Superstitious secret revealed in mysterious markings at Suffolk home

Former BBC Royal correspondent Michael Cole recently replaced a old barn door at his home in Laxfiel

Former BBC Royal correspondent Michael Cole recently replaced a old barn door at his home in Laxfield because it was frayed at the bottom and had a large cat hole near the latch. He cleaned the old door with caustic soda and, after removing several layers of black paint, uncovered some strange symbols etched into the wooden planks. The Suffolk Record Office and an expert on such markings, Timothy Easton, say they are Apotropaic (evil-averting) symbols, drawn to ward off evil and witches in particular during the 17th Century onwards. - Credit: Archant

A spot of DIY turned devilish when a creaky old barn door revealed a spine-tingling Suffolk secret.

Former BBC Royal correspondent Michael Cole recently replaced a old barn door at his home in Laxfiel

Former BBC Royal correspondent Michael Cole recently replaced a old barn door at his home in Laxfield because it was frayed at the bottom and had a large cat hole near the latch. He cleaned the old door with caustic soda and, after removing several layers of black paint, uncovered some strange symbols etched into the wooden planks. The Suffolk Record Office and an expert on such markings, Timothy Easton, say they are Apotropaic (evil-averting) symbols, drawn to ward off evil and witches in particular during the 17th Century onwards. - Credit: Archant

Broadcaster and former Royal correspondent Michael Cole was perplexed by a series of eerie markings he unveiled while stripping paint from an old door at his property near Framlingham.

Could they be evidence of an ancient cultish hex, or just the dated doodles of an erstwhile farmhand?

The spooky symbols surfaced when Mr Cole decided to replace the weathered entrance to the clay lump barn he uses as a garage. He removed several layers of black paint to uncover strange symbols etched into the wooden planks.

After some research and contact with local experts, Mr Cole determined they were “apotropaic” symbols intended to ward off domestic misfortune, harm or evil influences in years gone by.

“The symbols were sometimes drawn above fireplaces to stop witches coming down the chimney, or in barns to stop livestock being spooked,” he said.

“There was an upsurge in fear of such things at the time of the puritans and the Witchfinder General, when they were dunking poor ladies in the mere at Framlingham to see if they were witches.

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“I didn’t know what the symbols were at first glance. They looked to have been done by a child with a Spirograph – but that was a toy of relatively recent vintage.”

Mr Cole has also sought the opinion of Timothy Easton, an artist with an interest in apotropaic symbols, who has written several articles on the subject. Mr Easton, who will address the Suffolk Preservation Society (SPS) on the magical protection of building in Suffolk from 1500-1850 this evening, said: “There is a long-standing tradition of marking buildings with signs and symbols as a way of giving protection.

“Anyone who kept livestock would have been particularly worried of things like lightning strikes, so they did lots of things to give themselves comfort. It was very typical of the 19th century and the symbols were often done by craftsmen.

“What is interesting about this door is that many external animal doors don’t generally survive.”

For more on the SPS visit suffolksociety.org.