It's one of Norfolk's most famous landmarks boasting the tallest tower in the county which gazes out over a beloved part of the coastline – but when Cromer Church's chancel lay in ruins before it was rebuilt in the 19th century, something terrifying lay in wait for the faithful.

It seems hard to believe that Cromer's St Peter and St Paul's Church with its commanding tower was ever in a state of ruin, let alone that it was haunted by the ghost of a murdered child whose white clothes appeared soaked in blood.

But this is the tale told by author Walter Rye in his book Cromer Past and present, published in 1889 which name checks the landmark church and the spectre that appeared in the jagged ruins of the church's chancel

Built in the 15th century, by the end of the 17th century, much of the eastern end of the church had collapsed including the chancel, which was partially demolished with gunpowder. In the 1780s, consideration was given as to whether the church itself should be demolished, but thanks to William Wyindham of Felbrigg (more of his family later), who spoke to the Bishop of Norwich, the church was reprieved although the decay continued.

We can thank the seaside air for the resurgence of Cromer Church: as the town became fashionable in Victorian times, there was an urge to see the church reflecting the growing prosperity and a group of wealthy local families allowed restoration to begin in earnest.

But our story is from before the rebuilding, when the churchyard was used by townspeople as common land, pasture for sheep and cattle and where parishioners were in the habit of drying their washing on lines (during this period, hedgehogs were bought at a cost of four pence each to keep down 'vermin' in the churchyard).

In issue six of The Lantern, the periodical of the Borderline Science Investigation Group from Lowestoft between 1971 and 1982, Walter Rye's tale was repeated – it was the story of a grisly ghost seen on the path made across the ruined chancel.

'This path, now happily closed, was not much used after sunset, for the old ruins are an eerie place after dark and there is more than one ghost story lingering about them,' wrote Rye, a former athlete who wrote more than 80 works on Norfolk, was a founder member of the Norfolk Broads Protection Society and was Norwich Mayor in 1908–9.

'An old man I employed some years ago to clear away some of the rubbish, told me that not long ago, as he was crossing the chancel at night, a little child-like figure, dressed in white, arose from the ground within an arms length of him, and gradually increased in height till its face was level with his and that then, all of a sudden, a great gash appeared across its throat, the blood poured down in a great torrent over its white clothes, and it vanished in a flash leaving a sighing sound in his ears'.

Was the ghost associated to the smugglers synonymous with this area of the coast? It is believed that a smuggler's tunnel linked St Peter and St Paul to Cromer Hall, half a mile away, which was once the family home of the Windhams. Another tunnel which it was said ran under the church, started at the promenade and until recently, there were townsfolk who could remember an entrance being accessible…

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