Tales of ghostly goings on in Norwich’s streets

He is an intriguing fellow known only as the Man in Black, and while he reveals very little about his enigmatic self, he is only too happy to share his encyclopaedic knowledge of the spirits which haunt the city.

Three times a week he walks the streets pointing out where evil deeds or ghostly happenings have occurred in days gone by.

Of the stories he has picked to tell the Evening News, his first goes back to the Robert Kett rebellion and concerns Lord Sheffield, a ghost reported to frequent the Adam and Eve, the city's oldest pub.

'The government sent Lord Sheffield to Norwich to deal with the rebels,' he said. 'He had 500 troops available to put down the rebellion, but at the first battle at Bishopgate they faced 15,000 of Kett's men.

'Lord Sheffield lost his nerve and decided to surrender because he knew they were all going to die, and the way they surrendered in those days was the leader would step down off his horse and take off his helmet.


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'But Kett's men did not know this ritual and a Cromer butcher called Foulkes took this as an opportunity to whack Lord Sheffield with his cleaver. Lord Sheffield was taken to the Adam and Eve where he died.

'He did not do very much to start with, and when he started to do things it was tapping people on the shoulder, running his fingers through people's hair, and hot and cold temperature shifts.

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'But when it got to the 20th century he started doing more. Tankards on hooks in the downstairs bar would 'dance.' 'There is a bell in the pub that rings by itself and there are footsteps heard when there is nobody there.'

For his second tale, the Man in Black moves to Magdalen Street and speaks of the ghost of Sarah from Victorian times.

'In 1872, number 19 Magdalen Street was the Key Merchants Arms, a well known drinking den downstairs, but upstairs it was used for more adult pastimes,' he said.

'Sarah was in the pub with a man friend who got the wrong idea and tried to take her upstairs. She struggled but he overpowered and murdered her.

'The man was caught and executed at Norwich Jail, but Sarah is very much still with us.'

He describes Sarah as the city's most violent poltergeist and said through the years she has made life difficult for many of number 19's occupants.

The Man in Black said some light was shed on Sarah when contact was made with her via a seance. 'The reason she is so angry is because she doesn't understand she is dead. She thinks she's alive so she will say something to you and if you ignore her, which you are likely to do because you cannot hear her, then she will think you are being rude and she'll get angry.'

For tale number three the Man in Black moves back to the Bishopgate area where a couple called William and Martha Sewart lived in 1842.

'They were not happily married and one day William announced Martha had gone away and he did not know when she would return,' he said.

'Shortly after that, body parts, a rib here and a liver there, appeared in the city's dark corners over five consecutive nights. The parts collected by the authorities made up a whole body up to the neck. They knew somebody had been butchered and murdered but nobody had reported anything, so what could they do?

'Shortly after that, William announced he was going to join Martha and he would not return.'

The Man in Black then fast forwards his tale to January 1859, when he said a haggard man entered an east end London police station. It was William and he confessed to the murder of his wife 17 years previously.

'William was returned to Norwich where he described what had happened. He said he and Martha had gone home, had had an argument, and she had tumbled and hit her head on the hearth and fractured her skull. Because everybody knew he was a wife-beater he decided the only way he could survive was to get rid of the evidence.

'So he cut Martha into pieces and put her into a bucket on the stove, boiled up the pieces and cut them even smaller – and under cover of darkness he distributed the body parts around the city.

'The interesting thing about William's confession was that he refused to say what had happened to Martha's head, and to this day we do not know.'

William was executed in July 1859 and his ghost is said to have been seen in the Bishopgate area.

'He usually either has a bucket with him or is carrying a decapitated head,' the Man in Black said, before moving along to the story of a ghost known as the 'cannibal girl'.

It was 1578 and a family living in Augustine Steward House, in Tombland Alley, were subject to the first signs of the plague.

Their house was sealed up and a red cross put on their door, but the Man in Black explained that when grave diggers broke into their house four weeks later to bury the bodies they discovered that the bodies had bite marks on them. One of the daughters, in a desperate attempt to survive, had tried to eat her family. She choked to death.

The cannibal girl is seen in Augustine Steward House and Tombland, and she has been seen at the Edith Cavell pub and nearby St George's Church.

For his final tale, the Man in Black takes us into what he calls Norwich's most haunted solicitors.

'In 1997 Leathes Prior, in Cathedral Close, engaged some builders to create more space in the basement,' he said.

'The builders had been working for a couple of days when things started to move and eventually even their own tools were sliding across the floor – and then things moved upstairs.'

Staff at the firm reported strange happenings in a room several floors above the basement including paperclips jumping in the air, a cupboard door rapidly opening and shutting, and a wall clock moving of its own accord at a gravity-defying angle.

'To this very day we have no idea who or what it is.'

The Man in Black's ghost walks are usually on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday from the Adam and Eve pub starting at 7.30pm, Tickets cost �6 (�4 for concessions).

For Halloween, the Man in Black's itinerary is slightly different. He is doing a series of ghostly storytelling sessions called Tales from Beyond the Grave in the area around Cow Tower on the riverside park.

Tickets for most of these sessions are sold out, but there are still tickets available for the performances on Sunday at 7.30pm and on Monday at 5.30pm and 9.30pm. Tickets cost �6.

For more information visit www.ghostwalksnorwich.co.uk or call 07831 189985.

Are you involved in a project looking back at the history of Norwich? Call Emma Knights on 01603 772428 or email emma.knights@archant.co.uk

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