Here, the radar station at Bawdsey Manor was a project of utmost secrecy in 1937 where employees scanned the skies day and night for signs of German aircraft. The same year different secrets were unearthed along the rivers banks after wealthy landowner Edith Pretty sought out an archeologist to investigate the contents of 18 ancient mounds on her estate, and the Sutton Hoo burial ship was discovered. These corporeal artefacts of industry, defense and archaeological discovery preserve histories and incite remembrance. The presence of the past permeating the area with its eerie quietness. Thrown into the mix with the witchcraft trials and an abundance of folklore, the county creates an alternate reality for hauntological and psychogeographical exploration. 1A place where memories can be felt out through the hidden landscape of atmospheres, histories, actions and characters that charge environments, as astutely described by Andy Paciorek on the folk horror revival website. 2
Walking North along the coast I pass through a graveyard of Mullein, thirty or so plants standing tall and still, new leaves emerging beneath them. In the distance I can make out the silhouette of Orford Castle, behind the shingle spit of Orford Ness - a haven uninhabited by humans, where birds, rabbits and water deer roam upon the wet marshes. The cellar of the 11th century castle was used for the bloody climax of Michael Reeves 1968 folk horror ‘The Witchfinder General’. A disturbing tale set during the English Civil War that dramaticises the story of Matthew Hopkins appointment as the Witchfinder General by the puritans under Oliver Cromwell. This fictionalised account spins a yarn of hysteria and mob-mentality, associations easily made with the cruelty and horror of the 17th century witch hunts. Whilst there is little doubt that such behaviour played its part, there’s something much darker in the structural establishment of power that led so many to their gruesome fate. Just as politicians today lean into the incitement of culture wars to detract from their wrongdoings, the association of lynchings to the witch-hunts glosses over the terror of the English legal system at that time.
The terror reigned upon East Anglia by the self styled witchfinder general Matthew Hopkins has made the area synonymous with the witch hunts. Each time a ‘witch’ was rooted out, tried and executed Hopkin became richer, and gained further power. It is estimated that his work led to around 100 executions across the county. The coast tracing North from Orford eventually leads to the ancient fishing town of Lowestoft. Here, the war on witchcraft reared its brutal head in the second half of the 17th century, closely following the upheaval of plague, fire, civil strife and fishing industry decline. In 1661 two elderly Lowestoft widows, Amy Denny and Rose Cullender, found themselves suspected and accused of being witches. The allegations made against them included making children vomit pins and nails, infesting a man with lice, causing a cart to collapse and a chimney to fall down as well as causing a toad to fall out of a child’s blanket then vanish and hiss in the fire. 3 At the Lent Assizes held at Bury St. Edmunds on March 13th 1662 both were found guilty and hanged upon the Thinghow — originally a tumulus or burial mound situated on the healthland outside the North gate of the town. The prominence of Denny and Cullender’s fate was far reaching as the use of ‘Spectral Evidence’ in the trial (evidence based on dreams and visions) became a model for the Salem witch trials in Massachusetts when the magistrates were looking for proof that such evidence could be used within a court of law.
The imagination feeds on the essences of history, its rotting timbres, the stumps of its gibbets ...
The story of these two women brought me to the area. With the Suffolk landscape permeated by wyrd histories there is no shortage of stories here to unearth, entangle and re-bury. Memories as scars here are multisensorial, despite the banality of some scenes beneath the surface are endless triggers to the imagination. Looking closely underfoot and into the undergrowth I begin a journey seeking out the ‘un-signposted remains’ that deter from the path of heritage history and ask questions of that which can be felt ... heard … but not necessarily not seen.