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WEIRD NORFOLK: The man who asked to hear his fortune and found out his future was fatal

PUBLISHED: 18:00 12 October 2019 | UPDATED: 07:33 14 October 2019

Weird Norfolk, the story of the wise man of Hempstead and Sir Berney Brograve's kennel keeper at Worstead Hall. Hempstead village. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Weird Norfolk, the story of the wise man of Hempstead and Sir Berney Brograve's kennel keeper at Worstead Hall. Hempstead village. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Archant

This week's Weird Norfolk is a cautionary tale about being careful what you wish for.

Many of us wish that we could open a window on the future, peer through and discover what lies in store for us. But others realise that such privileged knowledge can also be a curse: to know the future can also be to know your fate. Regular readers will recall the name Sir Berney Brograve, a notorious landowner in Norfolk with a portfolio of properties who struck a deal with the devil that he failed to honour.

Tales about Sir Berney twist through the centuries, each more terrifying than the other - and his mill, built amid the rushes at Brograve that typify this bleakly beautiful stretch of coastline, was designed to reclaim the land which the North Sea was set on swallowing. Built in 1771, Sir Berney's mill stood on land he had inherited from several wealthy relatives - he also owned Waxham Hall and the manors of Horsey and Sea Palling, his wealth built on shifting sands and his fortune at the mercy of the flooding and erosion which has long plagued coastal fields. Legend has it that the baronet had wagered his soul that he could out-mow the Devil over two acres of bean plants, a foolish bet which Lucifer easily won with dark magic and then turned to collect the soul he had been promised. Sir Berney disappeared towards his mill and just managed to make it inside before slamming the door in the Devil's face and barricading himself in. The Devil pounded on the door with his terrible cloven hooves and, the next morning, when Sir Berney gingerly opened the door, he found it pitted with hoof-prints and leaning decidedly to the west where Satan had attempted to blow the mill down.

This tale, however, concerns another of Sir Berney's properties - Worstead House, built in 1790 - and the man who managed his huge team of fierce hunting dogs. The kennel keeper was an inquisitive chap and, when he heard that the landlord of the nearby Royal Sovereign Inn in Hempstead had a reputation as a canny fortune teller, a wise man and a 'star reader', he decided to make a visit a priority. At the pub, the landlord was unusually reticent about sharing his predictions for the future with the dog handler. But Sir Berney's kennel keeper was persistent and refused to be fobbed off - and finally, he received news of his future. The landlord told him that he would come to a violent end and his body would never be buried. Somewhat stunned by the news, the man reeled away from the pub, telling himself that the rumours about the landlord's abilities were, quite obviously, overrated.

We wonder, however, if his last thoughts on earth wandered to the landlord's terrible prophecy when - just days later as he cleaned out the kennels - his canine charges turned on him and ripped him to shreds, leaving nothing more than a small pile of brass buttons on the floor.

Weird Norfolk, the story of Sir Berney Brograve's kennel keeper at Worstead Hall and the wise man of Hempstead. Worstead village. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYWeird Norfolk, the story of Sir Berney Brograve's kennel keeper at Worstead Hall and the wise man of Hempstead. Worstead village. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

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