The Happisburgh Torso

Picture (c) by John Ashley Photography

The coastal village of Happisburgh is where Arthur Conan Doyle wrote one of his Sherlock Holmes mysteries, 'The Dancing Men' whilst sitting in the upstairs window of the 16th century Hill House. The village has two distinctive landmarks, its candy striped lighthouse and the tall tower of its church. Some claim that the body of a poisoner, one Jonathan Balls is buried in the churchyard. It is said that he was buried with a Bible, a plum cake, a poker and a pair of tongs. But this story is not about Jonathan Balls, but about the strange and perhaps unique legend of The Pump Hill Ghost or Happisburgh Torso as it is also called. 

It is believed that it was around the mid 17th century that the Happisburgh's spectre was first seen in the vicinity of Whimpwell Street, by two local farmers on their way home. It was not the absence of the spectre's legs that made the farmer's hair stand on end, though of course was that bad enough. No, what caused these two hearty men to quake was the fact that as the apparition drew nearer it seemed to have no head. As it drew level they saw that there was a head, but it dangled down the spectre's back attached to the neck by only a thin strip of flesh. So as the thing moved, the head bounced and jiggled from side to side. Dressed in sailor's garb the spectre clasped a rough brown sack to its chest. 

After this first report other sightings of this macabre cadaver took place. One brave local decided to follow the ghost from where it first materialised at Cart Gap. He followed it down Whimpwell Street and into the village until it reached the village well, where upon it heaved itself sack and all into the well. A meeting was held by the villagers and it was decided that an investigation of the well had to be undertaken. After some debate and possibly the drawing of straws, a volunteer was found to go down the well, it was one of the farmers!. 

The "volunteer' was lowered into the well, whereupon he immediately found a sack in which there was a pair of sailors' boots. Unfortunately this was not all, as within the boots were what remained of the owners legs. It was decided that the well would have to be completely drained, not only because of the fact that nobody now fancied drinking the water, but also because the villagers wanted to see what else the well contained. They found another larger sack in which there was a pistol and a torso clothed in similar garb to that of the ghost. The torso had a severed neck on which, attached by some rotting skin, was a skull!

The villagers then remembered that some years earlier there had been a disagreement between three Dutch smugglers out by Cart Gap. It was believed that a fight had taken place between the smugglers as shots had been heard. The next morning the locals found large puddles of blood on the beach but no corpses. One of the smugglers must have been killed in the fight and his comrades must have decided to chop him up and stuff him down the village well. 

Now this you would think would have been the end of the matter, but what causes a haunting we shall never know, this side of the grave. So it is, that each time the well at Happisburgh is disturbed, so the headless legless torso of the third smuggler is said to walk, with his sack and his severed head swaying from side to side.