High sprites, ghosts and legends on the amber shoreline
Time to catch up with strange doings on dark Norfolk nights. In October, David Stannard came to give us the Halloween Horrors, but we weren’t able to catch the Parish Magazine deadline. Here is a late taste of his many mysterious tales.
“High Sprites” was quite a gentle start. It turned out that they were party games played on Valentine's Eve and nothing to do with Halloween after all. Picking sultanas soaked in brandy from the surface of a bath of water was one of them. Only problem was that they were on fire - snapdragons! Then a knock on the door. “Jack Valentine”, the children shriek. But when the door is opened he has disappeared. If you are lucky a gift will have been left by this sort of Norfolk Father Christmas with his dates mixed up.
Ingham sounds like a good place to visit if you are into ghosts. One story focusses on the Holy Trinity Church, where you can see the tomb of Sir Roger de Bois. Entombed 700 years ago, his effigy lays on a bed of cobbles with the severed head of a Saracen in lieu of a pillow. Don’t go there on August 2nd because that is when you might find him kneeling at the holy altar! After his prayers he is said to march off to Stalham Staithe where he fights and slays a scimitar-wielding Saracen. As is sometimes the case, there is a truth behind the legend. The Monks of Ingham Priory were the Henry Kissingers of their day, raising funds to release and bring home Crusaders captured by the dastardly Saracens. Sir Roger, it appears, is still fighting their battles.
Happisburgh is another ghostly hotspot with a number of grisly tales. One involves the headless body of an 18th Century seaman which, it is alleged, can be seen floating in the air and then disappearing down a well, closely followed by his head. More elements of truth. That was a time of ruthless encounters between smugglers and the excise men. Many were killed, and it is a fact that a body was discovered in that well.
David told us stories from other places, including Eccles, Waxham and Hempstead, ranging right up to the Second World War. And finally, he invited us to google the Norfolk Walking Festival and find out about the talks and walks planned. Fortunately, the walks take place in daylight.