Scratching at the wall, voices through the TV, whispers in the bathroom – the 'cursed' house of Dereham Road

A tradition terraced street in Norwich

A Norwich woman has shared her story of living with a poltergeist. - Credit: Archant/Simon Finlay

Ghostly footsteps, scratching at the wall, objects that flew from shelves, a piano playing itself, whispers in the bathroom, voices through the TV – a Norwich woman has shared her story of living with a poltergeist.

The house in question, an unremarkable Victorian terrace close to the crossroads formed by Old Palace Road, Dereham Road and Heigham Road was the site of countless strange occurrences over a 20-year period. It is also a stone’s throw from the last crossroads burial site in the Norwich area where those who had taken their own lives and those who had been executed were laid to rest.

Our story begins when Jill (not her real name) bought the house near Dereham Road with her husband: we are keeping the precise location of the house a secret, today it is a rented property with tenants.

Seven-months pregnant when she moved in with her husband, Jill had fallen in love with the Victorian terrace house and she was excited to move in. It was a matter of weeks before the paranormal activity would begin. Jill’s daughter had arrived and the family had fallen into a new routine – but so, it seems, had the house’s invisible tenant.

Dereham Road, Norwich. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

The crossroads at Dereham Road, Norwich, close to the haunted house. - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021

It began with slamming doors and footsteps on the stairs, usually at night, normally at precisely 2.50am when the alarm clock, set for 7am, would ring. As the years passed, the strangeness inside the house built up: after the break-up of her marriage, Jill and her daughter remained at the house alone – or so they thought.

Oven timers and lights would switch themselves off. Items of laundry would be removed from the bottom of the pile and be thrown to the floor. Jill would be sitting on her sofa and it would feel as if someone was banging into it from behind. Glass storage jars flew from shelves, toys and buttons appeared to fly from the air as if thrown, the piano played on its own.

One night, Jill’s daughter came to ask her: “Mummy, why do you keep coming up and downstairs and slamming the door?” While on another occasion the little girl told her that she’d heard a voice in the bathroom saying “here you are, then…” and when she’d turned round, expecting to see her mother, no one had been there.

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“She looked as white as a sheet,” Jill, who sent her story to Weird Norfolk, said.

Over time, three different alarm clocks – each one bought to replace the last and all set for 7am - would instead ring at 2.50am.

One night, Jill thought she heard someone digging in the garden in the early hours, another time she heard “a tremendous banging noise” outside at 3am.

Jill set out to find out more about the house. She discovered that a woman had died there,  a Roman Catholic priest had lived in the premises, and that the house was built close to where people who had committed suicide or been executed at the then-nearby City Gaol on Earlham Road, were buried.

As Weird Norfolk reported earlier, Heigham Street was once known as Hangman’s Lane. Since medieval times, such burials at crossroads were carried out due to a belief that these spots were uneasy boundaries between unclaimed lands, where the supernatural reigned.

These were the dark times when suicide was considered a grave mortal sin, tantamount to deliberate self-excommunication from the church. A remaining Norfolk coroner’s record notes that in August 1794, John Stimpson, a Norwich porter, hanged himself and the coroner ordered he was buried “at the crossroads of St Benedict’s Road”. St Benedict’s was the first name for what is now Dereham Road.

Other discoveries included that the terrace house had been altered, with the staircase moved to a new position leaving an uneven wall.

“My daughter said one day she could hear scratching from the wall in her bedroom which was the wall of the staircase that had been altered,” Jill said.

“I had the builders in and one day I was meeting my daughter from school at 3pm and when I got back he told me he’d seen my standing at the bottom of the stairs when I was out.”

Jill believes that some people who came into contact with the house later fell victim to misfortune or illness, as if the building itself was cursed. One workman went bankrupt immediately after working at the property and, joking that someone might have been buried under the floorboards, another badly hurt his back after falling off a ladder on his first day there.

Meanwhile, the strangeness at the house continued.

A flowerpot was placed on the floor having apparently ‘fallen’ from a windowsill. A sparrow was found flying in a room where all windows were closed. And while watching TV one night the announcer’s voice faded away to be replaced by “…a childlike voice as though playing at being a ghost.”

As the voice echoed round the room, a black form flickered, and the familiar feeling of the back of the sofa being repeatedly banged by an unknown force was felt.

Later on, a hole appeared in the ceiling as if someone, or something, had pushed a finger through from above and a slipper that fell from Jill’s foot in her bedroom simply disappeared, with a search for it proving fruitless. When Jill and her daughter arrived back from their holiday a week later, the slipper was in her bedroom, exactly where she would have expected to find it.

One of Jill’s colleagues – who attended a spiritualist church - visited the house and immediately felt ice-cold at the bottom of the stairs and refused to go near Jill’s daughter’s bedroom. The woman apparently felt compelled to write a date on a piece of paper – July 14 -  and the word ‘hanging’, even though she knew nothing of the area’s history and association with those who had met an untimely end.

Later, when Jill had moved to a different house, the lady rang her to ask if “it” had come with her when she left the house.

“Only when I moved did I notice how different the atmosphere was,” said Jill.

“It felt like being on holiday compared with the heavy atmosphere of my previous house. We never found out what the date related to.

“I cannot explain what happened, only that it did. Hopefully it is not still happening to anyone else.”

Haunted house facts:

·      In an All About Money survey, more than 15 per cent of UK adults said they believed that there was something ghostly going on in their homes

·      The survey revealed that one in eight UK houses are haunted, or are believed to be haunted

·      Although the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading regulations doesn’t refer directly to haunted properties, it does mention that sellers have a duty to avoid making false or misleading statements – this should, theoretically, stop a seller from claiming that a house isn’t haunted if he or she believes otherwise

·      Three-quarters of estate agents polled said that former crime scenes or rumours that a property is haunted can devalue a house’s price by a fifth and make them twice as hard to sell compared to a ‘normal’ property

·      A third of people would move out if they experienced paranormal activity while 24 per cent would look to seek help from an exorcist

·      In New York, the State Supreme Court demands that sellers explicitly inform buyers of all defects, including intangible ones such as poltergeists

·      In a famous case of Stambovsky v Ackley in 1991, it was established that the owner had not mentioned the house he was selling was haunted and so the sale was withdrawn –the house had been on a ghost tour of the neighbourhood and its poltergeists were well known