Weird Suffolk: The haunting of Dobb’s Grave, Kesgrave
- Credit: Geograph.org.uk/Colin Park
It’s an ancient spot which marked precisely where the parishes of Kesgrave, Foxall, Brightwell and Martlesham parishes join, the crossroads where an unquiet spirit appears to anyone who foolishly tries to disturb him.
Dobb’s Grave, close to Kesgrave Wood on Dobb’s Lane is said to mark the grave of a local shepherd named John Dobbs who, in 1740, lost one of the sheep in his care and feared that his punishment would be transportation to a foreign land.
It is believed that John had already suffered great misfortune in life: his twin sons James and Henry were born in April 1721 and baptised on April 18 but their mother and John’s wife Ann tragically died shortly afterwards, swiftly followed by her baby sons, who died on August 31 and September 12, respectively.
Although John later remarried, he would have been loath to leave behind the graves of his first family and, afraid of what would face him on the other side of the world, he took his own life rather than have it taken from him and hanged himself in a barn at nearby Hall Farm.
When his body was cut down, he was not afforded the dignity of a church burial, but was taken
to the crossroads and interred there.
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
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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 – indeed, the first documented instance of this practice being used specifically for a death by suicide was in Suffolk when, in 1510, Robert Browner, the superior of Butley Priory in the county, hung himself and was ordered to be staked and buried at a highway crossing.
Legend has it that in 1936, almost 200 years after Dobbs’ untimely demise, his ghost appeared before a group of drunken vandals who decided to visit the crossroads after hearing the story of the shepherd in the nearby Bell Inn.
Arriving at the grave at midnight, the group prised open the tomb and found the bones of a man with a wooden stake in his rib cage – before they refilled the hole, a man called Reeves from Bealings removed a tooth from the skull and wore it on a watch chain for the rest of his life.
Four years later, a young airman thought it would be funny to dig up the grave on an appropriately dark and stormy night but was given the fright of his life when he was chased away from the site by an angry apparition of a young man and in the 1960s, a group of youths with the same thought in mind bit off more than they could chew when they were scared away by something otherworldly.
Following a further desecration in 1996, the local parish council entered a long-standing agreement with landowners in order to secure the grave’s future maintenance and today it is surrounded by a decorative iron fence to keep away morbid trophy hunters.
Other tales suggest the grave is actually that of a highwayman who had been left hanging beside the road as a warning to others or a gypsy who had been hanged for stealing sheep, but one thing is for certain: it is never wise to try to wake the dead.