Weird Suffolk: A curious corner of Suffolk with ghosts, tunnels and treasure
- Credit: Zorba the Geek/Geograph.org.uk
A ghostly monk that drifts across the road, treasure hidden under the remains of a priory, an invisible force that frightens children and an underground tunnel: this tiny corner of Suffolk is a magnet for the unusual.
Mentioned in the Domesday Book, Dodnash was a tiny settlement in Suffolk which boasted a priory and a handful of houses and was next door to Bentley and Brantham. Bentley has a clutch of fascinating finds that date back rom the Mesolithic, Neolithic, Bronze, Iron and Roman ages and a Roman road forms part of its northern boundary. This land is filled with secrets and mysteries, relics of the past and echoes of times gone by.
The small priory of the Blessed Virgin at Dodnash is thought to have been founded by Wimer the Chaplain, Sheriff of Norfolk and Suffolk and a prominent servant of Henry II in the 13th century. Although small, the priory played a disproportionately large part on the economic and social life of south-east Suffolk for the next three centuries.
A lump of masonry in the middle of a field is all that remains of the buildings that once stood in this quiet corner of Suffolk – the priory was originally for five canons and was in use until Cardinal Wolsey’s downfall in 1525. Today, you can see re-used material from the priory in the present Dodnash Priory Farm, and legend has it that if you can move the stone, you can find the treasure hidden beneath it while the monks were in residence.
And speaking of the monks, one is said to haunt part of the lane that led to the priory: on Bentley Road, outside Bentley village and pointing towards Brantham, a spectral figure clad in Augustine robes has been seen drifting across the road. Author Ruth Roper Wylde, who lived in a haunted house in Bury St Edmunds as a child, tells a tale of two girls who played truant near Dodnash Priory in 1978. The pair had propped their bikes against a red-brock bridge over Strutton Brook and were playing in the stream.
“As they played, they suddenly, and very clearly, heard someone messing about with their bikes up above,” she told the East Anglian Daily Times in 2019. “Fearing theft, they jumped up and scrambled back out onto the road, only to find no sign of anyone there. However, on one of the bikes, the pedal was slowly spinning around, as if someone had just that moment taken their foot off it.”
She added that someone had got in touch with her to say that as a 15-year-old in the early 1980s, he’d cycle from Brantham to Capel St Mary – one night, near the same bridge, his rucksack was apparently snatched violently from his back, though the straps were not damaged.
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A final strange piece of the jigsaw puzzle is the hidden passageway said to have been deep beneath the earth between what was once the Convent of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary at East Bergholt and Dodnash Priory. The Convent was once a mansion built in the early 18th century, itself on the site of a former Elizabethan house. It, like many other manor houses was requisitioned for military use during the Second World War and in line with other stately homes used by the forces, was not treated with respect.
The nuns never returned to East Bergholt after the war and today the hall houses groups of families and individuals who have chosen to live together on the 70-acre site in rural Suffolk.