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Weird Norfolk: The curious case of the haunted council house at Tharston

PUBLISHED: 09:00 01 December 2018 | UPDATED: 14:54 01 December 2018

Meadow view

Meadow view

Chris Betts Photography

It looked like any other council house in the row, a sturdily-built home, close to local amenities and perfect for a growing family – particularly one with an attendant poltergeist.

The case of the haunted council house of Tharston, near Long Stratton, beguiled readers of the Eastern Daily Press in the late 1930s, who waited anxiously for the next instalment of the story as it unfolded over the wintry months of January and February 1937.

Built just after the end of the First World War, the semi-detached council house became the home of the Brown family – a mother, a father, a four-year-old girl and her 13-year-old brother, a young man called Herbert – in November 1936. The problems began within weeks.

“We only came into this house last November,” said Mrs Brown, “about a month ago, knockings started in the bedroom of my boy Herbert, aged 13 years. They went on for two or three weeks – every night with the exception of Thursday.

“At first we took no notice, but the sounds came every night between the hours of 10pm and 11.30pm. We could not sleep. First it was in one part of Herbert’s room and then it was in another. My husband got up in the night many a time with a slipper in his hand, hoping that he might see something he could hit, but there was nothing to see. There was just the knocking.

“Mr Barnes, next door, heard the sound. We tried to find out what it was, but could not. Crowds of people have been up and many of them have heard the noises from outside the house.”

The EDP reporter noted (somewhat harshly) that “the incidents of the past few weeks are all the more remarkable because of the ordinary circumstances which have attended them and because of the sane, unimaginative, hard-working people who vouch for their validity.”

According to the reporter: “The boy Herbert told me that the knocking was all around his room. He added that he could always tell when it was about to start because of ‘a funny noise of something passing my window’. I asked Mrs Brown whether she intended to leave the house. She replied, ‘No fear. We have only just got here. I am not afraid, but I should like to know what has caused the noises. No one can explain them. We do not like to say too much about them because people might think we are fools. But everyone who has been when they have taken place knows that they are not a human being tapping.’”

The intrepid hack ventured next door and spoke to the Brown’s neighbour, Mr Barnes, who swiftly – and somewhat vehemently - put to bed any suggestion that he was responsible for the strange knocking: “Can you imagine me with a sick wife spending my time from ten o’clock until half past eleven every night for a fortnight or three weeks knocking on the wall?”

Mr Brown, a roadman, said that the alleged haunting had made the house the talk of Long Stratton: “Crowds have been to hear them including one man interested in spiritualism, but I cannot tell you the cause.”

Another local resident, horseman Mr Barnes, said: “The knocking was not a human knock. It had a sort of hollow sound I cannot explain.”

Norwich spiritualists from the Christian Spiritualist Church in Chapelfield undertook an investigation. A Mr H R Muskett said: “of course, not having been to the house and investigated the matter I cannot vouch for anything, but I do not rule out as impossible the fact that what has happened has been due to superhuman influences. I am prepared to investigate. Directly I began to read the article in the ‘Eastern Daily Press’ I said to myself. ‘There is probably an adolescent in this.’

“We often find spontaneous phenomena when people reach adolescence. A certain amount of psychic power is often released in the magnetic field of their aura. This psychic power can either be used unconsciously by the adolescent or utilised for the purpose of making these knockings by some spirit.”

Four investigators visited the Tharston house in February 1937 and at around 10.45pm, heard the knocking in one of the house’s bedrooms until 1am. By using a code, they were able to communicate with whatever was making the unsettling sounds.

A near relative of the occupants, who had passed away at around Christmas, just days before the noises began, told the investigators that they needed to get a message of an urgent and private nature to other relatives that were living near the south coast.

In typically make-do-and-mend spirit, the investigators promised to pass on the message if the spirit would cease making a racket.

“We were also able to satisfy ourselves that the power required was being unconsciously provided by one of the occupants and that this was not a subconscious action,” said investigator Mr AH Poll, from Beccles.

And with that, the haunting of the council house in Tharston stopped as quickly as it started: just what WAS that message from the other side which so urgently needed to be delivered to the south coast?

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