Ghostly sightings and blood-curdling cries, discover Suffolk’s dark side…
They called him the Tin Man. He was one of the greatest jockeys that ever lived – yet his life was desperately tragic. 128 years after his early death, it’s said that Fred Archer still rides in Newmarket, atop a ghostly white steed.
At 5ft 10 inches, Archer was far taller than any of his competitors, meaning that he had to diet severely to stay at his riding weight of 7 stone 10 lbs. While the ‘Tin Man’s’ public success grew, so did his private struggle with his weight. He began drinking a potent laxative concoction every day, known among racing’s inner circle as “Archer’s Mixture.”
Tragedy struck in 1883, when Archer’s first son died only hours after being born, just a year later, his wife Helen Rose died giving birth to their second child. Archer fell into a desperate sadness. He continued racing, and followed his punishing routine with as much fervour as ever. Years of drinking “Archer’s mixture” had caused his body to waste. On the 8 November 1886, while suffering from a prolonged fever, Fred Archer shot himself with a revolver. He was just 29 years old.
And then – inexplicably – the Tin Man rode again. Shortly after Archer’s death, a woman and her daughter were shocked to see him atop a white horse, galloping along Hamilton Stud Lane in Newmarket. It’s thought that the horse was the grey mare Scotch Pearl, who Archer favoured to take on hacks. In the years that followed, many more reports came in of Archer riding Scotch Pearl across Newmarket Heath, and multiple times, on dark stormy nights, his spirit has appeared at James Fanshawe’s Pegasus Stables, which Archer built himself. Whether you believe the stories or not, there is no doubt that Fred Archer lives on in some form.
At Landguard Peninsula, on the very tip of Suffolk, stands a building whose ominous exterior hides an array of ghostly secrets. A lone musketeer stalking the ramparts, the wailing of a Portuguese woman driven to despair, the phantom of a suicidal soldier lurking in the passageways… These are just some of the ghostly presences that have been felt within the walls of Landguard Fort, a place that many believe to be the most haunted in Suffolk.
The Fort we see today was completed in 1744, and remained a military base until 1956, after which it stood abandoned for almost thirty years. It was only when public interested turned back to Landguard Fort in the 1980s that people realised it was more than just artillery fire that had sounded through the fort’s long dark tunnels: underpinning the distant echoes of military action were the unmistakeable cries of ghosts.
As records revealed, several soldiers during the Second World War had been visited by a strange apparition: a solitary musketeer, walking along the ramparts, musket in hand. The theory accepted by most was that this was spirit of the lone Englishman killed during the Dutch invasion of 1667, still roaming the Fort on patrol. According to one psychic, the musketeer doesn’t yet know that he’s dead.
One ghost that appears very aware of his paranormal status is the Victorian Artilleryman. While an unsuspecting staff member was working in the Landguard Fort shop, he stepped through the wall, grinned at her and then disappeared back through the wall again, giving the staff member such a fright she took some time to calm down. Since this mischievous apparition there have been reports from other perturbed staff members of shop items flying off their shelves, apparently of their own accord.
The most bone chilling of the Haunted Fort’s ghost stories involves the ghosts of two soldiers, whose crimes against each other in life have trapped them in death. It’s said that during the First World War, a soldier was beaten to death in the bathrooms of Landguard Fort by his compatriots, after he was caught stealing their possessions. Some time later, one of the soldiers who killed his friend was so consumed with guilt that he went to the magazine room and hung himself. Rumour has it that to this day their two spirits continue to haunt the rooms in which they died, unable to leave the world of the living.
It’s perhaps the most famous legend in Suffolk folklore: the tale of a city’s destruction by the unforgiving, voracious North Sea, and the lingering ghosts that it left behind. This is the story of Dunwich and its ghostly bells.
Visit Dunwich today, and you’ll find a quaint, quiet village in the middle of an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. But if you pause for a moment to gaze out to sea, you’ll be looking at the final resting place of a great city that was once equal in size to London.
At its peak it was the 6th most important port in the country. All that changed on one fateful day in 1286, when a storm surge of epic proportions battered the city, sweeping swathes of houses, churches and buildings into the sea. When the storm cleared, and the people of Dunwich stepped out of their homes, they would have seen devastation on a horrifying scale: centuries of development, livelihoods and history simply washed away.
Three further storms followed. With each fresh storm the fierce waves clawed at the coast, ripping away huge chunks of land, until by the 15th century only a fraction of Dunwich was left.
Today only a ruined priory and one lonely gravestone remain of old Dunwich. Look two miles out to sea and you’ll be staring at the place Dunwich’s outer walls once stood, and ten metres below the water lies Europe’s largest underwater medieval site, a city in a watery grave known to many as ‘Britain’s Atlantis.’
Stories courtesy of Visit Suffolk www.visitsuffolk.com