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Weird Suffolk: “The Great Troubler” of Walberswick

PUBLISHED: 16:30 30 November 2018

WEIRD SUFFOLK: Lodge Road, Walberswick   Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

WEIRD SUFFOLK: Lodge Road, Walberswick Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Archant

Many claim that Walberswick is the most haunted village in not only Suffolk, but England – even author George Orwell had his own tale to tell about this coastal corner of the county when he spied a spectre in the churchyard.

Many claim that Walberswick is the most haunted village in not only Suffolk, but England – even author George Orwell had his own tale to tell about this coastal corner of the county when he spied a spectre in the churchyard.

But today’s story doesn’t involve ghosts in the churchyard or Black Shuck the devil dog, or even the famous Walberswick Whistle which haunts the very air of the village: today we tell the tale of John Brooke, better known to those who knew him as The Great Troubler.

Close to the outskirts of the village is Westwood Lodge, a building which dates back to the 16th century on a site which has been used as a dwelling site for a further two centuries. In 1391, the Manor of Westwood belonged to the Duke of Suffolk, Michael de la Pole and since then it has welcomed many other families, including the Hoptons, the Blois and the Brookes, who lived in the manor in the early 1600s.

John Brooke was a wild, difficult man who could not stop himself from meddling in local affairs, including enclosing the common land near the manor house. Additionally, he was a tyrannical master who treated those in his employ with bitter cruelty, including his faithful horse.

No one was distraught, therefore, when in 1652, aged just 26, Brooke The Great Troubler, met his maker.

He had set off to Blythburgh to pass judgement on some unfortunates in court when he experienced a sharp pain – but, unwilling to delay his journey and keen to continue to court, he carried on his journey: “I’ll get to Blythburgh or die trying!” he exclaimed.

And indeed, John Brooke did die trying.

His young widow Jane married Sir William Blois and Westwood Manor remained in the possession of the Blois family until fairly recent times – it was, some believed, a decision which infuriated an already angry man from beyond the grave.

John Brooke’s spirit was said to ride furiously up and down the corridors of the manor house, creating such terror that the inner room to the master bedroom, which is where the hauntings were said to begin, was bricked up.

In 1865, when alterations to the manor led to it being opened up, it was said that workmen found just two objects: a saddle and a whip, both of which were burned with great ceremony and to great effect: the hauntings ended.

The East Anglian Magazine in 1961 also recalled a tale of ghostly footsteps and the spectral figure of a woman in a silk dress in the, both of which were reported by a Mrs Browne, the wife of a farmer living at the lodge, who reported hearing the ghostly pacing in the oldest part of the house at night, but said they were even more pronounced at noon.

A gardener at Westwood Lodge also told a similar tale: “We see’d a woman with a silk dress on, that’s what we see’d. My mother see’d it often. We lived over the dairy, me mother an’ me, and she see’d the ghost come out of Mrs. Cooper’s study…” (a tenant farmer named Cooper is listed in Whites Directory of Suffolk, 1844).”

In October, 1972, three policemen held an all-night vigil on the premises, having been told that “a lady in a long silver dress” had been seen numerous times over six decades, both in the grounds and on the track outside.

According to the policemen, at 1.20am, a length of cotton which had been taped across the entrance hall was found to have been dislodged and dull thuds were heard deep inside the house before a sudden drop in temperature and a feeling of electricity in the air. Although the men reported feeling as if they were being watched, they saw nothing, despite hearing several more dull thuds. They left at 4am.

In a follow-up letter in The Lantern, Robert Collins said he had been at the investigation with the policeman, which had been recorded: “Regarding the reported tape-recording, I heard this the following day and was present when P.C. Lincoln made it,” he wrote.

“Unfortunately there were some rather obscene words as P.C. Evans fell over and the noises occurred as these took place, hence the reluctance to publicise it. P.C. Evans and I went along to the lodge, to be very truthful, for the fun of it, but I don’t mind telling you it was one of the most terrifying experiences I’ve ever had in my life!”


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