Hidden East Anglia:

Landscape Legends of Eastern England









Landscape Features



Ramsden Crays:

Crays Hill

The parish of Ramsden Crays can be found on the A129 just west of Wickford. Beside the road is Crays Hill (TQ714922 area) where, so the stories say, the village gallows once stood. The spot is said to be haunted by a ghostly boy all in white.

Source: Federation of Essex Women’s Institutes: ‘The Essex Village Book’ (Countryside Books, 2001), p.37.



Once a manor house of the parish, now just a moated farm, Beeches (TQ791944) is said to have a field called Ladylands which had a blackened patch that nothing could eradicate. This was supposed to be because a woman was burnt there in the 16th century. There’s no evidence for that particular incident, but it probably came about because Edmund Tyrrell (1513-76), Justice of the Peace and holder of Beeches manor, was instrumental in the persecution and burning of heretics.

Source: Philip Benton: ‘The History of Rochford Hundred’ (A.Harrington, 1867.) Vol 2, p.659.


Secret tunnels

Only a vague legend here, concerning the 11th century Rayleigh Castle at TQ804909, of which only earthworks survive. As the source puts it, “The place has neither history nor legend, except, of course, the usual story of a subterranean passage leading to some impossible place.” I have no more than that, for the moment.1


From the Paul Pry pub in the High Road, a tunnel is said to lead to the Travellers Joy (TQ804913) in Downhall Road.2 This latter pub stands roughly on the site of a small prison, with the lord of the manor's gallows once standing opposite in Hangman's Field. 'Ghostly occurrences' were told of this spot, probably beginning when the stump of the gallows was supposedly unearthed in the 19th century.3


1. C. R. B. Barrett: ‘Essex: Highways, Byways & Waterways’ (Lawrence & Bullen, 1893), p.170.

2. https://pubwiki.co.uk/EssexPubs/Rayleigh/paulpry.shtml

3. http://www.rayleighhistory.co.uk/11.html


Secret tunnels

Rochford Hall (TQ870903) may date originally from the 12th century, but the current building is of the 16th, and now a golf club house. It was owned by the Boleyn family from 1515, and said to be host to clandestine meetings between Anne Boleyn and Henry V111. There was supposed to be a network of tunnels beneath the house used to facilitate such meetings, and to enable the lovers to sneak out to a inn.1

An underground link was also rumoured between the Hall and Creeksea Place (TQ933960) at Burnham-on-Crouch. This was another reputed home of Anne Boleyn, but the tale here is that her daughter, Elizabeth 1st, met with her soldiers who had come through the tunnel from Rochford.2 At more than ten miles in length, and passing under the river Crouch, this is a very unlikely tunnel.

1. http://onthetudortrail.com/Blog/anne-boleyn-places/palaces-and-houses/rochford-hall/

2. https://www.creekseaplace.co.uk/history/


Secret tunnel

At the junction of Head Street and High Street there used to be the Three Crowns Inn (TM030218), now a residential house. Like most of the pubs on the Essex coast it was well-known as a smuggler’s haunt, and had an obligatory tunnel legend from there to the aptly-named Smuggler’s Cottage just across the road.

Source: http://www.rowhedger.co.uk/village_views.shtml



Thieves’ Corner

Thieves’ Corner is a name now given to a short stretch of the A1060 between Roxwell and Chelmsford. Originally it was the name of a sharp corner on the old Roxwell Road, at TL672076. Two versions exist to tell how this spot got its name: the most prosaic is that a sheep stealer was once hanged there. The other is that two thieves once assaulted the owner of Boyton Hall, but he fought back, smacked their heads together, and threw them into a nearby pond.

Source: Jessie K. Payne: ‘A Ghost Hunter’s Guide to Essex’ (Ian Henry Publications, 1987), p.114.


The Devil at the church

A correspondent to ‘Notes and Queries’ in 1857 says that he got the following story from “the Common-Place Book of an old clergyman, written some years ago”, and called it ‘The Devil and Runwell Man’:

“The Devil wished the builder to build the church in a particular place; but the builder would not consent and continued to erect it in another. The Devil and he fought a pitched battle on the occasion; and the man beat him. The Devil asked by what assistance he had vanquished him? He answered, 'Through God and two spayed bitches.' A second battle ensued soon after with the same success and interrogatories and answers. They afterwards fought a third battle, in which the man was again successful. On the Devil asking him who were the combatants, he answered,' Himself and God.' The Devil finding he could not vanquish the man living, said he would have him at all events, when dead, whether buried in the church he was building or out of it. To elude this he ordered himself to be buried half in the church and half out of it. His coffin, or rather the cup of it, is to be seen of exceeding hard black stone".1

The notion of being buried ‘half in and half out’ of a church occurs in a number of tales throughout Britain, probably to explain the medieval tombs found in some church walls. This theme and that of the ‘spayed bitches’ are very similar to the themes of the Barnhall legend at Tolleshunt Knights (and indeed that of the well-known Piers Shonkes tradition in Hertfordshire.)


An odd transposition seems to have occurred here, as a field about 1200m west of Runwell church also has the name 'Barnhall', close to the moated site of Barn Hall, first recorded in 1232 (TQ741946.) There are sketchy tales of people being afraid of 'shadowy figures', because as local lore has it, "the Devil waits for the soul of a knight here, after the mortal promised it ‘whether he was buried inside a church or out’".2


1. ‘Notes & Queries’ 2nd Series, Vol.4, (1857), p.25.

2. https://www.wickfordhistory.org.uk/content/new-contributions/ghosts-of-wickford


The Devil’s clawmarks

On the inside of the south door of St. Mary’s church (TQ753944), folk are shown blackened marks which they are told is the burnt handprint of the Devil’s claws, when he pursued and failed to grab an evil priest named Rainaldus (rather like the legend told of Stanesgate Priory at Steeple.) There is much more to the story but I shan't relate it here – partly because it has been repeated so often in Essex guidebooks, but mostly because it’s not a genuine folk tale. It was invented by Reverend Bazille-Corbin, rector at Runwell from 1923, and gloriously elaborated upon in his unpublished book ‘Runwell St. Mary: A Farrago of History, Archaeology, Legend and Folklore’.

Jessie K. Payne: ‘A Ghost Hunter’s Guide to Essex’ (Ian Henry Publications, 1987), p.2-7.
Federation of Essex Women’s Institutes: ‘The Essex Village Book’ (Countryside Books, 2001), p.183-4


Circling the church


Whether arising from genuine tradition or modern invention, the idea that the Devil has a presence at Runwell church is reinforced by the tale that walking round it three times will raise Old Nick once again. This, however, would be awkward when carrying out the other local ritual, that circling St. Mary's three times on Christmas Eve will manifest the sound of the phantom coach that haunts the area of the former Runwell Hall, now a pub.


Source: former webpage: http://archiver.rootsweb.ancestry.com/th/read/ESSEX-UK/2005-07/1120434264