According to W. G. Clarke, in his In Breckland Wilds (1926), many years ago, a spectre known as ‘the White Rabbit’ haunted parts of Thetford near the Warren. ‘It had large flaming eyes, could run very fast, was never caught, and was seen by a great many people.’ Not only do rabbits appear as bogey beasts (see BRIGG, Lincolnshire) in other counties, but Thetford Warren was infested with the real thing. On 6 May 1837, John Drew Salmon wrote in his diary: ‘The white rabbits very conspicuous on the Warren as they kept moving about.’
Thetford also possessed what must be a unique ghost. It haunted a mansion variously called ‘The Place’ or ‘The Nunnery’, which occupied the site of a Benedictine nunnery sold by Henry VIII to Sir Richard Fulmerston, who turned it into a house, converting the church into ‘lodgings and convenient rooms’. According to Murray’s Handbook for … Norfolk (1870):
A long gallery was formerly shown here, in which (1569), the young heir of the Dacres, Lords of Gilsland and Greystock [Cumberland], was killed by a fall from a wooden horse. He had been placed under the care of Sir Richard Fulmerston by the Duke of Norfolk, his guardian. Spots of blood were shown on the floor. Sir Richard’s ghost troubled the gallery, and ‘made night hideous’ in various parts of Thetford – since … it was asserted that he had played the part of the wicked uncle, and for the sake of lands (to which he was never in any degree entitled) had ‘taken a pin’ out of the ‘vaulting horse,’ and so caused young Dacre’s death.
George, Lord Dacre, died on 17 May 1569, at the age of seven. The ‘wicked uncle’ story flourished, despite the fact that Sir Richard had been dead three years when little Lord Dacre met with his accident. Walter Rye, telling the story in 1877, does not mention Sir Richard’s haunting of the gallery, but instead reports a tradition of Young Lord Dacre prancing up and down ‘on the ghost of a headless rocking-horse’.
Clarke says that Lord Dacre’s ghost got so troublesome around the Nun’s Bridges (formerly the ‘Blue Bridges’) that it was decided to lay him. A pound of new candles was thrown into the Little Ouse and the spirit ordered not to return until they were burned completely up – for a similar piece of trickery, see DEBENHAM, Suffolk.
Meantime, Sir Richard was not idle. In 1850, a contributor to Notes and Queries wrote of a phantom coach ‘in the West of Norfolk’:
… where the ancestor of a family is reported to drive his spectral team through the old walled-up gateway of his now demolished mansion, on the anniversary of his death: and it is said that the bricks next morning have ever been found loosened and fallen, though as constantly repaired.
Clarke says this was the blocked red-brick gateway marking the entrance to the Nunnery, ‘built up seven times, and knocked down seven times by a carriage with four horses’. Though neither he nor Rye say so, the implication is that the phantom coach belongs to Sir Richard. He may be paying for the alleged murder; more likely, he is suffering from the traditional curse falling on those who acquire or damage former Church property. Not only had he taken over the Nunnery, but in 1548 he bought Thetford priory from the Crown, and disposed of its materials.