The ghost stories of M R James Great Livermere - Suffolk
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Picture (c) by John Ashley Photography

I'm a great fan of audio books and have a stash of them in various cupboards and draws scattered throughout my house. Amongst my many favourites is "Ghost Stories" by M.R. James (1862-1936). 

One of the ghostly tales is entitled the "Ash Tree" which first appeared in print in 1904. It's about a woman named Mrs. Mothersole, who was executed for witchcraft at Bury St. Edmunds during the late 1600s. After her execution the spectre of Mrs. Mothersole proceeded to wreak havoc on her accuser, the local squire of a Castringham Hall in Suffolk with "orrible long legged spider like beasties".

Now as some of you may know there were indeed a number of witch trails in Bury St. Edmunds during the 17th century, so I thought I would try to find out if there was any corroborating evidence for this ghostly tale, and to ascertain if Castringham Hall in Suffolk actually existed. My investigations uncovered that many folk are of the opinion that the village mentioned in the "Ash Tree" was based on Great Livermere in Suffolk and that Castringham Hall was based upon Livermere Hall.

M R James coveted this hall when he lived with his parents in the village of Great Livermere (where his father was the local rector) but his hope to own it was never realised and, alas, Livermere Hall is now no more. Another interesting fact is that the name of the witch "Mothersole" appears on gravestones in the churchyard at Great Livermere, so perhaps there was some truth to this eerie tale!

Another tale is "A Vignette" about a boyhood encounter with a ghost, which appeared to be spying through a hole in a gate, again quite obviously based on the area of the park in Great Livermere. As the style differs considerably from other M R James stories there has been considerable speculation as to whether M R James was in-fact the boy mentioned and it was he as a young lad who had the ghostly encounter. 

During an interview with a local lady in 1995 where M R James was the subject, the interviewee was quite convinced that James had indeed encountered a ghost in the village. She went on to say that the village of Great Livermere has a long standing reputation for being haunted and she herself had encountered ones of these ghosts when she was a child.  She maintains that the area is haunted to this day! 

However, she did not mention if any of these ghostly apparitions included long legged beasties!