WEIRD SUFFOLK: The Lantern Man and the headless harvesters of Buxhall
PUBLISHED: 18:00 12 October 2019
Who is the strange Lantern Man of Buxhall and what is he looking for on cold, dark nights?
When snow or frost glitters on Rattlesden Road in Buxhall on February nights, don't dawdle on your journey and certainly don't follow any strange lights.
The pretty Suffolk village of Rattlesden is where the River Orwell springs from Orwell Meadow, where the Caen stone, which was brought for the building of Bury St Edmunds Abbey, was landed, where wheelwright Richard Kimball gathered Puritan pilgrims for a new life in a new world and where oak 'whalebones' straddle a stream where once real whalebones stood. It's also where the famous naked ghost of Rattlesden Rectory has been spotted although today's ghost is not only very much dressed for the weather, in a long coat, with a lantern gripped in his hand, he's also on the road to Rattlesden and is actually in neighbouring Buxhall.
In Norfolk, Lantern Men were the pale, flickering lights which appeared to dance across the marshes, enticing the easily-led to their death. Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote about the Lantern Man, or Will o' the Wisp as many called the ghostly lights that hovered and wheeled above boggy marshland on dark, moonless nights, in 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner'. "About, about in reel and rout, the death-fires danced at night; the water, like a witch's oil, burnt green and blue and white." Coleridge's "death-fires" were first mentioned in print in 1563, described as ignis fatuus: "foolish fire that hurteth not but only feareth fooles." Forty years later, Shakespeare wrote of "wild fire" in Henry VI Part I, while Will o' the Wisp was first mentioned by the dramatist John Day in the early 1600s. Sir Isaac Newton wrote of the eerie marsh light in his opus Optick, published in 1704. Popular tradition said Will, the Lantern Man or Jack o' Lantern, carried candle-lit lanterns in the darkness to attract weary travellers, who they would lead across the marshes to their certain death.
Buxhall's Lantern Man is only seen on the coldest of nights, his lantern swinging at waist height, his presence reportedly causing dogs that spot him to behave strangely, especially in the area close to the woods near Cockerells Hall Drive. Interestingly, Buxhall boasts another strange story, one that involves headless harvesters: a field on the estate of the old manor house, Fasbourn Hall, has the somewhat grisly name of Bloody Meadow. It earned its name: there was once a duel fought here between two harvest men with scythes - the pair were well matched, for each cut off the other's head during the battle. Could the Lantern Man be searching for their heads in the fields?