Weird Suffolk: The spooky Eyke lane that takes its name from either a ghost – or a witch

Weird Suffolk: White Womans Lane, Eyke Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Weird Suffolk: White Womans Lane, Eyke Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

Is White Woman Lane in Eyke in Suffolk named after the ghostly apparition said to haunt it today? Or is it named after the witch who once lived there?

It’s a street said to take its name from a variety of different sources, depending on how fanciful you’re feeling – is White Woman Lane in Eyke named after a spirit, a witch or a flour-covered mill worker?

Eyke in Suffolk itself, which boasts the street, takes its name from the old word for oak and has previously been called Eike, Ike, Yke and Eyck before settling on Eyke. A red-blooded village, Eyke is linked to revolt and rebellion ranging from the mass pilfering of Lord of the Manor Robert de Redenhale in 1310 to a peasants’ revolt in 1381 which saw John Staverton’s house pillaged. And the rebellious spirit raised its head again, literally, in 1589, 1590 and 1591, when Eyke villagers were fined because they persisted in wearing German felt hats on festivals and Sundays instead of English pile hats. In 1644, the rector was admonished for his behavior and the way he conducted church services and farmland in the village was part of the infamous Rendlesham estate, where UFO activity was reported, until it was sold in 1920. And that’s before we mention the big cat sightings in Eyke in 2010 or White Woman Lane in the village and its possible links to ghosts and witchcraft.

The lane can be found at the north end of the village, heading towards a farm track and a footbridge over the River Deben. Stories have it that it was named after a “white lady” ghost that could be seen drifting up the lane while others claimed it was named after Widow Alchard, a wise woman or white witch who lived in an isolated cottage close by in the early 17th century. In living memory, an orchard which was once attached to a house which was haunted on White Woman Lane still flourished every autumn although the cursed house had long since been demolished. A less romantic theory is that the lane was named after a woman who trudged along the path on her way home from the flour mill, her dress and face dusted with flour and giving her an almost other-worldly appearance.

One thing is for certain, a witch bottle was found in Eyke in 1962 underneath a hearth during the demolition of Church Cottages in the village. It was later presented to Ipswich Museum. The bottle, around eight-and-a-half-inches high, was glazed in dark-brown varnish and has a wire-marked base, indicating that it was made in the second half of the 17th century. It had, investigations suggested, contained urine “for counter-witchcraft purposes”. Witch bottles were used to counter dark magic and were commonly Bellarmine jugs, salt-glazed stoneware jugs named after a particularly fearsome Catholic Inquisitor, Robert Bellarmine, who persecuted Protestants. Traditionally, bottles contained the victim of witchcraft’s urine, hair or nail clippings or red thread from “sprite traps” which had previously been laid at troublesome places to ensnare spirits that could then be imprisoned in bottles.

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Bottles were believed to repel witches for as long as they remained hidden and unbroken – the bottle in Eyke is no longer hidden and when it was found, it was broken…Don’t have nightmares.

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