was much troubled by his posthumous vagaries. Sometimes, on windy nights, persons who passed near that tree would hear his heels knock together as though his body still hung from the branch. Or, when the moon shone brightly, you had only to run round that tree a hundred times, and, lo! there was the baker at his work, kneading his dough energetically, with his back to the trunk, as plain as a pikestaff!”1

The tree is long gone, at the foot of which Baker was buried. Apart from Baker himself, some have said that the spot is haunted by “his big black dog”, though this may be a confusion with the black dog phantom of North Shoebury, not far away. The name of the grave or corner is most likely derived from the 14th century Clement de Bakere, rather than any baker from Barling.2 See also Great Wakering in the Shuckland section of this website.

1. H. W. Tompkins: ‘Marsh-Country Rambles’ (Chatto & Windus, 1904), p.37-38.
2. Jessie Payne: 'A Ghost Hunter's Guide to Essex' (Ian Henry Publications, 1987), p.101-2.

Great Waltham:


Another moving church


As is well-evidenced on this site, one of the most common legends concerning churches is that of being mysteriously moved from its intended location. Such is the case at Great Waltham, where the partly-Norman church of St. Mary & St. Lawrence (TL695134) - currently at the centre of the village - was meant to be nearly a kilometre away. It's said that monks began the building work in Church Field at Walthambury Farm (TL687142), once the largest and richest manor in the parish, but every night the stones were found to have been moved to the present site.


Source: R. Phillips & R. Bazett: 'Ages in the Making: A History of Two Essex Villages' (1973), p.19.



Great Wigborough:


Battle mound

"Against the northern horizon rose the hill of Wigborough crowned by a church and a great tumulus, and some trees that served as landmarks to the vessels entering the Blackwater. In ancient days the hill had been a beacon station, and it was reconverted to this purpose in time of war." So says the 1880 novel 'Mehalah' of the mound that had once stood near to St. Stephen's church on its hill (TL968156).1 This seems to have been poetic license however, as in 1740 it had been described as a 'small tumulus'.2 By 1912 it had become a 'low mound',3  and by 1960 there was no trace of it. Whatever its size may once have been, the mound was locally "reputed to be the burial place of soldiers killed in battle".3


1. Sabine Baring-Gould: 'Mehalah - A Story of the Salt Marshes' (Smith, Elder & Co, 1880), p.28.

2. Nathanael Salmon: 'The History and Antiquities of Essex' (W. Bowyer, 1740), p.438.

3. Walter Johnson: 'Byways in British Archaeology' (Camb Univ Press, 1912), p.76.




Draper’s Corner

The junction of Greensted Road and Mutton Row at TL532027 is said to be named after a man who was hanged on a tree there for stealing sheep two centuries ago, and his ghost still haunts the spot.1 ‘Strange feelings’ and the vision of a man hanging from a tree have been reported in recent times.2

1. Federation of Essex Women’s Institutes: ‘The Essex Village Book’ (Countryside Books, 2001), p.110.
2. Ongar Gazette, 20/8/2011.