Little Waldingfield History Society was delighted to welcome Robert Halliday to the Parish Room where, on a stormy and windy night, 34 brave (and ghoulish?) souls came along to hear about the paranormal activity recorded in Suffolk; they were not to be disappointed, especially when near the end of Robert's presentation, his projector appeared to change the pictures on our screen all by itself. Thankfully there was a quite harmless explanation, but it certainly got the attention of our audience.
Robert began his talk by describing his own personal paranormal experiences, which though benign were certainly fascinating; he described what he saw, on two separate occasions on the north (or evil) side of St Andrew's church in Walberswick - a blue person shaped and sized object which sadly disappeared before he could get close enough to see it properly. He did however examine the part of the graveyard where it was, finding the immediate area cold and damp, despite the evening being warm and dry - scary; he subsequently came back some time later for a proper examination, staying four hours but without any sight of the object.
Robert's talk then shifted to some of the many (and repeated) records of unexplained activity in Suffolk, keeping the audience alert to the end.
Sutherland House in Southwold
Is the site of many sightings of a phantom lady who in the C17th was working in the house waiting for the return of Lord Sandwich, the man she loved, from a sea battle with the Dutch. Sadly he was killed and on the anniversary of his death on 28th May, footsteps and the sound of doors opening and closing by themselves may be heard; she may also on occasion be spied in an upstairs window dressed in C17th attire. Happily subsequent owners of the property are not spooked by such goings on.
The most haunted house in England - Borley Rectory in Sudbury
The large Gothic-style Rectory was built in 1862 for the rector of Borley and his family. It gained fame as "the most haunted house in England", was badly damaged by fire in 1939 and subsequently demolished in 1944.
The rectory was alleged to be haunted since it was built, and such reports multiplied in 1929 after the Daily Mirror published an account of a visit to the rectory by paranormal researcher Harry Price, who wrote two books supporting claims of paranormal activity.
The uncritical acceptance of Price's reports prompted a formal study by the Society for Psychical Research (SPR), of whom Harry Price was a member. The SPR report rejected most of the claimed sightings as either imagined or fabricated, casting doubt on Price's credibility. His claims are now generally discredited, but neither the report nor biography of Price quelled public interest in the stories, with new books and television documentaries being produced to satisfy public interest in the rectory.
The Brown Monk of Bury
The old Abbey Gateway in Bury is one of many locations where witnesses have seen apparitions of monks, who in the 1960s were dubbed Brown Monks by locals, despite the monks of the Benedictine Abbey wearing black habits. Abbeygate Street itself has seen many monk sightings, whilst cellars in the old Suffolk Hotel building in Buttergate are said to be haunted by Brown Monks; many staff in the shops along Abbeygate Street also seem to have witnessed ghostly monk apparitions, though whether of the same or different monks is unknown.
The Mill Hotel Sudbury
Many inns and pubs claim to be haunted with the ghosts of animals long dead manifesting themselves as live. At the Mill Hotel, the ghost is a mummified cat, found many years before the building became a hotel and then sold to a nearby shop. This shop suffered many disasters before finally burning down, though somehow the mummified cat survived the conflagration. Thereafter the cat was held responsible for the mayhem and returned to the Mill Hotel when everything returned happily to normal.
Bricked up to bring good luck to the original mill building, the mummified cat was rediscovered in 1971 when the mill was converted to a hotel. In 1999 it was again removed, and over the next few weeks the Road outside the exploded, the manager's office flooded several times and the person who had removed the cat met with an accident. All returned to normal once the cat was returned.
Haunted Walberwick - George Orwell's Ghost
Eric Arthur Blair's family hailed from Southwold. After much travelling to India, Burma and many parts of the UK, Blair decided that East Anglia was his home and took the pen name George Orwell, presumably from the river running from Felixstowe through Ipswich and Stowmarket (as the Gipping) to Mendelsham Green near Gipping.
In a letter to friend Dennis Collings in August 1931, although not believing in the paranormal, Orwell wrote that he had seen a ghost in Walberswick cemetery. He was so shocked that he included a detailed diagram of his walking route in the letter to demonstrate the geographical impossibility that a figure he had seen would have been able to walk away so quickly.
I happened to glance over my shoulder and saw a figure pass, disappearing behind the masonry and presumably disappearing into the churchyard. I wasn't looking directly at it so couldn't make out more than it was a man's figure, small and stooping, dressed in lightish brown. I had the impression it glanced towards me but made out nothing of the features. At the moment of its passing I thought nothing, but a few seconds later it struck me the figure had made no noise and I followed it out into the churchyard. There was no one in the churchyard and no one within possible distance along the road - the figure had therefore vanished.
Presumably an hallucination concluded Orwell, but 84 years after Orwell's curious experience near an English cemetery, what he saw and how he saw it remains a mystery.
LWHS trustees have an open mind about happenings as described above, but interested readers can easily search the internet or, better still, visit the places described to perhaps see and experience for themselves what may, or may not, be happening there - enjoy.
Our next event will be on 16th December at 7.30 in The Parish Room Little Waldingfield, when David Steward will talk and walk us around Hampton Court Palace and gardens, showing us what Cardinal Wolsey started and Henry VIII continued (after he “acquired it”).
We look forward to welcoming guests new and old for what is sure to be a quite fascinating evenings entertainment and a wonderful story of a building that celebrated its 500th anniversary last year.
Andy Sheppard 19th November 2015
A History of Suffolk Gravestones