Suffolk Ghost Tales book launch

It’s out! Cherry and I officially launched Suffolk Ghost Tales with a bang on Saturday 16 December in Wenhaston Village Hall – and it was amazing! It felt as if half of East Suffolk came to our book launch party to hear our songs and stories, wish us well, drink fizz and buy the book. The baby’s head has definitely been wetted, and the books are out there now, in the wild…

Here they are before the first sale – alongside a few of my other books! All of the Ghost Tales you see here sold!

Cherry and I planned a whole performance for the event – storytellers and singers don’t like to do things by halves! I told three stories from the book, and Cherry sang three songs associated with the tales. The first of the stories told was especially for a very special Wenhaston lady, Heather Phillips, to whom the book was dedicated. Heather celebrated her 90th birthday this year, and also published her mother’s memoirs in October also at the village hall. When I was researching Suffolk Folk Tales back in 2012, Heather gave us some silly Suffolk stories from the Saints, which went in the book, but also shared some more spooky tales, which I couldn’t fit in. But they were in our minds when we started on the ghost tales. This time we did include them – and one of the tales tells the story of Heather’s great-grandmother … and father. For all her tales and for her unceasing support and interest – Heather even baked a raft of sausage rolls and Suffolk rusks for the event! – we were delighted to present her with a copy of the book and reveal our dedication:

We’re planning a blog about Heather shortly, so watch this space!

Cherry then sang the song Ranter’s Wharf by John Conolly  in homage to the story ‘The Constant Maid’ – this was her first public performance in a long time, and she was perfect! I got quite emotional watching her, as I realised that this was the first time that we had ever performed together – not even when she enrolled me in the Young HADS to be the youngest child in The Admirable Crichton, my first acting performance (first line on stage: ‘What are bunions, Nanny?’), as she did the props, not the acting! I’ll be sharing her songs in future blogs…

I then told another tale of love and loss, ‘Kate’s Parlour’, an eerie place on Jay’s Hill near Sotterley – you can see it here:

Next up was a collaboration – Cherry singing ‘The Cat Came Back’ and the true tale of the 1970s adventures of the mummified cat you can see to this day in The Mill Hotel, Sudbury… It came back…
We finished with Cherry singing ‘The Mistletoe Bough’ a typically Christmas song of … being shut in a ‘living tomb’. Ahem. It’s a story that is associated with lots stately homes in England – in Suffolk, it’s Kentwell Hall in Long Melford.

Then the queue formed and we were signing, signing, signing! Thank you everyone who made the event so special – it was a real community event, with Cherry’s friends and neighbours pulling together to help and make it wonderful for us and our audience.

Especially big thank yous go to the following:

Cherry would like to give a special thank you to Helen Rolfe, her music mentor, for the help with the singing.

Jill and Michael and Janice and Roger for all their help setting up- without whom…

David for his sterling work at the drinks stall!

Viv for being our official photographer – we can’t wait for the images!

Dave for everything along the way, but on the day help with drinks and taking the money…

And for baking the treats people had to eat, Heather for sausage rolls and Suffolk rusks, Felicity for onion tarts and Janice for caraway cake –  we were told that everything was lovely, but sadly we didn’t get a chance to sample…

Suffolk Ghost Tales for the Dark Nights of Winter

Have a look at this new blog I’ve written for The History Press in advance of Suffolk Ghost Tales coming out on the 13 December about Suffolk’s ghost tales, Suffolk’s most famous ghost story writer, M R James and the tradition of telling ghost stories at Christmas…

‘All places have ghost stories. Laurie Lee, in Cider with Rosie, says, ‘There were ghosts in the stones, in the trees, and the walls, and every field and hill had several.’ He’s talking about Gloucestershire, but, even now, a hundred years on from when Lee was a boy, it still holds true across the country. But of all counties, Suffolk is a little bit special when it comes to ghosts…

The low cliffs, pebble beaches and faded hotels of his home county have become fixed in our minds as subtly dangerous places with a hint of folk horror. All those lost places… Visit Dunwich to see the last grave of All Saints teetering on the edge of the cliff, visit Aldeburgh and see the House in the Clouds bright and distant across the marshes, go to lonely Minsmere and see the ruined chapel, all that remains of a monastery and village abandoned, go to Covehithe … if it’s still there.

Suffolk is, after all, the home county of one of the greatest tellers of ghost tales – M R James. James moved to Suffolk aged three, when his father became rector of Great Livermere, up near the Norfolk border. His family lived there from 1865 until 1909, so James had a foot in Suffolk for much of his life. Several of his tales, ‘Oh, Whistle and I’ll Come to You, my Lad’, ‘A Warning to the Curious’, ‘The Ash-tree’ and more, are set in Suffolk, and develop the disquieting aesthetic we now recognise in the landscape.’

Read the rest of the article here:

The Secret Disclosed: ghostly riots in Bury St Edmunds

I’m all about ghosts at the moment, what with Suffolk Ghost Tales coming out next week. But this blog is a bit naughty, as it’s actually inspired by the background to a story in my previous Suffolk book, Suffolk Folk Tales.  The question is, how do ghosts come to be? You’d think that it would be by someone dying and proceeding to haunt a place, wouldn’t you? But that’s not always the case … sometimes they are conjured up out of the collective mind of the people, and such is the case for the Grey Lady of Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk.

Once upon a time there was a woman by the name of Margaretta Greene. She was a scion of the Greene family of Bury, best known, perhaps, for the brewers Greene King. She lived in a very strange building indeed, a building that had once been part of the vast west front of St Edmund’s Abbey, but was – and is – now houses. So vast was the abbey that just one side of the west front contains these houses, organically emerging out the rubble stone that lay beneath the dressed that was all taken away to build other parts of Bury after the monastery was dissolved in 1539. The Marquis of Bristol, who owned the abbey land from 1806, had the west front converted into houses, as well as beginning the Abbey Gardens we know today. They were nearly destroyed in the 1950s, but fortunately are still with us today.

These houses lie close to the Great Churchyard between the abbey and St Mary’s, and it’s easy to imagine the affect this setting might have on a Romantic young woman… In 1861 she privately published a slender volume entitled The Secret Disclosed: A Legend of St Edmund’s Abbey ‘by an Inmate’ telling a sorrowful tale of unrequited love, royal conspiracies, murder, poison, and death in the secret tunnels that were said to lie under the town connecting its religious buildings. The protagonist of this tale, young nun Maude Carew and Queen Margaret of Anjou, the definite baddie in this melodrama, she said, haunted the Churchyard every 24 February at precisely 11pm.

The people of Bury fell for it hook, line and sinker. Well, why wouldn’t they? Margaretta had said that she’d heard footsteps in her house, which had led her to find a casket containing the manuscript which she had simply transcribed … well, it had to be true, didn’t it?

The next 24 February, 1862, a horde of folk gathered in the Churchyard to see the ghosts. Did people really expect to see a ghost? It seems so, as by the time 11pm approached, the crowd was so excited as to be almost hysterical. And when, inevitably, the ghost didn’t appear? Well, some said that it did – but no one could agree on what the ghosts looked like. Were they white? Were they black? The mood turned ugly as the crowd realised they’d been duped. All hell broke loose, the ghost watchers rioted – and indeed a window was broken in Greene’s house.

And yet, Maude Carew, despite being a fictional character, lived on as a ghost in Bury. She became the Grey Lady of Bury, taking over the personalities of other Grey Ladies in the town and roving way beyond her proper haunting ground of the west front and churchyard. Can she possibly be the female ghost who is said to haunt Cupola House in the Traverse, along with the object of her desire, Father Bernard – aka the brown monk? More realistically, a Grey Lady, dressed in the robes of a nun, is said to haunt the Fornham Road area, including St Saviour’s hospital. Now, this isn’t unreasonable, if the story Greene was true, as it was at St Saviour’s hospital that the unfortunate victim in the story, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, died that 24 February 1447.

Yes, the tale does have a historic background – one familiar to both students of history and students of literature, as his tale is immortalised in Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Part II. Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester was Henry VI’s uncle, and was Lord Protector, and, after 1435, was heir to the throne. In 1441 his wife, Eleanor, was arrested on a charge of witchcraft, for, with ‘the Witch of Eye’ (no, not the Suffolk Eye, ‘Eye next Westminster’) Margery Jourdemayne, it was prophesised that Henry VI would die that year. Of course, he did not, and this was the end of Humphrey’s career – and Eleanor and Margery’s lives. He was summoned to a parliament at Bury in 1447. There was a rumour Humphrey was poisoned, but he might also have had a stroke, as he lay unconscious for three days after a banquet. If he was poisoned, it’s just as likely that it was by the Earl of Suffolk, William de la Pole, as it was thought that Suffolk’s enemies might rally to Gloucester… And that is what was whispered during Cade’s rebellion in 1450 that saw Suffolk fall from grace, although there is no evidence that he was poisoned. Dark, complicated times – I think we can identify with them!

This story has been taken from Haunted Bury St Edmunds by Alan Murdie (Tempus, 2006). Murdie is a great expert on Bury’s ghosts – and is also the Chairman of the Ghost Club. I fell in love with the tale when I first read it, researching Suffolk Folk Tales back in 2012, and think it sad that A Secret Disclosed isn’t available … anywhere! Not even on There is a copy in the Record Office in Ipswich – but what other copies exist? It would be a shame for the ghost to live on, but the original story to die…


The images of the churchyard and west front are copyright Kirsty Hartsiotis, 2017

Copyright info for the image of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester can be found here.