WEIRD NORFOLK: The man who was “the plaything of…ghosts on a dark and wild night in one of the most weird of old houses” in Spixworth
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You got your money’s worth at Spixworth Hall in terms of things that go bump in the night – with three ghosts for the price of one.
It’s a stately home lost to time, a curly-gabled mansion with Tudor chimney stacks in Spixworth where the ghosts visited in strict order, as if in a Dickens novel.
In the Eastern Daily Press of February 5 1964, in the popular Jonathan Mardle column (written by Eric Fowler) is told the curious case of the spectres of Spixworth. Mardle wrote: “Spixworth Hall, which was Elizabethan, had all the properties a ghost could desire – panelled rooms, a long gallery, family portraits, and a park where owls might hunt and screech at night.” Drawing from a booklet written by Arthur Longe, whose family had lived at the hall for generations since 1693, the story was recounted of a visit Arthur had made to the house as a child.
“Tired out after a long day’s travelling, he went to bed, by candlelight, in a panelled bedroom. He woke to see the door half open and a bright light shining in; and there stood an old watchman, with a lantern in his hand. He wore knee breeches and had a long white beard. Mr Longe sprang up in bed and the watchman disappeared.
“Mr Longe got up, lit the candle and locked the door and then went back to bed. He says he was frightened but too tired to stay awake. He was woken again by a light shining on his face and saw a woman standing at the foot of the bed with a candle in her hand. She, too, disappeared as soon as he sat up to look at her, but he still felt he was not alone – there was some other presence in the room.
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“At last he slept again, only to be woken a third time by a dreadful shriek. This time he got up and searched the room, but found nothing…he went to sleep once more and was relieved to be woken in daylight by a servant knocking at the door...”
On recounting his tale, he discovered others had seen the ghosts and, indeed, a further phantom – a hearse which used to drive up to the hall’s door at midnight. There were also stories of pianos played in the night by ghostly fingers.
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This legend was said to date back to the 15th century when the Longe family lived at the Sea Mere manor house at Hingham and had a beautiful young daughter, adored by the old watchman, who had seen her grow up. Many tried to win her heart but it had already been won, by her cousin (different times…) who was summoned to the King’s Host at Nottingham where he died in a joust, his last words instructing that his spurs be taken to his sweetheart in Norfolk. Broken-hearted, the girl threw herself in the Mere, returning as a ghost wearing a jewelled wedding dress, her lover’s spurs in one hand, a lit candle in the other. Before she would appear her watchman would light her way and after she disappeared, the hearse would arrive at the door. The ghosts, it was said, were attached to the family rather than the house – as Mardle poetically put it: “…the whole spectral cortege – the watchman, the girl, the scream and the hearse – would appear to have accompanied the Longes to Spixworth Hall two hundred years later.”
In his book, Longe spoke of a horrible dread to think that he was “the plaything of these ghosts on a dark and wild night in one of the most weird of old houses.” A further account in Bogie Tales of East Anglia by MH James, published in 1891 (and republished recently) recalls tenants of Spixworth Hall spotting a hearse driven by horses on the drive and who were later forced to leave the house by “the extraordinary noises” heard there that scared away the servants.
Demolished in 1950, as late as 1964, the EDP mentioned a ghost – singular, however – that of a night watchman who was said to haunt the site of the hall.
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