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Weird Norfolk: The Gildencroft Bogey

PUBLISHED: 11:00 31 October 2017

The shadow of the Gildencroft Bogey at the Gildencroft tudor cottages near St Augustines Street. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

The shadow of the Gildencroft Bogey at the Gildencroft tudor cottages near St Augustines Street. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Copyright: Archant 2017

He’s the invisible menace that terrified us as children. But is there more to the bogeyman than an imaginary behaviour monitor?

He is the shape that shifts underneath children’s beds at night, the shadow inside the wardrobe, the footsteps on the stairs and the tapping on the window on dark nights.

And in one parish in Norfolk, the bogeyman isn’t just confined to nightmares: he waits in the darkness for unsuspecting passers-by and then takes chase: to this day, locals in their 70s and 80s recall the terror that was the Gildencroft Bogey.

For centuries, the bogeyman has served as a timely warning to children to stay on the righteous path or face punishment from a creature that feeds off darkness and fear.

An imaginary monster conjured by parents to frighten children into good behaviour, the bogeyman may target specific mischief or general misbehavior and appears in folklore across the world: in Spain, he is El Cuco, in Italy he is the Babau, in Finland he is Morko. In the Gildencroft, he is waiting.

The Gildencroft once covered much of St Augustine’s parish which has long been known as Norwich-Over-the-Water and was the last of Norwich’s parishes to be used for horticultural purposes, boasting orchards off Sussex Street.

A few ancient crab apple trees remain on the edge of Chatham Street, their withered fruit a reminder of past times when the area was ten times the size it is now when it was in agricultural use as the grange farm of Tolthorp Manor, once owned by Sir John Falstolf, thought by many to be the inspiration for Shakespeare’s Falstaff.

It was also a place where Norwich’s knights practiced their jousting and archery skills and where the city’s first camp-ball games were played.

Camp-ball was football’s precursor but was a far less gentlemanly sport: matches regularly spiralled out off control to the point where players would suffer broken bones or even die as they played.

And the reputation for recklessness in the Gildencroft persisted into the 19th century as merry-makers drank to excess, fornicated and fell into numerous fights.

If ever there was a need for the appearance of a huge, shaggy-haired, saucer-eyed bogeyman with razor-sharp teeth and glowing eyes, it was in the Gildencroft.

A witness from the 1880s had this account of coming eye-to-glowing-eye with the grotesque Gildencroft Bogey: “I was walking to The Lathes when I saw it. It jumped out of the darkness and chased me down the road. I’ve never seen anything like it in all my puff…big and hairy, eyes glowing in the dark, big as tea-saucers, big sharp teeth and its breath…it was most noxious.”

While further accounts of the creature that appeared to the witness in question are sadly lacking, the legacy of the Gildencroft Bogey remains.

A 77-year-old who lived in St Augustines at the beginning of the Second World War, remembers her mother telling her about the bogeyman who walked the streets there. At the time, she was an only child and her father was living away from home as part of the war effort.

“She would tell me that if I got out of bed and he was passing, he would take me away. If I heard a tapping on the window, it was him reminding me to be good,” she said, “of course it worked, because I was absolutely terrified.

“If she thought she heard me on the stairs or in the hall, she’d shout up ‘he’s comin’ to git yer’ but of course it never was me on the stairs because the bogeyman had done his job and I was too scared to move.

“Which makes you wonder: who did my mother hear on the stairs?”

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