Spine-tingling tales for Halloween: The ghost of a vicar's son, a headless coachman, and more
PUBLISHED: 19:30 29 October 2018
There’s a lot to enjoy in a new book about ‘Secret Bungay’ − and it’s not all scary...
“If you’re expecting Secret Bungay to dish up a lot of steamy gossip and tittle-tattle about life behind closed doors in the local community, then you will be disappointed. Everything in this book is pure enough to drop into conversations at a royal garden party, or tea with the Archbishop of Canterbury…” says author Christopher Reeve.
Well, he’s technically correct, of course, but I think he self-deprecates a tad too much. Christopher certainly succeeds in his quest to feed us enough tasty sugar plums by focusing on the town’s history, quirky characters, unusual happenings and more – enough, even, to surprise folk like him who were raised there and might think the place can have no more surprises up its sleeves.
Talk of ghosts and disease, the legend of the Black Dog (maybe the devil?) that arrived in St Mary’s Church in 1577 during the most violent of thunderstorms and attacked the congregation, the “Great Fire” of 1688 and more – it’s definitely good enough for me.
In fact, Christopher hooks me with the fact Bungay became such a popular and fashionable place during the Georgian era that it was labelled Little London. Fancy.
There’s much more. Here’s a taster. (For the full collection, you’ll need Secret Bungay. From Amberley Publishing at £14.99 – or possibly cheaper via its website.)
Those odd feelings
Christopher, his three brothers and one sister “were the Enid Blyton generation, enjoying our childhood in the 1950s when children could roam free and fearless”.
Their routine on many a Sunday afternoon was to go for adult-free walks in the countryside. He recalls a favourite one to Ditchingham, then taking a steep track along Bath Hills – where the shade of the trees created “a sombre, secretive atmosphere”.
When their mum took her terrier on a walk there, little Benny would crouch and whimper – “she could never understand why until she was later told that a cold-blooded murder had taken place on the spot”.
A headless coachman…
Also on the youngsters’ radar was the “mine gallery” beneath Bungay’s 12th Century castle, built by “the bold, bad baron Hugh Bigod. Children could crawl on their hands and knees along the low and narrow passage and arrive in the dungeons area, where Hugh’s victims were imprisoned in days of yore.
“The castle was rumoured to be haunted by ghosts. Some locals said that Hugh Bigod had returned to haunt the region in the guise of the Black Dog, which had caused deaths and injuries in the church during a thunderstorm in 1577.
“Younger members of his family could be observed on certain nights rampaging along the Beccles road towards Bungay, in a horse-drawn coach with flames and smoke pouring from their nostrils, and driven by a headless coachman.”
And beware water…
Children loved bathing at a spot called “Sandy” – an area of water along the Waveney, next to Ditchingham. “A bit further along was an area rumoured to be exceedingly deep, known as ‘Finch’s Well’, so named because somebody of that name, many years previously, drowned there, getting out of his depth in the freezing cold water.
“We always thought of him as a boy of our own age, and that stretch of water retained a sombre aura, imagining his struggles and cries for help before he disappeared from sight forever.”
The ghost of Rex
The Three Tuns is said to be haunted by Mettingham clergyman’s son Rex Bacon, who got into hot water for stealing from the church collection box and later (in the 1670s or so) married a woman who soon started an affair with another man.
One night, Rex confronted them in their rented room at the Three Tuns and stabbed them to death. Then, it’s said, he hanged himself on the landing.
“The staircase has long been considered one of the most haunted parts of the inn, some people claiming they have seen the ghostly figure of Rex swinging there in the gloom.
“The rooms near the landing, when it was still used for guest accommodation, were often noisy at night with unexplained opening and shutting of doors and windows, furniture being moved about and mysterious voices.
“The manager in the 1960s, Lucy Leggett, used to ‘see’ Rex so frequently that she became quite familiar with him, teasing him and nicknaming him ‘Charlie Boy’.
“On one occasion he retaliated by giving her a push from behind, causing her to topple down the stairs, but fortunately she wasn’t hurt.”
Take a Tardis back to the Bungay of 1500 and you might find a hermit living by the river at the bottom of Bridge Street.
“He had a little residence attached to a small chapel, thought to have been dedicated to St Mary the Virgin. His role was perhaps to provide minor religious ceremonies there… His other significant role was collecting tolls from travellers passing over the bridge. This was a good source of income for the town…
“He was also responsible for helping to diminish the spread of disease when plagues, smallpox and other infectious illnesses were rife. A large stone bowl filled with vinegar, or something similar, would be placed near his door, and he had to ensure that travellers entering or leaving the town dipped their fingers in it – rather in the same way that today we cleanse our hands on entering or leaving hospitals.”
A rockery in the back garden of a house in Lower Olland Street, owned by Staithe Navigation manager William Walker, included a number of different stone features, “including sculpted goblin heads, creating a most weird Gothic appearance”.