The Merman of Orford

                    (c) by John Ashley Photography

There is a curious tale attached to the village of Orford in Suffolk which took place during the reign of King Henry II (1154-1189). Orford Castle the strange polygonal keep was then under the care and management of Bartholemew de Glanville a local man, in the service of the crown. The event was actually documented in the "Chronicon Anglicanum" a history of England written by Ralph of Coggeshall a medieval chronicler some forty years after the occurence took place. 

The local fishermen of Orford caught what they believed to be a merman in their nets. The man was naked with a long shaggy beard, almost bald but with an excessively hairy chest. The fishermen took the creature to the castle where Bartholemew de Glanville imprisoned it in the dungeons. 

The merman was happy to eat anything that was given to him but if it was raw would first squeeze all of the juice out of it. He did not speak even when the authorities attempted to get him to do so by hanging him up by his feet and torturing him, something that Ralph says they did regularly. Taken to church this wild man of the sea is said to have shown no signs of belief in God. Each day he always sought his bed at sunset and remained there until sunrise.

Ralph of Coggeshall documented "As to whether this was a mortal man, or some fish pretending human shape, or was an evil spirit hiding in the body of a drowned man, as can be read in the life of blessed Ouen, it is not possible to be precise; the more so because so many wonderful things of this kind are told by many to whom they have happened."

As time went on it was decided that they would allow the merman to exercise in the sea. Three rows of strong nets were placed across the harbour and the merman was allowed into the water. The townsfolk watched in amazement as he easily dived right beneath the nets and appeared in the sea beyond. "He raised himself again and again from the depths, and showed himself to those watching on the shore, often plunging into the sea, as if he was jeering at the spectators because he had escaped their nets."

Then, unexpectedly, the wild man returned to his captors to resume life on land. But interest in him waned and the guards became lax and some months later he dove under the nets and was never seen again.

Legend has it that the ghost of the merman still haunts the castle of Orford, where inside you will find a model of this legendary Man of the Sea covered in hair with his long shaggy beard. Orford Castle is now managed by English Heritage.

 Picture (c) by John Ashley Photography