The town of Saxmundham in Suffolk can trace its origins back to the Saxons and was first mentioned in the Doomsday Book of 1086. The name itself derives from the Saxon 'Seizmond's home'.
Top hat and tails.
A man in Victorian or Edwardian evening dress has been seen walking down the High Street. One man is reported to have seen him during a trip to the local fish and chip shop. Upon reaching the shop, he was told by other customers that this was not the first time this ghostly gentleman had been seen.
One house in the High Street has been the subject of paranormal activity for the last few years. Parts of the property date back to the 17th century and a visiting medium confirmed that at least six residents ghosts were active in the building. These included an old priest and a boy.
Orbs have been captured on camera, a woman's sigh has been heard and a duvet has been pulled off a bed late at night by unseen hands on two occasions.
On South Entrance, beyond the crossroads, can be found a group of small houses bearing the name of Monk's Cottages. They date back to the 17th-century and once formed part of a much larger property. They were built on the site of 14th-century chapels - known as chantries - where priests said masses for the recently deceased, generally a benefactor to the chantry, in the belief this would help them pass on from Purgatory to Heaven.
In 2000, one of the cottages was occupied by Doreen Pelletier. In that same year, she decided to clear her cellar of rubble and called in a group of builders to do the job. However, they soon began to complain of ghostly activity, including lights being switched on and off. They finally said enough was enough and quit, suggesting that she contact an exorcist.
Doreen learned that previous owners had also experienced ghostly activity in the property. One woman had even seen a figure on the stairs and had sought out an exorcist to clear the house. Doreen finally decided to contact the House Detectives - a BBC series devoted to investigating the history of old properties - who eventually confirmed that the cellar had indeed formed part of a chantry. Doreen also tried to take pictures of the cellar at the request of the BBC. It is interesting to note that her camera jammed and the film strangely rewound itself.
So does the phantom priest - if indeed it is a priest - walk the cottage still?
Two children claimed to have witnessed a group of dancing ladies, dressed in white muslin, in this narrow lane. They vanished after just a few seconds. This is supposed to have occurred in the early 20th century.
A few years ago I was a presenter on Felixstowe TV. One of the shows I did was called The East Anglian Ghost Hunters. It was basically a show devoted to investigating haunted sites in the region. One of our investigations took us to Leiston Abbey in Suffolk.
We spoke to local pupils who told us about one particular area in the abbey where strange knockings and voices are heard at night. Searches of the area have always failed to provide a rational explanation!
Two members of the team also had a strange encounter with 'something' just off the ruins of the Chapter House. We had just finished filming when a black shape the size of a dog appeared from nowhere as they were discussing the day's events. It rushed passed them and vanished into a wall! Unfortunately, I was walking in front and so missed it! So what was it? Could it have been Black Shuck, the legendary ghost dog that is said to haunt East Anglia?
Black Shuck is common in East Anglia and there are recorded sightings of the ghostly dog dating back centuries. Shuck may derive from the Old English word scucca meaning "demon", or even possibly from the local dialect word shucky meaning "shaggy" or "hairy". Black Shuck is sometimes referred to as the Doom Dog, or "Grim".
It is interesting to note that a few years later some excavations were carried out at the Abbey and they found the skeleton of a large dog. Elliott O'Donnell, the author of many books on ghosts, also wrote of a dog haunting the ruins in the 1930's.
Here's the film we made.
The term orb is used to describe balls of light, usually captured on digital cameras. Orbs can be any colour but are usually white. Many paranormal investigators believe them to be the spirits of the dead. Others believe that they are dust particles, water droplets or insects caught in the flash of a camera. Orbs could also be caused by lens flares or even damage to the camera. I would say that at least 90% of orbs can be explained away as any of the above. The other 10%? Who knows!
Here are two examples. The first was taken in Framlingham churchyard, Suffolk. The second was taken in a house in Stonebow, York.
You would expect graveyards to be full of ghosts. However, this is not the case!
There is a tradition that only the spirit of the first person to be buried there is destined to haunt the place. Legend claims it has to protect the graves of all those who are buried after them.
It is also said that flowers will grow on a grave if the person led a good life. Weeds growing on a grave point to the person being wicked in life.
It is supposed to be bad luck to meet a funeral procession heading towards you. If this can't be avoided then hold onto a button until it passes and that should prevent any bad luck coming your way. A funeral procession should never return from the graveyard the same way it came. This is to prevent the spirit of the deceased from following the living home.
East Anglia has long been known as the haunt of a ghostly dog known as Black Shuck. He is usually described as being a very large black dog with blazing red eyes. His name may derive from the Old English word scucca meaning demon, or possibly from the local word shuckymeaning "shaggy" or “hairy".
It is said that to see him is an omen of impending disaster or even death, although not always! A former acquaintance of mine once saw a very large black dog – described by him as being as the size of a pony – while driving down a Suffolk lane. He suffered no ill-effects!
On the 4th August 1577, Shuck is alleged to have entered St Mary’s Church in Bungay during a violent storm. He ran down the aisle, attacking several members of the congregation.
An old verse records:
'All down the church in midst of fire, the hellish monster flew
And, passing onward to the quire, he many people slew'
An account of Shuck's appearance was described in "A Straunge and Terrible Wunder" by the Rev Abraham Fleming in 1577.
"There were assembled at the same season, to hear divine service and common prayer...in the parish church...of Bongay, the people therabouts inhabiting...Immediately hereupon, there appeared in a most horrible similitude and likenesse to the congregation then and there present a dog as they might discerne it, of a black colour; at the site whereof, togither with the fearful flashes of fire which were then seene, moved such admiration in the minds of the assemblie, that they thought doomesday was already come. This black dog, or the divil in such a likenesse (God hee knoweth all who worketh all) running all along down the body of the church with great swiftnesse and incredible haste, among the people, in a visible fourm and shape, passed betweene two persons, as they were kneeling upon their knees, and occupied in prayer as it seemed, wrung the necks of them bothe at one instant clene backward, in so much that even at a moment where they kneeled, they strangely died… There was at ye same time another wonder wrought; for the same black dog, still continuing and remaining in one and the self same shape, passing by another man of the congregation in the church, gave him such a gripe on the back, that therewith all he was presently drawen togither and shrunk up ,as it were a peece of lether scorched in a hot fire; or as the mouth of a purse or bag, drawen togither with string. The man albeit hee was in so strange a taking, dyed not, but as it is thought is yet alive. The Clark of the said Church being occupied in cleansing of the gutter of the church, with a violent clap of thunder was smitten downe, and beside his fall had no further harme...there are remaining in the stones of the Church, and likewise in the Church dore which are mervelously renten and torne, ye marks as it were of his clawes or talans. Beside, that all the wires, the wheels, and other things belonging to the Church, were wrung in sunder, and broken in peces...These things are reported to be true..."
It should be noted that the Churchwarden’s account book from the time does indeed mention the storm. The parish register also records the death of two men in the belfry. Neither mentions a dog or even attribute the incident to the work of the Devil.
Some modern scholars attribute the whole mysterious event to a lighting strike. And did it coincide with the appearance of a terrified dog seeking shelter from the storm?
Scratch marks on the inside of the north door are still pointed out as evidence of Shuck's visit.
A few inhabitants of Bungay claim the dog still haunts the town.
The following story was once told by 'beach-folk' along the East Anglian coast:
An Italian gentleman once appeared in a small seaside hamlet. He spoke English and soon befriended a local fisherboy, offering to take him abroad. The boy refused and so the stranger asked him to look after his dog instead, a large black retriever.
The Italian left the area, the dog being left in the boy's care. It was noted that the dog and man had never ever been seen together during the gentleman's time there.
The lad often went for a swim in the sea, and the dog always joined him. One day, he swam far out to sea and was horrified to find that the dog would not allow him to return to shore, snapping and snarling at him as he tried to turn for land.
On and on he swam, the dog never far behind. At one point he turned and was terrified to see, not the dog but the face of the Italian! Grinning the man changed back into the dog and made for the boy's neck. At this point, the boy hailed a passing ship and was quickly pulled abroad. The dog, deprived of his victim, dived like a whale, never to be seen again.
It is hard to believe that this quiet village was once one of the most prosperous towns in England. Coastal erosion has now resulted in most of the town, including nine churches, being lost to the sea. It is said that you can still hear sunken church bells ringing out a mournful tune. Local fishermen believe that they are only heard before a storm.
The ghosts of the town’s former inhabitants – including a man dressed in Elizabethan clothes - are said to haunt the shore below the cliffs. The ghostly laughter of children has also been heard. Greyfriar’s monastery is supposedly haunted by the obligatory phantom monks.
There is a tradition that three crowns were buried in East Anglia to protect England from invasion. One was hidden in Dunwich but was lost when the town fell into the sea. The second was discovered in Rendlesham in the 18th century but was melted down for the gold. The third remains buried somewhere along the coast. M.R. James based his classic ghost story ‘A Warning to the Curious’ on this legend. Or did Mr James invent the legend himself?
To find one is said to bring good fortune - especially if thrown by a horse. The custom was to hang them on your front door with the open end pointing upwards. This was to prevent the luck falling out. A horseshoe on the door was also believed to prevent witches from entering your home.
A legend has it that under a certain gatepost in Dallinghoo lies a hidden treasure. The ghost of the former owner also haunts the site to protect his hoard - even the efforts of twelve clergymen failed to send him on his way!
Attempts to locate the treasure are now fruitless as no-one can remember where the gatepost stood!
Another ghost also haunts the area. A widow by the name of Shawe cut her throat and was later seen haunting the lanes around the village. She is always seen without her feet!
It could be that her spirit is simply a recording and she's walking on an earlier ground level.
The March issue of Starburst features a great spread on Winifred Meeks. The film was written/directed by Jason Figgis and produced by John West.
John is a producer, TV/radio presenter and writer living in Suffolk