Weird Norfolk: The Feltwell ghosts
If a ghost you should meet; as you walk down the street – the street of Short Beck as it's known – just hold your head high and don't cry 'oh my!' or with fear you'll be chilled to the bone: these ghosts are so clever they always endeavour to frighten you out of your wits but the ghost in Long Lane you should treat with disdain or you'll suffer some panicky fits…
On the excellent parish website for Feltwell in West Norfolk (www.feltwell.net), this little ditty recounts just two of the ghost stories which haunt this village, which – it seems – has been a magnet to the weird and wonderful for centuries.
There was the belief by many that those born in Chime Hours with born with the power to see ghosts ('Babies born during 'chime hours' have the faculty of seeing spirits and cannot be bewitched. The chime hours are three, six, nine, and twelve, though an old nurse of the writer's acquaintance stated them as four, eight, and twelve,' says Gurdon in County Folklore Suffolk, 1893) but the spirits in Feltwell made themselves known to a great many people.
One of the village's most famous apparitions – mentioned in the poem above - is that of an older lady who appears at night dressed in dark clothing and wearing a shawl. In an old Feltwell pamphlet written by the Rev. Daubeney in 1954 is the following tale: 'Some four or it may be five years ago, an account was given in the Thetford and Watton Times of Mary Barley, who died at Feltwell in the year 1875 at the age of 67 years. Few people now remember her, but she is said to be seen at times in the Borough; (the triangular patch of land between the left and right forks in Short Beck) though why she walks, that is if she does walk, was not explained in the account given of her.
'Possibly there is a hoard of money, buried or hidden somewhere, which she is unable to leave. She lived in a house in Short Beck.'
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The second ghost in the rhyme us said to be that of farmer Henry Heading, who lived and worked in Long Lane and was, said Rev Daubeney, reported to have been seen several times since his death and the village is also said to have a spectral coach and horses – headless, of course – which drive down Lodge Road, through the parish and along the High Street at the dead of night.
'This I believe to be the remnants of a very ancient superstition dating back to the time when Great Britain was a pagan land,' wrote Rev Daubeney, 'it is found in other parts of the country under various forms. In some places, as in Norfolk, the horses are headless; in other places it is the coachman who has no head; while sometimes a black hound runs in front. It is the Death-coach. Inside the coach sits Death - generally in the form of a lady - and the coach stops every here and there to pick up the souls of the dying, who enter at her request.'
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A further tale linked with this most haunted of villages (and we've not even strayed into the territory of RAF Feltwell yet – another tale for another day) is that of the witch of Cock Street – now the High Street – who lived in a house there with her son.
It was said that she had strange powers: she could raise a storm, particularly to warn her son from afar that he was being watched as he stole corn and flour for her at the mills, and she had power over horses who would refuse to pass her house even if whipped. At this point, she would shout from her window to inform drivers to tap the wheel of their cart with their whip rather than use it on the animals and the horses would magically move again.
And it was noted that in Feltwell, the belief persisted for many years that witches would turn into hares at the point of death, meaning that villagers were averse to eating hare in case they became bewitched…although it appears that in days gone by they may well have been in good company in this corner of West Norfolk.
For more Weird Norfolk stories click here.