Discover the darker side of suffolk
Are you ready to explore the darker side of Suffolk?
Photo (c) Amanda Slater
Could this be the skeleton of the devil dog Black Shuck?
Photo (c) Archant
It’s often Suffolk’s oldest buildings that rattle with spirits. Hintlesham Hall Hotel near Ipswich is said to be haunted by the ghost of a murdered boy, and as legend has it his statue, ‘The Luck of Hintlesham’ will bring disasters upon the hall’s owners if removed. Kentwell Hall, the eclectic 500-year-old Suffolk mansion near Long Melford also has its own ghost child, although she only seems to be in search of a playmate. Then there’s Dagworth Hall, the ancient site of which was once haunted by a mischievous but good-natured changeling called Malekin.
Mythical creatures like Malekin are commonplace in Suffolk, from the elves said to lure travellers into their magic dell at Elveden, to the Wildman of Orford, whose image has become emblematic of that little fishing village, and can be seen across Suffolk in the medieval carvings of woodwoses (literally translated as ‘wild men of the woods’). Another myth that has crept into the symbology of Suffolk is that of the Green Children of Woolpit, who some time in the 12th century were discovered in a wolf-trap and claimed to have come from a green subterranean world called St Martin’s Land. Their claims would probably have fallen on deaf ears, were it not for the fact that they were green, too.
Photo (c) Rod Bacon
The quiet village of Gisleham near Lowestoft also has a morbid history. As the story goes, a great battle was fought on Gisleham’s Bloodmoor Hill circa 500AD, in which swathes of Romano-Britons were slaughtered by invading Anglo-Saxons. Though there’s no historical evidence for the battle, it has a firm place in Suffolk blood-legend, as does the village of Polstead on the edge of Constable Country. It was here in 1827 that the fraudster William ‘Foxey’ Corder murdered young Maria Marten in the Red Barn, where her body may have lain forever had her stepmother not seen the burial place in a dream.
But of all the criminal stories in Suffolk, none is more fascinating than the true story of Margaret Catchpole. A servant for the wealthy Cobbold family, Margaret Catchpole stole her master’s fastest horse and rode to London in just seven hours – an extraordinary feat – to meet her lover, the infamous smuggler, William Laud. She was caught, and sentenced to deportation to Australia. But before she could be deported, she scaled the prison’s 22ft wall, disguised herself as a sailor and made for the Suffolk coast, where Laud was waiting to elope with her to Holland. The end of their romance, should you wish to read it, was not a happy one, yet it cemented Margaret Catchpole into Suffolk’s historical hall of fame.