Locations of MR James’ ghost stories in Norfolk and Suffolk

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Great Livermere Byline: Sonya Duncan
– Credit: ARCHANT EASTERN DAILY PRESS (01603) 772434

The nights are approaching, the veil between the living and the dead is the thinnest and we are entering the season of fire and enchantment: the perfect time for ghost stories.

Montague Rhodes James wrote quietly spooky stories where the most unimaginable horrors lurked in the darkness that stretched outside the Lamp.

Born in Kent in 1862, Mr. R. James arrived in Suffolk at the age of three and his home – if not always the place where he lived – was in the Rectorate of Great Livermere in Suffolk.


eadt news west - Dave Gooderham Ghostly walks by St Peters Church in Great Livermere, where f

St Peters Church in Great Livermere
– Credit: Archant

His father Herbert James was rector of the medieval Saint-Pierre church and the family made the village their home from 1865 to 1909.

In addition, MR James’ maternal grandmother had lived in Aldeburgh and he had visited her often until her death in 1870.

“Write down what you know,” the old saying goes, so it stands to reason that after seeing a terrifying specter staring at him through a doorway, James was destined to become a ghost story writer.

His Vignette, written in 1935 and published after his death in 1936, is said to be based on a real-life experience he had in Livermere as a child.

In the story, a young boy has a terrible nightmare.

He walks to his bedroom window in the rectory and sees a curious movement in the garden, something is heading towards the house – then he hears footsteps on the stairs and a hand on his door. He then wakes up terrified.

The dreams keep coming and the boy begins to wonder if there is some nasty story connected with where he lives and, when he goes to investigate in the garden, he sees a terrifying face staring at him through a hole in the garden. the door.

Rose, malicious and with wide open eyes, when the boy runs away and runs back, he sees a draped figure dragging away among the trees.

Never confirmed or denied as a factual observation, researchers have long believed that the story of the gruesome face at the door made young MR James a writer of equally gruesome stories that exploited this terrible creeping sense of unease.


Mr. James

Mr. James
– Credit: Archant

This reed covered corner of Suffolk with its rugged paths and marshes was where James wrote some of his scariest stories, the village cemetery still bears a gravestone with the name Mothersole, borrowed by the author for the ghost of a young woman who haunts the man who executed her for witchcraft.

Local resident Beryl Dyson complied with a 2016 Great Livermere ghost book A Parish With Ghosts which she says is drawn to the village because of its singles.

In his book there are stories of a ghostly figure of a woman near the cemetery wall, of a ghost cyclist who haunts the village roads, of a ghost woman in red who sets out on the path. oncoming traffic before disappearing and a dog resembling Shuck.

Dyson believes the ghost she saw – the figure of a jester near the rectory gates – might have been the same one seen by Mr. R. James in the 19th century. In an article for the Ghost Club, Beryl wrote that the dogs were scared in some areas of the village and appeared to be afraid of a particular clump of trees growing near where James allegedly saw his ghost.

“By a strange coincidence of letters and discussions with two of Reverend Dobree’s daughters, who moved into the rectory after the James family left it,” Beryl wrote, “I learned that after a room formerly used as a nursery in the rectory was made into a guest bedroom, guests who used this room experienced the most horrific dreams and nightmares and would no longer sleep in this room.

Although best known for his chilling tales, MR James was also a renowned medievalist scholar, a donation to King’s College Cambridge, and a director of the Fitzwilliam Museum.

His discovery of a fragment of a manuscript led to extensive excavations in the ruins of Bury St Edmund Abbey in 1902: he had successfully led archaeologists to the cemetery of several 12th-century abbots who have disappeared since the Dissolution.

It was in Cambridge that his ghost stories came to life (after) coldly.

He would gather privileged students around his office fire in the winter for his “Conversation Club” or bring friends to his house on Christmas Eve, and throwing candles, scared them.

The tradition of Christmas ghost stories has led TV producers to recreate the chills of midwinter with truly terrifying annual adaptations of some of his spookiest works shown in the darker months of the 1970s.

Sherlock co-creator and Doctor Who writer Mark Gatiss is adapting the ghost story of The Mezzotint by MR James for the BBC this Christmas.

This will be the fifth Christmas ghost story Gatiss has created for the company after Martin’s Close in 2019, The Dead Room in 2018, The Tractate Middoth in 2013 and Crooked House in 2008.

When James lived in Great Livermere Rectory, the church was a few hundred yards away and involved taking a wooded walk through a shady grove to the graveyard.

Some of the names on the graves dot the stories of James, the nearby ash trees, Great Livermere Hall, all the stars of the author’s work, as well as the wider East Anglia landscape he loved so much.

In addition to the Scholarly Tomes and Ghost Stories, Mr. R. James also wrote a travel book on Norfolk and Suffolk published in 1930, including an expansive passage on Great Livermore, asking readers to forgive his indulgence.

He wrote: “I have many dear old associations in these two great counties, and the attempt to expose some of their many attractions to those who live there and to those who visit them has been a very pleasant task. .

Norfolk and Suffolk are linked with MR James


Another adaptation of MR James Whistle and I'll Come toYou

Another adaptation of MR James Whistle and I’ll Come toYou

– Credit: BBC

Story: Oh whistle and I’ll come to you boy

Posted: Ghost stories of an antique dealer, 1904

East English link: set in the area and filmed in Norfolk and Suffolk for television

Ground: A professor finds an old bronze whistle as he explores the ruins of a Templar chapel. On the whistle are engraved the words: “Who is coming?” As the man walks away with it, he imagines something terrible just out of sight. That night, he cleans and whistles and a vision comes to him that will haunt him day and night …

Where? Set in the fictional seaside village of Burnstow, based on Felixstowe, when the story was first shot in 1968, it was shot in Dunwich. The beach, groynes, cliffs, moors and the All Saints Church graveyard are clearly marked. The gravestone shown shortly before the specter appeared has now slipped over the edge of the crumbling cliff face. The Professor’s Terrifying Nightmares were filmed in Norfolk in Waxham

Nothing else? Apparently, James was aware of a piece of East English folklore which meant that hunters would never whistle their dogs after dark for fear of calling out a demon or a ‘lantern man’.


eadt news west - Dave GooderhamGhostly passes St Peters Church in Great Livermere, where f

The plaque to celebrate the writer MR James in the church where his father was rector
– Credit: Archant

Story: Rats

Posted: First published in At Random magazine in 1929

East English link: Located in Suffolk in 1846.

Ground: Located near the Suffolk coast, Rats tells the story of a man who lodges in an inn, only to discover that an unpleasant secret lurks behind the locked door of a room alongside his passage. But it’s not rats lurking in the locked room. It is something much worse.

Or: Suffolk. There are prints of Bury St Edmunds on the walls of the inn.


It's early morning at Happisburgh lighthouse

Early morning at Happisburgh lighthouse
– Credit: Mike Morcher

Story: A warning to the curious

Posted: A warning to the curious and other ghost stories, 1925

East English link: Set in Seaburgh, an Aldeburgh in disguise, but shot in 1972 in Wells-next-the-Sea, Sheringham and Happisburgh.

Ground: Antiquarian and archaeologist Paxton takes a vacation in Seaburgh and while visiting a medieval church, learns the legend of a buried Anglo-Saxon crown that protects the East Anglian kingdom from invasion. He tracks down the location of the crown, pursued by the ghostly presence of the last member of the family who once guarded it. The Three Crowns motif can be seen on churches across the region, including Woolpit.

Where? Buildings mentioned in the written history include the Martello Tower, The Bear / White Lion pub, the heather, and the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul.

In the 1972 version of the story, adapted by Lawrence Gordon Clarke, The Pine Belt at Holkham, the North Norfolk Railway, Weybourne Station, Wells Harbor, Happisburgh Lighthouse, St Mary’s Church in Happisburgh and the hotel where Paxton is staying is Shipwright’s Cottage on East Quay Road in Wells.

Nothing else? Don’t stare at the Happisburgh Church expecting to see the Gargoyle and the Three Crowned Shield – these were added in post-production.


Views of Norwich from the top of the spire of Norwich Cathedral.  Medieval Tombland.PHOTO BY S

Views of Norwich from the top of the spire of Norwich Cathedral. Medieval Tomb Land
– Credit: Archant

Story: Barchester stalls

Published: More Ghost Stories from an Antique Dealer, 1910

East English link: Scenes shot in Norwich Cathedral and the Hungate Center for Medieval Art in Norwich for the 1971 adaptation.

Ground: Archdeacon Pultney of Barchester Cathedral mysteriously dies and new Archdeacon Haynes takes his place. Haynes is very talented and performs the duties of his office with great zeal, but he is haunted by the figures carved into the stalls of Barchester Cathedral.

Where? Shot on location in the Cloisters, Library, Ambulatory of Norwich Cathedral, nearby and inside the main building and St Peter Hungate in the city.


eadt news west - Dave GooderhamGhostly passes St Peters Church in Great Livermere, where f

St Peters Church in Great Livermere
– Credit: Archant

Story: A thumbnail

East English link: Livermere Rectory in Great Livermere, Suffolk

Ground: James’ latest ghost story is that of an anonymous narrator who describes a ghostly event from his childhood. It is generally believed to be based on the experience described above.

Nothing else? Look for the graves of Mrs. Mothersole and Mr. Gaudy which appear in the stories of Mr. James, The Ash Tree and The Mezzotint.


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