Columnist Nicola Miller weighs up the evidence for Rougham's famous disappearing house
Years ago, I was so intrigued by a letter in the Bury Free Press that I cut it out and, last week, it resurfaced as I went through boxes of family memorabilia.
In 2007, Jean Batram wrote of her disquiet after seeing a house appear, only to disappear moments later as she drove through the village of Rougham. She explained: “About five years ago, we were having a Sunday afternoon drive, coming into Rougham and going along Kingshall Street (I’d never been that way before) and up to the last bungalow. Looking across the newly harrowed field, I saw a large house on its own very, very plainly. I said to my husband, ‘look at that lovely house; I’ll take a look again on the way back.
“But coming back later, the house was gone and I asked if we were on the same road and he said ‘yes’, so I remarked ‘how odd’ as I knew very plainly that there was a large house standing on its own quite near across the field with trees behind it.”
Jean was not the first person to see this strange vision, and over the last 150 years, other sightings have been recorded.
In her book, Ghosts of Suffolk, Betty Puttick christens the apparition, ‘The Rougham Mirage’. She tells us of an eyewitness account from 1860 when a local named Robert Palfrey saw a large red brick double-fronted house behind ornate iron gates, only for it to disappear in a blink of an eye, right in front of him.
Several decades later, his great-grandson reported the same phenomena while out with his horse and carriage with a local butcher, George Waylett. Driving along a stretch of road between Bradfield St George and Rougham Green, the temperature dropped rather suddenly. As the pony reared up in fear and Waylett was thrown from the carriage, Cobbold caught a glimpse of a grand house shrouded in mist that slowly faded from view. This was less of a shock to Waylett, who claimed to have seen the house appear and disappear on two other occasions. I admire his pragmatism; George Waylett sounds like he might have been helpful in a crisis.
What is so odd about these sightings is that the house is described as large, making one wonder how locals had little awareness of its construction. One might expect to find written and oral records. It has also been described as having a Georgian-style facade. That period of architecture ended around 1830, only 30years before Mr Palfrey’s sighting, so it would seem likely that had it existed, locals would report their memories of its construction.
Rural Suffolk was very sparsely populated, but gossip travelled fast (a form of survival). You could not hope to slip in and out of a hamlet unnoticed, let alone build a house near one.
Cornell found no corroboration of its existence or lack of it, but local maps yielded evidence of a residence once called the King’s House, demolished in the early 1800s. The mystery continues, although I look away from the alleged site whenever I drive past for fear of seeing a ghost house rising from the mist. I simply do not have the time to manage the existential crisis it would undoubtedly trigger.