Weird Norfolk: The magical stone of Southery which marked the gateway to hell

PUBLISHED: 09:00 22 June 2019

Did a magical metorite leave a gateway to Hell in Southery? Pictured:  A farming day at Willow Dene Farm, Southery. Date: 17th April 1953. Picture: EDP Library

Did a magical metorite leave a gateway to Hell in Southery? Pictured: A farming day at Willow Dene Farm, Southery. Date: 17th April 1953. Picture: EDP Library

It fell to earth during a storm on Halloween and marked the gateway from Norfolk to hell - was the Southery stone a visitor from outer space and why did naked women sit on it for good luck?

As with all the best tales, it began on Halloween during a thunderstorm when a stone from the sky crashed into a small Fenland village on the very edge of Norfolk which locals believed created a hole that led straight to the jaws of hell - and where the village sign stands today.

In October 1642, as the first English Civil War raged across the land, the skies were equally tempestuous.

Thunderstorms illuminated the sky on October 31 and in Southery, villagers saw a mighty bolt of lightning strike the earth close to the old mill - the next morning, the local parson went to investigate and found a large hole in the ground where the supposed lightning had struck.

Inside the hole, a fierce fire burned for several days until it was extinguished by rainfall of almost Biblical proportions: in Southery, rumours began to fly. Some said that the hole was the opening to a tunnel which led directly to hell, and it became known as The Way In.

Over the following year, Southery's parson began to act in an erratic manner and, by 1643, he had disappeared without trace. By this time, the mysterious hole, created on a dark and stormy night, had filled with water and its named had telescoped to the Wayin Pond.

Years later, the decision was taken to drain the pond and clear it of debris.

There, under thick layers of mud, a strange blue stone was found and alongside it, the skeleton of a man wrapped in iron chains: was it the parson? The Southery parish registers date only from 1706, so no mention is made of the poor wretch found in Wayin Pond.

Opposite the pond was a pound, where animals whose owners owed taxes were held until debts were paid or animals were sold, where stray livestock was kept and where local n'er do wells who needed to sleep off a skinful of ale could avoid a furious spouse. The stone was taken there to become a kind of makeshift seat outside the stone building.

Quickly, the boulder earned a reputation for having magical powers and became a magnet for locals, who attributed a host of superstitious beliefs to the rock - women who were in pain from joint or ligament problems would visit the stone at midnight, shed their clothes and sit on top of it naked in the hope of being cured, farmers believed it could guide their work by foretelling the weather - if rain was imminent, it was said that the stone would sweat.

Villagers would spit on the stone to ensure good fortune and a virile 80-year-old credited the Southery Stone with his ability to still be able to father children - every day he drank the dew that collected on top of the stone, although of course it could have been saliva…

When preachers visited the village, they would use the stone as an al fresco pulpit - gradually, the new parson grew tired of the obsession with an inanimate piece of rock and declared that everyone was effectively worshipping a piece of space debris, a meteorite which had shattered as it broke up in the atmosphere.

To hammer home his point, he had the stone removed and placed in a garden on the King's Lynn to Cambridge road where it enjoyed a peaceful retirement as a buttress for a garden wall.

When EDP writer Trevor Heaton went in search of the magical stone of Southery, his investigations led him to Stocks Hill at the junction of Westgate, Upgate, Church Street and Common Lane at the spot where Hill House stood until the 1950s, when it was demolished and - it seems - the stone was removed.

The Wayin, or Waring, pond was filled in many years ago and the village sign stands on the spot where the magical stone was found - as an aside, another meteorite was observed falling to earth in Woodbridge in the same year and lightning struck twice in Southery when, on July 17 1848, Samuel Douglas died when he was struck by a bolt in his own bed.

Whether the gateway to hell in Southery has been completely closed, however, is an altogether different issue.

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