Weird Norfolk: A terrifying haunting in Yarmouth’s Glasshouse Row

A typical Great Yarmouth row. Date: 1897

A typical Great Yarmouth row. Date: 1897 - Credit: THE ANCIENT ROWS OF GREAT YARMOUTH

It was like a haunted house in ghost story: broken-down, rat-infested, empty, forbidding – and filled with dark secrets, hatred and fury.

The old house, ancient even in 1797, was on Glasshouse Row in Great Yarmouth, one of the warren of 145 narrow walkways that lined the town for centuries.

Running from North Quay to George Street, Glasshouse row was named for the glass factory in the runnel which, according to an advertisement in the Norwich Mercury, produced “the best goods of all sorts which can be obtained at reasonable prices.”

Lord Nelson was presented with two pieces from the Glasshouse Row works on his visit to Yarmouth in 1805, and production continued there for 200 years.

The row also boasted a school – and a terrifying murder house.

Passers-by would quicken their step to avoid spending too long near the windowless house, in case someone – or something – reached from inside to pull them into a dark, dank room.

In The Yarmouth Independent of January 6 and 13, 1894, there was a two-part article: Tales and Traditions of Old Yarmouth: A House of Mystery.

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It concerned the haunted house of Row 37, itself unremarkable and similar to many other rows, said the Independent: “…most possessed the same quaint, gloomy and somewhat dingy characteristics in common.”

In the middle of the row stood the unloved old house with its peeling paint, rodent tenants and terrifying reputation as the house where a terrible murder had taken place.

Some said the ghost was the murderer, wandering from room to room, others that it was their victim, bound to earth until justice was done, while more said the haunting was the grim tragedy being replayed over and over again where it had happened.

When the owner of the building died, it was left to a relative who had heard about the reputation of his legacy and swiftly tried to sell it and bid it goodbye forever.

He was not besieged with offers, but finally, a middle-aged man called David Browne offered to take the house, offering a pittance in return.

The owner haggled, but finally agreed to sell the house for an extremely low price: Browne had the house repaired and moved his family in – his wife, his 12-year-old daughter and his ageing mother.

Having moved in, the Browne family were delighted with their new home: a bargain it had been, and in such a convenient location, close to both the river and the town.

But their joy was premature.

A typical Great Yarmouth Row.

A typical Great Yarmouth Row. This is Greyfriars Row. Date: Aug 1936 - Credit: George Plunkett

Within two months, doors in the house began to slam and the Brownes set out to deal with the draughts they believed were causing the disturbances.

Lantern, the quarterly periodical of the Borderline Science Investigation Group (BSIG) which operated between 1971 and 1982 and was based in nearby Lowestoft, takes up the story.

“Instead of curtailing the occurrences, however, these precautions had the opposite effect. Now, instead of the doors slamming occasionally as before, they slammed more frequently, often many times in quick succession.

“This was not all. Sometimes, the tramp of heavy feet was now heard ascending the stairs, followed by the heavy ‘thud’ of something hitting the floor overhead.

“On other occasions, light hesitant footsteps would be heard stealthily pattering about the house, accompanied by a soft ‘rustling’ noise like that of a long silk dress.

“The door of the room in which the family were sitting would be thrown open and some invisible presence would enter, walk around the room, pause for a few seconds and then depart, leaving behind an air of gloom and creepiness.”

As you might expect, the family were terrified, although proud Mr Browne refused to openly admit that anything strange was happening. Privately, however, he decided to visit a local wise woman, Nancy Green.

She told him she couldn’t help and he called her a charlatan: at which point she told him that when he arrived home, he would find one of his family was dead.

Rushing back to Glasshouse Row, he was horrified to find his wife in tears on the doorstep: she told him that Mrs Browne senior, David’s mother, had indeed, just dropped dead.

The house went quiet again, for five months.

Then the disturbances began again – one night the household was awakened by a piercing scream and muffled thuds above them. Browne and his wife sat up in bed and there, by their bedside, was a tall, thin old man wearing a white nightshirt and a red flannel nightcap.

He stared at them before turning slowly, sighing and then disappearing at the door.

The silence returned and then, as before, there were screams and loud crashes – on the third occasion this happened, Browne rose quietly and went to the room where the noise was at its loudest.

He opened the door, his lamplight illuminating the room: every piece of furniture had been thrown into one corner other than the bed.

And on the bed, sat a wizened old lady wearing a black silk dress – she paid no attention to Browne, instead she was staring at cards laid out on the counterpane.

She rearranged the cards again and again, muttering to herself as she did so, before giving a low chuckle, rising and gliding to the end of the room, where she disappeared in front of Browne’s eyes.

The decision was made to leave the house. As the family packed ahead of their move, one evening, the daughter went upstairs to search for something for her mother.

In the upper rooms, she was amazed to find a pure-white lamb standing in the middle of one room, looking intently at her. She walked towards it, enchanted, and it began to trot between rooms and finally to the top of the stairs.

Lamb in a field.

What was the entity which took the form of an innocent looking lamb? - Credit: Archant Library/Matthew Usher

Realising it was no longer frightened of her, the girl reached out her hand to pet it – but just as her fingertips grazed the soft wool, the animal uttered a chilling growl and she was lifted bodily from the floor and flung down the stairs.

As her parents tended their unconscious child, it was hours before she came round and was able to tell them exactly what had happened: the family left immediately, never to return.

But there was one more throw of the dice for the house, one more score to settle.

Hearing the house was empty, Nancy Green contacted Mr Browne and asked if she could move in, possibly for a small rent, but equally perhaps just to keep the house occupied.

Realising no one else would risk staying at a house filled with restless, vengeful spirits, he agreed and Nancy moved in, selling her spells, cures and potions from Glasshouse Row.

But her good fortune in finding a large house for a peppercorn rent was short-lived.

Hardly a month after she had moved in, she was found by neighbours lying dead in the house, her face contorted into a dreadful mask of terror.

She had, it seems, met the other tenants.

After Nancy’s death, the house really did fall silent – until the bombing raids of the 1940s and the council’s slum clearance programme swept away the vast majority of their rows, taking homes and livelihoods, communities and poltergeists with them.

Hopefully in the case of the latter.

Lantern noted in 1974: “Today, very little remains of Glasshouse Row, certainly not that portion in which the house stood. The original entrance on North Quay is still there, as is the first 50ft or so of the Row, still probably more or less as it was when this story took place.

“The larger proportion running westwards from George Street, has now completely gone, although the path of the Row followed exactly the line of the footpath at the rear of the houses in Coronation Terrace.

“The rest of the row has now gone altogether, in fact a block of modern flats extends across its original path at one point.”