The Strand Club welcomed Neil Storey who was to regale us with local tales and legends. We found ourselves laughing uproariously at the way he told them, acting so dramatically whilst telling us of body snatchers, ghostly horses and carriages, black dogs and American presidents.
Springheeled Jack has never been explained. He apparently jumped out at girls from bushes in the dark but also could be seen jumping right over arches and keeping pace with the Cromer express as it thundered down the track.
George Washington (whose family came from Norfolk) wore wooden false teeth before he became president and they were green with mould. Once he had been elected and had a bit of money to spend he bought some “Waterloo Dentures” which were teeth drawn from the dead on the battlefields. These had been set into a base which he could wear rather more comfortably but certainly no more hygienically.
Body snatchers had a good trade in Norfolk. One such, a man called Vaughan, managed, with his team, to dig up 22 bodies from a Great Yarmouth churchyard before he was caught. They were taken to a cellar where a joiner created large boxes which would hold half a dozen or so and which were then taken by stagecoach to London. Anyone enquiring as to the contents were told they were wardrobes.
There are many tales of ghostly carriages, but as Neil suggested, these would be a good cover for smuggling activities which were rife in Norfolk – tea being the most common booty. It would be simplicity itself to paint a carriage white, add a few extra lanterns to make it gleam, use white horses with their heads painted black to make them look headless. Then the ‘headless’ driver just had to blacken his face, wear no hat and turn up his collar to make his head disappear. No one would ever come close enough to see what was really happening.
Neil’s tales went on… Black Shuck who terrorised the locality and was also perhaps a ruse to disguise smuggling operations – a ram or a small pony shrouded in a black blanket and with a couple of lanterns fixed to his neck would look creepy and something to keep well away from as the smuggled goods were safely hidden from the excise men….. Boys who saw a green shape wearing what looked like a rucksack which kept disappearing down a particular well near Cart Gap. On investigation by a hardy fisherman with plenty of rum inside him a body was discovered down the well with his head almost severed and resting on his back – not dressed as an Englishman so thought to be a Dutch sailor…. In 1577 black dogs were attacking and killing villagers and when they tried to come into a church in Blythburgh were firmly kept out. Later black scratch marks were found on the wooden door which are still there to this day.
Such a marvellous fund of tales and fables, marvellously told. We would wholeheartedly recommend Neil Storey to any club or group who requires a speaker.
To return to the present day with its sunshine and laughter, friendship and tea was something of a shock, though a nice one!
Our next meeting will be on 8th May and will be our Spring Lunch. The next meeting where we can welcome visitors will be on 10th July when Norfolk Wild Encounters will visit us to show and talk about their birds of prey. We are looking forward to this and if you would like to join us, please do. We meet in the Sports Pavilion in Overstrand at 2pm and entrance is £3. For further information please contact Jackie Hudson, our Chairman, on 01263 720866, or Chris Wood, our Secretary, on 01263 579433.