Weird Suffolk: The Boy’s Grave, Kentford

Pix Phil Morley 26/1/11
What's in a name - Kentford.

EADT Pix Phil Morley 26/1/11 What's in a name - Kentford.

Legend has it that the lonely grave at a crossroads just outside Kentford is tended to by unknown hands and that the flowers upon it help anyone keen on placing a bet on the horses at Newmarket Races.

Stories differ as to who the grave belongs to – some say it is the grave of a scared shepherd boy who dared not tell his master that he’d lost one of his flock, others that it was the grave of a gypsy boy called Joseph, and that it was his community who ensured his grave was tended with love and care.

Other legends are attached to the grave: some say that while cycling past the final resting place they have felt compelled to dismount their cycles due to a strange force and that they could only push their bike past the site (although many would also point out the road is on the local cycling club’s time trial route and poses no such issue to riders!).

To reach the grave, one turns off the A14 into Kentford and cross the River Kennet and pass a pub that’s in Cambridgeshire, but the road itself, here the ancient Icknield Way, stays in Suffolk. Out in the countryside, at the next crossroads, is the grave that a tiny loop in the county boundary brings into Moulton parish and Suffolk - but only by inches. How that happened is a mystery, like the identity of the boy himself.

In fact the only certainty in this tale is that the grave regularly receives fresh flowers and tending.

The boy's grave, Kentford. Picture: Haywood

The boy's grave, Kentford. Picture: Haywood - Credit: Haywood

Historians argue about the significance of crossroad burials: some believe that the crossroads represented a kind of religious symbol to those barred from consecrated ground, others that the burial was at the place where executions were commonly held and another theory is that a burial at a crossroads would confuse the ghost of the deceased who would be unable to find a path to travel.

Crossroads have long been thought of as uneasy, transitional gaps between unclaimed areas which were vulnerable to supernatural forces and were for many years considered to be spoiled, haunted grounds and meeting places for witches: to be condemned to a burial at a crossroads meant eternal purgatory.

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In a report from 1949 in The Country Standard, the story was told by an author whose car had broken down close to the site of the grave, where he spotted that it boasted freshly-trimmed grass, a small cross made from ash, a fence and both artificial and real flowers.

When the AA man arrived to fix the car, he asked him about the grave and was told: “Something more than one hundred years ago, when this part was more or less open common, a man had a flock of sheep and had a lad to look after them as they grazed.The man was a hard master and his employees were all afraid of him.

“One night when the boy rounded up his flock for the night, he counted them and found them one short stop, terrified of the consequence he hanged himself from a nearby tree. His dead body was found in the morning and so was the missing sheep closely bedded down under some bushes.

“Because he had taken his own life the lad was not buried in consecrated ground but at the crossroads near the scene of the tragedy and there his grave has remained, but not neglected.”

The man went on to suggest that the coloured flowers made from split work were “gypsy work” and were the railings at the top of the grave.

He added: “There’s another thing connected with the gypsies. They say if there are dark flowers on the grave on Derby Day at dark horse will win but if there are like flowers and a light horse will come in first.”

Some call the boy Joseph, some say he died in the 1840s, others have claimed his grave his tended by pixies, fairies or (somewhat more credibly) sympathetic locals. In fact, for many years, the grave was looked after by a lady from Middlesex who made fortnightly trips to the site to ensure it received care and attention.

But many still believe the legends about the prophetic flowers, saying that if any appear on the grave during Derby Week a horse from the Newmarket Stables will win the race, and if they appear on any racing days, the colour of the flowers foretells the racing colours of the winning horse.

For more Weird Suffolk stories click here.

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