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Weird Suffolk: The curious case of the phantom bush of Southwold

PUBLISHED: 16:00 12 April 2019

A phantom hedge was seen on South Green, Southwold. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

A phantom hedge was seen on South Green, Southwold. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

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The strange tale of the ghost hedge in Southwold which appeared on a dark night and vanished without trace within minutes.

Not all ghosts look the same – for example, in the seaside town of Southwold, it wasn’t a person that was seen on dark night, it was a phantom HEDGE.

A tale is recounted in The Lantern in 1976 which is one of the oddest that Weird Suffolk has heard (and we have heard the oddest of tales): on Sunday February 1 of the same year, a Mr Arthur Slater CBE claimed he had seen a ghost. But it was no ordinary ghost that Mr Slater saw that dark night as he crossed South Green after a church service at St Edmunds Church, it was spirit shrubbery, a phantom thicket which sprung up from nowhere.

Mr Slater was approaching his house, on the edge of the green, at around 7.30pm – it was dark as some street lights were not working after a storm the week before. Following heavy rain, the skies had finally emptied. As he hurried across the grass, Mr Slater glanced to his right. “I was startled to see between me and the houses what appeared to be a leafless thorn hedge, waist high and covered in raindrops,” he told a local newspaper. “I knew very well that there was no hedge there, for the path is asphalted over from the Green’s edge to the house walls. I looked left to discover whether there was something across the Green casting a shadow, but there was nothing except a second hedge just like the first between me and the grass verge. “Both hedges stretched out before me in parallel the whole length of the block-about 40 yards. Not yet satisfied, I swung my walking stick against the hedge and saw the stems give way to the impact and felt a slight resistance through the stick.

“I next tried to grasp the hedge with my hand, but though it remained visible I could feel nothing, so I walked the remaining steps to my home with the hedges close to me on both sides until I reached the entrance to my flat, where, on looking back, everything was in its normal state.” Mr Slater also told a reporter that there was nothing alarming about the experience and but for the incident with his walking stick, he would have put it down to an optical illusion and thought no more of it. The Borderline Science Investigation Group, in its quarterly Lantern publication, wondered if the incident might have been a “glimpse of the past”, a time-slip such as that which is said to have occurred in Rougham.

Whether or not such time slips involve the witness or the ghost travelling back in time is not known, but there have been many such incidents reported over time – English women in France in 1901 reported stepping back into the French Revolution, and two English couples on holiday in Spain in the 1970s stayed in a hotel that vanished on their return journey just days later. Back in Southwold, Mr Slater began to wonder if something similar had happened to him, checking old maps and pictures to see if a double hedge had ever existed at the spot where he had seen one mysteriously appear and disappear. But at this point, the trail goes cold – perhaps it’s time to put in a call to Special Branch…

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