Haunted Norfolk

Tales from The Underground Street

The Poler Bear King of Norwich

Today I want to write to talk to you about King Gurgunt.

You may recall in the first Tales from the Underground Street; I shared this picture.

The royal skeleton is a prop from the escape room event that the tour operator also runs in the underground street. It is supposed to represent a character from Norwich’s past.

King Gurgunt.

Like Robin Hood and King Arthur it is not 100% known if King Gurgunt was real, though in all probability he wasn’t. The theory is that his story was made up to impress a visiting Queen Elizabeth I.

They really went all out with an actor showing up to greet her, announcing himself as King Gurgunt before accompanying her through the city and telling his fantastical story.

But real or not King Gurgunt story is a lot of fun.

The story goes that our mythical King, the son of Bellinus, decided to settle in Norwich. He was so fond of Norwich that he built the Castle and established the city around it. While he lived in Norwich, he went all over the world fighting in great battles.

After one such battle in the frozen, oversea northern lands King Gurgunt bravery and skill was so impressive that the local ruler decided to reward him with a gift. He gave him a puppy.

But this was an ordinary puppy. By the time the pup was a few weeks old it was bigger than any dog Gurgunt had, several months later and it was bigger than a man.

Turns out this puppy was a polar bear, though having never seen such a beast before King Gurgunt called it his white hound and kept it close to him as a bodyguard of sorts.

Sadly, polar bears don’t do wonderfully well in Norfolk, even if a king is their master and after some years the bear died. Gurgunt had the beast entombed under the castle and when his own time to die came he asked that he be laid to rest with his beloved white hound.

The story isn’t quite done though. As it goes that when Norwich or England is in peril, like King Arthur, Gurgunt will rise up to defend it.

So, while this is a cute story told to impress a queen, it has stuck around. Norwich Castle (which is now an impressive museum and art gallery) was even given a taxidermized polar bear which is now displayed in the natural history display at the castle.

Haunted Norfolk

Tales from The Underground Street

Norwich’s Last Public Hanging

Today I am going to write to you about James Bloomfield.

When we were exploring the underground street in Norwich, our guide told us the story of James Rush as he was the last man to be publicly hung in Norwich.

Back then hangings were a pretty big social occasion, and treated in a similar way to how we treat country fairs and festivals these days. There would be market vendors, food stalls, dancers and entertainment then the day would be finished off by watching a convicted criminal hang.

This fell out of vouge over the UK and the reason Mr Rush was the last public hanging in Norwich was because of the influx of people into the city on the day. People travelled from all over the UK to watch this event, and it went pretty wrong, in a single word… riots. In two words, drunken riots.

Anyway, I’m not writing to you about how drunk people be assholes in groups. I’m writing to tell you the story of why Mr Rush was hanged.

James Rush was born in 1800, his mother, Mary Bloomfield was the unmarried daughter of a tenant farmer, and she did not name his father.

When James was eleven, his stepfather rented a farm from Reverend George Preston, the head of a land lording family, and when James was twenty-four, he rented a neighbouring farm also owned by the Reverend. In 1837 the Reverend George died and his son Isaac inherited his property.

Isaac and James did not see eye to eye. Never a good situation to be in with your new landlord.

In 1844, both John Rush (James’ stepfather) and Susannah Rush (James’ wife) died within a month of each other. Johns’ death had James take over his rented farm and Susannah’s death, left James with nine children to care for. James hired a governess to tend his family. The woman he hired, Emily Sandford, was 23 when he hired her and he soon contrived (with a promise of marriage) to turn the relationship into a closer one than that of employer and employee. She became pregnant and gave birth to a child in early 1848, though the child died soon after it was born.

In 1847 the simmering tension between Isaac and James finally broke out into open hostility. Which was made worse when James failed to pay the rent to one of the farms he was renting from Isaac and Isaac had him evicted. James was also failing to make the payments on the other farm so eviction would not be long in following.

So, James went up to Stanfield Hall, where Isaac lived, and disguised himself. He then waited for Isaac to come outside and when he did James shot him twice. James then went into the house where he met Isaac’s son who he also shot. Isaacs pregnant wife came running and she was also shot. A chamber maid also came out hearing the commotion and was also shot.

Though James was only a good shot at close range, both women were injured but not killed and the unborn child also survived. Isaac and his son however were killed.

James didn’t go far however, there was a pub near Stanfield Hall where he went. He didn’t even both to lose the gun or take of the disguise. He bought his beer and stood by the pub door to watch the police arrive, investigate and then walk straight to him.

At the trial Emily testified against him, her testimony was volatile, having had her good name ruined by her relationship with James, she didn’t hold back.

James was publicly executed at noon at Norwich on Saturday, April 21, 1849

Haunted Norfolk

Tales from the Underground Street

Super Spooky Norwich

I love a good local Ghost story, I love it, even more, when that ghost story is told in a historical context in a historical location.

Recently I had the privilege of being able to go on the Norwich City Shoebox tour, this guided tour takes you under CastleMeadow in the city centre to an underground street.

A street that while it certainly feels spooky is actually just historically interesting. How it came to be and why it was buried in the way that it was.

Like most things its to do with blood, murder and money.

It’s a cute underdog story involving the king restricting building in Norwich in all places save from a ditch that had been dug years and years ago by men held at spear point that had since been used to house the city’s waste. To force the people of Norwich to clear out this gross sewer he granted permission to build in it.

People cleared it, though it took 80+ years, and built houses and shop fronts. Though it never lost its reputation for being a bit grim and soon became a very poor area with a lot of crime. The rich bigwigs decided they’d build their own street thank you very much and they did, higher up, alongside Castle Ditch Street. They even put up a wall so they wouldn’t have to look at the ditch street.

Naturally, this upset the shop keepers who were now invisible to all reputable customers. So they banded together and went up to the second floor of their shops and homes and laid wooden beams across from their windows to the rich people street and ran their shops from up there. Over timeDitch Street with built over completely and walled off.

Not particularly spooky, but interesting.

There are a few local ghost stories attached to the area, though they are more to do with the Castle and Norwich as a whole than Ditch Street. I intend to share these over the coming letters.