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Originally published 2018
Norwich’s favourite ghost hunter – the Man in Black – is retiring, and will be heading out on his final ghost walk tomorrow (Thursday 29th of March), to haunt the city streets for the last time. And what a career it’s been, for the man who knows everything there is to know about creepy goings on that occurred in buildings that locals pass every single day.
(But it’s not all bad news – he will be handing the Ghost Walks over to The Shadowcaster this Easter!)
One of his favourite stories concerns Number 19, Magdalen Street. Which – just after City Of Stories discovered this gristly tale – closed down. You’ll recognise its blue facade if you come from Norwich: it’s the old ‘Vintage Treasures’ shop at the end of Magdalen, close to Fye Bridge.
It wasn’t always a shop though. In 1872 it was a brewery, and drinking den of ‘ill repute’. The ground floor was used for drinking, and the upper floors for… more private activities.
At the time, a girl called Sara worked here at the ‘Key Merchants Arms’. She was – by all accounts – fiery and loud, and one evening she spent a nice evening with a man, who bought drinks for her all night. He was very pleasant, until she refused to go upstairs with him, whereupon he changed, became violent, and murdered Sara in the top floors of the house. Quite a change of mood indeed.
The man was caught almost immediately, and was executed after trial. However, that was not quite the end of Sara’s story.
Since then, there have been multiple reports of haunting in the building. In the 90’s, 19 Magdalen Street was home to a Ron’s Reptiles, selling – you guessed it – reptiles. However, while the business was there the snakes failed to thrive, and lizards mysteriously died. Even the owner’s dog wouldn’t step over the shop threshold. Things got more spooky though, when a fire exit sign (attached to the wall) flew across the room and hit the owner so hard in the shoulder that he had to go to the N&N for an X-Ray. Ron’s Reptiles vacated the premises.
Then, the building became a Travel Agent. Holiday brochures used to “fly through the air like confetti” according to one member of staff – “it was a bad time”. The Travel Agent vacated the premises.
Next, Oxfam occupied the building. They were there for the early part of the new millennium, and during this time they would come in to find bags of stock simply ripped open, and their contents scattered all about. This time, the owner of the shop decided to hold a séance – a meeting at which people attempt to make contact with the dead. Through the Medium who was also present, they managed to get through to Sara, who told her sad story, but it also became apparent that the poor girl didn’t understand that she had died. In order to bring her peace, the building was exorcised not once but twice by members of different holy families, but both of these failed. Oxfam vacated the premises.
Number 19 then became a small antiques and furniture shop, destined to occupy the building for just a year. The owner made features in the shop window using her stock, which at one point included a small leather sofa and some scatter cushions. The three cushions were placed face up on the sofa, but every morning when the owner returned the cushions were face down. This happened every night in the 6 weeks it took to sell the sofa.
Now, as I mentioned before, the shop is empty again, and who knows who will be there next. We will never know exactly what happened to Sara, but we can be certain that this building – and others – contains many secrets.
There are many more stories to be told by the historic buildings of Norwich, and now – after the Man in Black crawls back in his tomb – The Shadowcaster will take over the job of sharing the dark tales that this city is hiding. He begins work this Easter, so if you’d like to join him visit the website for details (we also have a handy listing on VisitNorwich).
As for the Man in Black, his last walk is tomorrow (29/03/18), when he will be starting his final journey from the Adam and Eve at 7.30pm, and tickets are £7 each if you want to join him (all proceeds go to the British Heart Foundation).
If you miss it though, don’t worry: we look forward to welcoming The Shadowcaster as Norwich’s new, ghostly storyteller.
Norwich – being old and compact, is a city full to the brim of ghost stories. Of course, you can join in the ghost walk mentioned above, which starts from The Adam and Eve pub – Norwich’s oldest – which has its own gristly tale to tell. The Norwich Castle dungeons are also a tour not for the faint hearted: the tour includes a visit right to the very bottom of the castle, where prisoners were kept in freezing conditions without light or drainage (plus expect a few surprises round the corner…).
If you’re thinking of staying the night, Gothic House (not haunted or in any way ghostly) is just 2 minutes up the road from 19 Magdalen street, or The Maid’s Head Hotel (which is the oldest hotel in the city), has stories aplenty – previous guests range from Catherine of Aragon to Admiral Lord Nelson.
Plus, if you’re out for a drink post-ghost, try the Ribs of Beef located on one of Norwich’s most ancient bridges where, in Tudor Norwich, witches and women of a certain kind were strapped to the Ducking Stool.
However, there is nowhere more atmospheric that The Crypt at Bedfords. This atmospheric, 14th Century underground Crypt has a cracking bar, and also puts on great live music and DJ events – their Easter Party on April 3rd looks set to be immense.