Ghosts and ghouls take over for spooky week in Norwich City of Stories campaign
- Credit: © ARCHANT NORFOLK PHOTOGRAPHIC 2
As Halloween draws near, thoughts may turn to Norwich's ghosts and ghouls.
It is a city with plenty of haunted houses, and a long history that includes witch-hunts, burning martyrs and black plagues.
So this week the City of Stories campaign – which aims to promote Norwich to visitors by sharing its stories – is focused on tales of spirits.
The campaign by Vist Norwich, funded by sponsors including Norwich BID, aims to show there is something for everybody in the city.
For those who dare, this includes the mysterious Man in Black, who leads ghost tours from the city's oldest and notoriously haunted pub – The Adam and Eve.
The pub's recorded history goes back to 1249 and it is said to have acquired a horde of spirits, including Lord Sheffield. During the rebellion of 1549, Lord Sheffield fought on the side of the royal troops, and when he saw he would surely be killed, he took off his helmet to surrender.
But he was fatally struck and taken to the pub, where he later died, and he's been tapping shoulders, running fingers through people's hair and ringing bells ever since.
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Another infamously haunted spot in Norwich is number 19, Magdalen Street, said to be home to a spirit called Sarah.
It was formerly a pub called the Key Merchants Arms and Sarah was supposedly murdered there.
Other Norwich ghosts are good-natured in their approach to haunting – such as The Maddermarket Monk, who was first seen at the Maddermarket Theatre by the director of the Norwich Players, Nugent Monck.
He has been blamed for several pranks, including moving costumes, hiding wigs and jamming open doors.
The monk's pranks all seem to be mischievous fun, and he has shown himself to be a kind ghost, once saving a young actress from a falling light fitting.
On Thursday, October 30 and Friday, October 31 The Forum will become a centre of the supernatural.
There will be free craft sessions and spooky storytelling for children, followed by a Halloween parade.
It will begin at Norwich Castle at 6.30pm and finish at The Forum, where you will find live entertainment, hot food, and glowing pumpkins, topped by a giant pumpkin beautifully carved by artist Ray Noakes.
A Night in the City of Spirits, original fiction by Michael Durrant
Early evening, All Hallow's Eve, Norwich railway station.
Your train arrives bang on time. I see your face, a bright autumnal leaf, drifting toward me through the crowd of welcomes and hushed farewells. 'Hello stranger,' I say. We shake hands. I help you with your bag.
We stroll side-by-side into the weak twilight. The sun is low: a deep orange orb silhouetting skyline. The city is in a contemplative mood. The air is warm and is beginning to taste of autumn night: metallic, smoky. I ask about your journey.
'Very pleasant,' you say. 'Norfolk is a beautiful county. I've never seen so much sky.'
'Very flat, Norfolk.'
'Did you have anything to read on the train?'
'Just the newspaper.'
'That's better than nothing.'
I take a book I have just finished reading from my bag. I explain that I need to return it to the library – I hope you don't mind if we take a detour. You peruse the jacket whilst I describe our itinerary. Norwich is a walker's city, so I suggest we follow the river to the centre of town. From the air, I explain, the meanders in the river form the shape of a heart, and there is no better way of getting to the heart of this city than by following its willow-lined periphery.
A brief stroll, and we meet the river at Pull's Ferry. The river sparkles.
'A millennium ago, thousands of tonnes of Caen stone were hauled ashore to be used in the construction of Norwich Cathedral – over there.'
Your eyes are drawn, as if by some kind of magnetism, to the cathedral's spire: an iridescent shard of reflected evening sunlight.
Continuing north-east, we arrive at Bishop's Bridge, the oldest bridge in the city. In the summer of 1549, Robert Kett and his ragtag revolutionary force camped on the high ground to the north-east of Norwich before hurtling downhill in an attempt to take the city on the 21st of July. Below us, Kett's men, the muddy banks sucking away their boots, wade through the water under a shower of arrows. On the other side of the river, holidaymakers sit on sun-soaked pub patios supping local ales. A leisure boat on a tour of the Broads drifts by. Waves slosh against the riverbank.
The drooping willows sigh.
A woman is strolling towards us, reading. She has seen you, has anticipated your presence, but, stepping back to see more clearly the falcon helter-skeltering round the cathedral spire, you move into her path. Without looking up from her page, she skips deftly to the left. Dickens, we notice: A Tale of Two Cities.
There aren't many cities where it is safe for a pedestrian to walk and read at the same time. But here, gliding through the crowds, shimmying around bollards and lampposts, readers read and walk, walk and read, pausing on quiet corners of cobbled streets to take in a particular sentence or turn of phrase. Like the silently powerful action of a billion butterflies' wings, the air tingles with the flicking of paperbacks, sentences bursting free of the printed pages to swirl like streamers through the streets.
We continue along the river, the path before us striped with tree-shadows. Light and shade, shade and light. We pause to admire Cow Tower, a fourteenth-century defensive artillery blockhouse. On Bishopgate, a man carries a bucket covered in a piece of cloth. He appears lost, confused, as if he has fallen into a daydream and proceeded down the wrong street. You approach him and ask him if he needs directions. He shakes his head and shuffles away, swaying slightly, clasping the bucket's handle with both hands.
'I wonder what was in the bucket?' you say.
'I shudder to think.'
We reach Tombland. Open space.
'Look' I say, gesturing to the building across the street, its doorway guarded by two whitewashed statues. 'This is the nightclub where my parents met. The Samson and Hercules. Four thousand victims of the plague are buried beneath the dance floor. When my parents first set eyes on each other, Status Quo was playing.
We browse, briefly, the books on display in the window of The Tombland Bookshop. The sight of so many books makes us sigh. We pass the Edith Cavell pub, then turn right, onto Princes Street. The scent of lavender – calming, funereal – wafts out of nowhere. At the far end of the picturesque street, a crowd emerges from the hazy grey-yellow light, led by a tall man in a top hat and cape. The crowd are obviously enthralled, but also vaguely apprehensive, nervous. Norwich Ghost Walks, I say. I discovered so much about Norwich's history from taking this tour. And Robert De Niro loved it.
A lady stands, buried to her knees in a mound of damp leaves.
'You talking to me?' you say.
We pass the Guildhall (where you mention the man with his bucket), the imposing facade of City Hall, finally crossing the amphitheatre on Millennium Plain. People sit on the steps talking, playing musical instruments, reading books they've moments ago loaned from the library.
'This, I say, is the French Quarter. The Normans created a settlement here. The Forum houses the Millennium Library, the busiest library in the country. The building is part of the Norwich 12.'
I open my bag and pull out a paperback. 'I forgot about this,' I say.
We go in.
'How do you feel,' I ask, 'knowing that you don't have the time to read everything?'
You look around at the billions of words waiting to be read. Patient as ghosts.
'I try not to think about it,' you say.
The paperback drops into the returns box with a dull, sad, yet satisfying, thunk.
Outside, the tip of St. Peter Mancroft dips into the darkness. Beyond, the Norman castle stands, a dark cube atop a twinkling sea of stars.
The Forum stands on the site of the former library which burned down in 1997, when I was a sixteen-year-old boy with no interest in books. I watched the fire from my parents' bedroom window. A thick dark plume of smoke rising up and up, merging with an overcast sky. The ash, rich with words, coating the city in a fine, fertilising, nourishing dust.
I am about to speak, but forget what it was I wanted to say, distracted by the sight of a woman dressed in rags – a witch? – floating down the steps. Figures move in the darkness. Very near, but as if through a thick flint wall, I can hear a woman talking in French.
'So,' you say, checking your reflection in the window, 'where now?'