Delving into Norfolk’s darker past
Our remarkable county is blessed with more than its fair share of unique landmarks, listed buildings, and historic houses – and, as Halloween approaches, focus inevitably shifts to their resident ghosts
When October arrives, it's that time of year when more things go bump in the night than usual – and for a county that’s so steeped in history, it’s not surprising Norfolk has a rich heritage of ghost stories. King’s Lynn alone boasts a plethora of intriguing tales, with accounts of a terrifying presence in the library’s basement, unexplainable occurrences at True’s Yard Fisherfolk Museum, and frightening figures haunting the iconic Dukes Head Hotel.
Extensively retold over the decades, these enthralling legends are famous throughout the town – with many embedded in its identity and character. However, for years a rich bounty of lesser-known hauntings had silently slipped beneath the cracks, with an abundance of riveting tales evading the realms of local knowledge. Undocumented in paranormal publications, many of the area’s most gripping ghost stories were in danger of being irretrievably lost to time - until the remarkable Dr Paul Lee came along.
A passionate paranormal researcher, ironically born on Halloween, Paul Lee has always had a deep fascination for the supernatural. Upon moving to King’s Lynn in 2018, he eagerly began investigating the town’s resident ghosts, hoping to find new information to add to his extensive spirit survey.
“With its rich history, mysterious locations, and eerie buildings, I was certain Lynn would have a diverse and exciting spectral heritage,” he says. “However, only the usual favourites and a number of dubious legends appeared to have been referenced in books. It soon became clear that the town, and indeed the whole of west Norfolk, had been significantly overlooked. There were records that needed updating and certainly many more stories to be unearthed, so I felt it was about time someone published a concise account of borough’s paranormal past and present.”
Paul swiftly started delving deeper into the region’s darkest legends, compiling information from books, websites, newspaper archives, and a rather large ‘folklore’ folder in King’s Lynn library. A 1986 ‘Ghosts and Legends of Lynn’ booklet, produced by town historian Alison Gifford, proved particularly helpful - as did a fascinating Facebook discussion about local hauntings, which started up on Halloween 2019 – and abruptly vanished overnight.
“I’d luckily made extensive notes on the chat, and likely had the only record of its existence,” says Paul. “This really spurred me on, as I realised that if someone didn’t catalogue these stories and events, they were in danger of being lost forever.”
Instilled with a fresh sense of determination, Paul pressed on with his extraordinary quest. However, the arrival of the coronavirus lockdown soon put a spanner in the works as libraries and archives across the county were forced to close, cutting off access to key sources of information.
“I turned to scouring the internet, making social media appeals, and conducting virtual interviews,” he says. “Many people shared my interest in the subject and were happy to talk about things they’d found out and experienced. I discovered thrilling tales I’d never heard of before, and the book ended up being a lot bigger than I’d initially intended!”
“It seems west Norfolk is a significantly haunted location, especially considering its small size, and I’m proud to have played a role in bringing some of its most intriguing legends to light.”
Published in October 2021, ‘The Ghosts of King’s Lynn and West Norfolk’ has triggered a huge amount of excitement, featuring nearly 200 suspenseful stories ranging from the 18th century up to the present day.
One of the strangest of these tales is that of the Exorcist’s House, an ominous 17th century cottage huddled close to the churchyard of St Nicholas’ Chapel in King’s Lynn. A certain Mr and Mrs Buckley resided in the property for some time in the 20th century and on the death of Mr Buckley in 1976, his widow sold the house and moved to America. The new owner kept the cottage empty for several years, during which time his two stepdaughters visited and spotted ‘an old lady sitting on a rocking chair by the fire.’ They described the woman to their stepfather and he recognised her to be Mrs Buckley, who had recently passed away.
Other stories covered include that of the alleged phantom fiddler trapped beneath The Red Mount Chapel, the spectral bride said to haunt Purfleet Quay, the troublesome poltergeist at the Old Rectory in Syderstone, and the frightening legends surrounding local pubs, landmarks, and country houses.
“I’m thrilled with how the book turned out and thoroughly enjoyed putting it together,” says Paul. “It’s kindled a great deal of interest, as many of the tales inside had never been published in paranormal literature before – and some are so unusual they really make you sit up in your seat!”
There are still many other locations to explore and scores of spectral stories to unearth, and Paul continues to actively research Norfolk’s ghostly background, leaving no stone unturned.
“There’s something incredibly enticing about investigating the supernatural, as you never really know what you’re going to find,” he says. “You’ll often come across eerie encounters with very simple explanations and find many tales have been vastly exaggerated over decades of retelling, however there are some accounts that just can’t be rationalised. Thousands of hauntings have been documented over the centuries, far too many to be dismissed. Something out there has been unnerving people since the beginning of history and, in a place as fascinating and atmospheric as Norfolk, I’m sure there are many more spine-chilling stories just waiting to be discovered.”
If you know of any ghost stories from the West Norfolk region, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org