Hidden East Anglia:
Landscape Legends of Eastern England
A tunnel is said to run from Caistor Camp (Venta Icenorum, TG230035 area) to Arminghall church (TG252043). 'Golden gates' are also said to be buried deep down near the Roman camp, but whether or not these are connected to the tunnel, I don't know.1
Another source says that the tunnel begins at the water-gate at the northwest corner, and that the gates are actually made of brass.2
1. W. B. Gerish: 'Norfolk Folklore Collections' (unpublished, 1916-18), Vol.4, pp.57-8.
In 1193 a preceptory or 'commandry' of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem was established at Carbrooke, in fields just south-east of the church. Earthworks still mark the site (TF951021), in which Saxon burials and jewelry were discovered in the 19th century. Although no legend of an actual battle seems to have survived, this is certainly suggested by the name of one of the mounds that was opened here: The Battlefield, also known as Knight's Hill. Another field a little further to the west near Caudlesprings has been called Battle Meadow.
An underground passage is believed to run from Holy Cross church (TL960976) to either the 15th century cross-base on the green, or to Church Farm (TL958975), but no traces have ever been found. Both the cross and the farm (once a refectory, with signs of arcading still visible in the walls) were temporary stations for pilgrims on the route to Walsingham. There is also apparently a local tale that 'Catholic treasure' is secreted in a room hidden beneath the cross.
John S. Barnes: 'A History of Caston, Norfolk' (private, 1974.)
Barnes: 'The Mystery of Caston's Cross' (unpublished, 1978.)
The turning milestone
"I well remembered how frightened we children were of a certain milestone on the Gooderstone road which turned round....when Swaffham church bells chimed."
Source: Letter in the 'East Anglian Magazine', Vol.8, No.8 (April 1949), p.427.
Like 'Drakenhowe' at Sandringham, there is no surviving legend here. But the field name 'Drake north' north-west of the village is suggestive of some lost folklore. Another field called 'Drakenorde' (Drake North) is recorded in both the 10th and 16th centuries in Wiltshire, with the name being a corruption of 'dragon hoard.' Such a name is also suggestive of a burial mound, but nothing remains in the field at Colkirk, which is located at c.TF91282705. Here the name is mentioned in a rental of 1570,1 and appears on Thomas Waterman's map of Colkirk Manor dating from 1617.2
2. Norfolk Record Office, ref: BL 46/1/1-2
Golden Gates Pond
The hamlet of Great Hautbois is now part of Coltishall parish, and here in the marshes beside the river Bure can be found the sparse earthwork remains of Hautbois Castle, built in 1312 (TG261203), possibly on the site of a Roman villa. Originally just a manor house, it was later found necessary to fortify it. Local tradition states that the castle once had 'gates of gold', which the castle's owner had removed during a time of trouble, and dropped into a nearby pond until the danger had passed. Unfortunately, another tale says that the pond was bottomless, and so the gates still lie in the depths of what became known as Golden Gates Pond. (Said to be the pond shrouded in trees beside the Great Hautbois Road at TG261207).
Source: 'The Marlpit' Community News Magazine, Aug-Sept 2002.
A tunnel between St. Andrew's church (TF712236) and the Old Rectory would seem rather pointless, as they are only about 40m apart. It's said to run specifically from the church tower, and although - like virtually all such tales - the passage is only a rumour, locals nevertheless seem to know that it's currently full of water.
The Devil's Dish
Part of Mossymere Wood lies within Corpusty parish, and within it on the southern side towards Saxthorpe is an 18 metre depression known as the Devil's Dish (TG130309). In 1717, human remains and 'relics' were said to have been found here, but instead of being removed to the churchyard, they were reburied on the spot. This was believed to have incurred God's wrath, which is why, on July 23rd that year, several oak trees were seen to sink into the earth there, with water bubbling up around there. The oaks having disappeared, the water drained away, and thus the Devil's Dish was born.
H. B. Woodward: 'The Geology of the Country around Fakenham, Wells & Holt' (Geological Survey, 1884), p.48-9.
St. Walstan's Well
On its journey from Taverham to Bawburgh, an ox-cart bearing the body of the 10th century saint Walstan passed over the river Wensum by Taverham bridge, and into Costessey Wood. Soon it came to a little stream (the river Tud), where the cart rode on the surface of the water, then came to the crest of a hill in the wood. Here the oxen rested, and a stream of pure water welled up. St. Walstan's Well (TG153114) had dried up by the end of the 18th century, but the site is just north of a patch of woodland called Long Dale, not far from gravel pits and an industrial area. The 1832 OS map marks it as 'Walsam's Wells.' According to Edwin Rose of the Norfolk Archaeological Unit, a visit in 1978 showed that the "well survives as a deep circular pit filled with fallen trees, about 4m in diameter; a few lumps of flint walling at bottom".1 A similar description was given when two local people visited in 1993.2 In 2015, work to extend the nearby golf course encroached upon the hollow, but the pit has now been cleared and cleaned up, and a sign erected proclaiming it to be 'St. Walstan's Holy Well'. A piece of flint from the old well has been taken for incorporation into a new extension at the church.3 Apparently there was once, close by, a thorn bush known as St. Walstan's Bush,4 although another researcher has said the bush was in fact beside the well at Bawburgh.5
Mark Knights: 'Peeps at the Past' (Jarrold & Son, 1892), p.68.
W. A. Dutt: 'Highways & Byways in East Anglia' (Macmillan & Co, 1923), pp.159, 161.
2. Carol Twinch: 'Saint with the Silver Shoes' (Media Associates, 2004), p.59.
3. Carol Twinch: 'Saint Walstan: The Third Search' (Media Associates, 2015), p.84-5.
4. Jeremy Harte: 'English Holy Wells : a sourcebook' (Heart of Albion Press, 2008), Vol.2, p.271.
5. Carol Twinch: 'In Search of St. Walstan' (Media Associates, 1995), p.101.
The ghost in the tree
A tall white figure was said to come out of a vanished old ash tree here, walk up and down the road towards Letton Hall, then vanish at midnight.
Source: W. B. Gerish: 'Norfolk Folklore Notes' (unpublished, 1890-93), p.26.
I was told of a smuggler's tunnel from the church of St. Peter
and St. Paul
(TG220422) at Cromer,
running ½ a mile south-west to Cromer Hall (TG215417), built in 1827 and
seat of the famous Norfolk family, the Windhams.1
Another tunnel passing under the church, this time starting at the promenade, was said to have been used by smugglers. Within living memory an entrance was still visible, and partially accessible for a few yards, but my informant's father was later employed in blocking it up completely.3
Another branch of this 'system' allegedly runs from the Red Lion Hotel on the cliff top in Tucker Street (TG22054221), southwards for a third of a mile into the woods. In the cellar is a blocked-up arch, and occasionally a ghost. This is said to be the spirit of a smuggler who was caught in the tunnels, died there, and now haunts them.5
1. Information from Phillip Visser.
2. Letter from Mr. J. H. Harrison of Spalding to Ivan Bunn, 4/5/1976.
3. Information supplied to this website by B. Emery of Sheringham.
4. http://www.rightmove.co.uk/property-for-sale/property-47051480.html (information from Jasper Haywood).
Thunderbolts and a queen
An oak of "remarkable age and size" once stood on the common not far from St. Peter's church (TG258159), which was "struck no less than 3 times by a thunderbolt", and attached to it was a vague tradition that "a Queen of England" once held her royal court beneath its branches.
Source: James Grigor: 'The Eastern Arboretum' (Longman, Brown, Green & Longmans, 1841), p.336.
Fowlmere (TL879895 area) straddles the boundary between Croxton and East Wretham, and was possibly one of the waterholes used by travellers on the old Drove Road that runs by it. W. G. Clarke quotes a tale collected by J. D. Salmon in 1834 from a man who had lived nearby 40 years before, and who "walked around the mere every Sunday. His grandfather remarked that when the mere is very high, wheat is dear, and on the contrary when the water is low". (See also Wicken Pond and Barton Mere).
Source: W. G. Clarke: 'In Breckland Wilds' (Robert Scott, 1925), p.82.
Long ago, when Croxton Heath was a wilder place than it is today, and with less woodland, a gamekeeper was killed by rabbit poachers, who put him in their cart and trundled off down the Thetford road. Soon they found a sandpit, one of many scattered across the heath, which seemed a likely place to hide the body. But as they lifted him from the cart, the not-quite-dead gamekeeper piped up and swore to haunt them forever. Although startled, the poachers finished him off properly and buried him in the pit. But since that day, it has been said that a hearse, complete with coffin and pallbearers, rises at midnight from the pit, proceeds slowly down the Thetford road, then vanishes through a nearby field gate.
Source: Olive Cooke: 'Breckland' (Robert Hale, 2nd edition 1980; orig. 1956), p.73.