Many, many years ago I wrote book with Eric Quigley and Nicola Talbot (nee Jordan) named Spectral Suffolk about the ghost stories of that county. My publisher went under, and very few have seen it, but every so often Richard Felix and I chat about the possibility of republishing it. I thought tonight it would be fun to share an extract from it…
ROUGHAM GREEN: We have all heard of haunted houses, but who has ever heard of a house that is a haunt! Yet for over a century this is exactly what has been occurring on the stretch of road between Rougham Green and Bradfield St. George. Our story begins in 1860 when a Mr Robert Palfrey was out in the fields on a warm June evening, putting the finishing touches on a haystack. He shivered as the evening grew suddenly chilly, and then was shocked to suddenly see a large redbrick house with gardens in full bloom, where there had been no house a moment before.
The next sighting was in 1912 and happened to the great grandson of Mr Palfrey, Mr James Cobbold. While riding on a pony trap alongside the village butcher George Waylett both were startled by a sudden cool breeze and drop in temperature, along with a whooshing noise suggestive of air being displaced. The pony reared in panic, and the butcher was thrown to the ground. Any thought of helping him vanished from young James’ mind as he saw a great three storey Georgian mansion, complete with grounds, where moments before there was only the fields. As he turned round to see what had become of George the house was enveloped by a mist… and then simply not there. The butcher was unimpressed. “That’s the third time I’ve seen that happen” he stated, and picked himself up out of the road.
Mr Cobbold was to tell his story in the pages of the magazine Amateur Gardening in 1975, and stated that he knew of two more sightings from the previous ten years. Our next sighting however dates from an October afternoon in 1963 when a young school teacher and her teenage ward were exploring the countryside in the vicinity of Church Road. Walking down a path they came upon a greenish yellow wall to a large estate, and shortly thereafter passed the great iron gates. Making a mental note to enquire as to who lived at the grand house, they returned home. Over evening tea however they were surprised to be met with a general shaking of heads. There was no house of that description in the neighbourhood, and attempts to retrace their steps left the two women totally confused. In 1934 the story was featured on a BBC radio broadcast and to this day no solution has been found.
Mr Edward Bentley was as a young man in the early 1940’s employed by Aubyn Davies, the fashionable gentleman’s outfitters of Bury St Edmunds. In those days Mr Davies himself ran the business and in the summer months after harvest time it was his habit to deliver catalogues of his clothes to all the houses in the rural districts surrounding Bury, as the worker’s received a harvest bonus payment and often acquired new outfits then. On a hot sunny afternoon Mr Bentley, Mr Davies and another lad were making deliveries and driving down Southall Street when Edward spotted a large Georgian style house set back from the road. He called out to Mr Davies, who reversed the car, and found… nothing. Ashamed, Edward put it down to a trick of his mind until one day many years later when discussing these things the authors related the story of the vanishing house. Edward pointed out the exact spot where the house was seen before, near Colville Grove…
The vanishing house sounds like it may have a prosaic explanation. In the 1950’s a similar example of phantom scenery was located by a diligent SPR researcher following up the case, down a slightly different road to that the witnesses believed they had followed. It is also worth noting that the house normally appears on bright sunny days, and this led experienced psychical researcher Tony Cornell to investigate the area with a view to establishing if there was any similar property in the area. As it happens a large house does stand relatively close as the authors ascertained by field research, but it does not correspond with the detailed descriptions of any of the witnesses. We have deliberately not given those details here, so that if anyone else sees the house we can establish its identity and the strength of their claims by comparison. Tony, who is still active today and is among Britain’s best field researchers of the paranormal, could not find a solution.
This fascinating story does not appear in any of the standard books on British hauntings but in the few cases where it is mentioned one fascinating claim is usually repeated, namely that no building of the nature described ever stood on the site. Yet this assertion is very doubtful, for it seems to stem from the fact that the excellent local historian Mr Leonard Aves and Mr James Cobbold were unable to find the house marked on a map dating from 1885, some 25 years after the ‘ghost house’ was first seen… I would refer the curious reader to maps extant in Suffolk County Record Office in Bury St Edmunds. The 1815 map of Southall Street left us unsure, but an earlier eighteenth century map seems to show a large house in roughly the right place. I say roughly because the family coat of arms could indicate the house stood anywhere in a three mile radius, the map being more pictorial than diagrammatic. This offers superb possibilities for a fascinating piece of research.
The authors conducted their own enquiries. Firstly we carefully examined the accounts, and were delighted to find that the seeming contradiction in the colour of the house can be explained by the fact that Miss Wynne and her pupil were apparently on a footpath that ran along where we may presume the back of the estate was, and thus saw different terrain from the other witnesses. Our next move was to explore in detail the location. We swiftly discovered fragments of red brick and pan tile, although we felt they were probably of comparatively modern manufacture and not that uncommon in any field. Then as we walked through a copse towards the road where most of the witnesses were, a realisation struck us. There is a path down the centre of the wood and it is slightly lower than the sides, which appear banked. Furthermore the largest trees seemed to stand on either side of the banks. We were in a long overgrown avenue, similar to that described by Miss Wynne and her pupil! Frantically scraping away the earth bank we found underneath what was clearly a foundation of a wall, made of crumbling greenish-yellow brick. It is the author’s intention to pursue our enquiries with the landowner this summer, and we would welcome any offer of assistance! Did a house really stand on this site in the early 1800’s, as its architecture seems to suggest? We are still not sure, but perhaps the mystery is starting to unravel.
The Vanishing House offers an intriguing glimpse of a bizarre possibility. If the house really did displace air, it is presumably physically present. Is it, just possibly, usually outside time and space as we know it, a kind of homely Brigadoon? The question it raises is obvious. What if we were to enter it? Where would we go when it vanished. Would we return many years in the future, or simply die of starvation in some unknown part of space? Are the inhabitants still living on within, aging only a few minutes each decade, waiting till they return to earth full time? Chris’ facetious suggestion involves a doctor with a floppy hat, long scarf and strange metallic dog who drops in for a quick pint now and again!