Weird Suffolk: The mermaid of Fornham All Saints
PUBLISHED: 16:00 23 February 2018
It’s a fishy tale about a fish-tailed woman whose misery led her to lure others to an untimely end.
At Fornham All Saints – one of a trio of Fornhams which includes Fornham St Genevieve and Fornham St Martin – on the outskirts of Bury St Edmunds, there was said to be a deep well in which a bad-tempered mermaid lived.
When the mermaid heard children’s chatter and laughter, she would lurk close to the surface of the well and strike if they dared dip their fingers in the cool water, grabbing them with the intention of pulling them underwater to their death.
In Christopher Reeve’s Paranormal Suffolk: True Ghost Stories, the author notes: “At Fornham All Saints, near Bury St Edmunds, there are, or were, four mills, with pools of water known as the ‘Mermaid Pits’. They are said to be have been given that name because a girl, who was unhappily in love, drowned herself in one of them.
“Was she just a girl, who drowned, and afterwards haunted the pit? Or, following her death, did she change into the shape of a mermaid, and then, as is their way, forever attempt to lure humans into the water to join her?”
Mermaid Close, off Fornham Road near Bury, was known during medieval times as Maremayd Pitts and folklore passed down through the generations suggested the name was linked to the tale of a lovesick girl who drowned herself rather than face life without her true love.
Water from the Mermaid Pits fed into Suffolk’s River Lark, itself a tributary of the River Great Ouse, which flows from its source south of Bury into the Fenlands north of Ely where it joins the Ely Ouse.
In Alan Murdie’s Ghostwatch column in the Fortean Times of April 2015, he notes: “John Gage’s History and Antiquities of Hengrave (1810 and 1822) states that female water spirits haunted the River Lark through the village.
Gage seems to have been captivated by the idea of female water sprites troubling the builders of a mill around which they were supposed to frolic…further along the River Lark one finds further traces of these beliefs with pools called the Mermaid or Merrymaid Pits. In East Anglia mermaids were not cute fairytale creatures, but often malevolent sirens dragging victims to watery deaths.”
Whether the lovelorn mermaid in the story inhabited a pit or a well, or whether she joined a group of sister sirens who caused havoc in the River Lark, one thing is certain: to disturb her was deadly: a timely reminder to children that deep water should be avoided at all costs.