Weird Norfolk: The ghost of Baconsthorpe Castle

Baconsthorpe Castle. Pictured is the Inner Gatehouse. Picture: Ian Burt

Baconsthorpe Castle. Pictured is the Inner Gatehouse. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Ian Burt

Hidden from the Holt Road are the relics of a prosperous past, the skeleton of a once-magnificent manor house once home to the Heydon family, a hidden gem now owned by English Heritage and boasting a very curious caretaker: a spectral sentry.

Baconsthorpe Castle is a peaceful place, its empty ruins standing guard in the middle of open meadows and farmland, an impressive moat and lake offering an idea of the grandeur which this building once lent to this gentle corner of Norfolk. It is a stony reminder of how far one can fall from grace.

The Heydons began building work on the fortified manor house in 1450, adding extensions as their wealth grew. Sir John Heydon was appointed Recorder of Norwich in 1431, but was unpopular with townsmen and dismissed before May 1437. An unscrupulous lawyer and opportunist, by the time the gatehouses were built John possibly needed them to see off enemies.

He had incited Lord Moleynes to lay claim to the Paston Estate at Gresham, an act that resulted in Margaret Paston and a dozen retainers being attacked by a mob of around 1,000, and during the turbulent Wars of the Roses, he often switched political allegiances to serve his own means.

Despite being linked to extortion, duplicity and underhand tactics, he was a survivor and while at least two of those close to him were beheaded, John managed to retain his seat in Baconsthorpe, his property portfolio and his wealth.

The Heydons lived at Baconsthorpe for 200 years, their fortune built on the wool industry. But the family were poor estate manager and Christopher Heydon, who died in 1579, left his son William with huge debts, forcing him to sell of parts of the manor house.

In the late 16th or early 17th century, an ornamental mere was created to the east of the moat and formal gardens were created, but by the mid-17th century, the insolvency of successive Heydons forced them to demolish the castle and move away. The gatehouse was eventually converted into a private dwelling and occupied until 1920.

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Visitors to the castle ruins often wander through the shattered remains to the moat at which point for some, the silence is broken by the unmistakeable sound of stones breaking the still waters, as if thrown from some height. Confused by the ripples, visitors turn to see where the stones hail from, only to catch sight of a ghostly sentry or medieval soldier standing on the castle walls, throwing stones as if to pass the time.

Although startled, no one has ever reported feeling threatened by the stone-throwing spirit, and so he remains on guard at Baconsthorpe, waiting for his order to stand down.

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