The Bell is a lovely inn that stands along the High Street in Thorpe le Soken. It was once a much larger establishment, but part of the original structure is now a cottage adjacent to the Bell, occupied by Linda Green and her family. Carol Cooper, the Bell’s manageress has compiled a brief history of the inn, and has given UK Paranormal permission to reproduce it here:
The Bell’s original function was not that of an Inn, but that of a Guild Hall. At this time the back of the building was in fact the front, as all Guild Halls faced the churches they were linked to. Saint Margaret’s Guild, as the Bell was known at this time was confiscated by King Henry VIII, as all Guilds were when he changed the religion from Catholic to Protestant to enable him to divorce Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boylyn. The name and the use may have changed at this time.
Many years after this, The Bell was extended. The work was probably carried out by William Hockley, Landlord from 1726 – 1730’s who was a carpenter by trade. William’s widow, Margaret, remarried John Lingwood and either he or his son carved their initials in 1773 on the newly bricked fronted Bell. These initials can still be seen beside the patio door, now the rear of the building. It is more likely to have been John’s son, as John Lingwood is recorded as licensee between the years of 1796 and 1777. Two other members of the family also engraved their initials.
The Bell, until this period has quite a history but just prior to the later John Lingwood’s stay as licensee it was witness to another event in Thorpe’s history. The Bell is reputedly haunted by a lady called Kitty Canham – the Beautiful Bigamist. Kitty was married to the vicar of St. Michael’s Church, Alexander Gough.
One day, Kitty mysteriously disappeared, rumours were rife, but it was thought she had gone to London. Whether she did or not is not clear, but what is known is she in fact met, fell in love with and went on to marry one Lord Dalmeny, (John Primrose), a wealthy businessman, who could offer a much more exciting life than the one she had lived in Thorpe, as the vicar’s wife.
They went on to travel the continent living a luxurious lifestyle, settling eventually in Italy. In 1752, Kitty became seriously ill, and when it was realised there was no hope of her recovering, she made her last wish. This was to be buried in Thorpe. Her distraught husband carried out her wishes and brought her embalmed body back to England. Both husbands attended the funeral. Kitty’s body is now buried beneath the now extended church.
Thorpe’s churchyard also boasts another legendary character: that of William Gull, Royal Surgeon to Queen Victoria and one of the prime suspects to be in fact Jack the Ripper.
In July 1999, The Bell suffered a devastating fire which destroyed the entire roof, first floor and much of the cottages attached. It took almost 18 months for the building to dry out and a year to renovate it to its present state. As The Bell is a listed building, this work was done under the watchful eye of the English Heritage Trust. Many discoveries were made in the process including a huge fireplace, to be seen in the Toby Bar, bricked up prior to 1999. The building as a whole has been returned to its former glory.
Linda Green has lived in the cottage for several years and has documented much of the paranormal events that have happened to her and her family. Linda has given us kind permission to reproduce her notes. It is interesting to note that much of the activity began when Linda was pregnant, and her son, Josh, then around 4 years old, also experienced some strange occurrences.
We fell in love with Church Cottage as soon as we entered. It was a former verger’s cottage and had a very peaceful aura. It was full of charm and character with a warm and friendly feel to it. There was a wealth of exposed beams to most rooms and the view of the church was breathtaking, we could not wait to move in.
The most interesting of all the rooms were the dining room and the bedroom above (This became Joshua’s bedroom). These were the two rooms that joined the Bell Pub. The beams were older and denser in these rooms and the very old wooden floorboards were worn with years of use. We loved these rooms best of all. The heavy oak beams with close studwork with their original pegging were amazing. When we first moved in we slept on the floor of the dining room until we had our bedroom arranged. We used to love lying on the floor looking up at the crooked studwork construction with its years of history and character, wondering and trying to imagine all the years they had seen.
After intensive research and studies I surmised that the dining room and room above were of early 18th construction. The construction and layout was typical to the style of a 17th – 18th century workers cottage. The front part of the house looks as if it was altered around early Victorian times. A 17th century tie beam has been cut through to allow for height when the front of the house was added. A newspaper found in debris around the beam had a date of Jan 21 1900. At this time the property was owned by the Manthorps. Maurice Manthorpe erected other property in Thorpe around this time and the age of materials used supports this theory. On the landing some wallpaper (that was sent away to be expertly dated), found behind a layer of wattle and daub came back to me with a date of about 1880.
I have since proved that this part of the house is actually the same age as the Guildhall of St Margaret, which the Bell grew up over and around. I have discovered jetty markings that prove this part of the house was an important feature in 1600’s.
Previous occupants of church cottage had told us that their dog would not enter my favourite room, the dining room that abuts the Bell. They said that it used to stand at the doorway and growl. I loved the idea that this room might be haunted but never really imagined it was.
Looking back nothing really out of the ordinary happened until I became pregnant. They were only small incidents but nevertheless frequent and unexplained.
On several occasions I came home to find doors opened that I knew I had shut before I went out. I always left the dining room door shut so to keep at least one room tidy! The dining room door on several occasions had been opened whilst we were out.
The smoke alarms would constantly sound in the dining room for no apparent reason. This was not the flat battery warning; it bleeped constantly and for several minutes. We would joke about it being the ghost.
There were several incidents involving water, the main two were as follows. I had just changed the bed that day and we were both looking forward to getting in to nice crisp freshly laundered sheets and having an early night! As we pulled back the quilt the underside of it, the side that was facing the mattress was soaking wet. The other side of the quilt, the top, was bone dry as was the sheet on the mattress and the mattress itself. We kept feeling it to prove that we were not imagining it. No logical explanation could be found. The children had not been near our bedroom and even if they had and had an accident in the bed all the sheets would be wet or damp. Another time Steve went to pass me something as we sat in the living room when a huge drop of water landed on his hand. We both looked up immediately expecting to find water dripping from the ceiling but it was dry, as was the wooden beam that ran through it. We went upstairs to see if maybe something had been spilt and was dripping through to the living room nothing was found. There were no water pipes running over this part of the room and it was a warm summers night, there was no condensation around whatsoever.
Around 3 am one evening we woke suddenly to the sound of a tremendous crash from downstairs. Steve went down stairs to investigate. After a while I began to get worried, as I could not hear anything. I went downstairs and found Steve on his hands and knees on the kitchen floor surrounded by paint. It was everywhere and he was trying to clear it up before I saw it. I was about 8 months pregnant by now and he knew I would be distressed at the site of such a mess. For months after this event we both tried to find an explanation for the paint to be spilt. Perhaps we left it on the side of the worktops, knowing full well that we left it on the floor by the door after I had replaced the lid and sealed it tight by standing on it. I was going to continue painting the very next morning so I just left it there and washed the brushes out. Maybe the wind caught the kitchen door and it knocked the tin over. As we looked at the mess around the kitchen we both knew that there was not even a slight breeze outside and the paint was spread so far around that it looked like someone had raised the tin above head height and thrown it with real force. We spent ages clearing up the paint off of the floor doors cupboards oven and fridge.
A candle was knocked over when only Joshua and myself were in the house. As I knew I had not done it I blamed Joshua (although I knew he had not been anywhere near the room it was in!).
There was often a pungent, musty and unpleasant smell but only myself, Steve and Carole could smell it. It really overpowered me on one occasion and I almost fainted, it was so strong.
One night I had an awful dream and in it I was touching my head yet it did not look or feel like my hair. It was greyish, long, wiry and ‘old’ and had dull texture. In my dream when I looked at my reflection in some water it wasn’t me looking back.
When I was heavily pregnant I used to get really hot at night. One night Joshua came and got into our bed after a bad dream. He made me very hot so I got up and went to sleep in his bed leaving him and Steve in our bed. Later on that same night, now sleeping in Joshua’s room (which abuts the Bell), I woke up to the sound of a girl screaming. I ran to the window and looked out. The moon lit the churchyard well but I did not see anyone or anything unusual. I will never forget the sound of the girls piercing screams, she sounded terrified. The screams seemed to go on forever and sounded really close by. I thought that they must have also awaked Steve so I went to ask him if he knew what they could be. He was still asleep and had not heard anything. The next day I asked neighbours to find out if any one else had heard the screams expecting to hear awful news that someone had been attacked. Nobody heard anything. I did not imagine it, I was fully conscious and I was frightened by the intensity of the girls scream. It disturbs me still when I think about this experience.
On the morning of 28 July 1999, the day of the fire, Joshua was on the computer in the dining room and I was in the bathroom opposite. I heard him shout, “Stop looking at me you stupid lady”. As a footpath runs by the dining room window I ran in to the dining room thinking he was calling out the window to a passer-by. I looked out expecting to find somebody looking in the window but no one was on the footpath. Presuming that he was calling out to passers-by, I asked him to stop shouting at people and explained that you shouldn’t call any one stupid. Around lunchtime he was in the dining room and shouted out to the ‘stupid lady’ again. I went in and looked out of the window but could not see any one I asked him whom he was shouting at and he said, “The stupid lady keeps looking at me”. I asked, “What lady and where is she?” He said, “There” and pointed in front of me. I saw no one in the room and told him to stop being silly. He was angry with me because I could not see the lady; I thought his imagination was in overdrive!
About 9pm Joshua went to use the bathroom before he went up to bed. He called out to me as he passed the dining room, “Mum, the stupid lady is here”. I went and looked in the dining room but could not see anything. “Where is she?” I asked. “There” he shouted and he pointed right in front of me. I was tired and annoyed with him for distracting me from my work and so didn’t take much notice and I explained again that you should not call people stupid. I was puzzled by that it was to dark for any one to be walking outside let alone for Joshua to see them. As I tucked him into bed I asked Joshua about the lady. He was really angry because I didn’t see her and did not really want to talk about her. I asked him if she said anything to him and he replied, “She said get out”………. Around 11pm that same evening we all had to get out and fast as we lost our cottage and all our possessions in the fire.
I thought no more of Joshua’s encounter until some time after the fire. It was when I was talking with the landlord of the bell about the fire and he told me how strange it was that an entire wall had been badly burnt but the picture of Kitty Canham hanging on the wall had not even been damaged. There are numerous tales of Kitty haunting the Bell only no one knows why. As Church Cottage is joined to the bell with only a stud wall dividing both properties, I then began to think about the lady Joshua had seen.
Shortly after the fire, I asked Carole, (Linda’s sister), what she thought about Joshua’s encounters and she smiled. She said that she thought that Joshua had seen a spirit. I went into the kitchen to make a cup of tea for us all leaving Joshua and Joseph playing on the living room floor in front of Carole. I heard Carole ask Joshua about the lady he had seen in Church Cottage just before the fire. I could hardly believe my ears listening to the conversation that followed between them. I had not realise Joshua was capable of such descriptive conversation – he was only four! Joshua explained to Carole that the lady was angry because the man was shouting at her. He said the man was shouting at her because the baby had died. “Where is the baby now?” Carole asked. “One’s on top of the other” was Joshua’s reply. He told Carole that when he first saw the lady she only had one wing but now it’s mended because the lady and ‘Hammy’ flew together. Since the age of about 2 Joshua has had an imaginary friend called ‘Hammy’. Joshua loved to tell us about Hammy’s good and also bad behaviour! He told Carole that ‘Hammy’ had gone now. Joshua has not mentioned ‘Hammy’ since the fire. I stayed in the kitchen for a while, with Joshua unaware that I was listening. When he realised I was listening he changed the subject and would not say anymore about it. He was still confused and angry with me because I had not seen the lady.
Four weeks after the fire Carole and I entered the cottage. It was a hot summers day but inside it was very cold and damp and although the air smelt strongly of fire there was still the familiar, faint musty smell around. In silence we walked around looking at the debris. The cottage not only looked sad, it felt sad. Its once characteristic and happy feel was gone. The ceilings on the first floor were gone and the walls were burnt down to door level. At ground floor level the ceilings had collapsed. Everywhere and everything was charred and fungi were growing in every crevice.
“She’s here and she’s frightened of you. She thinks that this is still her house. She didn’t like it when you were pregnant because she lost her babies. She knows your son Joshua; she has talked with him. She was 32 when she died. I can see where the babies are buried under a small tree, like your plum tree in the garden. She’s very angry about something but I don’t know what. I don’t know if she’ll be here much longer, I’m not sure what she’s angry about”.
I suddenly felt frightened by all of this and no longer wanted to get carried away with the ghost theory. I was prepared to share my home with a spirit but not if I felt that my family or me would come to any harm. “I don’t think she wants to harm you its just she is wary of you” Carole said. Carole suddenly felt compelled to walk around the churchyard to look for a tree. I followed her in silence. When we arrived back at Church Cottage Carole said, “The tree looks like your plum tree, I think something significant lies under it”.
One day in spring, the following year, still waiting for Church Cottage to be restored, Joshua and I were busy colouring and making crafts. Our conversation was of the usual things Joshua liked to talk about - electricity, wires and plumbing! I had just answered his question about when he suddenly said to me, “Do you love ghosts”. I laughed and answered, “Yes”. I then thought about what he had just said and asked him, “ Why?” He then said, “What about Kitty Canham? She loves me you know”.
Not being able to believe that Joshua had ever heard of Kitty, I found myself saying, “That’s nice”. The next sentence that came from his mouth was unbelievable. “Why do you think that she would harm your children?” Shocked and horrified, I replied, “I don’t like to think that any harm would ever come to you and your brothers because I love you all so much”. He then said, “She would never harm us, she loves me you know, in the night she sleeps in my room and sometimes she does the housework.” “That’s nice”, I found myself saying again. I was completely stunned and not able to find any reason for this conversation. Joshua then carried on with our conversation about plumbing systems. We have never spoken about Kitty in front of Joshua and he was not yet at school so I’m not sure how he knew about her. I am puzzled as to why he referred to himself and his brothers as ‘your children’ and not ‘us’. I have never heard him speak in this context before. It was as though someone had spoken through him. To this day I wonder about it.
Other reported activity:
In September 1999, Linda visited a medium in Colchester. The medium knew nothing about Linda, not even her name. She allowed Linda to record the session and Linda has kindly given us a transcript of the evening. The medium confirmed many things that Linda knew already and also subsequently researched and verified to be true. Linda has done extensive research on Catherine “Kitty” Canham, and the history of the area in general. Linda’s sister, Carole, is a psychic who has also discovered information about Kitty that has also been verified by research. Linda also told us that when decorating her cottage she found a newspaper behind the wallpaper with the date of 23rd July 1899. The fire started on the evening of 23rd July 1999 and was attributed to an electrical fault in the room directly under the “Green Room” of The Bell. The “Green Room” is where most people have felt Kitty’s presence more strongly than anywhere else in The Bell.
Carol Cooper has also experienced strange events at The Bell. There seems to be a fascination with water from spirit energy at The Bell. Carol has discovered many “bathroom-related” objects going missing, such as shampoo and conditioner bottles, hairclips and a hairdryer. Carol has also heard her bathroom door being shut, not banged as though caught by a draught, but shut as though deliberately pulled by someone, when no one was there. Two female members of staff have heard their names being called, gone to investigate whom it was calling them, and found the area empty.
Carol also mentioned an interesting story about her friend from France who had been staying with her at The Bell. This friend had an earring go missing from her dressing table in The Bell which she had brought over with her from France back in April. Last week, the missing earring reappeared in her home in France. They are at a loss to explain how the earring turned up from being last seen in The Bell to reappearing in France months later.
About a year ago, The Bell’s chef, Aron, was staying in the “Green Room” upstairs, when around 3am he suddenly felt the bedclothes tighten about him. His arms were under the covers at the time and the bedding covered his face. He never “saw” anything, only felt the tightening of the bedding, as if being wrapped up. Approximately 4 – 5 months ago, Aron was in the kitchen with another member of staff when a 5 litre bottle suddenly flew off the top shelf of the central work area and was propelled towards the oven rings some four feet away. It is difficult to describe but having seen the area ourselves, the bottle should have landed on the work area and bounced on the immediate floor area. The only way for it to have reached the oven area as it did was by some force directing the bottle specifically towards the oven. Both Aron and his colleague are positive neither was responsible for the bottle moving.