Of old, the town consisted of Upper and Lower Sheringham, one a prosperous agricultural village, the other a poor fishing community. On the boundary of the parish, at a gap in the cliffs, was a place where, around the middle of the eighteenth century, twelve drowned sailors, washed up after a gale, were thrown one on the top of another into a ditch without Christian burial, and covered with a heap of stones. If anyone were bold enough to venture there at night in bad weather, he would distinctly hear a sound like shingle dropping slowly, pebble by pebble, onto a big stone.
A little way out to sea was a spot, said the fisherfolk, where the captain of some old ship was drowned. There, more than once, fishermen had heard sounds like a human voice coming up from the water; whichever way they pulled, the voice would seem to come from the other direction, till at last it would come from just beneath the boat like the last despairing cry of a sinking man. Then, if they were wise, they would row for life to shore, and consider themselves lucky if they reached home before the squall which was sure to follow.
The ‘Shrieking Woman’ was a noisy phantom whom the people of Sheringham also believed to be a portent of disaster. A contributor to Notes and Queries in 1864 wrote, ‘When she is heard, bad times are coming indeed. She had been silent for a long time till last Christmas, when she threw several good people in Upper S— into great alarm with unusually hideous yellings.’ The author explains away the event, saying that what was mistaken for the ‘shrieks’ might have been the singing, ‘more hearty than melodious’, of a large group of young people returning that night from a ball. At any rate, ‘the storm which … should have followed the old hag’s shrieks, did not come.’
Another premonitor of storm was ‘Shock’, the local name for the famous East Anglian ‘Shuck’. The Revd E. S. Taylor of Ormesby wrote in 1850 that he had heard of Shuck from many people in East Norfolk and Cambridgeshire, who described him as a ‘black shaggy dog, with fiery eyes … who visits churchyards at midnight’, and Amelia Opie wrote in her journal in 1829 after walking by Over-strand church, ‘Tradition says, that every evening, at twilight, the ghost of a dog is seen to pass under the wall of this churchyard, having begun its walk from the church at [Beeston] … It is known by the name of Old Shuck.’
Shuck is not usually thought of as a ghost: he is a shape-shifting bogey beast (see BRIGG, Lincolnshire) whose local manifestations include ‘Old Scarf’ in Great Yarmouth, ‘Skeff’ of Garvestone, ‘Old Shocks’ around Tasburgh and Flordon, the ‘Shucky Dog’ around Magdalen, and ‘Chuff’ in Walberswick, Suffolk. His appearance did not always presage death or disaster, and indeed he could act as a guardian. At Sheringham the apparition was thought to come out of the sea and run along ‘Shock’s Lane’. He was deemed to be headless and to have a ‘white handkercher’ tied over the place where his head should have been, yet to possess great saucer eyes: collectors have made jokes about the seeming contradiction, but headlessness and saucer eyes are traditional signs of the supernatural.