WEIRD NORFOLK: The ghostly coach and horses which patrols in Hedenham

Lions Grave. PICTURE: Jamie Honeywood

Lions Grave. PICTURE: Jamie Honeywood - Credit: Archant

They’re the spectral traffic police who charge at incoming traffic in Hedenham in an old-fashioned coach drawn by a team of horses.

Beware the ghostly coachman patrolling the road between Ditchingham and Bungay and if he drives towards you, try not to lose your nerve. A coach with a team of horses are said to haunt the road at the area close to Hedenham’s Lion’s Grave, itself the scene of a dastardly crime. Some say there is a single driver, others that the coach is either seen or heard, but never both – what is consistent, however, is that the driver of the coach speeds towards cars seemingly deliberately. In the classic Haunted East Anglia book by Joan Forman, a strange tale is told.

In 1983, two years before the book was published, a Mr Walker from Brooke was in Bungay for business and arranged to meet his friend in a local pub. He set out for home at around 10.15pm on a dark but moonlit night. There was very little traffic: “The journey was perfectly unremarkable until he reached the stretch of new concrete road between Ditchingham and Bungay,” the story reads.

“At this point, the old road, bypassed by the new, veers away at the bottom of the hill to become a lay-by. Mr Walker crested the hill at about 40mph and began the descent; the road ahead of him was empty and bright in the headllamps.

“The next moment he saw a coach and horses careering towards him on the crest of the road. His mind noted that there were four horses, that the coachman had some person seated beside him, and that a carriage lamp hung either side the vehicle.

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“This much he saw before his brain registered that he and the coach were on a collision course. He braked sharply, but the other vehicle came on.

“Then he accelerated in an attempt to pass the coach; and at that point it swung away - ‘floated away’, to use Mr Walker’s words – in front of him into the layby.”

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Shaken by what had happened, the witness drove home for a stiff brandy. When he mentioned the stretch of road to a neighbour he was told that the place where he had witnessed the strange sight was called ‘Lion’s Grave’ and was regarded as “an evil place”. Ms Forman notes: “‘Grave’ in Norfolk means literally a hole in the ground. To the identity of ‘Lion’ or ‘the lion’ there is as yet no clue.”

Weird Norfolk was recently in Hedenham and spoke to a local resident who was able to shed light on the Lion in question, or rather Lyons. According to local lore, a pedlar was murdered at the very spot where the coach is seen at night. Lawrence had taken his pack to nearby Ditchingham Hall where he had sold some ribbon to a young footman at the back door in return for a pinchbeck watch. Incredulous that he had been duped to hand over a precious item for mere trinkets, the other servants mocked him and he decided to try to find the pedlar so he could demand his watch back. But when he found Lawrence, he was in no mood to renegotiate and refused to give the boy his watch back. Enraged, the footman hit the pedlar with all his might and he dropped down dead – horrified, the Ditchingham employee swiftly covered his tracks, burying the dead man beneath brushwood in a hollow in the park. Over time, ‘Lawrence’s Grave’ became Lion’s Grave, the word Lawrence in a Norfolk accent (Lrence) becoming closer and closer to Lyon and finally Lions as the years passed.

At least one other man has lost his life at Lion’s Grave: on September 27 in 1920, George Sampson was hit by a bus as he crossed the road – this time, the coach in question was very much real.

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