Weird Norfolk: Is this the ghost that appears in Worstead every Christmas Eve?
- Credit: Berthelot Family Collection
Thinking about the dead and remembering the past are tethered to Christmas like baubles to a tree at a time when nights are longer than days.
Winter stories of “sprits and ghosts that glide by night”, as Christopher Marlowe poetically put it, have traditionally been told at Yuletide when stories about the darkness are told to try to disperse the threat that it holds for us all.
However, it’s difficult not to feel a chill down your spine when considering the curious yuletide visitor that arrives in Worstead on Christmas Eve each year – especially when you can actually see her in a photograph.
Woven into the history of wool village Worstead is the story of the White Lady, a ghost who is – depending on which story you believe, if either – capable of scaring people to death or a kindly spirit who can heal.
The first story regards the former and dates from the 1830s. For many years, villagers had told the story of a White Lady, a ghost that only appeared on midnight on Christmas Eve at St Mary’s Church.
When told the tale at Christmas, a man who was drinking with his friends in the nearby King’s Arms boasted that he wasn’t afraid of any White Lady and that he would ring in the birth of Christ at midnight himself to prove it. He laughed as he told worried onlookers that if he saw the lady, he would offer her a kiss.
Disappearing in the direction of the church, his friends waited to hear the bells peal out for Christmas: but no sound was heard and they went to investigate. They found him collapsed in the bell chamber, shivering and gibbering. “I’ve seen her…” he said, as he took his last breath. Was that promised kiss the kiss of death?
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Fast forward to 1975, and the White Lady was seen again – and this time, claimed the witness, she could prove it.
One hot summer’s day 44 years ago, Diane Berthelot believed she unwittingly had her photo taken with the White Lady while visiting the church – but it didn’t frighten her. Mrs Berthelot said she had never heard of the ghost when she, husband Peter and their 12-year-old son David visited the old weaving village of Worstead on Saturday August 2 1975, during one of their regular holidays in Norfolk from their then home in Essex, and went inside the church to escape the heat.
Feeling unwell and taking antibiotics for an ear infection, she decided to say a prayer to help aid her recovery as her husband and son walked around the building. Unaware that her husband had taken photographs of her while she prayed, a feeling of warmth and peace washed over Mrs Bethelot as she sat in the Norfolk church and the family left Worstead feeling more cheerful.
Months later, back in Essex, the family and their lodger Barbara decided to have a slide show and view their summer snaps for the first time. They were astounded when Barbara asked: “Who’s that sitting behind you, Di?”
Mrs Berthelot said: “I looked up, saw the white figure and my feet started to ‘tingle’, this sensation eventually engulfing the whole of me. It was a pleasant, comforting feeling.” The photo appears to show a woman dressed in light-coloured, old-fashioned clothes, with a bonnet, sitting on the bench directly behind Mrs Berthelot.
When she visited Worstead the next summer and showed the slide to the late Vicar of Worstead, Rev Pettit, he told the family about the legend and said there was talk that the White Lady was a healer who appeared when there was sickness. For many years Mrs Berthelot said she experienced the same tingling sensation whenever she looked at the photo, although this has since stopped.
“I’ve been back to the church many times since but nothing ever happened again,” she said.
In a comment on ghostsnghouls.com, commenter Max Darbyshire said that he had once lived in Worstead and that the White Lady had been seen by many villagers, including vicars.
He said: “I remember as a child that a fish and chip van would pull up in the village square by the haunted church on a Friday night and the man running it would often talk about how he once saw the white lady while he was closing up shop.
“He said she moved between the gravestones and walked through the large doors of the church, he then claimed that a white light seemed to emanate from the windows. He believed it to be an angel.
“Another time, a friend of mine was drinking with a couple of friends in the graveyard (don’t judge, rural England can be extremely boring for teenagers) when he claimed the gravestone he was seated against seemed to lurch behind him, upon spinning around there was a woman in a white dress and bonnet staring down at him with a stern face. All three of them ran out of the graveyard and didn’t return that night.”
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