November 11th, 2012 | Tags: Norwich, Norwich history,

Norwich: Elm Hill survivals

For those who are into the paranormal side to cities, Norwich has some fascinating aspects worth investigating. Our contributor of the week delves into some spooky stories of this English city.

As the River Wensum casually zig-zags along a diametric course through Norwich's old stone, its central hanging loop comes within a stone's throw of Elm Hill, part of the city's oldest reaches, and it shows. It's a cobbled, late-medieval survival, rebuilt after the four-day fire of 1507 that scourged the original crowded wooden firetrap. Around 700 buildings were lost across the heart of the city and few remnants of the conflagration now survive above ground.

Following the loss and rebuild, history has decided to stay, from black-beamed Tudor residences to fragments of the industrial revolution's worker-slums, all laced along the tricky cobbled through-fare. It's a symbiosis: modernity is here too; contemporary shops hiding behind small-panelled glass or rumbling petrol engines cautiously testing suspension coils along the rattling road surface.

Tracy Monger knows the area and the stories that live here. Historical fact blending seamlessly into legend, but highlighted with the uneasy personal experience of lingering elements still un-erased by time. “Sometimes it's better to see something,” she tells me. “Then you know where it is”. She is a paranormal investigator and claims a sensitivity to the emotional trail of a location's historical dramas via the cloying residue left hanging in their wake.

This accidental, spiritual graffiti etched by lives passed tells her something of the nature of events that transpired: whether happy, sad, dark, tragic; potentially anything strong enough to push into the “clay” as it were, may still survive to be read by those with the ability to see.

Elm Hill has long been on her radar. Back in 2002, she tells me, she experienced an uncomfortable feeling of being watched whilst in the area, a phenomena not uncommon in places of reported psychic activity. However, the faces she saw in the top row of the Monastery Hall windows lent a discomforting additional detail, as do the disembodied footsteps traversing Elm Hill and the sound of small impacts as if from thrown projectiles. In each case Tracy and her colleagues found nothing and the origins of the sounds could not be located.

Monastery Hall is Father Ignatius' surviving independent Benedictine monastery building, established in 1864, by a man reportedly troubled in life and possibly even in death. Originally Joseph Leycester Lyne, he would take holy orders and later adopt the name Ignatius prior to establishing a Benedictine order in Claydon near Ipswich. The zeal of his preachings and churchly style was considered too provocative, even to the point of rousing threats from the locals, and so he was asked to leave. He then strove to establish a Benedictine community within Norwich, an endeavour that attracted both followers and dissenters, the latter including disruptive anti-Catholic elements within the city.

Notwithstanding reports of miracles attributed to Father Ignatius, those in opposition would eventually win out following an ugly dispute over the building's ownership and worse: a scandal of impropriety involving a novice monk and a young boy living under the monastery's care. The premises were seized, the followers disbanded and Ignatius was left to vainly attempt reclamation of the property for over a decade.

The negativity of his collective experiences obviously soured his outlook deeply as he was reportedly prone to striding through Elm Hill, Bible in hand, proffering curses of death, Hell and damnation upon passers by, particularly upon those who dared oppose him. Even after leaving Norwich, indeed even over a century after his death, Tracy tells me, it is claimed that he still indulges in the same activity today.

Bernard H.Wood

City pics