Weird Suffolk: Dare you call for Red Hannah at dusk by the ghost gates to Fornham Park?

The spirit of Red Hannah is said to haunt the old South Lodge gatepost at Fornham Park.

The spirit of Red Hannah is said to haunt the old South Lodge gatepost at Fornham Park. - Credit: Archant

She’s Fornham St Genevieve’s very own bogeywoman, a shadowy figure that lurks close to the ghost gates of a country estate which no longer exists, but which was built on the bloodied grounds where thousands lost their lives.

She has been seen in the shadows by Fornham Park gates, appearing at dusk to serve as a warning to naughty children on a site which was once the scene of a bloody battle where more than 3,000 Flemish mercenaries were slaughtered.

Today, the last remnant of the once-impressive Fornham estate is a single short gate column, itself the last remain of the gates to Fornham Park. It is here that Red Hannah appears in the magical hour between light and dark as dusk envelops this corner of Suffolk.

It’s difficult to picture what the gate that once stood across this drive would have looked like, but this was once a rich estate.

Bought by wealthy London grain merchant Samuel Kent in 1731, the site was enlarged over the decades and bought in 1797 by Bernard Howard, who was subsequently the 12th Duke of Norfolk. He expanded the building in the 1820s and it was sold in 1842 to the second Lord Manners and then again in 1862 to Sir William Gilstrap.

Used for training purposes by troops in 1939, the house was demolished in 1957 and all that remains of this once grand country pile is the tower of the ruined church of St Genevieve, which was destroyed by fire in 1787 and unused by worshippers since 1813. It became a water tower to service Fornham and is said to be haunted by a ghostly monk who appears on Christmas Eve each year.

Some say that the monk was a Benedictine Brother from nearby St Edmunds Abbey who may have been at the battle attending to the dying at the Battle of Fornham fought between forces of King Henry II, lead by Robert de Lucy and the rebels lead by Robert de Beaumont 3rd Earl of Leicester, as part of the ‘Great Revolt’ of 1173-4.

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At the turn of the 20th century, Red Hannah began to be spoken about in hushed tones – she would appear close to the gates and the Fornham and Ingham crossroads which today is a roundabout, often to mischievous children who should have been making their way home before dark.

Red Hannah is also a grisly nickname for a whipping post given by slaves and prisoners to the red-painted post where they would “hug Red Hannah” as they were lashed.

As news of Red Hannah’s appearance spread like wildfire through the villages of Suffolk, she began to be used by parents as a dire warning to their children about what might happen if they didn’t do as they were told.

It seems as if Red Hannah served her purpose as a bogeywoman, becoming the shape that shifts underneath nursery beds at night, the shadow inside the wardrobe, the footsteps on the stairs, the tapping on the window on dark nights and most importantly for parents, an imaginary behaviour monitor.

For centuries, the bogeyman (or woman) has served as a timely warning to children to stay on the righteous path or face punishment from a creature that feeds off darkness and fear.

An imaginary monster conjured by parents to frighten children into good behaviour, the bogeyman may target specific mischief or general misbehavior and appears in folklore across the world: in Spain, he is El Cuco, in Italy he is the Babau, in Finland he is Morko. In Fornham St Genevieve, she is waiting.

For more Weird Suffolk stories click here.

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