Norfolk was once terrified of fairies who far from granting wishes, would swap changelings for babies, drink human blood, blight crops, drive people insane and curse entire households.

Forget fairy godmothers and happy-ever-afters and instead consult the writings of folklorist Lady Jane Wilde who set out the 'truth' about the little people in 1887.

They are, he says: “…the fallen angels who were cast down by the Lord God out of heaven for their sinful pride…and the devil gives to these knowledge and power and sends them on earth where they work much evil.”

In the Dictionary of Fairies, Katharine Briggs (like Raymond Briggs, sadly no relation wrote: “People walking alone by night, especially through fairy-haunted places, had many ways of protecting themselves. The first might be sacred symbols, by making the sign of a cross, or by carrying a cross, particularly one made of iron; by prayers, or the chanting of hymns, by holy water, sprinkled or carried, and by carrying and strewing Churchyard mould in their path.

“Bread and salt were also effective, and both were regarded as sacred symbols, one of life and the other of eternity.”

Norwich Evening News: A man saves his friend from the grip of a fairy ring - from British Goblins by TH ThomasA man saves his friend from the grip of a fairy ring - from British Goblins by TH Thomas (Image: Wikipedia Commons)

People would wear coats inside-out to protect themselves, would bring water into their homes at night to quench fairy thirst and prevent them from tapping into one of your veins, and would tread carefully, so as not to step into a fairy ring.

If you find yourself inside a circle of mushrooms, beware: the fairies can, at will, turn you invisible and force you to dance around the circle until you drop dead from exhaustion.

In East Anglia, herbs were used (did you know that four-leaf clovers ‘dispel glamour’ and allow you to see a person as they really are, including fairies?), people would head to running water if they suspected they were being followed by a fairy (who are unable to cross a stream or river) and stones with holes in them were tied to stable keys to protect horses from night-riding.

Scythes were placed uppermost in chimneys, scissors were hung over cradles, axes kept under pillows and doors bolted with iron because it was believed that changelings and fairies would be driven away by metal.

Across the border in Suffolk, there are several fairy tales starring, well, fairies.

There’s the story from Bury St Edmunds from Lady Eveline Camilla Gurdon about fairies the size of mice wearing blue and yellow outfits with red caps on their heads with long tassels.

A farmer caught one and, hoping to give it to his children, tied it to his kitchen window to stop it from escaping until the next morning, but fairies can’t be kept in captivity and it died.

Norwich Evening News: An early 15th century picture by Martino di Bartolomeo of a changeling being swapped for a babyAn early 15th century picture by Martino di Bartolomeo of a changeling being swapped for a baby (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Another tale involves a spirit that appeared at Dagworth Hall near Stowmarket which made friends with a maid and told her that she’d been swapped with a changeling near Lavenham and forced to live with fairies for seven years

In Norfolk, a clergyman in Diss recorded the following case, which in turn was told to the editor of The Norfolk Garland, John Glyde, in 1872.

He writes: “An old parish clerk told the clergyman that years ago he knew several houses where the fairies visited.

“They never appeared as long as any person was about. People used to lie hid to see them, but as soon as they saw anybody they vanished away.

“In the houses after they had fled, sparks of fire as bright as stars used to appear under the feet of the persons who disturbed them.”

He also told another story of a nearby parish where a man was ploughing in a field.

“A fairy, quite small and sandy-coloured, came to him and asked him to mend his peel [a flat iron with a handle to take bread out of an oven] and that if he did, he should have a hot cake.

“The ploughman soon put a new handle in it, and soon after a smoking hot cake made its appearance in the furrows near him, which he ate with infinite relish.”

An 80-year-old woman, the sister of the sexton at another nearby parish, told the clergyman that a house in the village many years previously had been the “scene of fairy visits”.

Norwich Evening News: A fairy leaving money in a shoe to reward tidiness from Warwick Goble's The Book of Fairy Poetry by Dora Owen, 1920A fairy leaving money in a shoe to reward tidiness from Warwick Goble's The Book of Fairy Poetry by Dora Owen, 1920 (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

He added: “The occupier was a clean and industrious man, and the fairies, who cannot abide dirt or slovenliness, used his cottage for their meetings.”

In return for the use of his house, the fairies would bring bundles of twigs and dry wood each evening for the old man to use, and a shilling or him under the leg of a chair.

The clergyman added: “A fairy often came to him and warned him not to tell anyone of it, for if he did, the shilling, wood and fairies would ever come to him again.

“Unluckily for him, he did tell his good luck and then his little friends were never seen by him no more.”

Several of these stories, if truth be told, are likely to involve the Suffolk side of the Norfolk/Suffolk border, but we must remember that it was once believed the entrance to Fairyland was here in Norfolk – close to Bawdeswell, to be precise.

In an article written by Michael Sidney Tyler-Whittle entitled ‘Witchcraft’ in the East Anglian Magazine of October 1952, it read: "I have heard it said that until quite recently there was a hole in a field beside the Swanton Morley-Bawdeswell road.

“It was neither an old well nor a drain. It did not appear to have been used by fox, badger or rabbit. Surrounded by coarse clumps of grass and bracken and of unguessed depth, the hole remained a mystery.

“A whisper spread that it was an entrance to St Martin's Land where it is always dusk and where the Green Children live. These pixies have always been a constant trouble to the people of East Anglia. The hole was filled!"

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