But why was it here in the middle of nowhere? (Or what is nowhere today) Their location at crossroads might be important for as many of you probably know, crossroads are places imbued with superstition; places where gallows were sometimes set so that the dead confronted with so many roads could not find their way home to haunt the living! That is one consideration, but I Many Coats having some slight knowledge on the subject hypothesised that it might be a boundary marker needed in the somewhat open landscaped with little or no discernible features and only a few small hamlets spread thither and yon to perhaps mark the location and boundaries of markets. Important in a time when markets and their locations were strictly regulated and jealously guarded by those who drew a living from the tolls and fees taken from those who wished to trade there. But Mr. Gnarus did not agree and gave me a sceptical eye. I gave it straight back, for I already had two of my own. Esotericus on the other hand was indifferent to my ideas and I thought at first that he was thinking about the treacle tart and the Werthers Originals he kept about his person for Ragged Rambler emergencies. On closer inspection however I saw that he was trying to discern form and style upon the greatly eroded base of the cross in order to put a precise date to its construction. But to no avail...
Southrepps 'stump' cross
The Sharrington cross
It was at this point however that we were joined by a lady taking her dog for a walk and enjoying the cold yet uncharacteristically sunny day. And she perceiving our excess of tweed and intellect decided to engaged us in conversation. She confirmed (To our great satisfaction) that the middle section of the stone cross had only recently been replaced, although her opinion as to the age of the base differed somewhat from ours as she suggested it was pre Norman in origin, which to our eyes it was not.
More interestingly though the Lady went on to tell us that there is a commonly held belief amongst the locals that the cross marks the route of a tunnel leading from the nearby Felbrigg Hall, which is a few miles east of the cross! We all drew breath for this was what could only be described as portentous, and just an hour earlier whilst taking tea at Mr. Gnarus's house we had been discussing this very subject. We had been pondering the commonly held folk belief in tunnels running from castles to churches and churches to ancient houses and tunnels here there and everywhere. Why at the Castle Museum in Norwich where many of us Ragged Ramblers first encountered each other there is a belief in a tunnel that leads to Norwich cathedral and no amount of clearly low lying marshy land between the two will do anything to diminished the idea among many of the citizens of the City. Indeed It has been our collective Ragged Rambler experience that the belief in tunnels leading thither and yon is held deep within our primitive psyche even though there is little in the way of verifiable evidence to prove their existence. They are to my knowledge few and far between and one of the few whose existence is verified is a tunnel leading from Knaresborough Castle in Yorkshire, which was recently rediscovered by the storyteller and Ragged Rambler Friend, the Yarnsmith of Norwich. His blog about the exciting discovery can be found here...
Few verifiable tunnels yet so many stories... Why we pondered as we drank tea at Mr. Gnarus's house are there so many stories? Perhaps it does indeed have something to do with a primitive folk memory and the need for sanctuary and safety in all of us. Having visited the ancient iron age villages like Carn Euny in Cornwall and having seen the underground 'fogous'-the stone lined tunnels that are common on these sites, it seems that tunnels were necessary to our safety and the protection of our goods long ago. Although it could be that the idea of tunnels appeal to the sense of adventure in all of us - For tunnels suggest smuggling and treasure hidden long, long ago.
In Norwich however it might simply be that the origins of our tunnels tales can be found in a more obvious source - namely the huge amount of still extant medieval undercrofts; early cellars that once served as craftsman’s shops and merchants warehouse in times past. For some of them are large indeed, they turn corners and seem to go on and on. And then there are the medieval chalk mines that skirt the periphery of the City and occasionally swallow a bathroom or even a double decker bus!
A chalk mine under the west side of Norwich
The double decker bus swallowed by the old chalk mines on Earlham Road in Norwich (1988)
Norwich Bridewell undercroft
Norwich Bridewell undercroft
But when all is said and done a mine is just a mine and not a tunnel and an undercroft is what it is and nothing more. A tunnel by definition must take you on a journey, it must have a beginning and end and take the traveller from point A to point B.. And if we are to apply that definition to Norwich and Norfolk, then there are no tunnels leading from house to church or church to coastal cave.
But do not get me wrong - It is not my intention to stomp upon such long held beliefs and If anyone out there knows of an ancient tunnel then I for one would be first to swap tweed waistcoat for a safari shirt and hat. I would be first to venture forth with a flaming torch in one hand,a divining rod in the other and me Werthers tucked safely in my back pocket. And it must be said that even we Ragged Ramblers are not infallible - I myself got well and truly lost in the Bowthorpe housing estate whilst looking for a ruined church and I cannot be trusted to take care of a Roman Samian Ware bowl. And so if anyone out there knows of a hidden tunnel kept secret for many years, then we of the Ragged Ramblers are waiting to hear from you - our flaming torches at the ready...