Weird Norfolk: The ghost of Binham Priory

Binham Priory. Picture: EDP Library

Binham Priory. Picture: EDP Library - Credit: Archant © 2004

Avid readers will remember last week's story of the ghost who made a guest appearance on Anglia Television and a promise to tell the tale of the Mad Monk of Morley Hall in more detail and his link to Binham Priory.

During a televised example of how a ghost hunter worked at Morley Old Hall close to Wymondam, parapsychologist Anthony Cornell said he could find no evidence of the ghost which others had claimed to see at the 16th-century manor house: five viewers, however, disagreed, contacting the broadcaster to say they'd spotted 'a hooded monk' on screen.

A further 27 saw the monk or priest in the footage when it was repeated with some experts claiming that the monk seen by viewers was the ghost of Alexander de Langley, one-time prior of Wymondham, who became insane through over-study and was said to have committed a terrible crime in the hall.

But the mysterious monk doesn't restrict his guest appearances to just one location – he also had a penchant for Binham Priory, which was founded in 1091 and was once home to a Benedictine community of monks for more than 400 years.

In a report from the Norwich Evening News in April 1935, the monk appeared to have been seen at the Priory: 'When the night is dark and dismal, the stranger standing amongst the fragments of old walls of Binham Priory would not find it difficult to visualise his eerie surroundings as a setting for a ghost story,' a reporter wrote, somewhat poetically.

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'The inhabitants of Binham are now discussing the report of the appearance of the 'ghost' of a black-hooded monk in the Parish Church which was the nave of the Priory in olden times. The Vicar said that he had been told the story in confidence by a lady of position. Some time ago this woman was present at an evening service in the Parish Church, and saw a figure on a ledge near the church door.

'She watched the phantom, which resembled a Benedictine monk wearing a black cowl, walk slowly along the ledge. After walking along the ledge for the length of the church the spectre disappeared. During its journey the figure is said to have climbed some spiral steps. Mr Carroll could not give the name of the lady who was supposed to have seen the figure, as he was sure that she would not like to be interviewed even if her name was not divulged.

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'The lady was not very imaginative, and while she was certain that she had seen the monk-like figure, as has been described, she feared that the story would be ridiculed. Mr Carroll went on to say that villagers had stated that they had seen the figure of a Benedictine monk near the entrance to the Priory - the Gaol Gate.'

Another witness said she had seen a 'dark figure like a monk' as she sat with the choir during a sermon at Binham while another talked about a 'porter' who was reputed to walk near the gaol gates had once stood. Villagers also spoke of a cowled figure wearing black who haunted the grounds at night, reportedly emerging from a tunnel which linked the priory to the shrine at Walsingham, three miles away.

But are the Binham monk and the mad monk of Morley one and the same? When the frenetic outbursts of Alexander de Langley, one-time prior of Wymondham, could no longer be tolerated, he was flogged and kept in solitary confinement at Binham until his death. According to an Eastern Daily Press report in 1933, work was about to begin on an unopened crypt which had remained untouched for 400 years: 'Maybe the crypt was never despoiled,' the report suggested, '…perhaps it was in the crypt that the unhappy maniac, Alexander de Langley, was walled up in his fetters after the Abbot of St Albans had failed to exorcise the devil that possessed this whilsome prior of Wymondham. 'He was sent in chains to Binham with instructions that 'flogging unto copious effusions of blood' might prove more efficacious; but in vain, for the monks in despair thought it better to put an end to his ravings by walling him up in his chains.'

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