Hidden East Anglia:

Landscape Legends of Eastern England









Landscape Features




Secret tunnels

Locals have spoken of smuggler’s tunnels from the cellars of a former pub called the King’s Head (TM198238) way out in the marshes, beyond the tiny hamlet of Landermere, to the church of St. Michael (TM179223) in Thorpe-le-Soken; and another to St. Leonard’s church (TM180246) in the adjacent village of Beaumont-cum-Moze. I also have an unsourced note of a further passageway from St. Michael’s church to the 16th century Abbey House (TM180222) in Thorpe itself.

Source: postings no longer retrievable from defunct message boards



Secret tunnel


Frating Abbey (TM100208) was never an abbey, and isn't in the village or parish of Frating. It's actually a farmhouse built in the early 19th century, in Thorrington parish. It was, however, built on the site of an earlier house called Wheelers, of which Joseph Watson wrote: "In the house was a haunted room, in which no one, it is said, ever lived, and on the walls of which no paper or plaster would stick". Wheelers was supposedly of the same age as St. Osyth's Priory nearly 6 miles away, namely the 12th century, and a subterranean passage was said to connect the two. Watson continued: "There was, in fact, always a hole in the wall, [of the haunted room] through which the dark resident of the subterranean passage could pass when he wanted to take the air. A few years ago an attempt was made to explore this passage, and after a very short journey a skeleton and some old silver were found. The former, however, proved to be that of a pig, and the latter a couple of spoons, suggestive of carelessness in the culinary department in olden times".


Source: Joseph Watson: 'The Tendring Hundred in the Olden Time' (Benham, 1877), p.119.




The Daws Heath burials

Daws Heath, on the eastern side of Thundersley, was once a wild place, home to smugglers, highwaymen, thieves and vagrants. A number of suicides are said to have occurred here, with the bodies being buried both at TQ815886, and at TQ811888. The first is a triangular plot of grass formed at the junction of St. Michael’s Road and Bramble Road, just outside the 20th century church of St. Michael. The second is where Daws Heath Road meets Western Road. Locals have related that the spirits of these ‘self-murderers’ still haunt the spots.

Source: https://www.hadleighhistory.org.uk/content/main-subjects/places/daws_heath

Secret tunnel

In Church Road are both St. Peter’s church (TQ782886) and Thundersley Manor House, built around 1600 (TQ775888). A tunnel is traditionally said to connect the two buildings.

Source: Terry Johnson: ‘Hidden Heritage: Discovering Ancient Essex’ (Capall Bann Publishing, 1996), p.163.

The drowned woman at the stile


Closer to Hadleigh than Thundersley, but still part of Daws Heath, is West Wood, which to the south draws very close to the A129. Before the expansion of housing it was even closer, with a stile leading from the road into the woods. This stile was haunted by a woman, last seen in 1917 staring ahead then vanishing. The tale was that she was the farmer's daughter from Great Wyburns farm at Daws Heath, who had drowned herself because the was forbidden to marry the man she loved. The pond into which she hurled herself has gone now, but it used to be at TQ811888, near the northern junction of Daws Heath Road and Western Road.



Carmel King: 'Haunted Essex' (The History Press, 2009), p.68.




Shrieking Boy’s Wood

Leading west off the A129 is Kingsley Lane, which now peters out into a footpath, but before it was subsumed into the Southend Arterial Road, used to continue as far as Kingsley Wood (once known locally as Shrieking Boy's Wood). Sometime in the 19th century, it’s said that a ploughman (or other farm worker) was working with a boy in the fields around here when the two got into a fierce argument, the man killed the boy, and buried him in secret. From that point on, horrible screams would be heard from the wood, which only ceased when the man drunkenly confessed his crime while at the White Hart inn.1

Another version puts the incident a century earlier, with a woodsman and his helper lad working in a copse at the end of Kingsley Lane (TQ795896 area). When the boy wouldn’t work hard enough, the man sliced his head off, then hid the rest of him in the hollow trunk of a tree. Although the man told his neighbours the boy had run away, he was haunted by the deed (and the lad’s ghost), and took to habitual drunkenness. Meanwhile, the apparition of the dead boy began to sit on a gate at the entrance to the wood, shrieking when anyone approached.2

Yet another variation calls it Screeching Boy’s Wood, but also states that there was no murder, the boy instead being knocked down and killed by a carriage.3 One source claims that the local church registers record a murder on Fanton Hall Farm in 1734, and links this to the tale2 – but the farm is over two miles from the wood.

While researching this legend, I came across the following, recording a fox hunt in March 1889. After a fox was flushed out, the hunt “raced away through Noke Wood, by Fanton Hall, Squeaking Boy’s Lane, nearly to Kingsley Wood, where the fox was headed”.4 I haven’t been able to trace this lane, and it’s hard to reconcile ‘squeaking’ with the tone of the story – but I’m certain there must be a connection.

1. ‘This is Essex’ January 14th 1999.
2. Jessie K. Payne: ‘A Ghost Hunter’s Guide to Essex’ (Ian Henry Publications, 1987), p.81.
3. http://www.paranormaldatabase.com/essex/thundersley

4. Miss Tawke: ‘Hunting Recollections’ (Francis & Sons, 1911), Vol.2, p.21.



The Devil's Stone


In a historical note to one of his novels, the author Bernard Cornwell mentions a standing stone with a hole in it in St. Peter's churchyard (TQ782886). In his youth, local folklore called it the Devil's Stone, and that if you walked anti-clockwise around it three times, then whispered into the hole, the devil would grant your wishes.1 However, I can find no further references to such a stone.


In 1952 E. A. Rudge notes a sarsen stone by the south porch, but gives no other details.2 A website mentions something known as the Bird Stone by the porch (with another rock at the roadside about 50 yards away),3 which seems to be the stone shown here. This small lump of rock with holes bored in it looks like it was just dropped there, and hardly qualifies as a 'standing stone', so I am left uncertain of the truth of the matter. I welcome any further information!



1. Bernard Cornwell: 'The Burning Land' (Harper, 2009), p.381.

2. E. A. Rudge: ‘The Statistical Evidence for a Conglomerate Alignment in Essex’ in ‘Essex Naturalist’ (1952), Vol.29, p.186.

3. http://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=13332


Secret tunnel

Little is left of the Cistercian abbey at Tilty, founded in 1153 (TL600266) – even though it used to be thought unlucky to remove any stones from the site. An underground passageway has long been believed to head from there to Horham Hall in Thaxted parish, about three miles away (TL588294). The original hall was built about 1470, but mostly demolished in the 16th century and a new house built there. (For another tunnel to Horham Hall, see under Wimbish.)

Source: Jessie K. Payne: ‘A Ghost Hunter’s Guide to Essex’ (Ian Henry Publications, 1987), p.95.


Secret tunnel

Monk’s House (TL962099) in Mell Road sounds like another place with a rumoured monastic past, but in fact it’s so named because of some association with George Monck, famed duke and general of the 17th century, a key player in the restoration of King Charles 11. Although built in 1792, it’s presumably on the site of an older house. A tunnel is believed to run from the house, beneath the fields, to St. Mary’s church at TL956103.

Source: James Wentworth Day: ‘Here are Ghosts and Witches’ (Batsford, 1954), p.167.



Jordan's Green


Jordan's Green (TL943106) is where a lane heads north from the B1023 Tollesbury Road, leading to Gorwell Hall, and seems to be a particularly unnatural spot. A woman is said to have had her throat cut here, and now haunts it in the form of a White Lady.1 In addition to this, it's also the spot where legend says a man is buried with a stake through his heart.2 And, it's the very same place where, in the 1920's, a midwife encountered a phantom black dog - read the full story here in Shuckland.



1. James Wentworth Day: ‘Here are Ghosts and Witches’ (Batsford, 1954), p.167.

2. James Wentworth Day: 'Essex Ghosts' (Spurbooks, 1973), p. 12.

Tolleshunt Knights:

The Devil at Barn Hall

Appearing in Domesday Book as Borooldituna, and later as Barnwalden, Barnhall was one of the medieval manors of Tolleshunt Knights. Now the hall itself, reconstructed in 1800, stands as part of Barn Hall Farm (TL929148), off Barnhall Road east of the village.

The legend that involves this old manor house has been repeated many times, in many versions. Here, I’ve tried to go back to the earliest printed versions that I could find, which are ‘The Sporting Magazine’ in 1813, and ‘The Gentleman’s Magazine’ in 1820. One article was submitted by ‘John Lawrence’ and the other by ‘L’. From the context and content, I suspect both were written by the same man. The writer seems to have spent some of his childhood at Tolleshunt Knights, and speaks of a visit, in about 1761, to the village church of All Saints (TL927138).

He was shown inside the church, in the north wall, a tomb or “very ancient monument of soft stone”,1 upon which was the full-length effigy of a knight in armour and helmet, and two dogs at his feet. The tale that he was told to explain this tomb was already well-known in the neighbourhood; as he says, “It was indeed, at that time, in full currency among all the old women and children of the parish; doubtless honoured with entire credence by some, as well as other ancient fables, and half believed by all”.

In some olden time, the knight was attempting to build his house of Barn Hall near the church, but every night supernatural forces tore down and carried away the building materials. This continued until one night when the knight marched to the spot at midnight, armed and with his two faithful spayed bitches. The Devil arose with a storm and a whirlwind and fought the knight with a huge club for several minutes, but the two were evenly matched and the Devil paused to catch his breath. “Who helped you?” asked the Devil. “God, and myself, and my two spayed bitches”, the man replied. A few more minutes of combat then the question was asked again, and the same reply given. Again there was more fighting, but at another pause, when the question was asked for a third time, the knight this time answered “Myself, and God, and my two spayed bitches”. The Devil roared in triumph as, in pride, the man had put himself before God. Striking the knight down, the Devil swore that he would claim his soul, roaring “Be you buried by land or by sea, in church or churchyard, I will have you."

Then as the knight lay dying, the Devil took up his club and threw it miles away, saying that wherever it should fall, there Barn Hall would be built. So it came to be, and the club then became the main beam of the house. In order to save the man’s body and soul from the claws of the Devil, the villagers buried the man actually inside the church wall, where his monument still stands.2

Even in 1761, when John Lawrence heard this story, it was already fluid, as some apparently connected the tale to the building of the church, not Barn Hall. In a version from 1848 the original site of Barn Hall was to be “a moated site of two acres, which is still surrounded by water and covered with brushwood”.3 This seems to be identified with the square medieval moat at TL942141, less than a mile to the south-east across fields, just within the parish boundary of Salcott-cum-Virley but on land owned by Barn Hall Farm.4 The name ‘Devil’s Wood’ has also been applied to this original site,5 as well as the ‘Devil’s Walls’.6

The fact that the knight’s effigy in the church holds his heart in both his hands has been added to the legend by some. When the Devil overcame him, he tore out the man’s heart, which was then either buried in the church wall,5 or stolen by Old Nick when the man was buried just outside the church, rather than inside. And the effigy is now the man himself turned to stone by Satan.7

The legend has also been appropriated as their own by the village of Salcott-cum-Virley, where the knight was supposedly buried in the wall of Virley church. Marks on the stonework were said to be the Devil’s claw-marks as he tried to get at the man8 – a claim almost impossible to substantiate, since Virley’s church is now nothing but a ruin, destroyed in the earthquake of 1884. The Devil’s club which formed the first beam of Barn Hall is said to still be there in the cellars, with his claw-marks still on them (really holes for mortise pegs). Supposedly no one can damage the beam without harming themselves, and even in recent times, people have touched it for a ‘cure’.9

The model for the effigy in All Saints church has been identified – with little certainty – as a member of the Patteshall family (one of many holders of the manor), or more frequently, as Sir John Atte Lee who died in 1370, and who held ‘Berwalden-in-Tolleshunt Knights’.9,10

1. John Lawrence in ‘The Gentleman’s Magazine’ (1820) Vol.90, part 1, p.23.
2. ‘L’ in ‘The Sporting Magazine’ Vol. 42, April 1813, p.21-24.
3. William White: ‘History, Gazetteer and Directory of Essex’ (Robert Leader, 1848).
4. J. H. Round: ‘Traditions Connected with Buildings’ in ‘The Antiquary’ (1881), Vol. 4, p.279.
5. Federation of Essex Women’s Institutes: ‘The Essex Village Book’ (Countryside Books, 2001), p.226.
6. Rev. Sabine Baring-Gould: ‘Mehalah’ (B. Tauchnitz, 1881), p.138.
7. James Wentworth Day: ‘Here are Ghosts and Witches’ (Batsford, 1954), p.44.
8. The Colchester Archaeologist, Issue No.13, 2000,p.27.
9. Jessie K. Payne: ‘a Ghost Hunter’s Guide to Essex’ (Ian Henry Publications, 1987), p.10.
10. Steen Clemmensen (ed.): ‘William Jenyns’ Ordinary’ (2008), p.87.