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WEIRD NORFOLK: How White Woman Lane in Old Catton got its name

PUBLISHED: 18:00 25 April 2020 | UPDATED: 09:19 26 April 2020

White Woman Lane in Sprowston, Norwich, looking toward the Spixworth Road. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

White Woman Lane in Sprowston, Norwich, looking toward the Spixworth Road. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Copyright: Archant 2020

The ghostly bride that haunts old Catton wearing her wedding dress and drifting across the road after a premature and tragic death.

Legend has it that White Woman Lane in Old Catton is named after the ghost that has been seen drifting there in her wedding dress for hundreds of years.

There are several stories attached to this otherwise unspectacular stretch of road which runs between Spixworth Road on the west and the B1150 North Walsham Road on the east. One is that the daughter of the local squire fell in love with one of her father’s coachmen – she lived in the manor house, he lived in the lodge across the road (there is evidence for neither that we can find, but facts can’t get in the way of a good tale). Some stories say the coachman was dismissed by his master after he discovered the illicit relationship and when the woman realised that he was packing to leave, she ran after him, slipped under the coach wheels and died instantly. Another says that the pair planned to marry but the wedding was stopped by the woman’s father and so her ghost can be seen crossing the road to her love wearing the white wedding dress she was never allowed to wear.

A variation on the story has the woman preparing to marry a lord in Elizabethan times but dying the night before the ceremony. Her ghost is seen wearing a white dress and a wreath of herbs. Another adds a tragic twist: a young woman married the Lord of Catton Old Hall, which was built in 1632, in Lodge Lane close to White Woman Lane, at the church in Sprowston. Wedded bliss was short-lived – soon after the ceremony, she died at the hands of her cruel husband.

The White Woman is said to walk along the road named after her from the Old Hall on Lodge Lane in Old Catton to the grounds of Oak Lodge Farm and then to Sprowston parish church. She wears her wedding dress as a painful reminder of the love she sought but never found – it was once said that the corn in the fields nodded with her as she passed. Witness accounts stretch back over the years: a family were travelling in a pony and trap along the road when the animal came to a halt in front of a drifting mist. The mist came from the left, across a field and then crossed a track before disappearing. Another account, from two teenage girls who were cycling down a path close to the road, tells of a woman being seen walking in the field with a scarf on her head: when the girls reached her, they glanced at her and saw darkness where her face should have been.

White Woman Lane in Sprowston, Norwich, looking toward the Spixworth Road. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYWhite Woman Lane in Sprowston, Norwich, looking toward the Spixworth Road. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

In paranormal circles, the White Lady is a famous example of a type of female ghost, typically dressed in a white dress or a similar piece of clothing and often spotted in rural areas – or once rural areas – and associated with tragic local legends. Such White Ladies are found across the world, often linked to an accidental death, murder or suicide and the theme of loss, betrayal or unrequited love.

An old medieval legend still persists which is that the White Lady ghosts will appear in houses in which a family member is soon to die, or that she will appear in photographs of people just before or after they die. According to the famous Nuttall Encyclopaedia, compiled in the late 19th century by the Reverend James Wood and published in 1900, these spirits were the ghosts of deceased ancestors who had come to collect their kinsfolk.

Famously, a white lady was captured on camera in 1975 in St Mary’s church at Worstead when Peter Berthelot and his family were visiting. When he had the film from his camera developed, he and wife Diane noticed there was a ghoulish figure in one photograph taken when Diane had sat – alone – on a pew. The couple later learned of a local legend: a ghost that haunts the church on Christmas Eve.

The White Lady’s cornfields are now covered by a modern housing estate and it seems she has been quiet for several years – perhaps she is hiding in the subterranean passage said to have been beneath the manor house. There lies another story.

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