Weird Suffolk: The haunting of Potsford Wood gibbet
PUBLISHED: 10:29 04 June 2018
In a dark, dark wood, there’s a dark, dark path and on the dark, dark path there’s the remains of a gibbet used to hang those with dark, dark hearts.
At Potsford Wood, just west of Wickham Market and off the B1078, close to the path, a jagged wooden stump marks the spot where a crossbar gibbet once stood – a plaque marks the spot: “Remains of Potsford Gibbet, in use at the end of the 17th century, last known hanging April 14th 1699 (Jonah Snell).
According to legend, a large stone once stood on the site which would vibrate gently if a foot was applied to it – some say that it screamed - but the rock has long since disappeared.
On February 10 1698, a chilling murder took place at Letheringham water mill which left two men dead, a father and son, both who shared the name John Bullard. The men had been brutally attacked by an axe-wielding maniac before being hog-tied to a beam in the mill where their bodies hung upside-down until they were discovered: no one knows if they were dead or alive as they were hoisted into the air, their blood spilling to the ground.
Shortly afterwards, a man was found wandering around in the area clutching a dripping axe, his clothes red with blood. Jonah Snell was arrested and appeared at West Wickham Sessions Court where he was found guilty of cold-blooded murder of the men who had been working at the mill when their servant attacked them. He offered no defence.
Snell was hanged at Potsford Wood on April 14 1699, his corpse displayed in an iron cage gibbet in the wood as a warning. His remains mouldered in the cage until 1740 until the structure was lowered and what was left of Snell was buried nearby.
The area has long since been associated with paranormal activity. While Snell’s body remained in the cage, a local tailor – James Gall – happened to pass by the gibbet on his way to work at Letheringham Farm and looked up to see the remains of the murderer. Sarcastically, he said: “Ah, old fellow. Wouldn’t it be strange if thou were to come down from there?”
He returned before dusk and discovered that the gibbet was empty: only the frame remained. Assuming the remains had been removed, he walked away, but as he did so, he heard the faint sound of clanking chains behind him. Somewhat disconcerted, he began to walk faster: the sound of chains grew louder and louder.
Eventually, Gall broke into flight, the sound of the chains matching his pace until he slammed his front door on them – never again did he mock the dead.
More recently, in the 1980s, a lorry driver stopped in the middle of the day to answer a call of nature, walking into the woods. He spotted the plaque and paused to read it when he suddenly felt a tap on his shoulder – turning, he came face-to-face with a hollow-eyed skeletal face covered by a black hood standing next to him.
A local gamekeeper also felt the same cold, icy hand grab him by the shoulder at the spot while a couple in 1997 said they were attracted by ghostly lights in the trees and when they arrived in the woods, they heard the clanking chains at the site of the gibbet and saw a black, shapeless apparition hovering within the wood, staring in their direction and moaning gently.
Several paranormal investigators have staked out the site of the gibbet, which is surrounded by a metal fence, during day and night and have recorded electronic voice phenomenon (EVP) activity. As an aside, the ghost of John Bullard senior is said to haunt the site of the mill where he and his son met their violent deaths – now rebuilt, a plaque planted in the formal flower borders at the mill remembers the crime, which sends echoes from the past to woodland nearby.