Lyng History Group
Could St Edmund, East Anglian king of the 9th century and once the Patron Saint of England, have been buried in the parish of Lyng?
That is the question posed by Joe Mason at Lyng Village Hall in October when near 100 people turned out to a History Group event at which he expounded his theory of the fate of the martyr king who fought the Vikings and was recently unsuccessfully proposed as a substitute for his usurper as Patron Saint, the not very English St George.
The evening started with a fascinating reminiscence about the vestiges of St Edmund's Priory that lie in the middle of an unremarkable meadow in Lyng Easthaugh. Edwin Speakman, whose family are one of the villages oldest. He recalled that where now is but a piece of wall there was in his youth a finely decorated arch, probably of a window. And his family recalls the day when there was an altar on the site.
Then he handed over to Joseph Mason, a Taverham history enthusiast who has produced a book – St Edmund's Norfolk – which tells the story of his theory and offers interesting evidence to support it. You can find out more on his blog at http://www.jopemasonspage.wordpress.com
His talk enthralled the audience and produced a raft of questions. I shall not spoil sales of his pleasing booklet (£1 and you can find out more – see address and contact below).
Most people know of King Edmund, who ruled East Anglia for a decade until his death at the hands of Vikings in 870. There is, said Joe, little solid evidence. The Anglo Saxon Chronicle 's scant lines suggest Thetford as the possible location. Other writers suggest a place called Haegelisdun but without any location for it. There is mention too of his death under torture by arrows or spears but which may only be mythical.
Traditional historians credit Suffolk as the base of the Edmund legend and it was to a town there, now called Bury St Edmund's of course, that his body was moved some 50 years after his death. But Joe points out that the tradition of Edmund is far stronger in Norfolk than in Suffolk, with 25 surviving churches so dedicated against a handful in Suffolk. And, he says there were many more. There are also many other St Edmund locations, including a headland near Hunstanton.
But Joe's argument centres on the Wensum, as the route from the Yare into the heartland of Norfolk. He contends the Vikings sailed far upstream, perhaps as far as Hellesdon (Haegelisdun?), Taverham and Drayton – parishes and geography that comes much later.
He turns to the maps of the time and the geography of the river for inspiration. The Vikings were to winter at Venta Iconorem – now Caister St Edmund or Caister by Norwich (a later creation). This substantial Roman ruin was even more attractive 1,000 years ago as a wintering station. One of the few chroniclers refers obliquely to such a major centre, says Joe.
But King Edmund had been harrying the Vikings and was anticipating they would head up the Wensum to sack the then major ecclesiastical centre (called cathedral later) at North Elmham. Joe calculates that the king was planning an ambush along the winding river somewhere near Drayton – a strategic location even a few hundred years later when Sir John Falstof built a castle there of which remnants still stand. Could even have been Hellesdon (Haegelisdun ) suggests Joe.
The trap Joe reckons was not sprung as the Vikings were tipped off. Instead they arrived ready for action and won the battle. Legends of such a battle exist and the site for them echoes a regular description of battle sites – Blood Dale at Drayton. Close to the river and the low wooded hills that flank it.
Legend says the king was tortured to make him agree to being a puppet king, as had happened in York. Or to change his religion. Either way the legend says he resisted, was tied to a tree, pierced with arrows or spears and decapitated. His head was tossed into brambles and, says Joe, the Vikings quit the area having no remaining 'puppet' to install.
It has to be said other evidence suggests they went on to pillage much of Norfolk and Suffolk and only 10 years later did King Alfred, unifier of England, manage to do a deal with them. This latter is better attested.
The real drama of Joe's theory now unfolds itself, with the survivors of the clash seeking out the king's head to add to his body. Stories of wolves or hounds helping with cries of hic, hic, hic are legendary but they must have succeeded if he was exhumed and moved 50 years later.
Joe see the Wensum as the key and agreed the possibility that the survivors planned to take the body of their king up to North Elmham, mostly by raft. But he then sees the otherwise inexplicable foundation of a chapel and nunnery at Lyng Easthaugh as highly significant, especially since it was dedicated to St Edmund. And the tradition of nuns protecting royal bodies is well proven.
But why this particular stretch of the Wensum? Joe reckons they would have wanted certainty in being able to re-discover the spot. And he sees our very own Great Stone of Lyng as a key feature. These glacial erratics were seen as highly mystical in those days. This one has many legends surrounding it and sits in a shallow, heavily wooded valley known for a long time as King's Grove. So he says they buried the king close to where the chapel was later built. This may have been because the 'cathedral' at North Elmham had been sacked.
But the argument is good, since sometime around 940 Edmund was exhumed somewhere – possibly Lyng Easthaugh – and transported to what was to become Bury St Edmund's, where a shrine was erected in the Abbey, to become the Abbey Church later.
This is the moment when the chapel and nunnery are founded and for Joe that is the convincing final item in his argument. It is further improved in a way since within 100 years the nuns had been transferred to Thetford and the chapel became merely a Chapel of Ease – a wayfarers prayer site.
Questioners were plenty and the lack of a church at Easthaugh was seen to support the argument. The lack of a dedication in Lyng to Edmund went the other way, although the church has been previously dedicated to St Clement and now St Margaret.
Joe has the support of some eminent scholars so maybe we good people of Lyng and Easthaugh should start to claim this ancient hero as one of our own.
+Taken from the lecture by Joseph Mason and from his book: St Edmund's Norfolk, available from the author at email: email@example.com.
+more information at his blog: http://joemasonspage.wordpress.com
The chalice in the river
A river channel was said to run from the river Wensum to and under St. Edmund's Chapel (TG079173) at Lyng Estaugh. Once, two watermen found a silver chalice in the channel and quarreled over who would keep it. The argument grew more bitter till one swore at the other, and at that, the chalice leapt into the air, fell into the water, and was never seen again.1
Another little tale tells that, when the chapel was closed in 1176, the bells were hurled into the river and on occasional nights, can still be heard ringing.2
1. Enid Porter: 'Folklore of East Anglia' (Batsford, 1974), p.129.
2. Pamela Brooks: 'Norfolk Ghosts & Legends' (Halsgrove, 2008), P.81.
http://www.suffolkchurches.co.uk/buryabbey.html imaginery image
The Great Stone of Lyng
Phantom nuns are said to cross the road at Lyng Estaugh from 'the old nunnery' (probably the ruins of the chapel dedicated to St. Edmund mentioned above) to the 'Druid Stone' in a grove.1 Some call this "...the Great Stone of Lyng..."2 This is actually a squat boulder (a glacial erratic) about 1.4m tall, and can be found in woodland about halfway along a public footpath, a post-medieval 'hollow way', known as King's Grove, that runs southward from the Lyng-Eastaugh road towards Collen's Green (TG080171).
According to the earliest available source3 there is a treasure buried beneath the stone, no birds sing near it, and it bleeds if pricked. Some say the blood belongs to Druidic sacrificial victims, others that the rock contains blood from a great battle that happened nearby. This is supposed to have been a battle between the Danes and St. Edmund, with the latter losing and falling back to Castle Acre. As well as phantom nuns, ghostly soldiers and headless horses haunt the area.
A local landowner is once said to have tried to remove the Great Stone with up to a dozen horses - but it merely moved a little, then settled down again even deeper.
1. John Copsey, in 'Lantern' No.38 (Autumn 1981), p.9.
2. Bruce Robinson & Edwin J. Rose: 'Norfolk Origins 2: Roads & Tracks' (Poppyland Publishing, 1983), p.12.
3. 'Eastern Daily Press' March 13th 1939.