Weird Suffolk: The Rougham mirage

Views around the village of Rougham. The village sign.

Views around the village of Rougham. The village sign. - Credit: Archant

Everyone has heard of haunted houses - but in Suffolk, there’s a house which itself is the ghost, appearing and disappearing in front of incredulous onlookers.

The so-called Rougham Mirage has perplexed locals, visitors and those fascinated with the paranormal for more than 150 years: on a stretch of road between Bradfield St George and Rougham Green, a stately home appears and then vanishes, leaving no trace.

Multiple witnesses report a very similar story: the sudden appearance of a grand red-brick mansion house, Georgian in style, and with elaborate gardens, all of which disappear on closer inspection.

The first reported sighting was by Robert Palfry in 1860, who was enjoying the last light of a June evening in the fields of Rougham when he suddenly felt a chill in the air - suddenly, from nowhere, a large red brick house appeared, it’s gardens filled with summer blooms.

Fifty-two years later, his great grandson James Cobbold was riding a pony trap close to the village with butcher George Waylett. Suddenly, the temperature dropped. As the pony reared up in fear and Waylett was thrown to the ground, the pair heard a strange sound as if air was being displaced. Before Cobbold could go to the aid of his friend, a huge three-storey Georgian building and its gardens loomed into view in what had been an empty field. In shock, he turned to see Waylett and as he did so, the house became enveloped in mist and then disappeared.“That’s the third time I’ve seen that happen,” said the unimpressed butcher, as he dusted himself down. In 1975, Cobbold recounted his story in Amateur Gardening magazine, saying he’d heard of two more sightings within a decade of publication.

Back to 1923, and a young school teacher, Ruth Wynne, and her 10-year-old pupil were on a countryside ramble on an October afternoon. As they walked down a path they found a brick wall to a large estate, green-yellow in colour and supporting huge iron gates: they decided to find out more about the estate back at home.When they asked about the grand house, no one could offer any help - there was, they were told, no grand mansion house where they had walked. When the pair retraced their steps, the wall and gates were nowhere to be seen.

Winding back the decades again to the 1940s, Edward Bentley was delivering clothes catalogues for Aubyn Davies of Bury St Edmunds after the harvest to try and benefit from the bonus payments to rural workers.As he and two colleagues drove down Southall Street, Edward spotted a large Georgian-style house set back from the road. Sensing potential sales, he asked the driver to stop and reverse but when he looked a second time, the house had vanished into thin air.

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In 1976, 14-year-old Sandra Hardwick had cycled to meet a friend on a summer’s evening and was making her way home before dark on Kingshall Street. As she approached two bungalows, she noticed a house on her right, brightly lit as if by midday sunshine. The atmosphere was eerily cold and silent.

In 1998, the daughter of a rector living at Rougham Green Rectory, where Miss Wynne has lived, burst into the local pub in tears, claiming to have seen the ghostly mansion.

And in 2007, Jean Batram spoke to the East Anglian Daily Times about a similar experience when she and husband Sidney had driven past a gorgeous Georgian house on Kingshall Street. The couple eagerly looked forward to seeing the beautiful house on their return journey - but when they went back, the house had disappeared. Reminded of the experience years later when she borrowed Betty Puttick’s book, Ghosts of Suffolk, from her local library, she told the EADT: “I know I saw this house, I can see it now and could sketch it if I needed to. It was a lovely big Georgian house with a whole row of long windows and trees at the back of it. “I have talked to other people and they have heard of it and people in Rougham have heard of the tale. I would just love to get to the bottom of it.”

While the location of the house changes slightly in some accounts, its appearance seems to be set in stone. Early 18th century maps show a large house in the location of most sightings, possibly called King’s Hall, but it seems unlikely that there would be no records of a Georgian-style house or that it wouldn’t have been remembered in 1860. But fragments of a green-yellow brick wall have been found by researchers, suggesting a real house may well have stood in the area where the ghost mansion appears. There are several theories about Rougham’s vanishing house: some believe it to be a mirage, others that it represents a time slip which passers-by are experiencing. Investigator Carl Groves has a theory that the area has some kind of unusual energy which causes the house to appear. He references cases of “whirling vortexes” when people use metal detectors or dowsing rods in the area and says he believed the altered energy can enable people to see visions of the past.

Whatever the cause, the mystery of Rougham’s disappearing mansion has persisted through the more than 150 years - when, and to whom, will it appear again?

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