WEIRD SUFFOLK: Secret tunnels and Dead Men’s Corner at Yoxford
- Credit: Wikipedia/RHaworth
Yoxford’s secret tunnel legend and the reason why Dead Men’s Corner was given its grisly name.
This is a Suffolk corner steeped in history and mystery, a hall visited by Kings and where a former heir-in-line died of consumption at the tender age of 27. It is also a place where legend has it that a tunnel linked a Lord to his mistress and where stories abound as to who the Dead Men of Dead Men’s Corner were.
Yoxford’s Cockfield Hall was built by a man with Royal connections: Sir Arthur Hopton was knighted for valour at the Battle of Spurs in 1513 and was at Anne Boleyn’s coronation. He attended Prince Edward’s christening in 1537 and Henry VIII – who he entertained at Cockfield Hall at least once, if not on more occasions - granted him the dissolved Priory of Blythburgh. Arthur’s eldest son Owen was Lieutenant of the Tower of London and after his father’s death in 1555 and when he had inherited the hall, Lady Katherine Grey was kept prisoner there during the last months of her life. When she died at the hall from consumption, Owen arranged for her to have a heraldic funeral in the Cockfield chapel of Yoxford church, providing meals and lodgings for 77 mourners.
Sir Owen sold Cockfield and it was bought in 1597 by Robert Brooke, who remodeled the house in Jacobean style to receive James I – when the house was sold, it was to the Blois family in 1690, who retained it for centuries. Sir Charles Blois, who died in 1850, is said to have moved one of his mistresses into Satis House, built in 1769, across the park at Cockfield Hall, which is now a hotel and restaurant.
It is rumoured that in order to reach her quickly and without being seen, he had a secret tunnel dug between the two properties so he could make nightly visits. When the army requisitioned both buildings for the war effort in the 1940s, soldiers discovered the tunnel but sealed up the entrance at Satis House. According to Caroline Blois in a piece published in the East Anglian Magazine in June 1975, a tunnel between the houses was merely a, excuse the pun, pipe dream.
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“Unfortunately for this idea, the Hall stands right next to the Minsmere River, and the land is so low-lying that the original 16th century Hall was actually built on wooden piles. No chance even of a cellar here,” she said.
Another Yoxford tale concerns Dead Mens Grave Lane which leads north from Hemp Green between Yoxford and Sibton and passes Dead Men’s Corner. Until 1942, two graves were tended at this spot by a roadman called James Leverett on a corner well-known in Yoxford: and well feared. During World War Two, the corner became the dumping ground for sugar beet and the gravestones gradually eroded and crumbled away. When the road fell victim to subsidence years later, workmen digging at the spot decided to check the legend and were able to report there were human bones buried there: but why?
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Folklore and legend stands in for hard cold facts when it comes to the story of the unmarked graves at Dead Men’s Corner. Some say they were for two men who committed suicide, others that they were travelling men who were hanged for stealing. Others claim the two men shot each other in a duel or that one man shot dead his rival and then, unable to live with himself, hanged himself from a nearby tree. Then there is a story upon which a small bit of truth can be pegged. Local people spoke of one of the graves being “where Danbrook was buried”, the other grave being that of a man who had taken his own life. There is a bridge near the corner known as Danbrook’s Bridge which spans the River Yox and was present on a map of 1783.
In The Times of June 26 1801, an article states: “On Monday last Mr. Danbrook, a respectable shopkeeper, at Yoxford...shot himself at the breakfast table, where his wife and Mr. Rutland, surgeon in that place, were present.
“Jury’s verdict, felo de se (felon of him or herself). The body of the deceased was, of course, interred in the highway”.
Dead Man’s Corner is not a crossroads, where those who took their own lives were traditionally buried on the grounds their spirits would find it difficult to navigate a path to heaven. In the world of magic and folklore, crossroads are seen to represent a location between our world and the spirit world and as such, a place where supernatural spirits can be contacted and paranormal events are more likely to take place – symbolically, crossroads represent a place which is neither here nor there, a hinterland betwixt and between. But in lieu of a handy crossroads, any roadside would do for these poor tortured souls until the Burial of Suicide Act of 1823 thankfully abolished this cruel practice.