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WEIRD NORFOLK: A time slip in a Great Yarmouth shop and a spectral shop assistant

PUBLISHED: 18:00 22 August 2020

We don't know the location of the shop where Mr Squirrel experienced a timeslip. Could it have been on Regent Road? Picture dated  18 July 1974 .

We don't know the location of the shop where Mr Squirrel experienced a timeslip. Could it have been on Regent Road? Picture dated 18 July 1974 .

Can we really slip into another time zone as easily as we’d walk from one room to the next? The curious case of the Great Yarmouth shop with a ghostly assistant

It was when he approached the till that he noticed the shop was strangely old-fashioned: despite it being 1973, the lady behind the desk was in Edwardian dress. The wonderfully-named Mr Squirrel had, according to an account in Norfolk author Joan Forman’s book The Mask of Time, popped into a Great Yarmouth shop after a recommendation from a friend. This story is from sources which quote from Ms Forman’s book, Legends and Things That Go Bump in the Night by S John Saunders and Norfolk Stories of the Supernatural by Betty Puttick.

Back to Mr Squirrel, who had stepped into the smartly-painted shop from a traditionally cobbled road and noted almost straight away that inside it seemed quaintly old-fashioned – inside there was complete silence, the traffic outside had melted away entirely. Keen to buy transparent envelopes to keep individual coins in, he went to ask for help at the till – a young woman stepped forward to help. She was wearing a blouse with a cameo brooch at her neck, her hair was scraped back into a bun and her skirt was long and swished to the floor. Mr Squirrel asked for the coin envelopes and she produced them, noting that they were also used by fishermen to keep their hooks in – he bought 36 for a shilling, nodded his thanks and left the shop.

Within a week, and having catalogued 36 coins, he found himself in need of more envelopes and set out once again for the old-fashioned shop. When he arrived, he was perplexed to see paving slabs instead of cobbles, a drab frontage instead of smart paint: inside, a much older woman stepped forward to serve him and, when asked for the envelopes, said she didn’t stock them. Mr Squirrel mentioned the lady he had seen a week earlier only to be told that no such assistant worked at the shop – in fact, the lady he was speaking to was the sole assistant and had been for many years. The story became even stranger: when Mr Squirrel took the envelopes he had bought on his first visit to an expert, they dated them and said they were around 10 to 15 years old, although did say that cellulose had been around since the 1920s. And then there was the question of payment: by 1973, decimalization had been introduced, although shillings were still legal tender with a value of 5p until December 31 1990. Mr Squirrel thought back and estimated that the shop seemed to be similar to those that were commonplace in the early 1900s…yet the envelopes were younger and the form of payment younger still.

Even rarer still in the cases of time slips: Mr Squirrel had brought something back, seemingly from another period of time entirely. Ms Forman suggested that Mr Squirrel had experienced a timeslip: his grandfather had also been a coin collector, and possibly might have visited the same shop. Were grandfather and grandson’s memories merged? Or had Mr Squirrel simply visited two different shops and made a mistake? He was adamant this was not the case. In Masks of Time, Ms Forman recounted her own time slip experience at Haddon Hall in Derbyshire where she saw a group of children playing at the top of the stairs – who she later discovered were youngsters from the 1640s, not present day. Ms Forman believed the trigger for a time-slip happened when someone was interested in their surroundings but not concentrating on them, allowing the slip to Weird Norfolk has also covered an unsettling time slip in Horning when a family found themselves transported back in time as they stood still on a summer’s day in the late 1970s and over the border, Weird Suffolk has covered two similar tales.

The first happened in October 1957 when three 15-year-olds were taking part in an orienteering exercise on a Sunday morning when they walked into the village of Kersey and, apparently, a completely different period in time. All the boys could hear was a stream: the modern houses had been replaced by timber-framed buildings and they couldn’t even hear the ducks that looked as if they were splashing in the stream. Filled with unease, the boys began to look around: there in a butcher’s shop window were skinned oxen, green with age and covered with cobwebs as if the butcher had left in a hurry, weeks earlier. Houses in the village were bare of furniture, just empty, cold shells. Just then, a shiver passed through all three youths as all felt the icy stare of invisible watchers from all around the village tracing their every step. Petrified and nauseous, they walked quickly up the village street, eventually pelting away from the strange, medieval-looking houses, pausing only to glance back to check if they were being followed. Speaking in 1990, William Laing (one of the boys in question) said: ““It was a ghost village, so to speak. It was almost as if we had walked back in time… I experienced an overwhelming feeling of sadness and depression in Kersey, but also a feeling of unfriendliness and unseen watchers which sent shivers up one’s back… I wondered if we’d knocked at a door to ask a question who might have answered it? It doesn’t bear thinking about.” Another tale is told in Rougham where a stately Georgian home is said to appear and then vanish, leaving no trace: the Rougham Mirage has been spotted since 1860 and up to 2007.

Some believe the sightings represent a time slip which passers-by are experiencing, others that ghosts may be living people who have stepped through a time-slip. These “dimensional anomalies” differ to the concept of time travel as they don’t involve a machine, or intent or cause and they usually last just a few brief moments.

Perhaps one day we will have the answer – give it time.

* If anyone has a copy of Joan Forman’s The Mask of Time, Weird Norfolk would love to borrow it!

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