Weird Norfolk: Staked through the heart at a Norfolk crossroads
PUBLISHED: 08:46 09 June 2019 | UPDATED: 10:32 09 June 2019
A terrible end to a tragic life – staked through the heart and buried at a lonely crossroads in Norfolk after being accused of murdering her own daughter, poor Mary Turrell’s final resting place was close to a tree said to have grown from the stake that pinned a killer to the ground.
At Three Cross Ways in Redenhall, a tree once grew at the site where it is claimed a stake was driven through the heart of a woman said to have murdered her baby.
Almost halfway between Harleston and Redenhall, and at the place where a lane from nearby Starston joins the main road, there is a valley next to a small stream and it is within this triangle where a willow tree once stood - a willow tree with a dark history.
Cut down at the end of the 19th century, the tree is said to have grown in the place chosen for the burial of those who had committed suicide and the area became known as Lush's Bush.
The first record of the tree was from 1668, when according to local legend, it grew from a wooden stake which was hammered through the heart of a man who had killed another and then himself whose name was Lush and was buried in this location.
Could it be that villagers were using a wooden stake in order to pin Lush's corpse to the ground and prevent him from rising as a vampire? Sadly, probably not.
It is far more likely that Lush received the same treatment as a suspected vampire in order to contain his unhappy spirit from leaving his earthly form and causing trouble to the living - and the burial at a crossroads was due to a belief that such spots were uneasy boundaries between unclaimed land, where the supernatural reigned.
In the past, a self-inflicted death led to posthumous punishment: those who took their own lives could expect to be dragged through the streets, buried in unconsecrated ground at night and their bodies defiled before burial - stones aimed at heads, stakes hammered through hearts.
Historians argue about the significance of crossroad burials: some believe that the crossroads represented a kind of religious symbol to those barred from consecrated ground, others that the burial was at the place where executions were commonly held and another theory is that a
burial at a crossroads would confuse the ghost of the deceased who would be unable to find a path to travel.
Crossroads have long been thought of as uneasy, transitional gaps between unclaimed areas which were vulnerable to supernatural forces and were for many years considered to be spoiled, haunted grounds and meeting places for witches.
To be condemned to a burial at a crossroads meant eternal purgatory - indeed, the first documented instance of this practice being used specifically for a death by suicide was in Suffolk when, in 1510, Robert Browner, the superior of Butley Priory in the county, hung himself and was ordered to be staked and buried at a highway crossing.
More sleepless souls joined Lush in the unconsecrated ground, the last of which was recorded in the Norfolk Chronicle on April 17 1813: Mary Turrell had, it was said, poisoned herself after she had been accused of killing her newborn daughter, who was found in a Harleston pond.
An inquest found she had taken her own life and on the same day as the pronouncement, at twilight her body was taken to Lush's Bush and she was buried on the high road "in the presence of a vast concourse of people" with a stake hammered through her heart by the parish constable.
In 1886, Charles Candler writing in Notes on the Parish of Redenhall with Harleston, recounts the eye-witness account of an old man who had watched the burial of Mary when he was
a young boy: "Creeping between the legs of the men who stood close around the grave, he saw in the gloom of the evening the parish constable fix the stake in position, while another drove it home with a heavy beetle, Mr Oldershaw sitting his horse
in silent charge of the proceedings."
Cash was raised in Harleston for Mary's older daughter, left motherless by the tragedy, and she was sent to a refuge for the destitute in London, although by 1828 the girl had fallen on hard times, had been found guilty of crimes and been sentenced to sail on one of the convict fleets to the Australian penal colony of Botany Bay.
In June 1823, Abel Griffiths, who murdered his father and then killed himself, was given a crossroads burial where London's Victoria Station now stands and the Annual Register noted: "the disgusting part of the ceremony of throwing lime over the body and driving a stake through it was dispensed."
Later the same year, such burials were officially abolished by an Act of Parliament.
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