Weird Norfolk: The Snettisham ghost who asked for a favour

St Mary's Church at Snettisham.

St Mary's Church at Snettisham where Mrs Goodeve met a ghost. - Credit: Denise Bradley

It’s not what you expect when you’re staying in someone’s guest room: a night-time visitation from a ghost who asks you to take a message to Norfolk. A Mrs Goodeve from London was visiting friends in the West Country in 1893 when her sleep was interrupted by an insistent ghost that asked for a favour.

The house was said to be haunted by a former occupant, Mrs Seagrim, but the tenants, Mr and Mrs Ackland, had never seen or heard anything strange. Their guest, however, was a psychic – albeit a somewhat reluctant one.

An account in the East Anglian Magazine recalls that the case of the ghost that asked a visitor to play postwoman was referred to the Society for Psychical Research and in particular one of the founding members, Frederic WH Myers. Myers described Mrs Goodeve as: “…a cheerful, capable, active woman who had seen much of the world and had plenty of business of her own to attend to and was by no means given to dwelling on things morbid or mysterious”.

Things both morbid and mysterious happened to Mrs Goodeve, however, on the night of October 8 1893 when she woke at her friends’ house and saw leaning over her a painfully thin, sad but kind-looking woman whose head was swathed in a shawl. The figure asked her to follow her, which Mrs Goodeve did without fear, and the pair walked into the drawing room where, in a deep voice, the ghost said only ‘Tomorrow’ before disappearing. When she described what had happened to the Acklands, they recognised the woman as Mrs Seagrim, who had wrapped her head in a shawl owing to the pain of her neuralgia.

On the next evening, the ghost made a repeat visit and asked a favour of Mrs Goodeve which she would not divulge to investigators. The spirit offered evidence as to who she was – her marriage date – and then, by her side, another ghost appeared who said he was Henry Barnard, who was buried in Snettisham in Norfolk. He then gave her the dates of his marriage and death.

He asked Mrs Goodeve to travel to his final resting place the following morning at 1.15am and wait in the south-west corner of the south aisle beside the grave of Robert Cobb, who had died on May 15 1743 aged 67. Henry offered further details: he said that Mrs Goodeve’s railway ticket wouldn’t be taken from as usual by the train inspector, that she would be helped by a ‘dark man’ who would recognise her description of him and that she would lodge in the house of a woman whose child had drowned and was buried in the same churchyard.

Before the two spirits departed, a third joined them, a man who looked in dreadful pain, his face so full of misery that Mrs Goodeve could hardly bear look at him – it was like an echo of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol where three ghosts visit Ebenezer Scrooge over the course of an evening.

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The next day, Mrs Goodeve travelled to Norfolk and the ghost’s prophecies came true: her ticket wasn’t taken, she was helped by parish clerk John Bishop, a dark man who recognised her description of Henry Barnard whose house she stayed at. At the next day’s Sunday church service, Mr Bishop’s wife told her that their child was buried in the churchyard she was looking for – the youngster had drowned in a tragic accident.

In the dead of night, Mrs Goodeve was let into St Mary’s Church and locked in – she waited until 1.15am by the grave of Robert Cobb and there received the rest of the message, which she promised to deliver to Barnard’s only surviving daughter. Her task was to pick a white rose from Barnard’s grave and give it to his daughter at Cobb Hall, together with the message – which she refused to divulge.

The burial marker for Robert Cobb in the floor of St Mary's Church at Snettisham. Picture: DENISE BR

The burial marker for Robert Cobb in the floor of St Mary's Church at Snettisham. - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY

In Betty Puttick’s Norfolk Stories of the Supernatural, there is the suggestion that the message might have involved a dubious property deal involving Henry Barnard, Robert Cobb and Cobb Hall. Mrs Seagrim, it seems, was a member of the Cobb family and her silence to that point was put down to the fact she had been waiting for someone who could interpret a message from the grave.

The graves of Robert and Henry are still at St Mary’s and the story was most recently told in Rowland W Maitland’s 1956 book, The Snettisham Ghost. Ms Puttick visited Snettisham where she said: “I identified the Barnard family burial plot through a photograph in the Rev Maitland’s booklet. It is a large, square area surrounded by a low iron fence but, alas, no rose bushes grow there now.

The area believed to be the Barnard family plot in the graveyard at St Mary's Church, Snettisham. Pi

The area believed to be the Barnard family plot in the graveyard at St Mary's Church, Snettisham. - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY

“I also found the stone marking Robert Cobb’s grave in the church with its coat of arms and imagined Mrs Goodeve’s emotions on that October night in 1893 when she stood in the same spot in the dark waiting for the ghost of a man she had never known in life.”

Regular readers will recall the curious case of the haunted council house at Tharston where a poltergeist sent a message through an investigator to a family member elsewhere in the country in 1936.

And in other noteworthy news, St Mary’s Church in Snettisham was the first in the UK to be hit by an airborne German bomb in January 1915.

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