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Weird Norfolk: The Old Man of Hopton who stalks the A47

PUBLISHED: 09:00 01 September 2018 | UPDATED: 13:42 01 September 2018

Weird Norfolk: The old man of Hopton. Pictured: Night closes in on the A12 where a Lowestoft police constable had a spine-chilling encounter with the unexplained. Date: 24 Dec 1980. Picture: Archant Library

Weird Norfolk: The old man of Hopton. Pictured: Night closes in on the A12 where a Lowestoft police constable had a spine-chilling encounter with the unexplained. Date: 24 Dec 1980. Picture: Archant Library

Archant

Sea frets have often blurred the lines between this world and the next – and one such creature to appear from the mist is the Old Man of Hopton, who stalks the A47 in front of terrified drivers, some of whom claim to have driven straight through him.

In the Winter edition of The Lantern in 1980, the tale of a Lowestoft man on the new A12 Hopton Bypass was reported: Frank Colby of the British Transport Police was driving with his wife when he saw a man crossing the duel carriageway at Hopton.

Stocky in build and wearing a calf-length, shapeless garment, he was hunched over and wearing “fantastically huge footwear…and he was lifting them up well as he plodded across,” reported Mr Colby to investigator Ivan Bunn.

Swiftly braking, Mr Colby alerted his wife to the figure but she was unable to see it –he watched the man cross to the central reservation before disappearing.

Mr Bunn passed the story, along with his own research about the ghostly stretch of the A12, to the Lowestoft Journal and the tale appeared on Christmas Eve.

“It (the figure) appeared to have a greyish, misty-white appearance,” said Mr Bunn, “when this strange figure reached the centre of the carriageway, Mr Colby suddenly realised that he could see the broken line marking the centre of the carriageway continuing straight through the figure.”

One of the earliest recorded stories of Hopton’s jay-walking ghost came from Roger Hammersly of Lowestoft who, at the beginning of 1957, was driving in convoy with friend Mr R Gardner from Yarmouth to their home town.

Just before midnight, on the old A12 (now the A47) just south of Hopton, both men separately saw what Mr Hammersley described as the figure of a man wearing very large boots, a large fawn overcoat and a hat, crossing the road in front of them.

He drove close to the tall figure before realising it was no longer there, although he did not remember seeing it actually disappear.

During an interview with Mr Bunn, Mr Hammersley admitted that many times prior to this encounter he had often felt distinctly “uneasy” driving along this particular stretch of road, and that after seeing the ‘ghost’ back in 1957 he avoided the Hopton stretch of the old A12 whenever he could.

A year after Mr Colby saw the spectral figure in Hopton, in November 1981, Andrew Cutajar was driving on a wet and miserable night from Lowestoft to Great Yarmouth when, as he approached Hopton, he spotted grey mist in the middle of the carriageway ahead.

As he drove closer, the mist took the form of a man “tall and dressed in a long coat or cape coming well past his knees. He had on old-fashioned, heavy, lace-up bookts and had long, straggly grey hair.”

The figure stood stock still in the middle of the road and as Cutajar frantically tried to brake to avoid hitting him, his car skidded out of control and straight through the figure, coming to a stop on the grass verge facing the wrong way.

One theory put forward as to the identity of the figure is that it is William Balls, Hopton’s postman who worked himself to death in January 1899 having spent 22 years serving the village.

He was found in a field close to where the hauntings occur at 10.30am on January 2 lying face down in a pool of blood having succumbed to pneumonia which had developed from winter flu. He was buried at Hopton church, the ruins of which can be seen from the road.

Ivan Bunn was told about Mr Balls by Gwen Balls – the postman was her husband’s grandfather who died aged just 40 and who had been warned by his doctor just days beforehand that he would die without rest.

“What am I to do? I must do my duty,” he replied. On the day of his death, as usual, he set out on his 16-mile round at 6am and worked until 9.30am at which point he started for home and a rest before restarting work at 4.20pm.

He was found in his father’s field by a farm worker and left behind a pregnant wife, Angelina. Is William the phantom pedestrian postman of the A47, striding out to make one last delivery?

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