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WEIRD NORFOLK: ‘Father Patrick told us that if anything started to move, we should pray…’

PUBLISHED: 18:00 08 February 2020 | UPDATED: 14:50 09 February 2020

A view of Downham Market from the roof of Saint Edmund's Church (haunted house not pictured). Picture: Ian Burt

A view of Downham Market from the roof of Saint Edmund's Church (haunted house not pictured). Picture: Ian Burt

Archant © 2012

The poltergeist who plagued a village near Downham Market council house and a cautionary tale about receiving visitors during an exorcism.

It was supposed to be a fresh start for the family who moved from the remote Fens to a house near Downham Market - but they hadn't counted on a ghostly tenant. In November 1982, the Eastern Daily Press ran a story about a house plagued by a poltergeist in a West Norfolk village. A mother and her four children aged 11, eight, six and three moved into the semi-detached house and almost immediately sensed a strange presence. "Furniture and crockery moved as she watched, chairs moved, and drawers went in and out without being touched," the report reads. "On one occasion a pair of scissors flew across the room."

Understandably spooked, the mother (who we are not naming) spoke to the local parish priest, the Rev Patrick Hutton, rector of Wimbotsham, who visited the house to bless it and hopefully cast out the restless spirit. But his well-intentioned efforts fell on deaf - or death - ears. Apparently, after the blessing, the spirits just became more active, "as if they had been upset"

Just one night after the rector's visit, the family fled the house in the middle of the night. A second blessing was attempted after which the mother said she would move back into

the house accompanied by neighbours who offered to support her. "Father Patrick told us that if anything started to move, we should pray," she said. The EDP report adds: "She had never in her life experienced anything like this before, but her mother had experience of a poltergeist when she was very young."

The house, a perfectly ordinary red brick house on a perfectly ordinary street, had been built just after the war and no one had heard any talk of hauntings. Regarding the second blessing, Father Patrick was accompanied by a priest from the Norwich Diocese, an expert in exorcism. Guidelines for exorcisms were drawn up in 1975 after the release of classic horror film The Exorcist in 1973 and a notorious exorcism in Yorkshire in 1974. The House of Bishops' Guidelines stated exorcism should be carried out in the context of prayer, without publicity and by an experienced person. Ancient prayers are used to defeat evil, calling for protection and deliverance "from the wrath of evildoers, from the assaults of evil spirits, from foes visible and invisible, from the snares of the devil, from all passions that beguile the soul and body".

Some diocese, such as that at Worcester, are direct about the services offered by its Deliverance Ministry "help for those who feel they may be haunted, cursed or oppressed". After suggesting looking for rational explanations for what is happening, it lists some of the unusual disturbances caused by restless spirits. "There might be smells or noises you cannot explain. Parts of your home might feel colder than others.

"Things might move round the house by themselves, disappearing from one place and turning up in another," it states.

"Strange objects appear on home videos or photographs. You might sense a presence, see ghostly figures, or hear voices calling out your name. You think people will laugh at you if you tell them. You might think you are going mad. You might even feel you are in danger."

In Downham Market, the exorcism began. But before it could end, a caller arrived at the house and the exorcism had to be called off because the "atmosphere was no longer suitable" - who knew poltergeists were so easily distracted by a doorbell. The council's area housing manager at the time said that the family involved had been part of an exchange agreement with the previous tenant by mutual arrangement and that there had been no previous complaint of the house being haunted.

"In all my experience with housing I don't think I have ever come across a problem of this sort before. I only hope the action being taken by those experts in dealing with these things can solve the problem," he said.

Despite the disturbed exorcism, it appears that the haunting ended after the second holy visit. Which begs the question: just who WAS at the front door that day?

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