Weird Suffolk: Animal Farm author’s experience with a Walberswick ghost 

EADT
Mike Page Aerial Photo Library
Walberswick Church
PICTURE COPYRIGHT MIKE PAGE - PICTURE

George Orwell reported seeing a ghost at Walberswick Church. - Credit: Mike Page

His words conjured up the horrors of totalitarianism but George Orwell was not known for horror writing: until he saw a ghost in Walberswick. In a letter written on August 16 1931 to his friend Dennis Collings, Orwell recounted an encounter with a spectre in the village’s graveyard. 

The author was so terrified by the incident that he included a detailed diagram of the route he had taken that day and had explained why it was geographically impossible for the figure he’d seen to have been able to walk away as quickly as it did.  But…back to that graveyard on a summer’s evening in 1931. 

Orwell had been sitting in the church grounds at around 5.20pm, writing notes in preparation for working on his book The Clergyman’s Daughter.  St Andrew’s is the fourth church built in the village and is tucked into a corner of the ruins of the third church, which fell into decay in the mid-16th century.  It is in these ruins where George Orwell sat. 

Orwell neither went to church or believed in the paranormal, so his experience was doubly strange – particularly when it later transpired that what he saw had been seen before. In his letter, he refers to his hand-drawn map. 

“I was sitting at the spot marked*, looking out in the direction of the dotted arrow. I happened to glance over my shoulder, and saw a figure pass along the line of the other arrow, disappearing behind the masonry and presumably emerging into the churchyard,” he wrote. 

George Orwell's sketch plan of hisWalberswick ghost sighting

George Orwell's sketch plan of his Walberswick ghost sighting - Credit: George Orwell

“I wasn’t looking directly at it and so couldn’t make out more than that it was a man’s figure, small and stooping, and dressed in lightish brown; I should have said a workman. 

“I had the impression that it glanced towards me in passing, but I made out nothing of the features. At the moment of its passing I thought nothing, but a few seconds later it struck me that the figure had made no noise, and I followed it out into the churchyard. “There was no one in the churchyard, and no one within possible distance along the road—this was about 20 seconds after I had seen it; and in any case there were only two people in the road, and neither at all resembled the figure.” 

Most Read

Orwell walked into the church where he saw the vicar, dressed in black and a workman who had been sawing during the incident who was “too tall” to be the figure he had seen. 

“The figure had therefore vanished,” said the author, “Presumably an hallucination.” 

Author Robert Halliday, in a talk to Little Waldingfield History Society, described having seen on two separate occasions “a blue person-shaped and sized object” on the north side of St Andrew’s Church. When he went to investigate what he’d seen on a dry, warm summer’s evening, he discovered that the area where he’d seen the figure was cold and damp. Other reports of a ghoul in the graveyard describe a gentleman in somewhat formal dress. 

Walberswick is thought to be one of the most haunted villages not only in Suffolk, but England with tales of Black Shuck, the famous Walberswick Whistle which haunts the very air of the village and the shade of John Brooke, known in life as The Great Troubler. 

There are phantom horses that are said to gallop across the common and author Esther Freud, who lives in the village, has written about the ghost in her house: “…a sort of shadowy presence that hovered by the back door…I knew it was a boy, a boy of about 10 or 12, in short trousers and a cap.” A phantom coach, drawn by headless horses and driven by the murderer Tobias Gill who was hanged close to the village in the 18th century, has also been seen by terrified onlookers. 

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter