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Weird Norfolk: The digging devil of Beachamwell

PUBLISHED: 09:38 17 March 2018 | UPDATED: 09:38 17 March 2018

Demon graffiti on a nave column inside the St Mary the Virgin Church at Beachamwell. Picture: Ian Burt

Demon graffiti on a nave column inside the St Mary the Virgin Church at Beachamwell. Picture: Ian Burt

Archant 2018

Not only can visitors look into the face of the devil at a Norfolk church, they can also see the ancient barrow where he buried the gates to hell after digging the nearby dyke that bears his name.

The ditch dug by the devil next to Swaffham Road near RAF Marham and Beachamwell. Picture: Ian BurtThe ditch dug by the devil next to Swaffham Road near RAF Marham and Beachamwell. Picture: Ian Burt

It’s a pretty little church in a quiet corner of Norfolk that hides a dark secret – underneath the thatched roof and close to the angels on high, scratched deep into the stonework of a pillar is the face of Satan himself brandishing a terrible instrument of torture. The 14th-century carving at Beachamwell’s St Mary’s church stares out at visitors and worshippers alike, suggesting that an eternity of pain and suffering is in store for anyone who follows the devil to hell after a life of wrongdoing. With his grotesque face and sharp horns, he grins as he grasps an iron flesh hook, a tool used by medieval cooks to lift meat from cauldrons but also much-loved by illustrators to show a demon’s weapon of choice for grabbing victims ahead of torture.

Tongue protruding, the Devil of Beachamwell – who can be found towards the back of the church on a nave column on the north side of the aisle - is ready to strike and strip the souls of those who had strayed from the path of righteousness before dragging them through fire and brimstone to his underground lair. Or perhaps the instrument held by Lucifer isn’t a flesh hook at all: perhaps it’s the tool he used to create Hangour Hill, a Bronze Age round barrow close to the church or Devil’s Dyke, also known as Bichamditch, which runs from the Iron Age fort at the River Nar at Narborough to the north to a tributary of the River Wissey at Beachamwell. With its steep bank and ditch, it runs at right angles to a Roman road, legend has it that Old Nick dug the ditch himself and used the earth that was left over to create nearby barrows, or that the ditch was created by Satan’s fiery tail as he was chased away by worshippers. In Leslie Grinsell’s The Ancient Burial Mounds of England, published in 1953, he recounts a tale that was told about the history of the hill: “The Devil was cleaning his spade against a tree when a lump of earth fell off the spade forming the barrow. Beneath the barrow, a pair of silver gates is said to be buried.” Could it be that the gateway to hell is buried beneath Beachamwell?

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The hill built by the devil next to Swaffham Road close to RAF Marham and Beachamwell. Picture: Ian BurtThe hill built by the devil next to Swaffham Road close to RAF Marham and Beachamwell. Picture: Ian Burt

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