WEIRD SUFFOLK: the unnaturally still village frozen in time where something deeply unsettling happened to three young cadets
PUBLISHED: 18:00 14 December 2019
It's one of Suffolk's creepiest stories: three young Navy cadets chanced upon a village that appeared to be stuck in time, and where they felt they were being watched.
It was Suffolk's own Picnic at Hanging Rock, a creepy village where time stood still and where invisible eyes watched three young men as they battled nausea and fear.
On a bright, clear Autumn morning in October 1957, something deeply unsettling happened in Kersey near Hadleigh. Three 15-year-olds, William Laing from Scotland, Ray Baker from London and Michael Crowley from Worcestershire, were taking part in an orienteering exercise on a Sunday morning, steadily crossing the undulating countryside. The Royal Navy Cadets were looking for a waypoint before heading back to base camp to report to their superiors: and as they were close to their quarry, across the wind they heard church bells. At the top of the hill they were climbing, they saw smoke rising from chimneys and the spire of a nearby church - walking towards the village, they began to feel uneasy: try as they might, they could not hear any noise other than the gentle trickle of a stream.
The birdsong that had accompanied their journey had disappeared and the church bells had fallen silent - and that wasn't the only troubling thing. Autumnal trees had been replaced with vibrant green leaves as if it was springtime, there was no hint of the breeze they'd been walking in and the smoking chimneys and church spire had vanished, replaced by timber-framed buildings. There were no streetlights, no TV aerials, no cars and no telephone wires - and there was no sign of any people, anywhere. The only living creatures the boys could see, other than each other, were the ducks that splashed silently in the stream. Filled with unease, the boys began to look around: there in a butcher's shop window were skinned oxen, green with age and covered with cobwebs as if the butcher had left in a hurry, weeks earlier. Houses in the village were bare of furniture, just empty, cold shells.
Just then, a shiver passed through all three youths as all felt the icy stare of invisible watchers from all around the village tracing their every step. It was the last straw. Petrified and nauseous, they walked quickly up the village street, eventually pelting away from the strange, medieval-looking houses, pausing only to glance back to check if they were being followed: at which point they saw smoke rising from chimneys and the spire of a nearby church…
Decades later in 1990, Laing - then living in Australia - flew to England to visit psychical researcher Andrew Mackenzie to investigate what had happened and return to Kersey. There, Mackenzie revealed to Laing that his research had uncovered that the building where the three boys had seen the rotting meat had been registered as a butcher's shop from 1790 to 1905 and could possibly have been associated with the trade for centuries. Laing recalled what he'd felt back in 1957: "It was a ghost village, so to speak. It was almost as if we had walked back in time… I experienced an overwhelming feeling of sadness and depression in Kersey, but also a feeling of unfriendliness and unseen watchers which sent shivers up one's back… I wondered if we'd knocked at a door to ask a question who might have answered it? It doesn't bear thinking about." Mackenzie was puzzled by the fact the church - which dates back to the 14th century - had not been visible during the possible "time slip" and put forward the suggestion that the three had stumbled into Kersey shortly after the plague had killed half its population.
Others, of course, have suggested that Kersey simply looked old-fashioned to three lads, and that over the years, the 'other-worldliness' became something altogether more sinister in the retelling of the story.
But, as Weird Suffolk knows, the county is no stranger to time slips - we covered a curious case at Rougham where a grand red-brick Georgian mansion has been appearing and disappearing since the 1860s. Could something similar have happened just 16 miles away at Kersey?