Weird Norfolk: Have you heard the tale of the Pottergate phantom?

Weird Norfolk Pottergate ghost Byline: Sonya Duncan Copyright: Archant 2018

Weird Norfolk Pottergate ghost Byline: Sonya Duncan Copyright: Archant 2018 - Credit: Sonya Duncan

It's the little-known story of a Phantom of the Office that haunts one of Norwich's most ancient streets.

On an appropriately dark and stormy night in January 1990, a woman who had been cleaning a Georgian red brick office building on Pottergate was startled when she saw something strange in the recently-converted studio.

Michelle Sparkes was first alerted to the unexplained presence when she felt the temperature in the building plummet: she froze as she saw a woman with long black hair and wearing a black dress float past her, through the studio and towards the fire exit.

'I've never seen a ghost before and I've never really believed in them,' Michelle told the Eastern Evening News, 'but I know what I saw and I'm not going into that studio alone again.' Could it be the phantom of Pottergate that she bumped into at the offices of advertising and public relations firm Bartlett Jones Pollen, which was based at 83 to 87 Pottergate at the time?

Managing director Nick Jones did not dismiss what Ms Sparkes had seen, saying: 'No one has actually seen the ghost although some people said they have heard strange noises and felt a chill when they've gone into the back room of the studio.'

The Pottergate phantom as described by Michelle Sparkes in 1990. Picture: EN Library

The Pottergate phantom as described by Michelle Sparkes in 1990. Picture: EN Library - Credit: Archant

The marketing group only moved into the new headquarters at Pottergate a few months before the sighting of the dark figure and it was thought that the extensive renovation work could have woken a sleeping spirit?

Pottergate is an ancient street that hides a host of secrets. In one of the oldest parts of the city where the pottery industry once flourished, the spot where the ghost was seen was also where workmen, in 1964, chanced upon a rare sandstone carving of a saint-like figure embedded in the foundations of a brick wall.

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According to the story in the EEN at the time it was 29 inches high and its origin was quickly established as 15th century – the figure is now held by Norwich Castle Museum and is believed to have come from nearby St Gregory's Church.

'We're now very interested to find out more about the woman in black and we're trying to persuade someone to stay overnight in the back room in case she appears again!' said Nick. Do you think she could be related to the grey lady of Tombland? It's enough to give you the willies.'

This part of Pottergate has been the home of a host of potential sources for an uneasy spirit who could slip from world to the next.

In 1904, part of the building where the woman in black has been seen was the Pottergate Street Mixed Home, which was a children's home. In November 1925, the Medical Officer reported there had been 'a rather high incidence of sickness' at the Pottergate Street Home and that 'the house is old-fashioned, badly-situated and not altogether suitable as a Children's Home.' The officer recommended

closure, which took place on 8 January 1926.

Opposite the building was the site of the old Jenny Lind Children's Hospital, which welcomed its first inpatients on April 3 1954, thanks to the generosity and goodwill of Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind, recently brought to life in hit film The Greatest Showman.

In 1847 she gave her first concerts in Norwich and, after a third, the money raised was earmarked to pay for an infirmary for sick children which was open in Pottergate until it moved to Unthank Road in 1900 and later became part of the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital.

And in 1967, at the site between 77 and 81 Pottergate – next door to the building where the apparition was seen, the skeleton of a child (possibly stillborn) and some medieval pottery shards were discovered – was the woman in black searching for her child?

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