‘Bad’ King John’s Lost Treasure!

By Haydn Brown

In school we were told that King John lost his jewels in the Wash; fact they said- and we believed it for we were not in a position to think or judge otherwise! Now it’s a case of thinking ‘Maybe he did, – maybe he didn’t’; certainly there has been much speculation and probably arguments for generations ever since – with no sign of the debate ending in the foreseeable future!

For the purposes of this blog, let’s keep things calm and simple by starting with The Wash, the place which played host to this interesting and somewhat speculative incident in our history. Then we will combine this with the year of 1216, when King John was said to have lost England’s Crown Jewels somewhere in the murky waters of quite a sizable estuary which is still fed by the rivers Witham, Well, Steeping, Nene and the Great Ouse at the point where they enter the Wash.

Even a cursory look at a map will show that the Wash is a large bay on the East coast of England; lying as it continues to do, between the Counties of Lincolnshire and Norfolk. The Wash collects somewhere around 15% of Great Britain’s water and is host to the Country’s second largest inter-tidal mudflats, clearly in evidence when the tide is out.

King John (sutton-bridge)5

People have lived on the surrounding fertile land for centuries and it was this stretch of water that the Vikings used as a major route to invade East Anglia between 865 and the start of the Norman Conquest. Schools also continue to tell children that The Wash was given the name of Metaris Aestuarium, (meaning the reaping/mowing/cutting off estuary) during the first century, by the Roman astrologer and mathematician, Claudius Ptolemy. Also, that the Romans built large embankments that protected the land and prevented flooding, but they had all but disappeared by the end of the fifth century. However, in 1631, a Dutch engineer, by the name of Sir Cornelius Vermuyden (1595 – 1677), began a large-scale land reclamation to drain the Fens of East Anglia with the building of the Horseshoe Sluice on the tidal river at Wisbech……. So much for today’s geography and history lessons; we must proceed with the circumstances surrounding ‘Bad’ King John and the apparent loss of his Crown Jewels.

King John (Crown)

In a nutshell, King John was not popular – probably still an understatement. Nevertheless, previous to this, his latest of unfortunate ‘incidents’ in his life, he had the misfortune of losing much of England’s lands in France; he’d  been excommunicated and maybe worst of all, he was forced to sign the Magna Carta. However, the following year John, being John, broke his word; this action was the starting point of the First Barons’ War. John travelled around the country to oppose the rebel forces, directing a two-month siege of Rochester Castle. Later he retreated north from the French invasion, taking a safe route by circumventing the marshy area of the Wash and thus avoiding that rebel held area of East Anglia. It is known, for example, that on 2 October John travelled to Grimsby, apparently to arrange for military equipment and stores to be shipped to Bishop’s Lynn – now King’s Lynn. Originally, the town was known as `Linn’, and it is thought that the name derived from the Celtic word for a lake or pool, and it is recorded that a large tidal lake originally covered that particular area.

King John (Kings Lynn)

King John also went to Spalding before possibly using one of the Sutton Wash crossing points to arrive back in Bishop’s Lynn on 9 October. It was in Lynn where he finally succumbed to dysentery and had no option but to stay awhile in order to recover; it may have been somewhat fortunate that Bishop’s Lynn happened to be a town where the King was well liked – in view of the fact that he had previously granted the place a Royal Charter. He was still in Lynn on October 11. According to Kings Lynn’s Borough Council records, the King stayed until the 12 of October 1216 when he left, taking a different route to his baggage.

King John (Will Nickless)
Image: Will Nickless.

We are told that he sent it, together with the jewels, on what he thought was a quicker route across one or other of the rivers thereabout. On this, there is a problem for today’s speculation and argument is about the place where the treasure was actually lost. We know that the Wash was much wider centuries ago, and the sea then reached as far as Wisbech and the inland town of Long Sutton was a port on the coast. But it is much more than that; journalist, Bruce Robinson, as recently as 2014 speculated:

“…… Was it near Fosdyke, close to the mouth of the river Welland, as some modern revisionists have suggested; or as most Long Suttonians have long believed, on the Sutton Wash estuary of the river Nene? And what was the treasure? Gold and silver, or ancient books and legal documents? Or was there never any ‘treasure’ in the first place, as some have speculated, because the King was largely bankrupt?

There are more questions than answers for the precise details of John’s daily movements are unknown, and there has been much speculation as to how the schedule was achieved. John may have gone directly from Lynn to Wisbech, crossing the Nene by the town bridge before heading for Spalding and then to Swineshead Abbey. Or he may have crossed the estuary and ridden to Wisbech before awaiting the arrival of his baggage train. It was all, without doubt, a hard schedule for a very sick man. Understandably, it is the movement of the baggage train which has excited most curiosity, for its attempted crossing of the estuary using the Cross Keys to Sutton route apparently at a time when the tide was about to turn can only suggest either that the baggage train was in a desperate hurry, or that someone must have ignored or over-ruled the advice of local guides. Either way – and it might have been both – and assuming the event did take place here and not Fosdyke, it was a foolhardy decision.”

King John (sutton-bridge)4

We are told that up to three thousand of the King’s entourage were carrying the royal wardrobe and the whole of the kingdom’s treasury. At low tide the conditions of any causeway would have been so wet and muddy that the wagons would have moved slowly, with the inevitable result that they would have sunk into the mud, thus engulfing the King’s most valuable possessions. The men of the train would certainly have struggled with the trunks, whilst others equally struggled with the horses in an attempt to encourage movement – but with no avail;  everything would have been eventually covered by the incoming tide!

King John 1

As for the King; he continued to Swineshead Abby, near Boston in Lincolnshire, where his health deteriorated once again. Here we have yet another legend about the loss of the treasure. This one tells us that he was poisoned by a monk called Brother Simon, who stole the jewels and made his way out of England, his destination was somewhere in Europe – and the stories did not stop there. Another interesting take is that the treasure was not lost at all! – instead, the John used its value as security, arranging for its ‘loss’ before they would have arrived at their destination, using the Wash as a ruse. But, there appears to be no written proof to give credence to these two tales – so they remain as possible myths!

In the end, however, we are led to believe that a story which began with the King’s run from the Barons came to a head with the loss of the kingdom’s ‘treasury’, and may well have been the last straw with the John’s health and possibly his state of mind. But, apparently, he was not to hear about his ‘loss’ until after he had left Sleaford Castle for Newark Castle. It was here where the so-called ‘Bad’ King John died – either the 18 or 19 of October 1216 – and we are all here to pick up the pieces!

King John (Newark_Castle,_2008_David Ingham)
Newark Castle today. Photo: Wikipedia.

Epilogue:
John was an English king who has suffered from bad press over the centuries. He was no hero, he was vengeful and untrusting; is it any wonder when we are told that, as a child he received no support from warring parents, he received no support from a self obsessed brother and, as King, he saw little or no support from his people so, what chance did he have?  W L Warren, in his book ‘King John’, seems to sum up fairly accurately the cause of John’s troubled reign.

“talented in some respects, good at administrative detail, but suspicious, unscrupulous, and mistrusted.  His crisis-prone career was sabotaged repeatedly by the half-heartedness with which his vassals supported him—and the energy with which some of them opposed him.”

King John 5

There are also two contemporary accounts, one by Roger of Wendover, an English chronicler who died in 1236 and one by Ralph of Coggeshall, an English monk and chronicler who died in 1227. Both were writing at the time of the loss. Roger of Wendover writes rather melodramatically and calls it a major disaster, he writes:

 “…….the ground opened up in the midst of the waves, and bottomless whirlpools sucked in everything”

Ralph of Coggeshall, on the other hand, refers to it as more of a ‘misadventure’, stating that it was not the whole of the royal baggage train that was lost but the vanguard that carried household items, church and holy relics. However, and on balance, it seems pretty certain that some valuable items belonging to King John did get lost in the Wash, but not a treasure trove as we would imagine it to be. There was no large chest overflowing with coins, necklaces and gold goblets, only kitchen equipment and finery collected from churches. As Coggeshall suggested, maybe the real treasure was in a second train that never began its journey across the Wash, but ended its days thrown in amongst the new King Henry III’s treasury?

Two final myths: Firstly, in the mid-14th century a certain local Norfolk gentleman,  by the name of Robert Tiptoft, became suddenly very wealthy; according to folklore this was because he found the Kings treasure – but did not hand it back to the Crown!

The other is, again, from journalist, Bruce Robinson:

“The whole King John episode has sparked some odd investigations over the decades, none stranger than one shortly before the Second World War when an ‘expedition’ to find the jewels excited interest and suspicion, so much so that years later……. a story was still current that the searchers were not archaeological experts looking for treasure but ‘Nazi spies’ mapping the fieldscapes in preparation for later landings by paratroopers……..Interestingly, in 1940 and 1941, during the ‘invasion scare’ period, defensive preparations for enemy paratroop landings were high on the list of local military priorities.”

There lies further stories!

THE END

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Augustine Steward House and the Lady in Grey!

By Haydn Brown.

The story contained herein is a Myth! – maybe based on a traditional story – for the House is reputed to have a ghost! The original tale may have been widely held, despite probably being false or, at best, a misrepresentation of what may have been a truth at sometime in the distant past. You decide!……..

The Story:
As the plague of 1578 overwhelmed the city, Augustine Steward House found it could offer no resistance and, one by one the family living inside fell victim to it. Deciding that everyone inside the house was dead the bailiffs ordered it to be locked, bolted and boarded up from the outside. Some weeks later when they returned with the house was reopened to allow the bodies to be taken out. It was then the true horror of what had happened within the house was revealed.

Augustine Steward House1
Augustine Steward House, 14 Tombland.

This is Tombland Alley which forms part of the ancient trackway that crossed the city from west to east along Dereham Road, St Benedict’s, Princes Street, Tombland Alley, under the north aisle of the Cathedral and over Bishop Bridge. When he was a pupil at the Norwich School in the 1760s, Horatio Nelson is thought to have lived in the alley. It was also the site of the first synagogue in Norwich after Cromwell invited Jews back to England in the mid-17th century. Furthermore, the alley forms the edge of a medieval plague pit where 5,000 bodies were found. Photo: © Copyright Evelyn Simak

Dragging out first the bodies of the mother and father some unusual marks were noticed on their legs. Upon closer inspection these were discovered to be teeth marks and pieces of flesh appeared to have been bitten away from the limbs. The horror increased when it became clear that these marks were not the work of the rats that often fed from the limbs of plague victims but from something much larger. They were in fact human teeth marks!

Augustine Steward House3 (Elliott Brown)
The entrance to Tombland Alley, where the Lady in Grey is said to roam. Photo: Elliott Brown.

As the ‘pitmen’ cautiously removed the rest of the bodies from the house the full extent of what had happened became clear. Inside the mouth and throat of one of the daughters in the house were bits and pieces of dead human flesh. It seemed that the bailiffs had been a little premature when they locked up the house and she had, in fact, still been alive at the time. To be locked in a house with the dead bodies of the rest of her family with no food or water would have been bad enough, but to have to have made the decision to try and survive by feasting on their plague-ridden limbs is beyond comprehension.

Ever since that date the young girl has been reputed to haunt Augustine Steward House along with Tombland Alley. She always appears dressed in fading and ragged grey clothes and has, for that reason become known as the ‘Lady In Grey’. Many occupants of the house, which has enjoyed a number of uses over the years, claim to have either seen or felt the presence of the young girl. Constantly moving objects around at night time seems to be her favourite pastime whilst she has also been known to open and close doors causing a breeze at the most inconvenient of times.

Augustine Steward House (A Lady in London)
Almost the full length of Tombland Alley, where the Lady in Grey is said to roam. Photo: A Lady in London.

Others claim to have spotted her wandering up and down Tombland Alley and she has even been known to enjoy a dance from time to time. When Samson and Hercules House was known as Ritzys, a local DJ went upstairs one evening to investigate noises he heard coming from one of the toilets. A private party was being held at the club and it was not unknown for youngsters to try and gain access to the dance hall via the toilets and then join the party, pretending to be a ‘friend’ of a guest. When the DJ made his way to the toilets, he saw a young woman leaving one of the cubicles. Dressed all in grey she didn’t look like the usual visitor to the club so he went to challenge her. Ignoring him completely the young woman walked straight past him without a word. As he turned to see where she was going, he was horrified to see that she appeared to have no feet and was simply ‘floating’ down the corridor. In something of a panic, he reported what he had seen to the manager to be warned that if he wished to keep his job, he would not repeat the story to anybody else. The manager obviously felt that a ghost was bad for business!

THE END

The above text is an adaptation of a version written by Alice Cooper in November 2006 – many other versions exist. One example is the following YouTube adaption by Edward L. Norfolk, which you may like to view via the following link:
https://youtu.be/rkNUBr4qcdk

Heading Banner: A Painting of Tombland Alley by John Rees. Image: Tudor Galleries

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The Tale of a Publican and a King!

This is the story of non-other than Mucky Porter, the Fenland publican who saved King Charles 1 on one occasion. It was written originally by Gordon Phillips, who based it on different tales contained in the books “Tales from the Fens” and “More Tales from the Fens”, written by Walter Barrett, with illustrations by Percy Garrod; the stories were edited by Enid Porter.  Walter, or Jack as most locals knew him as, grew up in Brandon Creek and most of his tales were adapted from those told by the legendary fen man and storyteller, Chafer Legge. This story, by Gordon Phillips, previously appeared on the Enid Porter Project website. Read on:

In the fens of the past there was a secret brotherhood and sisterhood of the Grey Goose Feather. True fen landers would carry a feather from the fowl who overwintered in the watery places and when in need they only had to produce the feather and all true fen landers would help them.

Mucky Porter (Goose Feather)1
A Goose Feather.

At the time of the English Civil War there lived in the village of Southery, on the Norfolk border of the great wilderness, a publican by the name of Mucky Porter. One evening he was counting out his money, his takings for the day of which there was very little, when there came a knock at the Inn door. Mucky Porter looked outside and saw two very fine-looking gentlemen with two extremely beautiful thoroughbred horses outside in his yard. He wondered what such affluent looking folk could want with him and hurried to the door.

Mucky Porter1
The Old White Bell at Southery, formerly ‘The Silver Fleece’ where Mucky Porter was landlord.

“Are you the man they call Mucky Porter?” They asked. “I might be, it depends on who wants to know”, he replied letting them into the pub parlour. The strangers sat down and quickly came to the point.

“Mr. Porter could you tell us what you think of Old Noll?” – This, by the way, is an epithet applied to Oliver Cromwell by his Royalist contemporaries.

“Well, I don’t think much about him except he’s the reason that my takings have been rather low recently. Nearly all my regulars have gone to fight in his army as he says that he’ll put an end to the draining of the fen and interfering with their way of life,” he replied.

“And what about the King, Mr. Porter?”
“Well, I don’t think much about him neither.”
“Would you be prepared to help the King Mr. Porter?”
“Well, it depends what was in it for me.”

At this one of the strangers took out of his pocket a bag of gold coins. Mucky Porter’s eyes lit up. The strangers continued:

“Mr. Porter we have heard that you are one of the few people who know the way across these accursed marshes and bogs. The King has been pursued across Norfolk by Oliver Cromwell’s men and needs to get to Huntingdon where his forces are waiting to escort him to Oxford. If you could guide him across you would be rewarded with this bag of gold.”

Mucky Porter (Charles I)
Portrait of Charles I of England by Gerrit van Honthorst, 1628. Photo: Wikipedia

It took Mucky Porter at least three seconds to decide and later that night he was brought before the King himself at Snore Hall near Downham Market, where he was being hidden. Some of the King’s attendants were dubious that this raggedy looking local could be trusted with the fate of the monarch and Mucky was asked for some proof that he was trustworthy. At that Mucky Porter drew from his pocket a grey goose feather. He took out his knife and cut the feather in half.

“Your lordships,” said Mucky Porter with all the dignity he could muster, “I am a fen lander, a true fen lander. All true folk of this area carry this token and if in need are sworn to help, unto even their own death, another who carries a grey goose feather.” He put one half feather in his pocket and handed the other to the King. “Now, by my honour, I can do nothing but aid His Majesty.”

This seemed to satisfy the members of the court and the following morning Mucky Porter of Southery and King Charles 1st of England set out across the last great wilderness of Southern Britain. At first, they passed through populous areas and Mucky Porter was concerned that their presence was being noted by those they came across.

“Your Majesty,” he said, “I am worried that these great huge horses make us stand out. I think we need to take a detour.”

Mucky Porter (Southery_Oliver Dixon)
Common Drove, Southery
A bend in the Drove, alongside a drain. Photo: © Copyright Oliver Dixon

The detour took them to Southery and the inn where they stabled the thoroughbreds they were riding and took to two sturdy fenland ponies instead. Mucky Porter also got a couple of old sacks to put over their clothes and as they passed out through the village streets, they went unnoticed.

Mucky Porter was indeed an expert at finding his way through the fen and they passed through areas that few knew and even fewer dared themselves to visit. Thus, they came eventually to the other side, to the ford in the river just outside Huntingdon. There, however, their hearts sank as it was strongly manned by Roundhead troops.

“Halt, who goes there?” called the sentries.

At this Mucky Porter put his hand into his pocket, took out the split grey goose feather and held it aloft. The troops turned their gaze on the King who put his hand in his pocket and did the same.

“Quick, come across, and then away with you”, said the guards who were, of course, themselves true fen landers. There Mucky Porter handed the King over eventually to his own men and returned by his secret route towards the pub. In his pocket, which he kept tapping, was the bag filled with gold coins and in his stable back at the pub were the two fine horses, the like of which had never been seen in Southery.”

Mucky Porter (Bag of Gold)

And that might have been the end of the story for Mucky Porter, but not, of course, as we know for King Charles. Eventually the forces of Oliver Cromwell were victorious and Charles was forced to stand trial. As is well known, he was found guilty and was sentenced to death. It is said in the fens that on the night before the execution, Cromwell was sitting with the rest of his generals near to the place of execution when there came an emissary from the King. He stood before the generals and said,

“The King does not ask for pardon for he is God’s anointed monarch and knows that the Parliament has no authority to do what they intend to do to him. All that His Majesty asks is that he is afforded that due to one who holds this token.”

At that the courtier drew from his pocket the split grey goose feather and placed it on the table before Cromwell. Cromwell’s face went white and he dismissed all those who were gathered with him. Long he sat into the night, staring at the feather. For Cromwell too was a fen lander and knew what he should do. But when morning came, he did not intervene and Charles 1st was beheaded. It is said that when they heard about this the fenland members of his army refused to follow him. They threw their goose feathers at his feet and returned to their homes.”

Mucky Porter Execution)
Execution of Charles I. Illustration for Young Folk’s History of England (McCarthy, c 1890). Credit: Look & Learn.

And what of Mucky Porter, back in the inn at Southery? Perhaps he shed a tear when he heard of the execution of the King, we do not know. He was still landlord many years later when he heard of the death of ‘Old Noll’ and it unlikely that he was very upset at that. One day, when Mucky Porter was getting very old but still landlord at the pub there came a knock at his door in the early morning. He went to the window and saw a number of fine-looking gentlemen out in the yard. He went outside and greeted them.

“Are you Mucky Porter?” one of the fine gentlemen asked. “I might be, it depends who’s asking”, was his reply. “I am looking for a man called Mucky Porter”, said the most flamboyantly dressed visitor. “When I was young, I heard many times the story of how a publican of that name helped my father to escape from Cromwell’s men across the wilderness. I have always wanted to reward him for the deed.”

Mucky Porter very quickly realised who the visitor was and within a few minutes had agreed to accompany Charles 2nd and his courtiers out into the newly drained lands. The company was amazed when the old fen lander emerged from his stable riding a fine thoroughbred horse, the descendent of the two horses he had obtained all those years ago.

Mucky Porter (Charles II)
Charles II. Photo: Wikipedia.

They rode out on to the fen where the newly drained land shone with fecundity in the bright fenland sunlight. After they had ridden for a while Charles said to Mucky Porter, “Well here we are Mr. Porter. You can have, as a reward for the service that you gave to my father, as much of the land as you would like. Come now, specify the boundaries of your new domain.” Mucky Porter stared around him.

“Well, Your Majesty”, he said, “I think I’ll have from that barn over there, to that ditch right over there, to that tree in the distance. How much do you think I’ve got?”

“Mr. Porter, I think that you must have several acres there.”

And ever since that day the land on Methwold Fen has been called the Methwold Severals which, ever since, has been farmed by a Porter.

Mucky Porter (Methwold Severals)
Neat rows of young salad crops destined for supermarkets on fertile peat fenland soil. Photo:© Copyright Rodney Burton

THE END

Source:
Enid Porter Project | Bringing folk traditions to life in five Cambridgeshire villages

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Norfolk in Brief: Booton’s Archangel!

By Haydn Brown.

Above the north porch of St Michael’s church at Booton in Norfolk is the bronze statue of St Michael the Archangel himself, commissioned over 120 years ago by the Reverend Whitwell Elwin.

Reverend_Whitwell_Elwin_Evelyn Simak
Reverend Whitwell Elwin. Photo: (c) Evelyn Simak.

By being placed in front of a niche in the wall, this particular St Michael was intended to be seen both from the front – and from the sides. It is said that this figure was inspired by examples of the pre-Raphaelites, most notably the St George in Sir Edward Burne-Jones’s St George Slaying the Dragon, which was commissioned in 1866 by Miles Burket Foster for the dining room of his house at Witley, Surrey.

St George _Pinterest
Sir Edward Burne-Jones’s St George Slaying the Dragon. Photo: Pinterest.

The striking profile of Booton’s St Michael, with ruffled hair and a combination of plate armour worn over chainmail with sheet leggings, does follow Burne-Jones’s St George, with the strikingly textured wings attached to the rear of the breastplate. Here, the dreamlike action of the painting has been replaced by a more heroic stance as St Michael, with a cross hanging from his neck, places both hands on his large sword, looking out purposefully across the fields as he stamps down the dragon under foot.

The name of the sculptor was not recorded, but Ann Compton of the University of Glasgow, has underlined, what she thinks is, its amateur approach – as restated by the RACNS:

“the figure was modelled by someone who had not been trained in working for bronze or, possibly, was deliberately flouting current teaching. My point is that the composition goes against the accepted idea that works cast in bronze should show off the possibilities of the material by incorporating minute definition of draperies and adopting an expansive composition to reflect the self-supporting properties of the final material – whereas the composition here is very contained.”

jamesminns
James Minns

The Norfolk artist of the time, James Minns (1828-1904), responsible for the wooden angels in the roof, described himself variously as ‘sculptor’ and ‘wood carver’ and could possibly, as again stated by the RACNS, have provided the model for this St Michael.

It seems generally accepted, by many accounts of the Booton church, that the building is extraordinary – the product of one man’s eccentric imagination! The Reverend Whitwell Elwin (rector 1850-1900), said to have been a descendant of Pocahontas of Hiawatha fame, built the church at the end of the 19th century – without the help of an architect. Apparently, he borrowed details from other churches throughout the country, and thanks to the Churches Conservation Trust which investigated Elwin’s sources, it can be stated that the design of the nave windows is taken from those at Temple Balsall in Warwickshire, and the west window from St Stephen’s Chapel at Westminster. Then there is the west door design, which is that of Glastonbury Abbey, and the curious trefoil window above the chancel arch is from Lichfield Cathedral. It has been suggested that this may have been a homage to Elwin’s passion for Dr Johnson; this may strike some as far-fetched; but then, the whole building is, with its slender twin towers soaring over the wide Norfolk landscape and the central pinnacle looking almost like a minaret; everything seem to have sprung solely from Elwin’s imagination.

Booton Church_Simon Knott
St Michael’s Church, Booton. Photo: Simon Knott.

The dramatic wooden angels that hold up the roof are the work of James Minns, the well-known master-carver whose carving of a bull’s head is still the emblem on Colman’s Mustard; he also worked at Ketteringham. But the church’s great glory is its stained-glass windows, by Cox Sons and Buckley from the 1890s, a unique example of a unified scheme of saints, angels and musicians set against imaginative Gothic canopies moving in procession towards the high altar. The colour for the rich red robes and Venetian inspired brocades, which are woven across the windows, are also striking – worn by archetypal willowy pre-Raphaelite ladies. Edwin Lutyens, the distinguished architect who married the daughter of one of Elwin’s oldest friends, said the church was:

‘very naughty but built in the right spirit’.

People visiting Booton church may love it – or hate it, but no one would remain unmoved by such an exuberant oddity, well bedded down in the Norfolk Landscape – with St Michael standing over and protecting visitors.

THE END

Stiffkey Marsh: The Screaming Cockler!

Apart from an ‘Introduction’, The story contained herein is a Myth! – maybe based on a traditional story where ghosts emerge out of the sort of variable weather that one can find at Skiffkey! It is a story that may once have been widely believed – but possibly false or, at best, a misrepresentation of what may have happened sometime in the distant past. You decide!……..

Introduction;
The village of Stiffkey lies on the North Norfolk coast, along the A149 coast road between Wells-Next-The-Sea and Morston. The name of Stiffkey derives from the tree stumps that are found in the marsh – the area of which is referred to as ‘tree-stump island’. Skiffkey is a beautiful village consisting largely of flint and brick cottages, built on the banks of the charming River Stiffkey which is bridged just into the Langham road. The river, with its little, narrow, confining valley is quite attractive during summer months and never seems to lose its way as it flows through the village on its way to the sea at Stiffkey Freshes. There was once a harbour at Stiffkey, but it has long been completely silted up – the reason why those ‘Blues’ of old grew so fondly attached to the area.

Stiffkey (Stewkey Blues)
‘Stewkey Blues’

The main street of Skiffkey is narrow and winding and is bordered on both sides by high walls – making it a dangerous place for pedestrians, also something of a nightmare for motorists – especially in the busy summer months when tourists pass through from afar. In fact, for those who venture through the village by car, van or lorry for the first time they would immediately notice one thing – the road is not only extremely narrow, but has no pavement between the flint walls and road. In the height of the summer tourist season this feature sometimes contributes to the occasional ‘incident’ caused by vehicles which choose to joist with others, often resulting in damaged paintwork at best or dented bodywork and, frequently, displaced side mirrors. It is also not the place for the faint hearted or for those who like to test their prowess at speeding. Patience is required!

Stiffkey (Feature)

Our Story:
In the small village of Stiffkey, out on the salt marshes is a large mud bank called Blacknock, which is the site of a ghostly haunting. Stiffkey is famous for its blue cockles, and in the 18th century these were gathered by the women of Stiffkey. It was hard and potentially dangerous work as the tides race in, cruel and fast over these marshes. But the Cocklers of Stiffkey were tough women, they had to be. With their weathered faces, dressed in pieces of sacking for warmth, they trawled the marshes for cockles.

Stiffkey (Cockle Gatherers)2

Once collected, the cockles had to be hauled back in large sacks to the village, without help of man or beast. It was no wonder that the women of Stiffkey were known thereabouts as Amazons, given their strength and hardiness. You had to be tough to be a Stiffkey Cockler. On one particular day the Stiffkey women were out as usual gathering the ‘Stewkey Blues’……

We all told her, but she wouldn’t listen, not her. Her mother was the same, stubborn as a mule. Her mother was a Stiffkey Cockler as well, but at least she died in her bed, not like her poor daughter.

It’s hard work cockling. You get paid by the sack so if you come back with only half a sack then you, or one of your children, might have to go hungry. We have to carry those sacks, full of cockles, all the way back to the village; you can’t get no mule out there, not out on those sand banks. But we’re tough, tough as old leather. That’s why they call us Amazons hereabouts. Though being tough don’t make it any easier when we lose one of our own.

But she wouldn’t listen……

Stiffkey ( Marsh Wreck)

We all saw that the tide was turning; turning fast and the weather was closing in quick. That’s why we packed up. None of us, apart from Nancy, had a full sack – but half a sack, your life and a night with an empty stomach is better than no life at all. So, we left the girl. Left her out there by herself still gathering cockles out on Blacknock whilst we all came back; came back home to our families and to safety.

There was nothing we could have done, she wouldn’t listen. Who could have known it was going to get that bad – and that quickly. Of course, when she realised the danger it was too late, the roke (fog) had descended. No way could she find her way back. I don’t even think Nancy could have found her way back in a roke like that. Not even with all her years of experience.

Stiffkey (Scream)

Our men folk tried to get to the girl. Well they could hear her see! Out there in their boats on the sea they could hear her calling and a screaming for help. My man said he even heard her cursing and swearing; raging against the roke and the tide – even against God himself! Then all of a sudden, he said, there was silence and he could hear her no more, none of them could. So, they turned back – had to – too risky in all that roke in a boat when you can’t see where the mud banks be.

She’s still out there of course! No, not her body; No!, that we found the next day. Still had her knife clasped in her hand and her sack, a way off still just half full. Seaweed there was, all tangled up in her hair and her eyes. Well, her eyes they were open, glaring one might say, glaring at the injustice of it all. No, it’s not her body out there, that be in the churchyard, but her spirit, her restless spirit, that’s still out there. Now I can’t spend my time gossiping I’ve got to get on, got to get back and feed my family.

Stiffkey (screaming-faces)

No, it’s not ‘cause of the tide; the tide has already turned and it’s on its way back out…… But there’ll be a fog tonight; you can already see it beginning to roll in from the sea……It’s her, she’s always much worse on foggy nights, much more restless and noisier – probably ‘cause it was foggy when she drowned……No, she’s far worse on foggy nights. On foggy nights you may even see her; with all that seaweed still in her hair. So, you don’t want to be thinking about going out there, not by yourself, not out on Blacknock sandbank!

Alice Cooper, November 6, 2006.

THE END

Source:
https://jongilbert.proboards.com/thread/288/screaming-cockler-stiffkey-marsh

NOTICE: ‘Norfolk Tales, Myths & More!’ is a ‘non-commercial’ Site seeking only to be informative and educational on topics broadly related to the history and heritage of the County of Norfolk in the U.K. In pursuing this aim, we endeavour, where necessary, to obtain permissions to use another owner’s material. However, for various reasons, (i.e. identification of, and means of communicating with such owners), contact can sometimes be difficult or impossible to established. NTM&M never attempts to claim ownership of such material; ensuring at all times that any known and appropriate ‘credits’ and ‘links’ back to our sources are always given in our articles. No violation of any copyright or trademark material is intentional.

The Pedlar of Swaffham.

Our thanks to Jim Moon of ‘Hypnogoria’ who, somewhere amongst his many blogs, wrote the following – it is his take on a very famous and popular Norfolk myth – whoops! – tale.

Pedlar of Swaffham (Village Sign)
The Swaffham Village Sign.

In the county of Norfolk, between King’s Lynn in the west and Norwich in the east lies the market town of Swaffham. However, while the town and its market have been a centre for agriculture since the 14th century, the town is perhaps better known as being home to an oft-told folk tale. It’s a tale of a good man and good fortune, and frequently is mentioned when the subject of prophecies and dreams come up. It’s a tale that has been told many times, and its earliest incarnation is found in an old tome entitled ‘An Essay Towards a Topographical History of the County of Norfolk’ by Francis Blomefield (William Miller, London, 1805-10). In Volume 11 of this truly compendious essay, we have a letter by Sir William Dugdale, dated 29 January 1652, and in it he relates the following Tale:

Pedlar of Swaffham (Essay)

“That dreaming one night if he went to London he should certainly meet with a man upon London Bridge which would tell him good news; he was so perplext in his mind, that till he set upon his journey he could have no rest; to London therefore he hasts and walk’d upon the Bridge for some hours where being espyed by a Shopkeeper and asked what he wanted, he answered you may well ask me that question for truly (quoth he) I am come hither upon a very vain errand and so told the story of his dream which occasioned the journey.  Whereupon the Shopkeeper reply’d alas good friend! should I have heeded dreams, I might have proved myself as very a fool as thou hast; for ‘tis not long since that I dreamt, that at a place called Swaffham Market in Norfolk dwells one John Chapman a pedlar who hath a tree in his backside under which is buried a pot of money.  Now therefore, if I should have made a journey thither to dig for such hidden treasure, judge you whether I should not have been counted a fool. To whom the pedlar cunningly said “Yes verily, I will therefore return home and follow my business, not heeding such dreams henceforward.”  But when he came home (being satisfied that his dream was fulfilled) he took occasion to dig in the place and accordingly found a large pot full of money which he prudently conceal’d, putting the pot amongst the rest of his brass.”

Pedlar of Swaffham 3
The Pedlar of Swaffham
The oak benches in the nave of The Church of St Peter and St Paul, Swaffham date from the middle of the nineteenth century. The carved finials on the front pew ends in this church represent John Chapman, otherwise known as the Pedlar of Swaffham. Photo: Copyright David Dixon.

“After a time, it happen’d that one who came to his house and beholding the pot observed an inscription upon it which being in Latin, he interpreted it, that under that there was an other twice as good.  Of that inscription the Pedlar was before ignorant or at least minded it not, but when he heard the meaning of it he said, “‘tis very true, in the shop where I bought this pot stood another under it, which was twice as big”; but considering that it might tend to further his profit to dig deeper in the same place where he found that, he fell again to work and discover’d such a pot, as was intimated by the inscription, full of old coine: notwithstanding all which he so conceal’d his wealth, that the neighbours took no notice of it.  But not long after the inhabitants of Swaffham resolving to reedify their church, and having consulted with the workmen about the charge they made a levy wherein they taxed the Pedlar according to no other rate than what they had formerly done.  But he knowing his own ability came to the church and desired the workmen to shew him their model, and to tell him what they esteemed the charge of the North Isle would amount to, which when they told him he presently undertook to pay them for building it, and not only that but of a very tall and beautiful tower steeple.”

Now this tale has become famous the world over, and is much celebrated in the the town itself, lending its name, in the past, to the Pedlar’s Hall Cafe and inspiring the carved wooden village sign (above) for the town. However curiously, Swaffham isn’t the only place that has a tale like this. Indeed, an almost identical tale is told of Upsall Castle in North Yorkshire. In ‘The Vale of Mowbray: A Historical and Topographical Account of Thirsk and Its Neighbourhood’ by William Grainge (Simpkin, Marshall & Co. 1859) we have a story he entitles “Crocks of Gold”:

“Many years ago there resided in the village of Upsall, a man who dreamed three nights successively that if he went to London, he would hear of something greatly to his advantage. He went, travelling the whole distance from Upsall to London on foot, arrived he took his station on the bridge where he waited until his patience was very nearly exhausted and the idea that he had acted a very foolish part began to rise in his mind. At length he was accosted by a Quaker, who kindly inquired what he was waiting there so long for. After some hesitation, he told his dreams. The Quaker laughed at his simplicity, and told him he had had that night a very curious dream himself, which was that if he went to dig under a certain bush in Upsall Castle in Yorkshire, he will find a pot of gold; but he did not know where Upsall was, and inquired of the Countryman if he knew, who seeing some advantage in secrecy pleading ignorance of the locality; and then thinking his business in London was completed, returned immediately home, dug beneath the bush, and there he found a pot filled with gold, and on the cover an inscriptions in a language he did not understand. The pot and cover were however reserved at the village inn; where one day, a bearded stranger like a Jew, made his appearance, saw the pot, and read the inscription, the plain English at which was –

“Look lower where this stood
Is another twice as good”

The man of Upsall hearing this, resumed his spade, returned to the bush, dug deeper, and found another pot filled with gold far more valuable than the first: encouraged by this, he dug deeper still, and found another yet more valuable.”

This story has been related of other places, but Upsall appears to have as good a claim to this yielding of hidden treasures as the best of them. Here we have the constant tradition of the inhabitants, and the identical but yet remains beneath which the treasure was found; an Elder, near the north-west corner of the ruins. Now you will notice that this text boldly mentions that the tale is told in other places, and indeed it is. For to travel further north in the United Kingdom, we find it retold yet again and at an earlier date. In ‘The Popular Rhymes of Scotland’ by Robert Chambers (W. Hunter, 1826), we learn the history of Dundonald Castle:

Pedlar of Swaffham (Scotland)
‘The Popular Rhymes of Scotland’ by Robert Chambers (W. Hunter, 1826).

“Donald, the builder, was originally a poor man, but had the faculty of dreaming lucky dreams. Upon one occasion he dreamed, thrice in one night, that if he were to go to London Bridge, he would become a wealthy man. He went accordingly, saw a man looking over the parapet of the bridge, whom he accosted courteously, and, after a little conversation, intrusted with the secret of the occasion of his visiting London Bridge. The stranger told him that he had made a very foolish errand, for he himself had once had a similar vision, which directed him to go to a certain spot in Ayrshire, in Scotland, where he would find a vast treasure, and, for his part, he had never once thought of obeying the injunction. From his description of the spot, the sly Scotsman at once perceived that the treasure in question must be concealed in no other place than his own humble kail-yard at home, to which he immediately repaired in full expectation of finding it. Nor was he disappointed; for, after destroying many good and promising cabbages, and completely cracking credit with his wife, who esteemed him mad, he found a large potful of gold coin, with the proceeds of which he built a stout castle for himself, and became the founder of a flourishing family.”

Pedlar of Swaffham (London Bridge)
London Bridge

Chambers, much like Grainge, goes on to remark “This absurd story is localised in almost every district of Scotland, always referring to London Bridge”. And indeed, not only does the tale recur in other Scottish tales, but it appears in various other places in England and Wales too. Furthermore if we hop over the Channel to Europe, we find it flourishing there too, although of course with some other national landmark standing in for dear old London Bridge. The most famous example perhaps is found in the collections of folk tales recorded by the Brothers Grimm:

“Some time ago a man dreamed that he should go to the bridge at Regensburg where he would become rich. He went there, and after spending some fourteen days there a wealthy merchant, who wondered why was spending so much time on the bridge, approached him and asked him what he was doing there. The latter answered, “I dreamed that I was to go to the bridge at Regensburg, where I would become rich.“What?” said the merchant, “You came here because of a dream? Dreams are fantasies and lies. Why I myself dreamed that there is a large pot of gold buried beneath that large tree over there.” And he pointed to the tree. “But I paid no attention, for dreams are fantasies.” Then the visitor went and dug beneath the tree, where he found a great treasure that made him rich, and thus his dream was confirmed” (from Deutsche Sagen (1816/1818), Vol. 1, No. 212)

Pedlar of Swaffham (Grimm)

However, the trail does not end there. Even earlier and further south, we discover an identical tale in that famous anthology of ancient tales ‘A Thousand and One Nights’ (AKA Arabian Nights). The 14th tale is called The Ruined Man Who Became Rich Again Through a Dream and goes like this:

“Once there lived in Baghdad a wealthy man who lost all his means and was thus forced to earn his living by hard labor. One night a man came to him in a dream, saying, “Your fortune is in Cairo; go there and seek it.” So he set out for Cairo. He arrived there after dark and took shelter for the night in a mosque. As Allah would have it, a band of thieves entered the mosque in order to break into an adjoining house. The noise awakened the owners, who called for help. The Chief of Police and his men came to their aid. The robbers escaped, but when the police entered the mosque, they found the man from Baghdad asleep there. They laid hold of him and beat him with palm rods until he was nearly dead, then threw him into jail. Three days later, the Chief of Police sent for him and asked “Where do you come from?” “From Bagdad” he answered. ” And what brought you to Cairo?” asked the Chief.

“A man came to me in a dream and told me to come to Cairo to find my fortune,” answered the man from Baghdad “But when I came here, the promised fortune proved to be the palm rods you so generously gave to me.””You fool,” said the Chief of Police, laughing until his wisdom teeth showed. “A man has come to me three times in a dream and has described a house in Baghdad where a great sum of money is supposedly buried beneath a fountain in the garden. He told me to go there and take it, but I stayed here. You, however, have foolishly journeyed from place to place on the faith of a dream which was nothing more than a meaningless hallucination.” He then gave him some money saying, “This will help you return to your own country.”The man took the money. He realized that the Chief of Police had just described his own house in Baghdad, so he forthwith returned home, where he discovered a great treasure beneath the fountain in his garden. Thus, Allah gave him abundant fortune and brought the dream’s prediction to fulfillment”.

Now we cannot be sure of the exact age of the many tales collected in this volume, for scholars believe the first versions of the collection appeared in Arabic in the early parts of the 8th century, with various additional tales being added over the next few centuries. However, what we do know is that this particular story of a most fortunate dream appears in as part of a poem by the 13th century Persian poet, Jalal al-Din Rumia, who is best known in the West as simply Rumi. In his epic collection The Masnavi, we have the poem ‘In Baghdad, Dreaming of Cairo: In Cairo, Dreaming of Baghdad’.

So then, here we have a tale retold in many places and at many times, indeed it is one of those small number of tales that seems to recur everywhere. And folklorists have a catalogue of such stories – this one is commonly referred to as ‘The Treasure at Home’, and under the Aarne-Thompson-Uther Classification of Folk Tales it is number ATU 1646. Now given that we have several important literary landmarks for the story, it is widely though that this very popular tale was spread throughout Europe thanks the massive popularity of ‘A Thousand and One Nights’, and was adapted to fit local geography and history as it was retold in different places.

However, the first European edition of ‘A Thousand and One Nights’ was a French version translated by Antoine Galland that appeared 1704, and was first translated into English in 1706. We should also note at this point that the works of Rumi were not translated until considerably later, with the first English translations appearing in the late 19th century. However, if you have been paying attention to the dates, we find that while the ‘Arabian Nights’ theory could well account for the versions referenced by Grainge and Chambers, the oldest English version, comes from a letter written in the 1650s.

Now while we cannot rule out this old Arabic tale been spread orally across Europe before its printed incarnations, it is certainly intriguing that the Swaffham version predates other European versions by a good century or more. Furthermore Sir William makes clear that it was already an old tale when he set it down in his letter, and this is supported by the fact that the original Swaffham version has a sequel built in that many other version do not – the business of the inscription and a second pot of gold. For this kind of embroidery is typical of a tale been around for a good while, gaining additional details and extra subplots as it is retold by different generations.

Pedlar of Swaffham (Chapman & Dog)
John Chapman and his dog

Stranger still is the fact that our hero is actually given a name – John Chapman – something very unusual for a folk tale. But even more intriguingly, there is some historical evidence to back up the story, for John Botewrigh, the Rector of Swaffham between 1435 and 1474 made an inventory of building and repair work done to the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul. And this tome is now known as the’Swaffham Black Book’, and in it we discover that in the mid-15th century the North Aisle of the church was rebuilt. And what is more, this renovation work was paid for by a fellow named John Chapman. And as part of this building work, new pews were installed and two of them are of particular interest for us: for their carved ends show a pedlar and his dog. Furthermore, local tradition suggests that a third which shows a lady, is a representation of the shopkeeper in the story.

Pedlar of Swaffham (Church)
The Church of St Peter and St Paul, Swaffham
This is one of the finest medieval churches in East Anglia. It was built between the years of 1454-1465 on the remains of the previous church which had partly collapsed. The tower was added between 1507 and 1510.
The church, which is built of Barnack stone, brick and flint, is in the Perpendicular style. It has the traditional cruciform plan of chancel, nave and transepts with north and south aisles and a square tower. Its total length is 173 feet from west to east. The church is a grade I listed building (English Heritage Building).

 Of course, none of that can displace the fact that a version of the tale was circulating in the East some centuries before, but certainly the pews and Chapman’s name appearing in the ‘Swaffham Black Book’ does suggest that the story of his good fortune may have been doing the rounds while the goodly gent was still alive. Obviously, Chapman, who served as a churchwarden, was a wealthy man, for construction work never comes cheap, particular in earlier times when a major building project may take years to complete. And given that in the 15th century, Swaffham was home to a thriving market, one wonders whether the tale had found its way to rural Norfolk thanks to travelling merchants, the very kind of folks Chapman would have been trading with.

Furthermore, in history we have many examples of less than virtuous men who in later life decide to bankroll various projects for their local churches. And usually these generous and charitable projects are seemingly done as a kind of penance for their earlier sins and misdeeds. Therefore it is tempting to speculate that the tale of Chapman’s fortune may well have been deliberately adopted to disguise the real origin of his wealth. And rather than repaying the good Lord for his luck by refurbishing his local church, as many versions of the tale suggest, he may well have been atoning for making a lot of money through less than virtuous means…

THE END.

Sources:
https://plus.google.com/+JimMoonHypnogoria
https://thehistoryanorak.blogspot.com/2016/01/the-pedlar-of-swaffham.html
https://calumimaclean.blogspot.com/2014/12/dreaming-of-fortune-at-london-bridge.html
Feature Image: Is an illustration by John D. Batten

NOTICE: ‘Norfolk Tales, Myths & More!’ is a ‘non-commercial’ Site which publishes only informative and/or educational items in the hope of broadening an appreciation of the history and heritage of the wonderful County of Norfolk. In pursuing this aim, we endeavour, where necessary, to obtain permission to use another owner’s material, as well as our own. However, for various reasons, (i.e. identification of, and means of communicating with such owners), contact can sometimes be difficult or impossible to established. NTM&M never attempts to claim ownership of such material; ensuring at all times that any known and appropriate ‘credits’ and ‘links’ back to our sources are always given in our articles. No violation of any copyright or trademark material is intentional.

 

Breccles Hall: A Ghostly Tale!

By Haydn Brown.

 Apart from an ‘Introduction’, The story contained herein is a Myth! – maybe based on a traditional story – for the Hall was reputed to have had a ghost! It is a story that may once have been widely held but more than probably false or, at best, a misrepresentation of what may have been a truth sometime in the distant past. You decide!……..

Introduction to the locality;
According the the MyNorwich site: The name Breckles is thought to come from Brec a laes meaning ‘the meadow by newly cleared land’. In the Middle Ages Breckles was actually called Breccles Magna, Great Breccles and had two sister villages to either side of it, Stow Breccles and Breccles Parva (Little Breckles). Breccles Parva is one of the lost villages of Norfolk and is thought to be on the current Shropham Hall estate.

Archaeological finds of flint tools and weapons, as well as other artefacts, show that the area around Breckles has a long association with people and settlement. Within the square mile, are the sites of a medieval moated farm, earthworks associated with the medieval village, plus evidence of a possible Anglo-Saxon settlement. A Saxo-Norman Church still stands in the village with a magnificent round tower, Norman font and Medieval rood screen.

There is also a fabulous Elizabethan manor house, Breccles Hall, which retains the medieval spelling of the name and has its own colourful history. The Hall was host to several visits from important people including Elizabeth I; Queen Mary and Winston Churchill, as well as having its very own ghost. More recently Breckles played its part during the Second World War with its decoy airfield and had its fair share of interesting characters like John Stubbing who lived to the ripe old age of 107.

Our Story;
“If you visit the Elizabethan manor of Breccles Hall, [at Breckles] in Norfolk, do not go at midnight, for it is just possible that you might see a ghostly sight so terrible, so frightful, that men they say, die looking on it; men like Jim Mace, poacher, drunkard, and boaster:

Breccles Hall3_Historic England
Entrance to Breccles Hall

One Christmas time in the early years of the last century, bombastic Jim was boozing with his pals in the local public house near Breccles Hall. It was late at night; outside crisp snow glistened in the steely light of a sharp-edged moon. In the hedges and trees fat partridges, bred by the local gentry as fodder for their guns and their tables, roosted silent and safe. And in the dark of his cottage the deaf old gamekeeper lay snoring in his bed.

12309765_1236600439699367_2750701073521516690_o
Breccles Hall.

As the merry night wore on, Jimmy and his cronies drank themselves silly. And their conversation grew as silly as they looked. They joked, and thought themselves mighty wits, though what they said, whether it had humour or not, no one sober could have told, for their speech by now was slurred beyond recognition. But all that party roared at every slobbered word, and each man cheered and stamped his feet. And between jokes they argued the toss, and boasted of their prowess as poacher or fighter, tale teller or wag, and each man thought himself that much grander than the next.

Until suddenly a poaching pal of Jimmy’s, the biggest swollen head of them all, upped to his feet. ”Jimmy and me,” he burbled, ”Jimmy and me is going’ ter have a brace o them fat partridge birds for Christmas. We’ll take our guns an’ shoot them down and that old keeper, why, he’s too deaf ter hear.” ”Now just you listen ter me, my boy,” said an old chap who had been sitting nearby, ”you just remember the coach and four.” For a blank faced moment, Jimmy’s pal stared at the old man, first to focus his eyes upon the old fellow, and then to make sense of the words in his drink-soaked brain.

Breccles Hall (Coach)
The ghostly coach and four. Image: Art Station.

Everybody knew about the ghostly coach and four that was said to come galloping down the Breccles Hall road at midnight now and then, when the hall was left unoccupied. Silently it came, speeding along till it stopped at the Hall door. And as it came, every window in the empty house lit up brightly, and inside, if you dared to look, which few had done, you saw a ball in full swing, the dancers swirling around the floor with gay abandon, though never a sound from mouth or gadding foot was heard. The coach would stop; footmen climb down, the coach door open. Then out would step a beautiful lady. And it was she, they say you must avoid, for she would look a man in the eyes and he’d drop dead where he stood.

The sozzled poacher knew the story, like everyone else in the bar that night. But the beer made him proud and fearless and full of hot courage. ”Tis nowt,” he said, scorning the old chap’s words. ”The Halls empty tonight,” – the old man mused quietly. But Jimmy’s pal wasn’t to be put off. With a nod, he pushed his way out of the pub, Jimmy close behind. ”We shall shoot all them ghosties an’ all!” he said as he left, and laughed.

12249621_1236600956365982_1197388823412808970_n

So Jimmy and his mate set off, full of Dutch courage. They called at Jimmy’s cottage and picked up a gun and a bag, and off they went into the nipping frost, searching the hedges for game. Drunk they might have been, but their shots found a mark or two and before long their bag was bulging and their craving satisfied. Till Jimmy remembered the empty Hall. ”Let us two go and rouse them boggarts,” he said, and his pal readily agreed; so off they went towards the house.

When they reached the mansion, the place was as quiet as the grave and black as the fireback. It towered over them, deep shadows where the windows were, like jet black eyes, and the snow-covered roof like a white wig. Jimmy stumbled up to the windowpane and tried to peer into the inner darkness. ”Don’t see no bogies,” he said, and he sounded almost disappointed. ”Try the door boy.” And he felt his way along the wall until he found the front door, a huge affair, and he rattled it against its locks. No sooner had he done so and then the village clock chimed out twelve strokes as clear as crystal, ringing on the freezing air of the still night. And as the last stroke sounded, round the corner of the Hall drive swept a coach and four. Its horses stepped high, but their pounding hooves struck no noise from the ground. Its lamps shone like yellow stars; its two footmen and the driver in front sat stiff and still as tailors’ dummies, their unblinking eyes glancing neither right nor left. Instantly, every window in the house lit up, ablaze with light, and the great front door, which jimmy only a moment before had shaken against its locks, swung wide open.

Cramped to the spot by fear and astonishment, the two men watched as the coach came closer and drew in by the door no more than a couple of feet from where they watched. Down the footmen climbed, just as everybody said they did, opened the carriage door, unfolded the steps and then stood back one to either side.

A second’s dreadful pause. Then from the coach, gracefully as only a woman can, came the most dazzlingly lovely lady the poor stricken poachers had ever seen in their simple lives. Her jewels winked from neck and arms and hands; her dress, flimsy as dawn mist, billowed about her. Down the carriage steps she came, reached the ground and raised her head. She looked straight into the transfixed eyes of Jimmy Mace!

Breccles Hall3 (Scream)
Screaming man by Joe Rego 2012.

For a while the world seemed to stop turning through space and time, to lose all meaning. Then slowly Jimmy opened his mouth and let out a long, stark piercing howl that sliced to the nerve of the silent winter night. That anguished cry brought Jimmy’s pal to his senses, and sobered him in a trice, and sent running off madly towards the village as if all the devils in hell were at his scampering heels. When he reached the houses, he ran from one to the next, calling frantically for help. But soon as he told his tale not a man would return with him to the Hall.

Dscf3157
St Margaret’s Church, Breckles. Photo: Simon Knott

Next morning, however, the parson and some of the villagers did go there. Not a sign of the coach could they find, not a hoof print in the soft snow, not a wheel track anywhere. But lying in front of the main locked door of the magnificent old house was Jimmy Mace’s body, dead frozen, and with such a look of dread etched upon his face, that few men present could bear the sight. The mysterious, beautiful ghostly lady of Breccles Hall had gained another victim.

THE END

Sources:
https://jongilbert.proboards.com/thread/286/ghostly-tales-breccles-hall http://www.breckels.org/village/blome.html
http://www.mynorwich.co.uk/breckles-of-the-past/

NOTICE: ‘Norfolk Tales, Myths & More!’ is a ‘non-commercial’ Site seeking only to be informative and educational on topics broadly related to the history and heritage of the County of Norfolk in the U.K.
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Secret Tunnels: Kings Lynn.

By Haydn Brown.

 Legend has it that a tunnel once ran between Greyfriars Priory and the curious and somewhat mysterious Red Mount Chapel in Kings Lynn. Another tunnel, now bricked-up, was also thought to have connected the Priory to the White Hart pub, both in St. James Street. The pub itself is supposed to be haunted by a monk. While the Red Mount Chapel is a unique structure, about which opinion has always been divided; nothing is left of the 13th century Franciscan Priory except the lofty Greyfriars Lantern Tower.

Tunnels (Greyfriars Priory)
Greyfriars Lantern Tower

Now, for some reason, the ramblings of the Yorkshire soothsayer Mother Shipton (c.1488-1561) used to be very popular with the country folk of Norfolk and Cambridgeshire. And somehow, the old Fenmen reckoned that she was responsible for the prophecy and belief that, when royalty visited the Theatre Royal in St. James’ Street, the Greyfriars Lantern Tower mentioned above would collapse on to it. Since the Theatre wasn’t even opened until 1815, one has to wonder how Mother Shipton’s name ever got attached to this myth. The slight lean that the tower had for years was corrected in 2006, while the Theatre Royal, which burned down in 1936 and was then rebuilt, is now a bingo hall. While the Queen has visited King’s Lynn many times, it seems unlikely that she will ever pop in for a game of bingo.

Tunnels (Red Mount Chapel)
The Red Mount Chapel in Kings Lynn. Photo: EDP.

The structure of the Red Mount Chapel is, unsurprisingly, of red brick; it is octagonal and buttressed, with an inner rectangular core that projects above the roof. It consists not of one chapel, but two – one possibly of 13th century vintage, the other being the ‘Chapel of Our Lady of the Mount’, built by Robert Corraunce upon the steep-sided artificial mound in about 1485. This second chapel was probably put there to house a holy relic of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and tradition tells of pilgrims halting at this place on their way to Walsingham. Despite the beginnings of the Red Mount Chapel being set around the 1300’s, there is reason to believe that an earlier edifice also stood here; this thought is even more probable because the mound itself was once known as Guanock Hill – ‘guanock’ or ‘gannock’ being an old local word meaning a beacon.

Tunnels (Castle Rising)
Castle Rinsing, Norfolk. Photo: EDP.

A tunnel is said to lead from the Red Mount to a door in the gatehouse at Castle Rising, some four miles to the north-east. This castle was built in the 12th century by William de Albini, and a considerable amount of the structure still remains today. In 1331 Isabella, the widow of King Edward II, was brought to the castle by her son and ‘allegedly’ imprisoned for her part in Mortimer’s rebellion. However, she wasn’t even under house arrest because she travelled quite freely in this country and abroad. It has been said that she was jailed there until her death in 1358, then buried in Rising church. Thus, Edward III was believed to have used the tunnel on many occasions to secretly visit his mother. However, she actually died at Hertford Castle and was almost certainly buried at Greyfriars in London.

The historian of Lynn, Mr. E. M. Beloe, dug at the Red Mount and found that the supposed tunnel came to a halt after only a few feet, at an outer door which had long been buried beneath the soil of the mound. The door in the castle was likewise no more than one of two entrances to an inner stairway. As in other subterranean tales, a drunken fiddler and his dog are said to have tried to explore the tunnel, and were never seen again!

Tunnels (Gaywood Hall)
Gaywood Hall

Another tunnel supposedly comes to Lynn from the site of the former medieval bishop’s palace where Gaywood Hall now stands, in an eastern suburb of the town. A brick arch uncovered in a trench along Blackfriars Road was claimed by one old man to be evidence of this, while another is said to have dug up a tunnel on the same line during the last century, but veering towards the Red Mount. A sewer and a covered-up reservoir may have been the basis for this tale.

Tunnels (Exorcist House)
The ‘Exorcist’s House’ which stands in Chapel Lane, Kings Lynn.

The so-called ‘Exorcist’s House’ stands in Chapel Lane, next to St. Nicholas’ church and is of 17th century vintage; possibly it once was a medieval Bishop’s House in which an exorcist, who was employed by the church clergy, once lived. Some believe that a subterranean passage – allegedly used by the Witchfinder General Matthew Hopkins – runs from there to the 17th century St. Anne’s House – now demolished.

Tunnels (St Annes House)
17th century St. Anne’s House which once stood in St Annes Street, Kings Lynn.

In St. James Street is the White Hart pub, radically rebuilt in the mid-19th century, but dating from at least 200 years earlier. A shadowy, hooded figure that haunts the pub is said to be a ghostly monk, who has passed through a legendary tunnel from St. Margaret’s church in the Saturday Market Place.

Tunnels (St Margarets)
In December 2011, The Bishop of Norwich dedicated The Priory and Parish Church of St Margaret as King’s Lynn Minster. Photo: King’s Lynn Minster

Today, the medieval St. George’s Guildhall in King Street is the home to an arts centre, coffee shop, and other businesses, but beneath it is an actual tunnel (now stopped-up and dry), through which merchants brought goods from their boats on the nearby Great Ouse river. Vaulted under crofts exist here and beneath former medieval warehouses along King Street as far as the Tuesday Market Place, but it seems to be rumoured only because other tunnels honeycomb the area.

Tunnels (Guildhall)
St. George’s Guildhall in King Street, Kings Lynn. Photo: EDP.

THE END

Sources:
Walter Rye: ‘Norfolk Songs, Stories & Sayings’ (Goose & Son, 1897), pp.85-6.
‘The East Anglian Magazine’, Vol.2, p.461.
http://www.paranormaldatabase.com/hotspots/kingslynn.php
http://www.heritage.norfolk.gov.uk-King’s Lynn
www.kingslynn-forums.co.uk-tunnel2
Ann Weaver: ‘The Ghosts of King’s Lynn’ in KL Magazine, Issue 1, Oct. 2010, p.51.
http://www.edp24.co.uk/news/down_in_the_secret_tunnel_under_king_s_lynn_arts_centre_1_1325374
Source:  Arthur Randell (ed. Enid Porter: ‘Sixty Years a Fenman’ (R & K P, 1966). P.102-3.
www.hiddenea.com

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8. Christmas: Debunking Myths!

Christmas is a strange time of the year, when people merrily do all sorts of bizarre things. Try explaining to a judge in June that you were allowed to kiss somebody without warning because there was a parasitic shrub hanging from the ceiling!

How many times have you heard somebody say: “You know it’s all pagan, of course?”, as though the barely recorded history of pagan activities in north-west Europe was something, they happen to be terribly familiar with. Trees? Trees are pagan, don’t you know? No. Trees are just there. They’re trees and there’s nothing pagan about them.

The truth is, we usually have no idea of the origin of these curious traditions. So here, as a public service, are 10 myths of Christmas.

1 Coca-Cola designed the modern Santa Claus as part of an advertising campaign
This is one you always hear at dinner parties. It makes the speaker sound rather clever and cynical. Except it’s tosh. Coca-Cola did start using Santa in advertising in 1933. But Santa had been portrayed almost exclusively in red from the early 19th century and most of his modern image was put together by cartoonist Thomas Nast in the 1870s. Even if you were to confine your search to Santa in soft drinks adverts, you would find a thoroughly modern Santa Claus in the posters for White Rock that came out in 1923.

Christmas Myths (Coca Cola)
No, Coca-Cola did not brand Santa in their corporate red and white.  Photograph: Rex Features.

2 Jingle Bells is the essence of Christmas
Except it’s not. Jingle Bells was written by James Pierpont in 1857. Pierpont was American and the song (originally called One Horse Open Sleigh) is about Thanksgiving, and about winter fun and frolics more generally. How un-Christmassy it is can be gleaned from the other verses, which never make it into a British carol concert. Verse two goes like this:

A day or two ago
I tho’t I’d take a ride
And soon Miss Fannie Bright
Was seated by my side.
The horse was lean and lank
Misfortune seemed his lot
He got into a drifted bank
And we – we got upshot.


3 The Bible tells us there were three wise men
No, it doesn’t. Matthew 2:1 tells us that “when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem”. Did you notice the word “three”? Nor did I. They brought gifts with them: “they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh”; yet the Bible never says how many magi there were, only that they were plural. There could have been two or 200. Magi, by the way, were Zoroastrians. There were believed to be well-versed in mysterious arts, hence our modern word “magic”.

Christmas Myths (Magi)
The Adoration of the Magi, c. 1500 by Andrea Mantegna. Photograph: Heritage Images/Getty Images

4 Christmas is just a Christian version of the Roman festival of Saturnalia
Saturnalia was originally held on 17 December. Later it was expanded until it lasted all the way up to 23 December. But it never shared a date with Christmas. There was a Roman festival on 25 December, the festival of Sol Invictus. But there were Roman festivals on most days of the year (more than 200 of them) and Sol Invictus is not recorded before Christmas and neither it nor Saturnalia have much in common with it.

5 Good King Wenceslas
That name is only three words long and there are two problems with it. Though Wenceslas existed, he wasn’t a king and he wasn’t called Wenceslas. His name was Vaclav and he was duke, not king, of Bohemia (in the modern-day Czech Republic) in the 10th century. He may have been good. However, it’s equally likely that people looked back on him with rose-tinted glasses after he was succeeded by his brother, Boleslaus the Cruel. Boleslaus really earned his name, not least by killing Vaclav to take the throne. Soon, legends of Vaclav’s goodness had grown so popular that he was posthumously declared king by Otto the Great.

debunking-myths-king-wenceslas
Good King Wenceslas

6 Kissing under the mistletoe comes from the Vikings
The story goes that after the Norse god Baldr was killed by an arrow made of mistletoe, his mother, the unfortunately named goddess Frigg, swore that the plant should never harm anybody else and that instead it should encourage kissing. This, though, isn’t found anywhere in Norse mythology. Well, the mistletoe arrow is, but Frigg’s response has nothing to do with kissing and everything to do with torturing Baldr’s killer for all eternity. It seems to have been little-known in 1719, when Sir John Colebatch wrote a whole book on the plant and the customs associated with it. But it was well-known enough in 1786 to appear in a popular song from the now-forgotten musical Two to One.

Christmas Myths (Mistletoe Kissing)
Kissing under the Mistletoe

7 Christmas starts earlier every year
There’s nothing in the Bible about the date of Jesus’s birth, but the earliest calculation, made in the second century, reckoned it was in March. So we’re nine months late on the whole.

8 Hark the Herald Angels Sing
That’s not the first line of the hymn; that’s not even a line of the hymn, at least according to the man who wrote it. Charles Wesley wrote a hymn that began “Hark how all the welkin rings/Glory to the king of kings”. Another preacher called George Whitefield then published a version with the line we all know now. Wesley responded by saying that people were welcome to republish his hymns “provided they print them just as they are. But I desire they would not attempt to mend them; for they really are not able.”

debunking-myths-shepherds-and-angels
Angels & Shepherds.

9 Advent begins on 1 December
Advent begins on the nearest Sunday to St Andrew’s Day on the 30 November. So, this year, Advent began on 2 December. The idea that it starts on the same day every year was put about by the manufacturers of Advent calendars, so that they could use the same design each year and sell off old stock.

debunking-myths-advent
Advent Calendar. Photo: Doing History in Public.

10 Prince Albert invented the Christmas tree (or at least imported it to Britain)
This one would have surprised Queen Victoria, who had a Christmas tree as a child. So did the sizeable German immigrant population in Manchester in the early 19th century. Victoria and Albert popularised the Christmas tree when they were pictured with one in the Illustrated London News in 1848. There was also one Christmas tree recorded in England in 1444, but nobody knows what it was doing there.

THE END
Written by Mark Forsyth. Courtesy of The Guardian Newspaper. Mark is the author of ‘A Christmas Cornucopia’ and ‘The Curious Origins of Our Yuletide Traditions’, published by Viking Penguin.

5. Christmas: Victorian Style!

It’s hard to imagine now, but at the beginning of the 19th century Christmas was hardly celebrated. Many businesses did not even consider it a holiday. However, by the end of the century it had become the biggest annual celebration and took on the form that we recognise today.

For thousands of years people around the world have enjoyed midwinter festivals. With the arrival of Christianity, pagan festivals became mixed with Christmas celebrations. One of the leftovers from these pagan days is the custom of bedecking houses and churches with evergreen plants like mistletoe, holly and ivy. Apparently, as well as their magical connection in protecting us from evil spirits, they also encourage the return of spring. No era in history however, has influenced the way in which we celebrate Christmas, quite as much as the Victorians.

Victorian Christmas (Gifts)2
Enter a caption

Before Victoria‘s reign started in 1837 nobody in Britain had heard of Santa Claus or Christmas Crackers. No Christmas cards were sent and most people did not have holidays from work. The wealth and technologies generated by the industrial revolution of the Victorian era changed the face of Christmas forever. Sentimental do-gooders like Charles Dickens wrote books like “Christmas Carol”, published in 1843, which actually encouraged rich Victorians to redistribute their wealth by giving money and gifts to the poor – Humbug! These radical middle class ideals eventually spread to the not-quite-so-poor as well.

Dicken's Christmas Carol 5
From ‘A Christmas Carol’ by Charles Dickens. Image: Wikimedia

The holidays:
The wealth generated by the new factories and industries of the Victorian age allowed middle class families in England and Wales to take time off work and celebrate over two days, Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Boxing Day, December 26th, earned its name as the day servants and working people opened the boxes in which they had collected gifts of money from the “rich folk”. Those new fangled inventions, the railways allowed the country folk who had moved into the towns and cities in search of work to return home for a family Christmas.

The Scots have always preferred to postpone the celebrations for a few days to welcome in the New Year, in the style that is Hogmanay. Christmas Day itself did not become a holiday in Scotland until many years after Victoria’s reign and it has only been within the last 20-30 years that this has been extended to include Boxing Day.

The Gifts:
At the start of Victoria’s reign, children’s toys tended to be handmade and hence expensive, generally restricting availability to those “rich folk” again. With factories however came mass production, which brought with it games, dolls, books and clockwork toys all at a more affordable price. Affordable that is to “middle class” children. In a “poor child’s” Christmas stocking, which first became popular from around 1870, only an apple, orange and a few nuts could be found.
Victorian Christmas (Gifts)

Father Christmas / Santa Claus:
Normally associated with the bringer of the above gifts, is Father Christmas or Santa Claus. The two are in fact two entirely separate stories. Father Christmas was originally part of an old English midwinter festival, normally dressed in green, a sign of the returning spring. The stories of St. Nicholas (Sinter Klaas in Holland) came via Dutch settlers to America in the 17th Century. From the 1870’s Sinter Klass became known in Britain as Santa Claus and with him came his unique gift and toy distribution system – reindeer and sleigh.

Victorian Father Christmas 1
Father Christmas.

Christmas Cards:
The “Penny Post” was first introduced in Britain in 1840 by Rowland Hill. The idea was simple, a penny stamp paid for the postage of a letter or card to anywhere in Britain. This simple idea paved the way for the sending of the first Christmas cards. Sir Henry Cole tested the water in 1843 by printing a thousand cards for sale in his art shop in London at one shilling each. The popularity of sending cards was helped along when in 1870 a halfpenny postage rate was introduced as a result of the efficiencies brought about by those new fangled railways.

Victorian Christmas Card 1
Christmas Card, designed by J.C. Horsley for Sir Henry Cole, 1843. Photo: Victoria & Albert Museum, No. L.3293-1987

Turkey Time:
Turkeys had been brought to Britain from America hundreds of years before Victorian times. When Victoria first came to the throne however, both chicken and turkey were too expensive for most people to enjoy. In northern England roast beef was the traditional fayre for Christmas dinner while in London and the south, goose was favourite. Many poor people made do with rabbit. On the other hand, the Christmas Day menu for Queen Victoria and family in 1840 included both beef and of course a royal roast swan or two. By the end of the century most people feasted on turkey for their Christmas dinner. The great journey to London started for the turkey sometime in October. Feet clad in fashionable but hardwearing leather the unsuspecting birds would have set out on the 80-mile hike from the Norfolk farms. Arriving obviously a little tired and on the scrawny side they must have thought London hospitality unbeatable as they feasted and fattened on the last few weeks before Christmas!

Victorian Christmas (Turkey)2
Enter a caption

The Christmas Tree:
The Victorian age placed great importance on family, so it follows that Christmas was celebrated at home. For many, the new railway networks made this possible. Those who had left the countryside to seek work in cities could return home for Christmas and spend their precious days off with loved ones. Family life was epitomised by the popular Queen Victoria, her husband Albert and their nine children. One of the most important Christmas traditions, the decorated Christmas tree, was a custom introduced to Britain by Prince Albert.

Victorian Christmas (Tree)
Engraving from the Illustrated London News showing Queen Victoria and Prince Albert around the Christmas tree, 1848, England © British Library Board. P.P.7611.

The idea of an indoor Christmas tree originated in Germany, where Albert was born. In 1848 the Illustrated London News published a drawing of the royal family celebrating around a tree bedecked with ornaments. The popularity of decorated Christmas trees grew quickly, and with it came a market for tree ornaments in bright colours and reflective materials that would shimmer and glitter in the candlelight. Mechanisation and the improved printing process meant decorations could be mass-produced and advertised to eager buyers. The first advertisements for tree ornaments appeared in 1853. Victorians would often combine their sparkly bought decorations with candles and homemade edible treats, tied to the branches with ribbon.

Today, candles on the Christmas tree have been replaced by fairy lights, printed cards may be substituted with e-cards and we’re more likely to find plastic knick-knacks in our crackers than jewellery. Our Christmas customs continue to be shaped by technological advancements and modern changes in society. How many of us do our Christmas shopping online, or Skype our families across the world on Christmas Day? But these new traditions are still rooted in the spirit of the Victorian Christmas – an integral part of the Christmas we celebrate today.

The Crackers:
Invented by Tom Smith, a London sweet maker in 1846. The original idea was to wrap his sweets in a twist of fancy coloured paper, but this developed and sold much better when he added love notes (motto’s), paper hats, small toys and made them go off BANG!
Victorian Christmas (Cracker)

Christmas Cards:
One of the most significant seasonal traditions to emerge from the Victorian era is the Christmas card. It was Sir Henry Cole, the first director of the V&A, who introduced the idea of the Christmas card in 1843. Cole commissioned the artist J.C. Horsley to design a festive scene for his seasonal greeting cards and had 1000 printed – those he didn’t use himself were sold to the public. Later in the century, improvements to the chromolithographic printing process made buying and sending Christmas cards affordable for everyone.

Victorian Christmas (Christmas Cards)
Christmas card, published by C. Goodall & Son, 19th Century, England. Museum no. Buday/1/1/25. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Carol Singers:
Carol Singers and Musicians “The Waits” visited houses singing and playing the new popular carols;

1843 – O Come all ye Faithful
1848 – Once in Royal David’s City
1851 – See Amid the Winters Snow
1868 – O Little Town of Bethlehem
1883 – Away in a Manger

Victorian Carol Singers 1

THE END

Source:
https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofEngland/A-Victorian-Christmas/
www.bbc.co.uk/victorianchristmas/history.shtml
https://www.vam.ac.uk/articles/victorian-christmas-traditions