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Tales From A Fine City

We have a really rather lovely podcast on our Whispers In The Darkness channel, that looks at stories from a few locations in Norwich. To help you to visualise the places we are talking about, we decide to put the script on here and include a series of images that relate to the podcast.

This is the link to the podcast itself. So click, listen and enjoy.

Tales From A Fine City

So what excitement do we have planned for this episode?

Everyone loves a ghostly tale and we just love to share a story or two. So where do we go for this episode?

We have so many classic ghost stories in Norfolk. From the coast in the east to the fens in the west. North to the wash and south to the pine forests on the Suffolk border. We have scoured our collection of local paranormal publications to discover what delights we could share with you all.

One location looms large over all the others. As you head towards this place, you are greeted by signs that say “welcome to Norwich, a fine city” They are not lying Norwich is a city steeped in history. Its bustling streets full of shoppers, a fabulous cathedral and an imposing castle, it truly lives up to the description on the signs.

If you search hard, you can find its hidden underside, salubrious tales of murder and mystery, and of course, we would just love to share a few with you.

So, where to go first on ou spooky little trip around this fine city?

There’s one place with more than a few stories attached to it. So our first stop-off point is Tombland.


Now, without a doubt, Tombland is certainly the most haunted area of Norwich.

The name itself sends shivers down your spine, raising thoughts of mass graves and long lost souls, desperately crying out in the darkness, searching for their place of eternal rest. The name itself doesn’t actually mean a “land of tombs”, as you would think. It is derived from two Old English words meaning “open ground” or “empty space”. It was the location of the original Norwich Saxon marketplace many years ago. During these times, the Norwich market was the hub of commercial activity and town life, bustling with busy and noisy stalls full of local produce, such as vegetables, meat and bread. The market also sold many items, transported to the city, by merchant ships, which were unloaded on the south side of the River Wensum. These ships contained many luxury items such as pottery from the East Midlands, Millstones, swords and wine from the Rhineland, furs from Russia, Walrus ivory from Scandinavia and fine quality woollen cloth from Flanders.

But the Normans…..who arrived in England in 1066, had their own magnificent plans for the open space of Tombland.

The first bishop of Norwich, Herbert de Losinga had this grand vision for Tombland. so, the decision was made to move the market to its current location, where it can still be found today. As soon as the market had been relocated, they busily set to work on the open space, creating a huge building site. That was destined to be the home of the beautiful Romanesque cathedral and its associated priory.

Work started in 1096. It took 49 years to complete. In the process of building the cathedral, a small Saxon settlement and two churches were destroyed to make room. The remnants of the former graveyard of one of the churches, St Michael’s, has recently been rediscovered in Tombland. Throwing increased intrigue into the melting pot of haunted tales, that have been told for hundreds of years.

Now, we often hear tales of ghostly hauntings. Tales of long lost souls searching for fragments of their past and Tombland has stood in the shadow of the magnificent Norwich Cathedral for almost 900 years. It is said, that it is almost impossible to move from one side of Tombland to the other, without hearing about a haunted tale or two.

So now that we’ve dipped our toes into the history of Tombland itself, let’s take a walk along those well-trodden stone paths. Slowly open the large grandiose wooden door and take a peek into some of the stories about Norwich Cathedral itself. The cathedral today oozes architectural magnificence and historical importance, but it isn’t simply for bored school children and tea-seeking anoraks, clutching their maps in search of a historic artefact or two. Oh no - something else may well linger within the walls and grounds of this holy place

It's getting dark across the cathedral grounds dotted about are little pools of light cast by the ornate lamps.

The cathedral itself soars magnificently above you, its spire disappearing into the night sky.

Movement catches your eye, and you stare into the darkened gaps between the pools of light.

Is that a figure moving over there? It looks like an area of mist as it drifts nearer, you can see it’s a woman surrounded by a cloud that hides her feet. She drifts into the darkness again, slowly fading away into nothing.

So who is this strange lady, and what is her story?

Let's take a little jaunt, back in time, to the 13th century, and things are not going so well down on Tombland. The city people had been at odds with the cathedral monks for many years for many reasons. Though mostly about rights and boundaries.

There have been a series of fights and running skirmishes, between the cathedral workers, and the young men of the city. Several citizens were even killed by the monks. The monks argued that as men of God, they answered to their own justice system and did not abide by city laws.

Opposite the cathedral stands St Georges church, built as an alternative venue for worship, and used by the city folk. The priory men desecrated the church on several occasions.

Feelings were running high, and in August 1272, they came to a head. There had been many quarrels and fights. The word was going around, that there was going to be a major fight at the Tombland fair. On August 7th, a group of priory men left the cathedral grounds and robbed a local merchant. Following the robbery, they entered a local tavern. Drank wine and then refused to pay for it. The innkeeper, powerless to do anything then watched as the now drunk priory men, turned over barrels of beer, laughing and jeering at the poor man, before stumbling back to the cathedral cloisters in a drunken stupor. The bishop discovered what had gone. Fearing reprisals, he ordered the gates to the cathedral grounds to be closed and locked.

It so happens that his fear was well-grounded. The next day, a group of young city men, hearing about the robbery and the incident at the tavern, decided to attempt to force their way into the cathedral grounds. Thwarted by the locked gates, they came up with a different plan. Climbing to the top of St Georges's church, they fired incendiary arrows into the cathedral grounds.

Some of these arrows landed on the thatched roofs of buildings inside the grounds, and soon several fires had taken hold. As the monks and their servants tried to extinguish the flames. A young woman set a fire against the cathedral gates. This fire weakened the bolts holding the gates shut. As the gates begin to sag, a mob of city folk charged them using tables taken from the local taverns to batter the gates down. Once inside the grounds, the mob ran riot. They stole gold and silver and set more of the buildings alight, including the church of St Ethelbert. Some monks were killed trying to stop the mob. After things had calmed down, the bishop contacted Rome. Pope Gregory X issued a papal bull commanding the city authorities to punish those involved. He also decreed that the entire city of Norwich was to be excommunicated from the church. Thirty citizens were condemned to death. Some were hanged, others dragged behind horses through the streets of Norwich until they died.

The woman who had set fire to the gate was identified. Her fate was to be tied to a stake in the cathedral grounds and burnt to death, in front of a horrified crowd. A fitting punishment for the fire she had set against the gate had enabled the mob to enter the cathedral grounds.

So could our mysterious drifting female figure be an echo of the woman burnt to death in the cathedral grounds? Forever trapped, in the place of her death, the penance she pays for burning the gate and letting the mob in?

So many tales attached to this site, a ghostly knight returning to toast his fallen friend, or maybe the spirit of an executed priest with a swollen red face and his entrails hanging out. If we told you all the tales, we would be here all night. We may return here again. For now, those stories will have to wait.

Leaving the cathedral grounds through the Erpingham gate, you look across Tombland. Your attention is drawn to the strange crooked house, The rather rickety Augustine Steward house, leaning to the left.

This comical looking building, however, has a gruesome tale contained within its ancient walls. Time to take a wander across Tombland and walk through Tombland alley, but keep your eyes open folks. As You may get a glimpse of a small female figure dressed in faded rags of grey quietly drifting by. This is the grey girl, a well known ghostly apparition with a rather gruesome tale to tell.

Everyone loves a royal visit in 1578, Norwich was blessed with such a visit from Elizabeth I. She arrived with her entourage, but behind all the pageantry lurked a most unwelcome visitor, a gift nobody wanted. For the queen had brought the plague with her and the good citizens of Norwich were to pay a horrible price.

Between August 1578 and February 1579, 4700 deaths were recorded, but this figure does not include every plague death. The figure was more likely to be around double that amount. In a city with a population of approximately 16000, that's a lot of bodies to dispose of. Norwich was no stranger to the plague, having succumbed to the ravages of the Black Death in 1349. The bodies piled high back then and with so many people dying, it became impossible to individually bury the bodies, so hastily dug pits were used, and Tombland began to live up to its name as pits were opened and the grim task of bringing the bodies here began. We could go into details about the pits and their locations, but we have ghost stories to tell, so let's get back to our next scary tale.

With the death count rising, to try and stop the contagion, the decision was taken to leave the bodies in their houses and seal the building shut. A large red cross was painted on the door to warn people to keep out. The pitmen would return later to take the bodies to the newly reopened plague pits and bury them. Remember our crooked house? Well, that particular property is known as the Augustine Steward house. In 1578, it was the home of an unfortunate family who fell victim to the plague. The bailiffs came and sealed the house shut, leaving what they thought were the dead bodies of this poor family inside.

After the set time had passed, the pitmen arrived to remove the bodies to bury them in the reopened plague pits. As they dragged out the mother and father, they noticed some strange looking wounds on the legs of the bodies. On closer inspection, the wounds were found to be bite marks and missing chunks of flesh.

These bite marks were too big to be the work of rats. They looked horribly like they were made by human teeth. Dragging out the other bodies, they find one body is a lot fresher than the others, a young girl. The story goes that the pitmen opened her mouth. To their horror, they found it full of what looked like meat, had the poor girl choked on the flesh of her dead parents?.

In the haste to seal up the house, it appears that they had inadvertently sealed the poor girl inside still alive.

Imagine the horror of being sealed inside a house with your dead family, then having to resort to eating their plague-ridden bodies to survive.

It’s not surprising to think that our drifting grey girl may be the ghost of this poor child, her restless soul condemned to wander the vicinity of her family home.

The grey girl has been seen by occupants of the Augustine Steward house and in quite a few of the adjacent buildings, quietly drifting past, sometimes moving objects, and opening doors on her travels. She has also been spotted in St George’s church. Yes, the very same church used to fire burning arrows from in our last story.

The Reverend John Mimms recalls seeing this grey figure enter the church through the main doors, silently drifting across the back of the church, then leaving through the door leading to Tombland Alley. When we say leaving she did not actually open the door as it had been sealed up for many years.

Time for us to leave as well and make our way to another Norwich landmark, the imposing stone structure on a hill that broods menacingly over the streets of Norwich, keeping watch on the citizens below.

We are heading to the castle, where there are more tales for us to tell.

Norwich castle started life as a wooden structure on top of a mound. These early castles were called motte and bailey castles, built to subdue the local Anglo-Saxon population during the Norman conquest.

To build the mound and defensive earthworks many Saxon houses were pulled down. Showing just how much disregard they had for their subjects, parts of the castle were built over a Saxon cemetery.

In 1094 work was started on the stone keep, finally finishing in 1121.

Norwich Castle was designed to be a royal palace rather than a fortification. However, no kings or queens have ever lived in it.

Standing idle in 1345 the castle was converted into a prison. This was to be its function for the next 500 years.

It was during its life as a prison that the more gruesome events took place.

In the ditch around the castle, prisoners were burnt at the stake. Robert Kett, the leader in a local rebellion. Was held captive here and hung over the castle walls in a gibbet. As a warning that rebelling was not such a grand idea. Public executions in the form of hangings took place between the two gatehouses, drawing large crowds to witness this spectacle.

It's not surprising to hear that the castle and its grounds play host to many restless spirits. These include the ghost of Martha Alden executed here for murdering her husband. Her spirit wanders through the castle art galleries. Or the strange phantom in the castle grounds with nails through both of his ears.

I rather like the floating skull that drifts around inside the castle keep, so let's have a look at that tale.

Meet Robert Goodale, condemned to death for the murder of his unfaithful wife at Walsoken, Norfolk. Goodale was a fifteen stone giant of a man who worked as a market gardener and farmer. Each day after work, he and his wife would travel into Wisbech, where they would spend the night. On 16 September, he returned to the town alone. His manner caused some suspicion among his friends. When a search of Goodale's farm was carried out, his wife's body was discovered at the bottom of a well - her skull had been smashed with a sharp instrument.

Goodale was put on trial and found guilty of her murder. He was executed on 30 November 1885, inside Norwich Castle.

The hangman was James Berry of Bradford, but his calculations went awry. Goodale stood 5’ 11” tall and was a heavy man at 15 stone (210 lbs.) with a weak neck. Berry considered that a drop of 5’ 9” should be given. He used a “government rope”, that had been used for the hanging of John Williams at Hereford a week earlier.

On the day of the execution, the prisoner was led out to the gallows. Berry strapped Goodale’s legs and applied the white hood and the noose. Goodale several times exclaimed, “Oh God, receive my soul.”.As the church clock struck for the eighth time, Berry released the trap doors and Goodale disappeared into the pit.

The official onlookers gasped with horror as the rope rebounded out of the trapdoor, swinging loose. Berry and the prison surgeon looked under the staging of the scaffold, they saw Goodale's body lying there - with his decapitated head, still wearing the execution hood, besides it on the ground.

This is the only occasion of a complete decapitation occurring at hanging in England, Scotland and Wales, although Berry, it seems, had several partial ones.

Of course, you can guess, so the story goes, it is said that the floating skull, art the restless spirit of poor Robert Goodale, doomed forever to search for his body.

After that horrible tale, I could murder a decent pint, so let’s find a pub and have a drink or two. I know a lovely place nearby, it's called The Lamb Inn. It's not too far from the castle.

In 1757, John Aggis was the Landlord of the Lamb Inn. He enjoyed spending his time, telling magical stories of mythical creatures to the local children. Word spread about his stories with people venturing from far and wide to listen to his wonderfully descriptive tales

Now, his brother-in-law was a local chap, called Timothy Hardy. Who was known for attracting trouble and always spoiling for a fight. Hardy always carried a knife upon his person and claimed that if he ever left it behind, he would be damned.

On Saturday 10th November 1979, Hardy and his wife decided to visit the Lamb Inn. and ventured down into the kitchen of the premises. John Aggis shortly heard a commotion in the kitchen, lots of shouting and yelling, followed by his sister being pushed around aggressively by Hardy.

Hardy was known to be a violent man and often beat his wife, Aggis’ sister repeatedly. To calm troubled waters and protect his sister, Aggis ventured into the kitchen to stop the row between the couple.

At which point, Hardy then ceased his shouting and held out his hand to Aggis, claiming that he did not wish to argue with him, but still had a beef with his sister. Aggis, not wanting to aggravate an already hostile environment, stepped forward and held out his hand in friendship. But Hardy’s offer of friendship was not to be trusted, quick as a flash, he pulled out a knife and plunged it deeply into Aggis’ stomach, ripping the knife three to four inches up his stomach, causing Aggis’ bowels to spill out.

Witnesses present described the horror of the brutal attack and advised that once Hardy had stabbed Aggis, he shouted out at the top of his lungs."I have done for you and were my brother, John hardy of Lynn, here I would serve him the same, and now, I’ll stab myself, for I know I must die for it. Hardy then made a feeble attempt at stabbing himself, failing miserably.

The witnesses overpowered him and held him, hostage, until the police arrived. Despite the best efforts of the Doctor who arrived alongside the police. Poor John Aggis writhed about in extreme agony for many hours, sadly dying the next morning.

Hardy was immediately arrested and imprisoned at the Castle until his trial by the Assizes. The trial occurred in the summer of the following year. He was sentenced to hang and for his body to be dissected.

Following the murder of poor John Aggis, the Aggis family decided to move away from The Lamb Inn. As they found the location simply too distressing a place to remain.

Almost immediately after they left, however, strange happenings began to occur in the Lamb Inn and have been witnessed ever since.

Knocking on bedroom doors and lonely footsteps walking down corridors have been heard, but when investigated immediately - nobody is there!

At the scene of the murder (the kitchen), it is said that unwashed cutlery left out is cleaned and put away by the next morning.

A very helpful ghost to have perhaps?

But it is the children of later landlords and those who have stayed at the Inn, who often tells the story of an elderly gentleman being seen. He is said to perch on the foot of their bed and recount spooky ghost stories.

Even to this day, visitors to the Inn have often asked the Landlord who the gentleman is, in the courtyard, telling stories?

But when the Landlord ventures out to investigate, the old man has gone! The elderly gentleman's ghost has also been seen venturing upstairs in the Inn. Nodding and smiling at people whom he passes on the staircase. He was also seen in a room upstairs, walking through a door at the far end of the room. As guests felt it polite to advise they were leaving, they opened the door, only to discover that the door opened into an empty cupboard! What is interesting in this case, after research, is that the cupboard is a modern addition to the property and the cupboard doorway originally led to another part of the Inn.

There have been many sightings over the years of this elderly gentleman. Despite the encounters, the Inn cameras fail to pick up any evidence of the ghostly gentleman. Despite the gruesome demise of John Aggis, he clearly wanted to be remembered for his wonderful stories and is certainly not a man who wishes to appear on camera!

You just knew there was going to be a lovely story attached to the pub. You can always count on me to take you to the best places in town Jules.

I’m guessing you would prefer to go somewhere a little less gruesome?

I know a cosy little pub we can go to for a nice quiet little drink, and it will finish off our wander perfectly. Back down where we started our journey, right next door to the cathedral.

So here we are, at the Adam and Eve pub, a small but really rather lovely building. It’s the oldest pub in Norwich, dating back as far as 1249. This was back when the location was home to a brewhouse that served ale to the workers of Norwich Cathedral, who were paid in ale and bread for their work.

Like all of our tales in this episode, there is history involved. In 1549, The Adam and Eve was a central point in an unfolding drama.

Remember Robert Kett?

We mentioned him when we spoke about Norwich castle. Kett led a rebellion against the enclosure act. Marching on Norwich with an army he had raised. Kett made camp on Household heath and proceeded to raid Norwich. The king sent Lord Sheffield from London to pit down this upstart rebellion. On August 1st 1549, Kett and Sheffield came face to face just 100 yards away from The Adam and Eve.

Fighting broke out and hard-pressed Lord Sheffield could see he was going to lose. He decided to remove his helmet hoping that by seeing his face, the rebels would take him, prisoner, for ransom.

Unfortunately for Sheffield, his plan went horribly wrong. One of the rebels, a butcher called Ffoulks decided he wanted to take a famous scalp. He slashed towards Lord Sheffield with his cleaver. Sheffield fell from his horse and lay there dying on the ground. Seeing their leader fall, the king's army fled the battlefield. Kett and his triumphant army returned to the camp at Mousehold.

Some of the king's men returned to the battlefield and found Lord Sheffield still on the ground, barely alive. They took him to the nearby Adam and Eve laid him on a table, which is where his story ends….or does it. Because strange things are going on in the Adam and Eve!

People have felt someone tap on their shoulder, turning to find no one there. If you lay down small items like car keys or a cigarette lighter, you can leave them for a few moments, look away and they have just gone. Only to reappear a few days later in the same spot. Barmaids have felt unseen fingers run through their hair, tankards swing on their own, and people have felt an icy chill pass right through them.

The pub owners believe it’s the ghost of Lord Sheffield playing tricks and making his presence felt. Not only does he haunt the pub, but he is reported to haunt the car park and the area where he was slain.

As for Robert Kett? Well, as you already know, he was captured and met a gruesome end. We know he was hung on the castle wall. This took place after being hanged until he was almost dead. Coated in pitch and placed in a gibbet. It is said that the birds would have pecked out his eyes before he died.

Well, we had to end with something to make you go ewwwwhhhhhh

I hope you have enjoyed this somewhat different approach. Its a format we may well return to in the future.

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