Weird Norfolk: The ghost hunting Norwich headmaster

Mannington Hall, 1989. Picture: Archant Library

Dr Augustus Jessopp wrote about his encounter with a ghost at Mannington Hall. Picture date: 1989. - Credit: Archant Library

He was a much-loved Norwich headmaster, who became a man of the church, had a road named after him…and shared a library with a ghost.

And when Dr Augustus Jessopp returned to the city after his encounter with a large mystery gentleman at Mannington Hall, he wrote of his encounter in a way which was described as “one of the most intriguing accounts of a ghostly visitant ever penned.”

Are you sitting comfortably? We will begin.

Dr Jessopp was no run-of-the-mill ghost hunter. He was regarded as one of  the greatest of all headmasters at Norwich School who went on to became the Rector of Scarning for more than 30 years.

He arrived in Norwich in 1859 to take over the headship of King Edward VI School which was described at the time as a moribund, dilapidated old place with less than 30 pupils.

Supported by his popular wife, Margaret he embarked on a programme to transform and restore the famous and proud school.

It was said that the students, the teachers and the people of Norwich soon grew to love and respect this rather controversial and colourful character who loved writing…and what a talent he was.

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When Dr H W Saunders wrote his history of the school in 1932 he said of Augustus: “With him as headmaster passed the old order of things. There was not a mean thing in him.

“Augustus knew he was favoured beyond most men. He would listen to his own voice, he allowed his tailor the privilege of clothing the best specimen in the city,” he said.

And then, in 1879,  he went to the majestic 15th century Mannington Hall in Norfolk as a guest of the Earl of Orford when he was writing a book about the Jesuit missionary Henry Walpole who was executed at York in 1595.

And something very strange happened.

He was alone late one night taking extracts from rare books in the library when…

“I was actually writing. I saw a large white hand within a foot of my elbow. Turning my head, there sat a figure of a somewhat large man with his back to the fire, bending slightly over the table and apparently examining the pile of books I had been at work upon.”

“The man’s face was turned away from me but I saw his closely-cut reddish hair, his ear and shaved cheek, the eyebrow and the corner of his right eye.

“He was dressed in what I can only describe as a kind of ecclesiastical habit of thick corded silk, close up to the throat, and a narrow rim or edging of satin or velvet serving as a stand-up collar and fitting close to the chin.

“I looked at my visitor for some seconds and was perfectly sure he was not a reality. A thousand thoughts came crowding in upon me, but not the least feeling of alarm or even uneasiness: curiosity and a strong interest were uppermost.

“There he sat, and I was fascinated: afraid not of his staying, but lest he should go.

“Stopping in my writing, I lifted my left hand from the paper stretched it out to the pile of books, and moved the top on.

“I cannot explain why I did this - my arm passed in front of the figure and it vanished. A few minutes later the figure appeared again.

“I framed a sentence to address him when I discovered that I dare not speak. There he sat and there I sat.

“I shut my book and threw it on the table. It made a slight noise as it fell: the figure vanished,” wrote Augustus.

He returned to story where he told his story. It became the talk of the city so he wrote it all down and it was described later as one of the most intriguing accounts of a ghostly visitant ever penned.

This extraordinary man went on to became Rector of Scarning for more than 30 years where he spent much of his time writing and studying history. He died in 1914. Jessopp Road, off Colman Road in Norwich, is named after him.