It was no doubt thanks to its combination of hoary antiquity and later neglect that Waxham Hall acquired the reputation of being haunted. By the end of the nineteenth century, there were traditions of a coach and headless horses, the tragic withering of an ancient line, a ghost, and a bloodstained floor. Similarly, W. H. Cooke, an avid collector of East Norfolk folklore, says in about 1911:
In the spacious Attic is The Haunted Chamber! In it a member of the Brograve family committed suicide by cutting his throat. At certain seasons of the year, the blood stains are visible. Of the last generation of this family, not one of the males died a natural death.
The direct line of the Brograves had indeed ended with the death of Sir George Berney Brograve, who died childless in 1828, having been predeceased by his younger brother, Captain Roger Brograve, who shot himself in 1813.
Probably because of the similarity of their names, there appears to have been some confusion between Sir George and his father Sir Berney Brograve, to whom many local legends are attached. Although the romantic notion of a ‘tragic ending to an ancient line’ was prompted by Sir George’s history, it came to be Sir Berney who was said to be the last of his race, for he lived and died a bachelor, although he dotted the countryside with his ‘portrait’ (bastards). Similarly a macabre story at Hempstead of a huntsman devoured by his own hounds came to be associated with both.
‘Owd Sir Barney’, as he was known, had several supernatural encounters. He may have been the hero of what Rye calls ‘The curious tale of how one Berney’s hair “turned white in a single night” by the apparition of his brother’. An informant of W. B. Gerish’s heard that the ‘somewhat numerous ghostly train’ which haunted Waxham Hall were the unshriven spirits of the Brograves who died violent deaths.
One story ran that, on New Year’s Eve, Sir Berney gave a banquet for the shades of his ancestors. Covers were laid for the six ghosts, and glasses filled for every guest. One by one, their toasts were solemnly drunk, but on the stroke of midnight they vanished, and later Sir Berney awoke, cold and disagreeable (and presumably hung over).
The exploits of this adventurer did not end with his death. Some identified the driver of the phantom coach as Sir Berney in person. In 1906, Walter Rye wrote:
Everybody out Stalham way knew that ‘Owd Sir Barney’ rode on certain nights in the year along the ‘Carnser’ [causeway] from Waxham Hall to Worstead, and if no one could be produced who had really seen the apparition, why, there was any number who had ‘heard tell’ of it.