Hidden East Anglia:

Landscape Legends of Eastern England








Landscape Features




Secret tunnel

The manor house in Manor Road is long gone, replaced now by a supermarket (TQ678890). A blocked door in the cellar was supposed to give access to a tunnel which led about 1km north-east to the church of St. Nicholas (TQ687895), emerging at a door behind the altar steps.1,2 The manor house later became Great Gubbins Farm, moated and allegedly once the site of a monastery – though there’s no evidence for it. The fact that water from a spring constantly ran through the cellar accounts for the fact that a local man’s attempt to brave the tunnel was stopped because it was partially blocked by water.3

1. https://www.laindonhistory.org.uk/content/areas_and_places/laindon-2/mystery-mound

2. https://www.laindonhistory.org.uk/content/people/family_memories/some_memories

3. St. Nicholas Church, Laindon, Parish Magazine, May 2011, p.34-5.


The Devil’s Drink Bowl

On the Langenhoe peninsula – now mostly a firing range, lying between Geedon Creek and the Pyefleet Channel – there was a field called ‘Hoppin’ Tom’s Piece’, and within that field, a pond known as the Devil’s Drink Bowl. It’s said that, back in the early 20th century, a dozen men were using scythes to harvest in that field, when a mysterious-looking stranger arrived in the afternoon. Apparently a master mower, he helped the men, but kept going by himself all through the night, and by next morning half the crop was done.

Some of the men called him a devil, and thought to fool him the next night by standing iron bars upright in the hay – but his scythe sliced through them as well, and by morning the whole crop was finished. When the men all went to Langenhoe Hall to receive their pay, the lord of the manor saw the stranger’s cloven hoof and refused to pay him, saying ‘You’re old Hoppin’ Tom’. At that, the Devil shrieked and vanished in flame, but on his way back to Hades threw his drinking bowl into the field, drowning the crop and creating the pond.

This story bears many similarities to the folk-tale of ‘the mowing contest’, known in East Anglia from Sea Palling in Norfolk, and from counties such as Cornwall and Radnorshire.

Source: James Wentworth Day: ‘Essex Ghosts’ (Spurbooks, 1973), p.25-6.

Leigh on Sea:

Secret tunnels

In the High Street at TQ838857, the Peter Boat Inn is first mentioned in 1757. When the original building burned down in 1892, a tunnel was supposedly found linking the extensive cellars with the waterside at Alley Dock. The town was well-known to be a haunt of smugglers, with a path from the dock leading up to Daws Heath at Thundersley, a wild and lawless place.1


In Broadway West can be found a house built in 1838 to be the rectory for St. Clement's church, and now used as the local library (TQ840859). Smugglers were rumoured to be responsible for a subterranean passage from the cellars here, heading downhill into the old town, beside Leigh Creek.2


1. http://www.smuggling.co.uk/gazetteer_e_10.html

2. Dee Gordon: 'The Secret History of Southend-on-Sea' (The History Press, 2014; ebook version).

The Cutlass Stone

St. Clement's (TQ841858) stands on a hill just east of the library. Just outside the south porch is an old ‘altar’ or ‘table’ tomb, inscribed with the details of a spinster called Mary Ellis, who died in 1609 at the great age of 119. Score-marks on the top of the tomb are said to be where press gangs sharpened their cutlasses, giving the grave the local name of the ‘Cutlass Stone’. (Press gangs were used in the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries to ‘impress’ or conscript men into the Royal Navy). The deep cuts in the stone are more likely to have been caused by workmen sharpening their scythes in order to cut the grass!

Leigh Conservation Area Appraisal & Management Plan 2008.
Leigh-on-Sea Town Guide 2008-2010.

Derek Johnson: 'Essex Curiosities' (Spurbooks, 1973), p. 33.



The Doom Pond


Known by some as the Witches' Pond - and said to be the traditional ducking pond for witches - the Doom Pond off Leigh Road was once thought to be bottomless (TQ847860). Ghostly shapes were seen there, and it was alleged to be cursed. Attempts to build over it failed until recent years; according to some, because of the curse. Others more rationally said it was because of the springs and watercourses making foundations unstable. Either way the pond has gone now, the site currently hosting a sports bar and bingo hall. Once there was a pottery nearby, with the pond serving as one of its water supplies - and the ominous name actually arose from the name of the huge 'Doom' kiln that stood beside it.



Dee Gordon: 'Haunted Southend' (The History Press, 2012; ebook version)

'Leighway', the Newsletter of the Leigh Society (Issue 3, April 2000)

Little Baddow:

Alice at Grace’s Bridge

Sir Henry Mildmay (1578-1637) lived at Great Graces, the big house of one of the three manors of Little Baddow. After the death of his first wife, he married in 1609 the 21 year old Alice, daughter of Sir William Harris. The marriage lasted for six years, at which point Alice drowned herself in the nearby Sandon Brook, “by reason of her husband’s unkindness”. Since that day, poor Alice’s ghost has been said to haunt the footbridge over the brook at TL756065, as well as the long straight footpath called Grace’s Walk.

‘Navigation Walks along & around the Chelmer & Blackwater’ (Essex County Council, 2005), p.11.
‘Coate’s Cuttings’ (The Chelmer Canal Trust Newsletter, August 2008), Issue 39, p.10.

Colam Lane pond

A ghost of unspecified type is said to haunt a pond beside a bend in the road at Colam Lane. This would be the pond hidden amongst trees at TL771074.

Source: http://www.francisfrith.com/little-baddow/midnight-ghost-hunt_memory-459

Little Clacton:

The unfillable hole

From a genuine event has arisen an odd little legend. In 1806 the Cameron Highlanders were stationed in barracks at nearby Weeley. At the St. James’ Day Fair (on July 26th) a fight broke out outside the Blacksmiths Arms between villagers and some of the soldiers, with some of the latter being chased along the street. A soldier named Alexander McDonald had hurt his foot, and was caught, struck and slain. On the spot where his head hit the road, it was said that a hole appeared which could not be filled, no matter how hard people tried. His gravestone can still be seen in Weeley churchyard, with the inscription “late soldier in the First Battalion 79th Regt who in the prime of life was inhumanly murdered near Little Clacton”.

Federation of Essex Women’s Institutes: ‘The Essex Village Book’ (Countryside Books, 2001), p.142.



Secret tunnels


Geddy or Giddy Hall was one of the original manors of Little Clacton, and from its site (now occupied by a modern house called Gaynes Hall) at TM157179, a tunnel was once said to have run either to the coast, or to St. John's church in Clacton.1 Although the destinations are not named, legends exist of a second tunnel originating beneath the 14th century porch of St. James' church (TM166188), and a third from the Blacksmith's Arms pub close by, on the other side of The Street.2



1. http://www.englishtowns.net/clacton-on-sea/

2. https://littleclacton-pc.org.uk/village-life/local-history/the-story-of-little-clacton-an-essex-village-1958/


Little Hallingbury:


Boadicea's grave


The map reference TL493178 marks the centre of Wallbury Camp, a fine Iron Age hillfort overlooking the river Stort. As the folklorist W. B. Gerish said, "The only legend I can trace concerning the place is to the effect that Queen Boadicea lies buried under a very fine and indubitably ancient cork tree just inside the west bank of the camp".


Source: W. B. Gerish: 'Walbury Camp, Hallingbury, Essex' in 'Notes & Queries' (July 21st 1900), Vol.s9-VI, Issue 134.



Little Leighs:

Secret tunnel

An underground passageway is believed to run from St. John’s church (TL718167), a mile and a half north-west to the site of the 13th century Leez Priory at TL701185. See also Great Leighs and Felsted.

Source: Federation of Essex Women’s Institutes: ‘The Essex Village Book’ (Countryside Books, 2001), p.101.

Little Thurrock:

Cymbeline’s gold mines

Around the villages of Orsett, East Tilbury, Chadwell St. Mary, and especially Little Thurrock, are scattered vertical shafts leading to small caves cut in the chalk, up to 30m deep. Now known as dene-holes, once upon a time they were commonly called dane-holes, from the notion that here the Saxon people hid when the Danish Vikings came raiding.1 The largest concentration, 72 of them, have been found within Hangman’s Wood, upon the eastern edge of Little Thurrock, in the TQ630793 area, although they are known in Kent also.

Very little dating evidence has ever been discovered for these shafts, but current thinking suggests they may be medieval in origin, their purpose being to excavate chalk for agricultural use. Over the centuries, various tales have grown to explain these mysterious diggings, such as being used by Cunobelinus (tribal king of the Catuvellauni in the 1st century AD) as refuges to hide his people from the rival Trinovantes, or alternatively, as traps for his enemy. Prehistoric dwellings, Druid temples and smuggler’s hiding-places have been other common beliefs to account for them.

There is a tradition dating back many centuries that these dene-holes are the ‘lost gold mines of Cymbeline’ (Cunobelinus), on the basis that he had them dug either to look for gold, or to hide his gold within them.2 Supposedly Hangman’s Wood was the subject of a letter issued by Henry IV in the 14th century to Walter Fitz Walter, commanding him “upon information of a concealed mine of gold in Essex to apprehend all such persons as he in his judgment thinks fit, that do conceal the said mine, and to bring them before the king and his council, there to receive what shall be thought fit to be ordered."3 These ‘lost mines’ were said to have been rediscovered in the 15th century and worked for a while, and later again in the 18th century, but all they found was ‘fool’s gold’.

1. Reader’s Digest: ‘Folklore, Myths & Legends of Britain’ (1973), p.243.
2. E. C. Brewer: ‘The Dictionary of Phrase & Fable’ (Avenel, 1978), p.316 (orig. pub. 1870).
3. Charles Dickens (ed.): ‘Household Words : A Weekly Journal’, Jan. 19th 1856, p.541.
T.V. Holmes & W. Cole: ‘Report on the Denehole Exploration at Hangman’s Wood, Grays, 1884 & 1887’, in ‘Essex Naturalist’ (Vol1, 1887), p.246-7.

Little Waltham:

The witch’s stone of Scrap Faggots Green

Trying to sort fact from fiction in this particular tale isn’t easy. Especially when the primary source is a national newspaper (the ‘Sunday Pictorial’, the earlier name for the ‘Sunday Mirror’) which treated it as rather a joke in the first place.

It all began on October 18th 1944, when the ‘Sunday Pictorial’ reported that the village of Great Leighs (about 3 miles north of Little Waltham) had been experiencing a spate of extraordinary happenings. Haystacks tipped over and scattered, church bells ringing of their own accord, a rabbit found sitting on eggs in a chicken coop, sheep and horses found dead, cows giving birth prematurely, sheep found outside their secure pens, scaffold poles scattered about, and a dozen other weird events: large, small, and often ridiculous.

Locals blamed it on the US Army Air Force, whose 861st Engineer Battalion (Aviation) were busy constructing Boreham airfield to the east of Little Waltham. Supposedly, when they were widening an access road to the airfield, a bulldozer had knocked out of place a two ton boulder that was covering the grave of a 17th century witch who had been buried with a stake through her heart, at a crossroads known as Scrapfaggot (actually Scrap Faggots) Green.

The ‘Sunday Pictorial’ was on the spot on October 6th, and on the 11th called in the noted ghost hunter Harry Price (of Borley Rectory fame and somewhat dubious repute.) Among other odd phenomena, Price was shown by the landlord of the Dog & Gun Inn (about 1.8 miles south of Great Leighs on the road to Boreham), a 90kg boulder “the size of a beer barrel” that had mysteriously appeared outside his front door – though no one supposed it to be the rock from the crossroads. To his credit, Price was convinced that many of the goings-on were the result of jokes and hysteria, but suggested that if the villagers wanted them to stop, they should simply put the original boulder back where it came from, on the witch’s grave. This they did at midnight on the 11th, and the phenomena ceased.1

The newspaper followed up with another report on the 15th, then ‘Time’ magazine picked it up as ‘joke’ feature on the 23rd, followed by various other periodicals – and so the story has spread, grown and become more elaborate over the years. The stone that appeared at the Dog & Gun Inn seems to have vanished again very quickly, and plays no further part in the tale. But just outside the entrance to St. Anne’s Castle Inn at the centre of Great Leighs is a rock which is often claimed to be the original ‘witch’s stone’, but can’t possibly be, as it’s not very large, and could be picked up by one man (TL727171).2 You can see the rather pathetic stone in the foreground of
THIS image from Google Street View.

Some now say that the witch, whose spirit’s release caused all the weird happenings, was burnt at the stake, as bones and ash were found under the stone.3 This rather contradicts the contemporary report in the ‘Charlotte News’ of North Carolina on October 13th 1944 that “the townspeople decided, after consulting an expert on witchcraft, that it was high time to drive a stake through the grave of the witch and roll the displaced boulder back to its original location on the Green. They meticulously measured, inch by inch, the ground of the grave and moved the boulder precisely to where it had been, then drove the stake dead center into the heart of the last resting place of the village witch.” There doesn’t seem much point in driving a stake into a few ashes.

The witch, who now supposedly haunts St. Anne’s Castle Inn, has been identified by some as Anne Hewghes of Great Leighs, accused of murdering her husband by witchcraft and being burned in 1621.4 Unfortunately for that idea, the Calendar of Essex Assize Records shows that Anne Hewghes, who was indeed tried (for the death of another man altogether) at the Chelmsford Assizes on March 12th 1621, was in fact found not guilty! As the document in Essex Records Office shows: “Indictment of Anne Hewghes of Great Leighs widow, 24 June 13 Jas.I, there bewitched John Archer, of which he died on 24 June 14 Jas.I, Pleads not guilty; acquitted.”5

The name of Scrap Faggots Green is alleged to be a corruption of ‘scratch-faggot’, an old Suffolk word for a witch or hag. However, no such word is recorded in the seminal works on the subject, Edward Moor’s ‘Suffolk Words and Phrases’ (1823), or Robert Forby’s ‘The Vocabulary of East Anglia’ (1830).

As to the location of the Green, Harry Price stated that it was at the centre of Great Leighs – which is clearly wrong, as it’s nowhere near the airfield. One writer said that a road called Drachett Lane led over the crossroads,3 but I can find no trace of this name on any old or modern map of the area. Another researcher claimed to have located it at the western end of Drake’s Lane, where it meets Leighs Road at TL726130.6 Here a small triangle of grass at the junction is being worn away by traffic, and although unnamed on old maps, at least it could be classed as on an approach road to the airfield. This is actually in Little Waltham parish, and makes one wonder how Great Leighs, nearly three miles away, ever got involved in the story.

In actual fact, Little Waltham Almshouses and Pest House were built at Scrap Faggots Green, as stated by photographic references in the Essex Records Office.7 While the Almshouses were damaged beyond repair during a bombing raid in World War Two, and presumably demolished, the Pest House, which was built in 1765, was modernised and became a private house. The kernel of this still exists as Poste House Cottage, a little to the north of the crossroads at TL728126, the crossing of Domsey Lane and Cranham Road, which is the true location of the Green.


As the occurrences of 1944 actually happened six months after the airfield had already come into operation, it seems unlikely that any road-widening would have been taking place at that time. It also seems now that locals have admitted inventing the 'weird happenings'.8


I find it odd that neither Benson & Chapman's 'A Short History of Little Waltham', published in 1953, nor Phillips & Bazett's 'Ages in the Making' (a history of Great and Little Waltham), published in 1973, mention any of the strange events related above. The latter does however note the tradition of a witch having been buried in Drake's Lane with a large 'witch stone' on top of her.9 Since neither witch burial nor stone seems to be recorded before 1944, I find this 'tradition' highly suspect. I'm also surprised that a stone of such size does not appear in Salter's 'Sarsen, Basalt and Other Boulders in Essex', published in the 'Essex Naturalist' in 1912 - especially as he mentions another boulder at Power's Farm, only 400m west of the crossroads.

As far as I can surmise, the entire 'legend' seems to have been invented out of whole cloth.

1. Harry Price: ‘Poltergeist Over England’ (Country Life, 1945), p.301-2.
2. Jacqueline Simpson & Stephen Roud: ‘Oxford Dictionary of English Folklore’ (Oxford University Press, 2000).
3. http://albionssacredheritage.blogspot.com/2009/07/witch-and-stone.html

4. Former webpage: http://stannescastle.co.uk/about/

5. http://seax.essexcc.gov.uk/result_details.asp?DocID=344778

6. former weblink: http://www.paranormalreason.com/Essex4thmay2009.html

7. http://seax.essexcc.gov.uk/%5CViewCatalogue.asp?ID=314741

8. Robert Halliday: 'The Witch of Scrapfaggot Green', in 'Fortean Times' No. 303 (July 2013), p. 30-35.

9. R. Phillips & R. Bazett: 'Ages in the Making: A History of Two Essex Villages' (Poole & Sons, 1973), p.68.


Boadicea’s Camp

The Iron Age earthwork known as Boadicea’s Camp at TQ419975 has long been said to be the site of Queen Boudicca’s final battle – but then so has the similar structure at Ambresbury Banks, further north-east within Epping Forest. And Upshire not far away has Boadicea’s Obelisk at TL419017, supposedly where she poisoned herself after the defeat at Ambresbury.

J. Westwood & J. Simpson: ‘The Lore of the Land’ (Penguin Books, 2006), p.247.
Williams Winters: ‘The History of the Ancient Parish of Waltham Abbey, or Holy Cross’ (1888), p.10.



Drummer's Maid Hill


A modern house along the lane called Woodbury Hill is now known as Drummonds, but an earlier building there was called Drummaids, and the area on which it stands, Drummer's (or Drummer) Maid Hill (TQ423970). Suggested origins for the name include local men called Drummond May (owner of a brickfield), Drummer Maynard (who tried to enclose part of nearby Epping Forest), and the Anglo-Saxon term for the steep valley here that curves down to Loughton Brook (þruh mæd). The more colourful tradition explains that here a local drummer boy pledged himself to a maid, who killed herself at the spot when he was slain in battle.




Stephen Pewsey: 'Drummaids: a Loughton place-name explained' in 'Loughton and District Historical Society Newsletter' No. 166 (Sept/Oct 2005), p.2.