Hauntings in Lavenham

Suffolk and Essex borders               

Perhaps my earlier Introduction is making an extravagant claim for our part of the world yet to have so many haunted places villages within twenty miles of each other that between them have over 30 ghosts and which have made 3 appearances in the top ten Most Haunted Places in Britain does rather suggest there might be a congregation of ghosts in the local area.  So here are just some of the accounts of the many ghosts found in this delightful part of the world:               

Teacle (Tickle) Manor: The Fair Lady              

Teacle (Tickle) Manor was built in 1532 and is found on the main street in medieval Lavenham.        

Customers using the upstairs toilet at Teacle Manor have found the door mysteriously opening even though it has been bolted from the inside and some claim to have heard church bells ringing although there has been no practice going on.         

Teacle (Tickle) Manor: The stopped-clock

At the top of where the original stairs were situated no clock will work.  Various clocks – from battery to grandfather – have been tried but they always stop at ten to eight.  The clock in the new part of the shop works perfectly.         

Teacle (Tickle) Manor: The mysterious lady    

One afternoon the owner was upstairs tidying up the tearoom ahead of closing time and glanced down the stairs and to see a blonde figure shrouded in mist.  She turned back for a second glance but the figure had disappeared.  When she mentioned this to her staff, one said she had served an identical looking woman at one of the downstairs tables but when she returned with her order, the woman had vanished.  When the owner’s son went to stay one night he was frightened away by a fair lady leaning on her elbows on the stairs staring at him.

Sometimes staff working alone and upstairs have heard children singing ‘Green Sleeves’.  It got to the stage that one of the teenage waitresses started to hum the tune without realising and when she had never heard of it before or some staff could hear the singing when others in the same room could hear nothing.  The humming and the appearance of the blonde lady usually seemed to occur near closing time.       

The Swan                

The Swan is a former 15th Century Inn and then became a Coach House but is now an internationally renowned and prestigious luxury hotel.  No-one however has told the ghost in room 15 this!

A housekeeper who once lived in The Swan back when the hotel was a thriving coaching Inn in the 19th Century fell pregnant out of wedlock.  The baby’s father was happy to marry the lady under the circumstances and promised to look after them both. However, on the wedding day the gentleman had second thoughts and left the pregnant lady standing at the altar. After that she became inconsolable and very depressed.      

What is now room 15 in the Swan Hotel was once the housekeeping quarters and it is said that the poor woman was found hanging in this room by one of the Inn’s workers a week after she was supposed to have got married.  No-one knows what happened to the poor child.        

Another version of the story tells of the same lady hoping for a promotion whilst working at the Inn, but instead was overlooked which sent her in to a deep depression.  A different take on the story, but it ended much the same with her hanging herself in Room 15.

Yet another version talks of the marriage that was going to take place but out of wedlock, the groom left his bride at the altar and the bride then took her own life.  The bride is most commonly seen in Room 15 as it is here where she hung herself.  Her ghost remains behind to chill the spines of those that dare to cross her path and as a warning to all newly-wed brides.          

A security guard was working alone late one night at the Swan Hotel and as he was doing his final checks around the hotel, he came into contact with her which scared him out of his wits and sent him speeding in the other direction.  Several guests have reported to have seen her standing in Room 15 in the middle of the night.           

Once a nun was staying in that very room when she awoke startled to feel the ghost tickling her feet!              

Some stories associated with Room 15 however have perfectly rational explanations such as the occasion when a member of staff walked into the room to see Cardinal Wolsey in his full red cassock, rochet, mozzetta and wide brimmed hat over his biretta, aiding a half naked nun either into or out of her stockings and habit.  The poor maid did not stop to ask and for the next week the talk was of Cardinal Wolsey the Seducer.

Only to discover that the two ghosts were guests at a fancy dress party further down Water Street and the ‘Cardinal’ had been helping his wife get dressed!      

The Angel    

The Angel has at least two ghosts, one haunts its cellars and the other its public room with stunning Adams style ornate plaster ceiling.  Now a bed room on the first floor, it was once a sitting and function room for guests.   

It is said the face of the Angel on the Angel’s pub sign was that of the love interest of the sign painter: a local girl, serving at the pub in the 16th Century, who is thought to have been taken by drunkards, raped and left for dead in the cellars of the pub.  Her spectre offers her protection to all lovers and newly-weds but also unintentionally has frightened some of the staff whenever they went into the cellars to change barrels or to fetch up wine. 

She would often join in the many themed and historical events hosted at the Angel enjoying the medieval banquets, jousts and other historical events in the Market Square and boosting the numbers at the Dickensian Fayre.  On the last occasion the village mounted a May pole in the Market Square she took on a ribbon until someone did a headcount and realised the dancers were one maiden short and yet all the ribbons had been danced in pattern!   She was also seen joining in the festivities in the Market Square at the Carnivals in 2007 and again in 2013.   

She was not reported when the sign was briefly removed.  It is hoped the sign will be left in its pride of place.  The goodwill of the Angel has been part of the pub’s charm and excellent reputation for centuries and her presence in the dark and narrow corridors of the cellars has always brought comfort to the young staff when working alone beneath the pub.   

Since 1990, there have also been regular reports of the ghost of an early landlady, Mrs Goodhew, who has been seen standing around the building, smiling at any witness before vanishing.   Mrs Goodhew is clearly pleased when the pub is full, once joining a party of guests when the Angel had laid on a Victorian fancy dress evening  and sitting with them for many minutes before each guest realised they had a stranger at their table.  At which she was seen to disappear through the front wall.  She followed the same party into the Guildhall and Little Hall, revelling in the happiness of the village folk.      

Both ghosts are benign and despite their different backgrounds and experiences in life, they welcome and seek to enjoy the ambience of The Angel and would be mortified if they thought their presence was in any way frightening.       

The Cavalier       

In 1648, a band of Royalists took Colchester for King Charles I and held it against the Parliamentarian Army of the Eastern Association for 77 days. They surrendered and were executed as traitors. 

Lavenham sent a large troop of musketeers, pike men, and at least one artillery piece to the siege as part of the Parliamentarian army, and were placed to the west of Colchester, asked to hold the approaches to Nayland, before joining Thomas Fairfax at the former lands of the de Vere family at Lexden Park, which was being used as a military training ground.

Not everyone in Lavenham supported Cromwell, Fairfax and Parliament, with a few cavaliers joining the siege of Colchester to fight for the King.  They never returned alive.      

The ghost of one noble Cavalier can still be seen returning to his home and climbing the staircase of his house in Prentice Street, except that staircase was removed over fifty years ago.  The staircase appears briefly whenever the Cavalier is seen and then both disappear as he reaches the top.  

The Incredible Mrs Evans

Once, a guest staying in the village, a scriptwriter for a well known TV series, was startled on seeing a handsome lady, wearing a purple scarf, dressed in a long dress and bustle, Victorian she guessed, distinctive fiery red hair, tall, around 5 foot 8, oozing warm welcome, invading her guest bedroom only to disappear through a wall.  Asking the owner of the house where she was staying about the lady, she was told “That will be Mrs Evans, famous for her warm welcome around the village, not just seen here but in other places too.”

Mrs Evans does indeed seem to have been tall for her time.  The average height of a woman was just 4 foot 2 inches in Victorian times; Lanky Leg, a well known night worker, said to be the tallest women in London, was just 5 foot 2 inches.  A combination of female malnutrition, smoking pipes, snuff taking and feeding babies gin in their milk to make them go to sleep had a significant impact on height in Victorian London. Mrs Evans thus broke the mould for her height, a sign perhaps of more healthy living often found in the rural communities of the time?

Mrs Evans was the hostess and landlady of The White Horse Inn, a pub famed for its welcome as late as the 1950s before it became a dwelling (my own parents visiting it on a cycling holiday to admire the famous ceiling bosses of the de Vere family, now in some museum).  The White Horse Inn used to join De Vere House using a jettied floor on the first floor (once with two huge oak arched gates beneath) and indeed guest accommodation for the Inn was found in both houses while photographs show a sliding door on the first floor of De Vere House (now a leaded glass oak mullioned set of casement windows) used for stage coach travellers to get on and off the stage coach, most travelled insecurely on the roof of the stage! 

In earlier times still The White Horse formed part of De Vere House then known as Oxford or Oxenford House.  Both were built with jettied frontages and in a standard hall house shape in 1416-1425 comprising a Hunting Lodge, Guest lodgings, an Inn and a number of small medieval shops.  When the culvert (after which Water Street gets its name) was covered over then both houses extended over the culvert.  In the process two front gables were erected for De Vere House making it a three storey building, the tallest in the village at that time and also one of three properties in Suffolk to be the first to have a front facing gable.

Mrs Evans was famous for her welcome of guests and continues to do so beyond the grave.  Records show she lived and paid tax in the village 1842-1868.  She is a frequent visitor to both De Vere House and The White Horse whenever guests are staying at either.

Other ghost sightings              

There are many other accounts of ghosts in the village but the house owners have asked they remain anonymous so some of these are summarised below:      

Two ghosts, one in early Jacobean and the other in late Elizabethan outfits were seen to walk through a rear wall and then a kitchen wall into a garden courtyard in broad daylight where they talked for several minutes before returning the same way they had come.   

Some years later, portraits of the Elizabethan Court were exhibited at Montacute House; many portraits were being seen in public for the first time in over four hundred years.  The portraits of the two ghosts were immediately identified on entering the gallery on its opening day.      

On inspecting the guide book for the gallery at Montacute House, it was discovered that the portraits were of two gentlemen, both of whom would have lived in and visited the house in Lavenham (where they had been seen as ghosts) in the 1590s through to the 1620s.                          

They had very distinctive features and those portraits could not have been seen before or known about until that day.        

Reproductions as oleographs now hang in that house by permission of the National Portrait Gallery as a constant reminder of the two ghosts seen there.           

Ghosts have been seen regularly in the corridors and the dining room of one of the grade 1 listed houses that form part of the unique terrace of medieval houses along Water Street, the longest uninterrupted span of Tudor houses in the country.  The ghosts have been seen to walk through the wall connecting the house to its neighbouring property for example.          

Apart from Becky (a poltergiest found in the entrance hall of one of Lavenham’s houses), there is one other example of a poltergeist in the village.  Encountered frequently in Box Cottage on Prentice Street, the poltergeist also is felt as a ‘tugging at the throat’ in the gardens that are the last remains of one of the village’s former Guild Halls.”

The ghost Boy (see the section Ghost Stories) has then been encountered in at least two houses in the village (The Old Rookery and the Anchor) with his remains found in a chimney in the Anchor during its renovation.

Lavenham had a Tyburn at the end of Prentice Street and then hosted a witch burning in its Market Square in 1644. When re-enacted for the film The Witchfinder General it is believed this saw the film crew cursed.  The witch who was burnt, Anne Randall (see below) cursed a hedgerow that has not grown since and the gap in the hedge can be seen to this day.

The Cursed Village                 

Recent research has highlighted the possibility that a curse has been unwittingly cast upon the Suffolk village of Lavenham, during the making of Reeves’ film The Witchfinder General. The research has uncovered a number of uncomfortable coincidences.

The village of Lavenham was featured in Reeves’ famous horror film The Witchfinder General primarily for the infamous witch burning sequence.  Shortly after the completion of The Witchfinder General, Reeves’ mental health declined rapidly and he died in mysterious circumstances on February 11th 1969.

A chance discovery on the Internet led to the realisation of a sinister connection between Lavenham and the film industry.  In 1969, Sharon Tate, the wife of Roman Polanski had a role in the film The 13 Chairs, a comedy horror, interior and exterior scenes of which were shot in Lavenham.  In 1970, John Lennon and Yoko One filmed their experimental movie Apotheosis above the snow-covered fields of Lavenham and in 1971, Pier Paolo Pasolini directed The Canterbury Tales, which used the Lavenham as the location of medieval London.

The 13 Chairs proved to be Tate’s last film before she was brutally murdered by members of the Manson Family. In 1975 Pasolini was senselessly beaten to death by an acquaintance on the shores of Ostia, and in 1980 Mark Chapman gunned down Lennon outside the Dakota buildings in New York. 

Could the filming of the witch’s execution at Lavenham have laid a curse upon anyone filming in the village?

The thought would be fanciful were it not for a comment made by Ian Ogilvy (actor and friend of Michael Reeves) who starred in The Witchfinder General.  Describing the mood in the village following the witch-burning scene, he is quoted as saying:   

“…There was an element of spectacle there and it was curious that the next day several inhabitants of Lavenham who had taken part in it and lived around the square, said ‘You should have heard the clanking and the crying and the screaming last night’. That we’d ‘woken a lot of the ghosts up’ and they were quite serious about this. ‘There was a terrible, awful noise of wind, screams and moans’”.            

Between 1990 and 2010, 482 exorcisms were conducted in the village by ordained ministers in their official capacity.

Lavenham Airfield

RAF Lavenham was the base for the 487th Bombardment Group of the USAF operating under the RAF. On misty days on the abandoned airfield the sound of returning planes can still be heard, the shadow of a Liberator seen in the clouds, and the yapping of the Jack Russell that belonged to one of the pilots whom never returned.

St Peter and Paul Church, Lavenham

Our church has had no specific ghost sightings but there are rumours of ghosts that tour its graveyard, the ghosts of the three babies (two twins and their brother) buried beneath the baby brass on the chancery, and that of a cavalier, killed at Colchester, whom stands viewing where he once stood to be married on the anniversary of the battle.

Lavenham to Borley.  The ‘Most Haunted Walk in England’     

The old Railway Track that runs from Lavenham to Clare has long ago now been converted to a series of walks through woodland and open country side and finishing at the foot of Clare Castle.  The walks have been the scene of many ghost sightings and the rush and the whistle of spectral steam engines, still treading their stately path from one quiet village to the next.           

At one end is the remains of the signal box, manned one night by a signals-man, who went to the sound of a cry for help only to cry out in fear so loudly his screams were heard for miles as he saw his own ghost in the lamplight; moments later a train ran him down.           

This story would become one of the most frightening of all ghost films, played on many New Years Eve with a young Denholm Elliott as the doomed signals-man.  Just after the Long Melford stop, the track passes Foxearth and rounds the village of Borley.

Finally, last but not least, a Giant treads the paths from Borley to Foxearth to Melford, Acton and Lavenham and will wrench the coats off passers-by and has even been known to fling cattle to their deaths.