Hidden East Anglia:

Landscape Legends of Eastern England











Landscape Features





Secret tunnels


With roof and sides of English oak, and reputed to have been used 'in Hereward's time', a tunnel is said to stretch improbably for 11 miles beneath the Fens, between Lakenheath and Ely.1 The Saxon called Hereward the Wake rallied the Fen people in a doomed resistance fight against William the Conqueror, from 1067 to 1071.


Latterly trading as the Lakenheath Hotel, Goward House (TL716825) was advertised as having been built in 1655 for a 'master of the royal falcons'. In fact the present building dates to the mid 18th century, with a core probably of the late 16th. In 1881 it was being sold as a grocers and drapers shop, with 14 cottages attached. There was said to be a priest hole within, along with tunnels (plural) leading to St Mary's church, just 400m away further along the High Street.2



1. W. G. Clarke: 'In Breckland Wilds' (Robert Scott, 1925), p.164.

2. https://lakenheath.cylex-uk.co.uk/company/the-lakenheath-hotel-13849036.html



The buried bells


Undley is a small hamlet just to the west of Lakenheath. It might still exist as cropmarks, but of the (possibly) early Iron Age Undley Ringwork there is no trace left on the surface (TL69758187), in a field a little north of Undley Hall. It's by no means certain, but some have identified this with 'Undley Barrow', the find-spot long ago of two Bronze Age beakers that are now in the British Museum, and where silver bells are said to be hidden. According to Gordon Fowler, who excavated the ringwork in 1948, "There is a tradition in Undley that many years ago three silver bells were buried in Undley Hall Farm, and that some time later a man came from France and told the farmer there that he had a plan showing where the bells were buried. He asked the farmer for permission to dig for them, but the farmer insisted that he should first be shown the plan. As the Frenchman did not trust the farmer, he would not show him the plan, and returned to France; so the three silver bells have never been found." Although this tale doesn't specify that the bells were hidden in any earthwork, that now seems to be the legend.


Source: Gordon Fowler: 'Trial Excavations in Undley Ring-work', in 'Proceedings of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society' Vol. XLIII (1949), p.1.





Secret tunnels


Some 15th century houses in Water Street have long been known as the 'Priory', but evidence for an actual religious foundation is lacking. In the cellars is supposed to be a blocked entrance into an underground watercourse, and opposite, another door to a tunnel which leads towards Lady Street.

The Swan Hotel stands on the corner of Water Street and the High Street, with the old Wool Hall now incorporated into it. Cellars beneath are said to be 14th century, and to have another blocked entranceway to a passage that runs along under the road. Indeed, one passage is rumoured to lead to the 'Priory' itself.

The Grove is a timber-framed house with a Georgian front that faces onto Lady Street, the gardens stretching back to Barn Street. At the same time as a 'Roman bath or crypt' was supposedly found here, traces of a tunnel were found leading from a building in the gardens towards the 16th century Guildhall in the market place.


Source: F. Lingard Ranson: 'Lavenham, Suffolk' (private, 1950 edition; orig. published 1937), pp.52, 56, 63.





Secret tunnel


Lawshall Hall (TL863543) has the date 1557 over a door, some features said to be 'ecclesiastical-looking', and is supposed to have been once a monastery. But this probably came about simply because the manor was once the property of the Benedictine abbey of Ramsey in Huntingdonshire. A tunnel is said to run from here to the 16th century Coldham Hall (TL865558) in Stanningfield, a mile north. This mansion was built in 1574 by Robert Rookwood, whose son Ambrose was a co-conspirator with Guy Fawkes. The Rookwoods were diehard Catholics when such were classed as heretics, so it's hardly surprising that the Hall is riddled with passages and bolt-holes. One hiding-place can be entered from the steps of the north wing staircase, and another from the fireplace in the dining room.



White's 'History, Gazetteer & Directory of Suffolk' (1885), p.456.
Arthur Mee (ed.): 'The King's England-Suffolk' (Hodder & Stoughton, 1940), p.258.





The holy thorn


Somewhere near the ruined abbey (TM445642) there was said to have been a 'holy thorn' that flowered on Christmas Day, one of the many offshoots in Britain from Joseph of Arimathea's staff. (See also Hethel and Parham.)


Source: A. J. Forrest: 'Under Three Crowns' (Boydell Press, 1961), p.105.



The abbey treasure


Of Leiston Abbey (TM445642) it is recorded that, at the Dissolution, the King's Commissioners could only find property valued at 40 when they made their inventory, giving rise to the legend that the abbey plate is still buried somewhere in the cloisters, or in the area of the 'pomatorium', south of the refectory ruins.


Source: 'The East Anglian Magazine', Vol.19 (Nov.1959-Oct.1960), p.287.



Secret tunnels


Leiston Abbey was founded in 1182, but moved slightly inland in 1363. Two tunnels are said to begin at the west end of the neat abbey ruins, the first running for about 4 miles to Greyfriars at Dunwich (TM478704) where there are scant remains of a 13th century Franciscan friary on the cliff edge).

A. J. Forrest claimed in 1961 to have been shown, in a corner of the refectory at Leiston, the entrance to a passage said to run all the way to Framlingham. Other sources state definitely that the destination was the 12th century Framlingham Castle (TM286638). Forrest records that along this tunnel 'a sow and her litter' once wandered and were never seen again. As usual, a blocked drainage channel has been held responsible for the legends.


Part way (and roughly on a straight line) between Leiston and Framlingham is Saxmundham, where a tunnel was reported leading from the 16th century former Angel Inn (TM386633) to Leiston Abbey, and extending in the opposite direction towards Framlingham. The 'East Anglian Daily Times' of November 13th 1987 noted that a 'Mr. P' had found the tunnels to run 26 feet underground, and were big enough to allow the passage of a horse and cart. Supposedly, a "large, brick-lined tunnel" was found on this general alignment in the early 1970's when a parking lot was being constructed in Saxmundham.



A. J. Forrest: 'Under Three Crowns' (Boydell Press, 1961), p.105.
D. E. Davey: 'A Short Account of Leiston Abbey' (Baldwin, Cradock & Joy, 1823), p.9.
'The East Anglian Magazine', Vol.19, p.287.

Former weblink: www.boxvalley.co.uk/nature/sns/wad49/w49-geo.htm





The stone on Dragarse Hill


Grid reference TM288564. At this spot stand the remains of the Potsford Gibbet on top of Dragger's (or Dragarse) Hill, and at the foot of the post was once said to be a boulder which screamed when kicked by someone's heel.

The name D
ragarse Hill is supposed to have arisen from the last execution that occurred there. My two sources give slightly different accounts: In 1698 (or 1696) a man named Jonas (or Jonah) Snell was hanged for the murder of two people. Snell was a journeyman (or servant) for Bullards, the firm that owned Letheringham Mill. One day when John Bullard and his son were reckoning the accounts, Snell entered and slew them both with a heavy mallet (or an axe), and he still had the weapon on him when he was caught shortly afterwards. Snell was, says the story, dragged on his back to the top of the Hill and executed, thus giving the Hill its name.



'The East Anglian Miscellany', Vol.1 (March-Dec.1901), Note 207.
'The East Anglian Magazine', Sept.1971, p.507.





The lost church


Although there's no evidence for its existence, local tradition says that a lost church once stood here, on the slope south of the village, commemorated in the name Church Hole Field. This is reminiscent of the 'sunken' churches of Oby and Dilham in Norfolk, Debenham in Suffolk, Great Abington in Cambridgeshire, and Great Chesterford in Essex.


Source: https://heritage.suffolk.gov.uk- Church-Hole-Field



Little Cornard:


Killingdown Hill & Sharpfight Meadow


Little Cornard "is supposed to have been the scene of severe fighting between the Danes and the Saxons, places in the parish being known by the names of 'Dane's Hole', 'Killingdown Hill', and 'Sharpfight Meadow'."1


The latter field is now known as Shalford Meadow, and is also said to be the site of a great battle where Boudicca defeated the Romans from Colchester.2

However, there is also a more mythical origin for the names of these places. There is supposed to be a 'warden's small leather-bound book' to be found in the Library of the Dean and Chapter at Canterbury, which contains the following story:


"Memorandum that on Friday the 26th of September in the year of our Lord 1449, about the hour of Vespers, two terrible dragons were seen fighting for about the space of one hour, on two hills, of which one, in Suffolk, is called Kydyndon Hyl and the other in Essex Blacdon Hyl. One was black in colour and the other reddish and spotted. After a long conflict the reddish one obtained the victory over the black, which done, both returned into the hills above whence they had come, that is to say, each to his own place to the admiration of many beholding them".3


'Kydyndon Hyl' aka Killingdown Hill is now Kedington Hill in Little Cornard parish, with Shalford Meadow (TL883383) below it beside the river Stour. 'Blacdon Hyl' is Ballingdon Hill a mile away across the river, partly in Essex.



1. W. A. Dutt: 'Suffolk' (Methuen, 1904), pp.128-9.
2. Jennifer Westwood: 'Albion' (Paladin, 1987), p.185.

3. Roger Frith: 'Dragons in Essex', in 'The East Anglian Magazine', Vol.21 (Nov.1961-Oct.1962), pp.523-4.




The Blasted Stump


Towards the end of the 19th century, between Lowestoft and Oulton Broad there stood a tree known as the Blasted Stump, where it was the custom for locals to let off steam when they needed to. The spectacle of so many people filling the air with abuse annoyed 'respectable' folk of the area, and a by-law was introduced banning the practice.



The Witches' Stones


The Witches' Stones (TM550943) are a cairn of smallish stones roughly cemented together, now with an old anchor on top, just inside the southern gateway to Belle Vue Park, beside what used to be Gallows Score (now Cart Score). Although called in a poem of 1850 the 'Old Mill Stone', and reckoned to be a forerunner to the main lighthouse, in fact the heap is the remnant of a warning beacon built in 1550, on the orders of the Marquis of Northampton. One of a pair, the other was situated at the top of Green Score (now Links Road). Both consisted of iron steps upon the stonework leading up to a platform, on which a fire of pitch and timber would be kindled, as signals in the event of imminent invasion. 


In 1584, when the threat from Spain was very strong, a commission of inquiry looked into the readiness of the coastal defences. By that time the Green Score beacon had fallen into decay, and a windmill erected on the site. Restoration was recommended, but never carried out. The Cart Score beacon, on what was then called Beacon Hill, was finally dismantled in 1676, threats having long receded.

According to legend, the Witches' Stones, unless bathed in fire, are said to dash down to the sea for a dip at the first stroke of midnight struck by the Town Hall clock, and are back in place by the last stroke. The stones were also said to be 'weather makers', in that if water was poured over them, it would cause rain.

The name of the Witches' Stones has never been fully explained, but some connection would seem likely with the town's two most famous witches, Amy (or Ann) Denny and Rose Cullender, who were hanged in 1662. One story alleges that Amy Denny was in the habit of sitting on the stones and hurling curses at passers-by - although this was never brought as evidence against her.



W. A. Dutt: 'The Ancient Mark-Stones of East Anglia' (Flood & Sons, 1926), p.19.
M. L. Powell: 'Lowestoft through the Ages' (private, 1952), pp.6, 9.
David Butcher, in the Blundeston & District Local History Society Information Sheet 13 (Jan.1978), p.5.



The iron-railed tomb


In St. Margaret's churchyard (TM541941) there is said to be an iron-railed tomb, about which if you run three times, you will conjure up the apparition of a man in white shirt-sleeves.



Secret tunnels


For about 200 years there has been a tradition that much of the northern end of the old town is built over the remains of a monastery, but there's no recorded evidence for it. The existence of crypt-like cellars with groined roofs and arches under some of the buildings in the High Street is often taken as proof, but in fact they are simply merchant's cellars of the 14/15th centuries. The accidental discovery of parts of these in the early 1900s led to much speculation about a network of tunnels connecting one side of the High Street with the other, and with the 15th century church of St. Margaret a mile to the west (TM541941).

The houses on the east side have their backs to the sea cliff, so it's perhaps inevitable that smugglers would be credited with using the tunnels - although monks, or even Oliver Cromwell, are given the honour of having constructed them. When Cromwell and a small force marched into royalist Lowestoft in 1643, he 'captured' the town with virtually no resistance. He made the Swan Inn his headquarters, and although he was only in the town for a matter of days, he was said to have made and hid in a tunnel from the inn to the church. In one tale he is even said to have made his 'getaway' by digging a tunnel to the church, then all the way back again to the public gardens called Sparrow's Nest. Since he essentially had the town under his control, it's hard to see why he should have 'hid' or had to make a 'getaway!'

A tunnel is also said to run from the High Street to Oulton High House (TM525948), almost two miles away. This Elizabethan manor house stood empty for some time in the late 1700s, during which time it was used by local smugglers as a temporary store for their contraband. The many ghost stories attached to the High House are often thought to have been invented by smugglers to keep away prying eyes.


At the southern end of Lowestoft, a smuggler's tunnel leads from the cellar of a house on the corner of Florence Road and Saxon Road, and comes out near the altar in Pakefield church (TM538905). A local man said that he had lifted a flag stone in the floor and gone down the tunnel when a lad - but this was probably just an access into the 14th century crypt beneath the high altar.



Edmund Gillingwater: 'An Historical Account of the Ancient Town of Lowestoft' (1790, reprinted by A. E. Murton, 1897), p.195.
M. L. Powell: 'Lowestoft through the Ages' (private, 1952), pp.14-16.

Local tradition.