Weird Norfolk: The Horror of Heigham revealed

The tower which is all that remains of St Bartholomew's Church, near Heigham Street. Picture: DENISE

Does a spirit still haunt the area around the remains of St Bartholomew's Church, near Heigham Street? - Credit: Denise Bradly/Archant

New (admittedly old) evidence has come to light from the Eastern Daily Press of November 8 1872 – at last, a description of the horror that haunts Heigham church. Previously, Weird Norfolk brought you the story of the spirit that haunted St Bartholomew’s Church in Heigham, close to Dereham Road in Norwich, which itself is now a ghost of its former self.

Reduced to just its tower by the Baedeker Raids of April 1942, the church was repaired in 1976, the church now stands in parkland and is a peaceful place: but before German bombs, it was persistent rumours of unquiet spirits at St Bartholomew's that made it infamous in Heigham: some claimed they had spotted a ghost in the churchyard. 

As far back as 1885, there is a mention of the spectre in the East Anglian handbook, when an article mentions "…just as some 12 years back they trampled down the graves in St Bartholomew's churchyard in search of the 'Heigham Ghost' in regard to a rumour circulating about a different, possibly haunted, venue.” 

Locals set about trying to find the spook each night, causing havoc and leading to the police to be called in order to disperse the ghost-hunters. When we wrote our story, we had no description of the spectre the Heigham hunters were looking for: today, we do.

According to the author of the EDP piece of November 1872, the entity was visiting “nightly” and was “…a weird and horrible form that has scared strong men almost out of their wits and thrown women into fearful fits of hysteria.” Part ghost, part beast, eye-witnesses gave differing descriptions which led the reporter to assume the Heigham Horror was able to change its form.

 “At one time it is a tall spectral figure, arrayed in white sepulchral garments; at another, it is a dark grim form, suggestive of a certain old gentleman not named in polite society; and at a third, it is shaggy Satyr-like ‘shape’ with horns and bull's hide, hideous glaring eyes, and other infernal attributes.  

“It is the subject of gossip throughout the day; but after night-fall the timid speak of it with bated breath, as if they feared to meet the terrible form.

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“Believers in ghosts—for there are a few of these old fashioned people in existence—suggest that it may be the spirit of some unfortunate malefactor who for his misdeeds was hung in chains years ago beyond Hangman's Lane.

“Others, up in old folklore of Norwich, jocosely hint that it may be a portion of the spectral retinue of old Blenarhasset, which retinue, according to tradition, annually started from the old Manor House at Pockthorpe for a whirl through the night air.”

The report continues that although many people dismissed the ‘appearances’ as being a practical joke or an imagined hallucination, it was difficult to ignore the number of witnesses who cam forward.

Even a Reverend living in Heigham “…was seized by the hideous object and ‘distilled almost to a jelly with the act of fear’”. He later took to a lecture platform to claim the creature was not real, but when those that listened to him discovered that he’d actually seen it himself, his words were ignored.

Gargoyles on the tower which is all that remains of St Bartholomew's Church, near Heigham Street. Pi

Gargoyles on the tower which is all that remains of St Bartholomew's Church, near Heigham Street. - Credit: Denise Bradley/Archant

Somewhat neatly, and after gangs had begun to gather at Heigham clutching wooden sticks to attack, or perhaps level, the spirit with, there was a report that a policeman had discovered a man wearing “…a bullock’s skin with horns erect and who switched about his tail in a truly diabolical manner.” This story was later found to be untrue, too.

Interestingly, the crossroads which is now at the junction of Heigham Road, Dereham Road and Old Palace Road was where those who took their own lives were once buried: Heigham Road itself was once called Hangman’s Lane.

So: does a shape-shifting spirit monster still live at St Bartholomew’s?