Weird Suffolk: Is there a darker story behind the legend of the Wild Man of Sproughton?

The colourful Sproughton village sign shows the wild man leaping over the river.

The village Sproughton village sign shows the wild man who was said to live in nearby Devil's Wood. - Credit: Keith Evans/Geograph.org.uk

Said to date back to the 16th century, the inn in the village of Sproughton, three miles west of Ipswich, is on the crossroads formed by Lower Street and Burstall Lane. The village sign offers a hint to a legend which gave the pub its distinctive name: on it, Sproughton’s water mill is shown and, running way from it is a man – rather chillingly carrying a screaming child. This is the Wild Man of Sproughton.

While many link The Wild Man’s name to an eccentric hermit who lived in the woods close by, others believe he was far more mystical – and the village sign, of course, suggest he was far more frightening. Could he have been a Woodwose? A bogeyman invented to keep children away from a dark wood? Or an ancient human left behind by modern life?

A carving of the entrance to Peasenhall church of a fur covered man, known as a woodwose

A woodwose on St Michael's Church, Peasenhall - Credit: Archant/Sarah Lucy Brown

We have talked about Woodwose in some detail before, creatures that were human-like with an abundance of body hair and which can be seen carved in churches across Suffolk. There is speculation that the Woodwose are based on creatures that were seen in the forests of Suffolk and Norfolk, feral humans who chose or were forced to live solitary lives and stayed out of sight. Some believe the Woodwose were, in fact, like an ancient tribe of Neanderthals who had survived long after we believed they had become extinct.

On the mysteriousuniverse.org website, a theory is put forward: “On the north side of the River Gipping, which runs from Stowmarket to Ipswich, is a place that just happens to be called – and has been called, for as long as people have inhabited those ancient parts – Devil’s Wood, where significant archaeological finds from both Neolithic and Paleolithic times have been made.

“That Sproughton is only twelve miles from Stowmarket, and just three and a half miles from Ipswich, that ancient man lived in this very area, and that the place itself became associated with the Devil, collectively suggests a distinct possibility that the wild man of Sproughton may have been far more than a mere eccentric vagabond or hermit type, after all.

The wild man of Sproughton, Suffolk Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND

The wild man of Sproughton was said to live in nearby Devil's Wood. Pictured is the woodland at Devil's Pit Wood across the river from where Devil's Wood was. - Credit: CHARLOTTE BOND

“Maybe, incredibly, he was one of the very last of his kind, perhaps even a Neolithic survivor, one who made his lair in old woods that, not surprisingly – given the man’s wild appearance and mysterious presence – became so linked with matters so dark and devilish.”

Some tales claim the Wild Man was caught by villagers on the inn’s site and that he had lived in Devil’s Wood on the north side of the River Gipping an area which today is covered with housing. Others link him immediately to the Woodwose they had grown up alongside carved into the woodwork of local churches and claim he appeared and “terrified builders”.

But what fascinates Weird Suffolk is the sign that shows the Wild Man carrying off what looks like one of the village’s children: is there a dark secret hidden in this medieval parish? Was there a creature that stole Sproughton’s young living in the woods?

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