In the first half of the nineteenth century, the Revd John Gunn, rector of the parish of Irstead, set out to record ‘The traditions of a single Parish, retained in the memory of a single individual’. This was Mrs Lubbock, widowed in 1813; when Gunn published her stories in 1849, she was eighty. Her stock of folklore she had learned from her father, so she reported things that were said and believed in the eighteenth century.
One of the things she said was:
Before the Irstead Enclosure in 1810, Jack o’ Lantern was frequently seen here on a roky [misty] night, and almost always at a place called Heard’s Holde, in Alder Carr Fen [modern Alderfen] Broad on the Neatishead side … I have often seen it there, rising up and falling, and twistering about, and then up again. It looked exactly like a candle in a lantern.
Heard’s Holde was supposedly where a man called Heard, ‘guilty of some unmentionable crimes’, was drowned, and local people thought the light seen hovering about there was Heard’s ghost.
Neatishead people finally became so annoyed with him that three ‘learned’ gentlemen attempted to lay the ghost by an exorcism known in some counties as ‘reading a ghost down’ (reciting Scripture at it while the ghost dwindled more and more, until it was small enough to be shut in a bottle – at Lowestoft, Suffolk, Parson Cunningham was famous for conjuring a devil into his hat). At first they failed, as the ghost was too canny:
… he always kept a verse ahead of them. And they could do nothing, till a boy brought a couple of pigeons, and laid them down before him. He looked at them and lost his verse; and then they bound his spirit.
In most counties, Jack o’ Lantern seems to have been envisaged as some kind of diminutive sprite. The notion that he was a ghost fits better with the general Norfolk concept of him as the aggressive Lantern Man (see THURLTON).