Where are the most haunted places in Suffolk?

St Mary's Church in Bury St Edmunds at twilight.
Alleged home of the Grey Lady ghost. In the 1970s

St Mary's Church in Bury St Edmunds at twilight. Alleged home of the Grey Lady ghost. In the 1970s, for instance, a girl walking through the churchyard 'saw a hunched figure of an elderly lady in a long black dress and dark grey shawl by one of the graves who seemed to be there one second and inexplicably gone the next', says Ruth Picture: PHIL MORLEY

Author Ruth Roper Wylde talks about life growing up with a poltergeist and all the spirits she’s discovered since!

A nice day out? Ruth says of reported paranormal happenings 'I often find myself sitting on the fenc

A nice day out? Ruth says of reported paranormal happenings 'I often find myself sitting on the fence and keeping an open mind' Picture: Ruth Roper Wylde - Credit: Archant

Ruth’s sister screamed as she sat in the bath and the pounding shook the door in its frame. The handle shook violently, too. Her earlier fears about being alone in the bathroom were being borne out – she’d said someone often banged on the door. It was lucky Ruth had surrendered to Big Sis’s nagging and agreed to keep her company.

Not that Ruth (perched on the loo, with the seat down) thought this fearful commotion was anything other than her young brother messing about.

Today, she remembers: “I flung the door open while it was being pounded, ready to confront him… only to find there was nobody. Expecting to find a human of flesh and blood there, only to find silence, it was horrible. I was absolutely terrified.”

That’s what it was like living with a poltergeist, it seems.

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I’d have been running from the house. Ruth Roper Wylde was made of sterner stuff. “Hertfordshire was the house that had a poltergeist. Suffolk had some quieter ghosts,” she says, with more nonchalance than I’d be able to muster if I’d lived in TWO “haunted” houses.

In fact, it all fascinated her. Ruth now combines part-time work as a civil servant with writing. Local paranormal activity is covered in two of her books: The Roadmap of British Ghosts and The Almanac of British Ghosts. More about that soon.

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Ruth came to Bury St Edmunds as a schoolgirl. Home was a bungalow off Sicklesmere Road. A home with uninvited guests.

“We had a little boy who used to run through the house. He looked to be the same age as my brother, so we were seeing him out of the corner of our eyes and mistaking that for my brother. You never got a good look at him.”

A woman was also seen walking through the bungalow, separately.

“Twice, my mother went chasing after her, shouting ‘What are you doing in my house?’ and thinking it was a real person – only to follow her into a dead-end room that had only the one entrance and find nobody there.”

Was Ruth scared? “No. Not even slightly. Because it happened so fast.” Mum set the tone. Mary had been a radio engineer in the RAF, “so she was an incredibly intelligent, incredibly pragmatic woman. She had a very sound belief that there must be a scientific explanation for everything. She very firmly believed it wasn’t the spirits of the dead we were seeing.”

The family left Bury St Edmunds in 1977, when St James Middle School pupil Ruth was about 13. Its new home was near Stevenage. It came with that poltergeist, apparently. Once, a butter knife started spinning, Ruth says. It slid to the edge of the table, crossed the room “like a spinning sycamore leaf off a tree”, and lowered itself to the floor.

“My mum got a tape-measure and measured from the edge of the table to where the knife landed – something like eight or nine feet – called out the distance and said ‘That wasn’t gravity, was it?’ Because she had that attitude, a lot of the time it was impossible to be scared.”

Today, Ruth looks afresh at ghostly episodes by tracking down other people with something to add to the stories.

“My analytical mind will look at the data and often say ‘Well, I can make that fit into that theory, and I can make that bit of data fit into that (different) theory, but I can’t make all the data fit into one theory’. So I often find myself sitting on the fence and keeping an open mind.”

So what has she found in Suffolk?

Her book The Roadmap of British Ghosts suggests we might do well to avoid the Bentley Road outside Bentley village, heading towards Brantham. Dodnash Priory was near here, she says, and there’s a story about a ghostly monk haunting part of the lane.

Ruth also heard of two girls playing truant in 1978. They’d propped their bikes against a red-brick bridge over Stutton Brook and were playing in the stream.

“As they played, they suddenly, and very clearly, heard someone messing about with their bikes up above. Fearing theft, they jumped up and scrambled back out onto the road, only to find no sign of anyone there. However, on one of the bikes, the pedal was slowly spinning around, as if someone had just that moment taken their foot off it.”

Someone else got in touch to say that as a 15-year-old in the early 1980s he’d cycle from Brantham to Capel St Mary. One night, near the bridge, his rucksack was apparently snatched violently from his back, though the straps were not damaged.

Polstead has long been a fount of ghostly stories. Ruth tells of the woman who in the 1990s was said to have passed a Victorian-period horse and carriage. It carried an elderly lady and two men. She looked back to watch it go, only to find it had disappeared.

The Almanac of British Ghosts takes us to St Mary’s Church, Bury St Edmunds – and the legend of the Grey Lady ghost. It does seem “quite a muddled one”, says Ruth, who now lives in Bedfordshire.

“She is said to haunt the grounds of St Mary’s Church, just next to the Abbey, every 24th February in penance for her wrongdoing. Some tales name her as Maude Carew, a nun at either the Abbey, St Mary’s Church, a nearby priory, or the St Saviours Hospital, who murdered Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, on that date in 1447. However, historically there is no record of this...” That said, there have been many claimed sightings.

By the way, does Ruth ever talk to her civil service colleagues about these things? She laughs. “Occasionally. I tend to be met with a ‘Shut up Ruth; we know…’!”

The Roadmap of British Ghosts, Ruth’s latest independently-published book, costs £9.75 from Amazon

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