Hidden East Anglia:

Landscape Legends of Eastern England











Landscape Features





Secret tunnel


At Bumble's Green in the parish of Nazeing is Harold's Park Farm, which in tradition is on the site of King Harold's hunting lodge (TL412044). The king is supposed to have built a tunnel from here to Waltham Abbey, 5 miles away.


Source: http://edithsstreets.blogspot.co.uk/2011/12/nazeing-brook-bumbles-green.html





The Leper Stone


Beside the main road, at the north end of Newport, is the largest known sarsen stone in the county (TL519349). A glacial erratic like many others in Essex, this one has, at some time, been deliberately raised upright, to look for all the world like a genuine standing stone. The common name for it is the Leper Stone, but there seem to be no known early references to it. The stone was said to have been blown over at the end of the 18th century in a huge storm. The locals saw this as a bad omen, and made sure that it was restored to its earlier position.1 See it on Google Street View HERE.


Very close by is a section of clunch-built wall, the last remnant of what was said to be an ancient leper hospital.2 As there is a small hollow or depression on the top edge of the stone, the idea has arisen that coins were left there, washed in water or vinegar, as alms for the lepers. Alternatively, coins were placed there by the lepers themselves, as payment for provisions left for them by the villagers.3


There was indeed the hospital of St. Mary and St. Leonard close by the stone, founded in the 12th century.4 However, there’s no evidence that it was an isolation hospital for those suffering from leprosy. I tend to think that the tradition is a product of 19th century antiquarians, who put the stone and the hospital together and came up with ‘lepers’. All over the country can be found ‘plague stones’, where similar tales are told of alms left for, or payments left by, sufferers of various plagues over the centuries. There are a number in Norfolk and Suffolk, such as at Feltwell, Bury St. Edmunds and Stuston. Very often these are actually medieval cross-bases, or old church fonts that have been dumped by the roadside – but just about any old lump of stone with a hollow in the top seems to have been fair game for this legend.



1. C. Henry Warren: ‘Essex’ (Robert Hale, 1950), p.93.

2. http://www.pastscape.org.uk/hob.aspx?hob_id=373952

3. https://www.francisfrith.com/audley-end/the-leper-stone_memory-27811

4. http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=39866



North Benfleet:


Secret tunnels


The Tudor North Benfleet Hall has long been demolished, with a farm now on the site (TQ761901). With a priest hole discovered during the 1920’s, the notion of a tunnel for Catholics escaping religious persecution in the 16th century was bound to follow. This one is said to run south to Sadlers Hall at Bowers Gifford, again with just a farm (and many industrial units) now remaining (TQ761885).1 When the huge roundabout on the A13 right next to Sadlers Hall was being built, a tunnel was supposedly broken into, but was covered over again as it was thought to have been a drain.


Another secret passage was said to lead from Benfleet Hall to a cottage called ‘Dulci Doman’ (now demolished, opposite the old telephone exchange) not far away in Pound Lane.2



1. Federation of Essex Women’s Institutes: ‘The Essex Village Book’ (Countryside Books, 2001), p.164.

2. http://www.basildon.com/history/stories/story25a.html



North Fambridge:


Secret tunnels


Smugglers are rumoured to have used tunnels leading from the 15th century Ferryboat Inn (TQ851967) to both Blue House Farm (TQ857969), and Smuggler’s Cottage at the top of Blue House Farm Chase (c.TQ855972).


Source: http://www.smuggling.co.uk/gazetteer_e_11.html