WEIRD SUFFOLK investigates the politically incorrect ghosts that are said to be amongst those that haunt a Bungay pub
PUBLISHED: 18:00 14 September 2019
Jamie Honeywood Archant Norwich Norfolk
A host of ghosts at a Bungay pub include a one that breaks wind, another that snaps bra straps AND a chap called Tom Hardy - is this Suffolk's most haunted inn?
Three Tuns landlord Paul Trevitt admits that pub resident Rex Bacon would probably be hauled before an employment tribunal for sexual harassment - if he hadn't died several hundred years ago.
The Bungay pub borders the Market Place, Earsham Street and Broad Street in the town centre and is a former coaching inn which was once the meeting place for Suffolk gentry in the 18th century. With its grand Assembly Rooms and banqueting hall, it was where Norfolk's Parson Woodforde stayed in 1788, enjoying dishes of fish and leg of mutton in the evenings and where Charles Dickens and highwayman Dick Turpin are said to have rested their heads for the night. It's also where a teenage ghost with some politically-incorrect habits joins a veritable roll call of the undead at the pub many believe is Suffolk's most haunted.
Rex is believed to have been the 18-year-old son of a Mettingham clergyman, the Reverend John Hacon or Bacon, who had been vicar at the church and from whom Rex had shamed by stealing from the collection box and then marrying a woman who quickly started having an affair with another man. One night, Rex discovered his beloved's infidelity in a rented room at the Three Tuns and killed them both (some say only the lover was killed) in a fit of fury before taking his own life by rope on the landing. "This is where he is seen," Paul explains, pointing towards the summit of the dark wood staircase, "we once had a chap who was working here about 15 years ago bring his young daughter in to the pub, she must have been about two or three.
"It was the middle of the day and she got to the bottom of this staircase having been quite happy and then just burst into tears. She said: 'Daddy, I don't want to go up there', he tried to persuade her and then picked her up, still crying and struggling, and carried her upstairs to where he was working. At the top of the landing, she stopped crying. He put her down and asked her to tell him what was the matter. She said 'Daddy, there's a man hanging there and he's laughing'." Customers have heard unexplained opening and shutting of doors, the moving of furniture and mysterious voices. The manager in the 1960s, Lucy Leggett used to see Rex so often that she affectionately called him 'Charlie Boy' and would chat to him as she went about her work. He would give her gentle pushes - albeit one saw her tumble down the stairs - and Paul says he has also been known to ping a bra strap. "He's not awfully PC," he laughed.
Downstairs in the cellar, now a wonderful party location but once, Paul says, part of Bungay Castle's gatehouse, built by the mighty Hugh Bigod in the 12th century and linked to various parts of the town by tunnel entrances that he believes can still clearly be seen. Just what have those thick flint and stone walls seen over the centuries? It's said that the cellar was where a maid, Lizzie Bowlynge, was chained to the wall after being caught stealing a quart of beer and where the poor girl starved to death for her crime. Keys on the wall have been seen to swing as if moved by an invisible hand and the ghost of a monk, who fled the dissolution of the monasteries,
It is here that Paul had one of the most unusual experiences in the pub, one involving naughty Rex playing a trick on him after closing time.
"I was switching off the lights and as I did so, I took the opportunity to relieve myself of somewhat of a build-up of gas - the cellar was empty, it seemed the perfect opportunity," Paul laughed. "Afterwards, almost like an echo - although there is no echo in the cellar - I heard a massive ripping noise, as if the fabric on the cushion next to me had been torn in half. I quickly switched on the lights but there was nothing.
"And then I realised: it was Rex trying to compete with me! So yes, a farting ghost!"
And there's more. Far more. A couple left their sleeping child in a guest room while they had an evening meal downstairs and, when they returned shortly afterwards, found every item of furniture had been moved as their child apparently slept. Trays have been knocked out of people's hands time and time again, shadowy forms have been seen making their way along corridors, windows and doors open and shut of their own accord and strange, disjoined voices have been heard upstairs, a 'presence' has been felt in certain rooms and the ghost of highwayman Tom Hardy is said to frequent the bar. Hardy was said to have used the Tuns as his headquarters and was believed to have been an associate of legendary highwayman Dick Turpin, who visited Bungay in 1739. Finally caught and hanged for his crimes, he is said to haunt the pub and is seen wearing his tricorn hat and distinctive 18th century clothing.
In 1969, a former landlord decided that resident ghosts might not boost hotel bookings and called in a well-known clergyman to exorcise the spirits in the building. Canon JD Pearce-Higgins, Vice-Provost of Southwark Cathedral and vice-chariman of the Churches Fellowship for Psychical and Spiritual Studies decided against an exorcism and instead held a Requiem Mass in the pub. "Such a service is applicable only to demons and devils, if they exist," he said, of an exorcism, "whereas happenings such as have occurred here in this hotel are caused by earth-bound human beings who do not know they are dead. They are lost souls and the requiem mass is to pray for their release and enlightenment." His ritual involved releasing earthbound souls and sending them towards heaven, or the White Light as he called it, and was said to be soothing rather than exorcising - perhaps it was a little too soothing as the spirits remained at the pub and are still seen to this day.
Is Paul ever concerned that he is sharing his pub with a host of ghosts? "They don't bother me in the slightest," he said, "I quite like having them around, especially when you catch the scent of sweet, aromatic pipe tobacco in the air and it feels as if you're part of the history of the building, part of an old story. Very occasionally, they catch me out and I do jump a little bit, but on the whole, I think to myself that they've been here longer than I have so they've got a perfect right to be here."
* Paul is happy to show people around The Three Tuns if called in advance, 01986 893404.