Hidden East Anglia:

Landscape Legends of Eastern England











Landscape Features





Misery Corner


Where Manor Farm Road and Darrow Green Road meet is known as Misery Corner (TM269898). It's possible that the name has some connection with Hangman's Hill (TM265894) in a field close by; but a local tale also says that a pregnant servant girl once committed suicide by hanging at Ivy Farm, one of the houses at the Corner. Then again, the name has also been linked to the execution here, during the Civil War, of a Roundhead soldier.


Source: http://www.denton-norfolk.co.uk/history/odds/





St. Withburga's Well


"The ruins of a tomb which contained the remains of Withburga, youngest daughter of Anna, King of the East Angles, who died in AD 654. The Abbot and Monks of Ely stole this precious relique and translated it to Ely Cathedral, where it was interred near her three royal sisters, AD 974". 


withburgaswell.jpg (150427 bytes)Thus runs the inscription on the stonework of St. Withburga's Well (TF987133), a sunken vault at the west end of East Dereham churchyard. Her 'three royal sisters' (Ethelburga, Sexburga and Etheldreda) were also saints, as was her brother Jurmin.

Withburga founded and became abbess of a nunnery at Dereham in her old age, and was buried in the nunnery ground, now the churchyard. Some years afterward it was decided to move her remains into St. Nicholas' church itself, and it was then discovered that her body had not corrupted. The miracles wrought at her tomb attracted pilgrims from all over the country for the next 300 years, making Dereham a wealthy foundation.

Then abbot Brihtnoth of Ely Cathedral in about 974 decided to take possession of the body for himself, her three sisters already being interred at Ely. He and his monks stole the body, and although pleased with the extra money rolling in, was bitter to learn that, soon after the theft, a spring gushed from Withburga's former grave that had such healing powers that pilgrims flocked to Dereham in even greater numbers than before. The waters still have a reputation for curative properties.
(See also another holy well here.)


Source: M. R. James: 'Suffolk & Norfolk' (Dent & Sons, 1930), p.14.



Secret tunnels


A house of the 17th or 18th century in Old Becclesgate (at TF986133) is supposed locally to have once been a monastery, with a tunnel leading from the cellars to the former Guildhall (TF988131.) According to a former owner of the house in the late 19th or early 20th century, she crawled a short way along more than one passage when a child, and believed they once brought water northwards from St. Withburga's Well - which is possible, as the well was popular as a spa in the 1700's.1 Apparently the "ancient doorways and arches" in the deep cellars included a recess which a later owner said her grandfather - a builder - had bricked up, but not before some of his workmen went a little way into it. They supposedly backed out in a hurry when their candle went out.


Another tunnel to the Guildhall has been suggested, running from a spot along the road called Littlefields, perhaps in the area of TF988129. A writer described a brick-lined 'cavern' beneath the garden of one of the houses here, about 300 yards south of the Guildhall, which had become an air raid shelter during World War Two. Once again a bricked-up recess was said to be the entrance to a passage which ran not only to the Guildhall, but to the church of St. Nicholas as well.2



1. http://www.heritage.norfolk.gov.uk-Dereham

2. Mervyn Payne: 'Under Ancient Dereham' in the newsletter of the Dereham Antiquarian Society, Vol. 2, issues 1-4 (2005).



The tower that flew away


St. Nicholas' church has a tower detached from the building. It's said the bells were originally hung in the 13th century lantern tower rising from the centre, but they became too heavy for the structure and were removed to the bell-tower in the churchyard, specially built in the 16th century. In 1797 it was used as a temporary gaol for French prisoners on their way from Great Yarmouth. One tried to escape by hiding in a tree, but was shot and buried in the graveyard (his memorial is near St. Withburga's Well.)

The traditional tale is that the tower was once attached to the church, but the builder forgot to use the proper mortar and it was never watertight. The parson ordered the tower to be pitched all over, but while it was still hot and sticky, all the birds of Dereham (some say a flock of starlings) flew over to see what the fuss was. They landed on the tower, but on finding their feet stuck, kicked up a commotion and fluttered their wings so hard that they flew away with the tower. But before they'd flown far, their feet came unstuck and the tower fell where it stands.



R. H. Mottram: 'East Anglia' (Chapman & Hall, 1933), pp.179-80.

Noel Boston & Eric Puddy: 'Dereham' (G. A. Coleby, 1952), pp. 148-9.



The Christmas bells


According to legend, the bells of St. Nicholas ring by themselves once a year, on Christmas morning.


Source: W. B. Gerish: 'Norfolk Folklore Collections', Vol.4 (unpublished, 1916-18, compiled by William de Castre), p.71.





Secret tunnel


A little south of the village, just beyond the area marked on the map as Jocelyn's Wood, there is alleged to be the collapsed and overgrown entrance to a tunnel, which used to run all the way to the hamlet of Appleton about 1.5 miles to the south-east. This particular subterranean route was supposed to have been built centuries ago by smugglers, when the sea washed right up to Dersingham.


Source: Dersingham 'Village Voice' No.53.







Somewhere in or near the village is said to be a large and very deep pit known locally as ' Seagar-ma-hole', which swallowed up several oxen. Centuries ago, a church which stood here is supposed to have sunk into the hole, for which another name is the ' Fairies' Bay'.1 In the 1990's, a large depression opened up in the existing churchyard, which may be suggestive of the earlier building's fate.2



1. 'Norfolk Archaeology' Vol.2 (1849), p.305.

2. http://www.heritage.norfolk.gov.uk-Dilham





Diss Mere


There was an old tradition that the six acre Diss Mere (TM116798) is the crater of an extinct volcano. It was said to be bottomless, and purged itself once a year, stinking horribly (though actually it's about 60 feet deep and mostly mud).


Source: W. B. Gerish: 'Norfolk Folklore Collections', Vol.4 (unpublished, 1916-18, compiled by William de Castre), p.66.



Secret tunnels


The Nunnery in Denmark Street (TM11467983) used to be a private residence, was most recently a care home, and has now been subdivided into houses. Despite an estate agent's claim that it dates back to the 16th century, it's actually of the 19th, and there's no record of any nuns having lived there. Rumours of course say that monks used the tunnels said to be under or around the Nunnery. Some claim there are specific passages to St. Mary's church in Diss itself, and even further afield to St. Peter's at Palgrave, nearly a mile away in Suffolk - which would actually have to pass beneath the river Waveney!


Source: 'Diss and District Memories' Facebook group, 2016.





Secret tunnel


Smuggler's tunnels are said to connect Ditchingham House (TM329916), St. Mary's church (TM329922), and Three Bells house (TM330918). These are supposed to have given rise to the local name for the area, Hollow Hill.


Source: former weblink: http://af-za.facebook.com/topic.php?uid=2219096227&topic=2674





Bloods Dale


Between the A1067 and the 'B' road from Drayton to Hellesdon, the land slopes down towards the river Wensum for a short distance, and here, not far from Drayton Lodge, is an area known as Blood Dale or Bloods Dale (TG185130 area). There are now no obvious earthworks except the banks of a hollow way here, but the Danes are said to have fought the Saxons on these slopes. An early Saxon cremation cemetery was unearthed here in the mid 19th century, while a little further west (at about TG177135) thirteen skeletons of unknown date were found during construction of the railway. (See also Ghost Hill, Taverham).


Source: Arthur Mee (ed.) : 'The King's England - Norfolk' (Hodder & Stoughton, 1940), p.104.