Weird Norfolk: The frantic ghost hunters at one of Norwich’s most tragic churches
PUBLISHED: 13:09 15 June 2019 | UPDATED: 10:15 16 June 2019
Copyright: Archant 2019
On the edge of Norwich city centre, a bombed-out church has been reduced to just its tower – but before tragedy hit St Bartholomew’s Church in Heigham, it was at the centre of a frenzied ghost hunt
Its tower stands as a stone memorial to a night that Norwich will never forget and which left many of its citizens dead - but before the deadly Baedeker Raids, St Bartholomew's Church in Norwich had been famous for another, ghostly, reason.
A picture of 15th century St Bartholomew's taken by George Plunkett shows it before Hitler sent bombs to Norwich.
Plunkett's incredible portfolio of photographs captures the changing face of Norwich during a period of huge upheaval and change, from war-torn damage to slum clearance and rebuilding, civic celebrations to the construction of City Hall.
He captured an image of St Bartholomew's Church in Church Close, Heigham Ward, in Norwich three years before it was virtually destroyed by German bombing on April 27 1942 in the first of the infamous Baedeker Raids - of the 340 people killed in bombing attacks in the city, half died on this tragic night.
St Bartholomew and nearby St Benedict, towards the end of St Benedict's Street, were decimated by the bombing, both left with only a tower to show that churches had stood at the sites after the rubble had been cleared.
Repaired in 1976, the church now stands in parkland and is a peaceful place: but before German bombs, it was persistent rumours of unquiet spirits at St Bartholomew's that made it infamous in Heigham: some claimed they had spotted a ghost in the churchyard.
As far back as 1885, there is a mention of the spectre in the East Anglian handbook, when an article mentions "…just as some 12 years back they trampled down the graves in St Bartholomew's churchyard in search of the 'Heigham Ghost'" in regard to a rumour circulating about a different, possibly haunted, venue.
The Norfolk Chronicle of February 10 1906 shed some gloomy light on the supernatural subject - a correspondent known only as JTV wrote: "I think the year was 1872, and when the Rev.J.Gilbert Dixon was rector of St Bartholomew's Heigham. It was after the erection of the temporary church in Adelaide Street, and before the restoration of the old parish church.
"Someone one night 'saw suffen,' and said so. Whereupon the roughs of Heigham Street took in hand to exorcise the sprite, and nightly raced about the churchyard, broke down fences and trampled graves flat, hunting for what never once was seen.
"'Old Heigham Church' as it used to be called, was much
more lonely than it is now. There was no Centenary School then, and no St Bartholomew's Close, nothing but market-gardens or allotments next the churchyard. It was the owner's complaints and that of the rector which brought the police upon the scene and 'laid' not only the 'ghost,' but those who searched for it. North Heigham, in its lower reaches, is not a lively neighbourhood in these days. At the time of the scare it was much more dismal, and the story of the ghost and the knowledge that the roughs were out made many people nervous. A variant of the legend made the ghost a white figure on stilts, and changed its venue to the long avenue by the side of the Temporary Church, but I only heard of this after a long, long interval."
So, what was seen in the churchyard at long-lost St Bartholomew's? And what was more terrifying? The ghost, or the ghost hunters?
For more Weird Norfolk stories click here.
You may also want to watch:
If you value what this story gives you, please consider supporting the Norwich Evening News. Click the link in the orange box below for details.