Weird Norfolk: Is the ghost of “Old Hunch” still on the prowl in Long Stratton?
- Credit: Nick Butcher
No one knows why Old Hunch has returned from the grave to haunt the streets of Long Stratton but his effigy in the parish is a constant reminder of a soul that is yet to find peace.
He was a colourful character in life and remains one in death: not only can 'Old Hunch' still be seen in a round-towered medieval church in Norfolk, his ghost has been reported to patrol the village streets near Long Stratton in a phantom carriage pulled by four horses.
In the church of Stratton St Mary, however, Sir Edmund Reeve looks anything but furious in his final resting place: posed in a relaxed position, lying on his side with his head propped up on his elbow and his splendid scarlet robes flowing across his body down to his toes. Beneath him, the stone figure of his wife Dame Mary Corie, who died 10 years after her husband, is forever cast in a more traditional position, one hand grasping her dark robe, the other clasping a Bible to her heart.
Sir Edmund was one of at least four sons and five children of Norfolk attorney Christopher Reeve of Aylsham, Oulton and Felthorpe and was born in around 1585.
He attended college in Cambridge and went on to study law at Barnard's and afterwards at Gray's Inn, later moving to Norwich where he was called to the bar in 1611 and appointed steward of the city and JP for Norfolk. In 1624 he joined with Francis Bacon in repairing the font in St Gregory's Church in the city and by 1639 he had been knighted.
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By the 1630s, Sir Edmund had bought the splendid Stratton Manor House from Sir Henry Bedingfield - some believe the sale involved some wrong-doing and that it is this which brings Judge Reeve back to his former haunt, forever linked to the place he called home.
As a judge, it appears that he courted controversy: he supported the Long Parliament and sat alone at Westminster when a third of the members of the House of Commons and the majority of the House of Lords had joined King Charles I's alternative Oxford Parliament. In 1640 he refused to proceed in a case against one of the Lambeth Rioters who had stormed Lambeth Palace in May of that year to protest against the dissolution of Parliament.
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By the end of 1642, Reeve was one of only three common-law judges still sitting at Westminster in defiance of Charles' will – on January 4 1642, Charles had entered the House of commons to arrest five MPs for high treason but when the Speaker defied him to uphold the privileges of Parliament the King was forced to leave without any arrests: no monarch has entered the House of Commons since.
In 1643, he and Sir Thomas Trevor were served with a writ from Charles requiring their attendance in Oxford but instead of complying, they simply committed the messengers to prison to avoid the writ: one of the men sent to prison was later executed as a spy.
Sir Edmund died on March 27th 1647, leaving Dame Mary his land in Norfolk and Suffolk and – as he had no children of his own that are recorded – his manor to his brother Augustine Reeve from Bracondale whose son later inherited Sir Edmund's home and wealth.
The East Anglian Handbook for 1885 notes: 'There is or was a legend current in the neighbourhood that at certain times the Judge or his ghost, familiarly known as 'Old Hunch' drives at a furious rate round the parish in a coach and four. Once on a time (what wondrous occurrences have happened at that date!) a country labourer returning home at a late hour beheld the ghostly vehicle coming furiously towards him, and in his terror climbed into a tree by the roadside.
'Scarce was he safe amid the branches than it dashed by, and finding himself safe, his fright disappeared, and peering from his leafy screen, he shouted after the retreating carriage, 'Old Hunch, Old Hunch'. Instantly a hideous face was thrust out of the carriage window, and a harsh voice yelled back, 'If I was as far behind you as I am in front of you, you would never call me Hunch again.'
More recently, local people taking their dogs for a nightly constitutional or on their way to the pub have heard the sound of coach and horses rumbling through the streets. Is Old Hunch still on the prowl?
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