Weird Norfolk: The headless bridesmaids of Great Melton

Bow Hill at Great Melton, rumoured to be a hot spot for the Norfolk fairy, the Hikey Sprites. Pictur

Bow Hill at Great Melton, where a phantom carriage is driven furiously. - Credit: DENISE BRADLY

It is a well-told tale, that of the phantom carriage driven furiously by a headless coachman – but Great Melton’s has a twist: all the passengers are headless bridesmaids.

The coach and its ghostly occupants are doomed to repeat their final journey night after night, rising from a water-filled pit in the village to travel round a nearby field before sinking back into the bottomless depths.

At Coldblow Hill (now known as Bow Hill) a tale is told on the Hidden East Anglia website of a field divided from the River Yare by a carr along which the old Norwich Road ran.

It was here that at midnight and noon, the coach would burst from the murky depths and make its cursed journey, a wedding party without a fairytale ending.

Inside the coach were four identically-dressed women wearing white, all missing something vital: their heads.

In 1872, John L’Estrange noted the legend in The Eastern Counties Collectanea, writing about “a carriage ghost” seen in Great Melton.

"Close to the edge of where the road is said to have run is deep pit or hole of water, locally reputed to be fathomless, and every night at midnight and every day at noon a carriage drawn by four horses, driven by a headless coachman and footmen, and containing four headless ladies in white, rises silently and dripping wet from the pool, flits stately and silently round the field, and sinks quietly into the pool again,” he wrote.

Most Read

He added that a similar story was told in fields near Bury St Edmunds and in Leigh in Dorsetshire.

Several legends are linked to the sightings.

One is a fairly simple tale of a wedding party travelling along the old Norwich Road accidentally careered into the pond and vanished without a trace.

In Betty Puttick’s Norfolk Stories of the Supernatural, another theory is put forward:

“A more dramatic version of the story says that the coach was held up by a highwayman who murdered all the occupants and threw their bodies into the pond,” she writes.

“And yet another blames the coachman whose drunken driving caused the coach to lurch off balance and end up in the water.

“Whatever the cause of the bridesmaids’ unhappy fate, legend has it that from time to time a phantom coach is seen driving at reckless speed along this stretch of road.”

The tradition of bridesmaids all wearing the same style of dress is believed to have begun in Roman times when not only would the attendants wear the same gown, so would the bride.

It was believed that happy events were magnets for evil spirits intent on wreaking havoc on a couple’s special day and that the malevolent forces could be fooled for long enough for the bride and groom to finish their vows if everyone looked the same.

So could the bride be amongst her ghoulish attendants?

A cheerier version of the above ghost story suggests that if you happen upon the spectral coach and see the bridal party with heads attached, all will be well.

But for anyone considering taking a trip to find the pool and the phantom carriage, a warning from Ms Puttrick: “…beware if you are around when it happens for if the coachman and the bridesmaids are headless, bad luck or worse is in store.”

Weird Norfolk suggests that if you do take your life in your hands and visit the area where the coach is said to appear, take the opportunity to also look out for the county’s famous Hikey Sprites which are also said to live here.

Walter Rye wrote of them in The Eastern Counties Collectnea in 1872, describing them as a kind of fairy: "Other spiritual visitants are the hyter sprites, a kind of fairy rather beneficent than otherwise - a special habitat for which is a lane called Blow Hill, in Great Melton, prettily overshadowed with beech trees."

These beech trees are also where the ghost of a woman has been spotted – she seems to be in great distress and is rocking a child back and forth.

Busy place for the supernatural, Great Melton.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter