“Undine,” you say, “I’m bored with stories about houses inhabited by ghosts. Show us one more haunted house, and you’ll probably lose the vast majority of your three or four readers. Give us something new.”
Fair enough. How about a story where the house is the ghost?
Our tale is set in Suffolk, England, in an area between Rougham Green and Bradfield St. George. One evening in June 1860, a farmer named Robert Palfrey was working in his fields, when he suddenly felt an inexplicable chill. When he looked up, he was startled to see a large red brick house in the Georgian style, complete with gardens and iron gates, where just a moment earlier there had been nothing but empty land. After a short time, the house vanished.
As far as is recorded, the house was not seen again until 1912. One James Cobbold (who was, coincidentally enough, Palfrey’s grandson,) was riding in a pony trap alongside the local butcher, George Waylett. As had been the case with Palfrey, both men were suddenly hit with a cold breeze and steep drop in the temperature. They also heard a strange swishing noise. The panicked pony reared up, throwing Waylett to the ground. At that moment, Cobbold saw a three-story Georgian mansion identical in description to the one his grandfather had seen. Before Waylett could see the house, it was enveloped in mist and vanished. (Waylett later told Cobbold that he had previously seen the house several times.)
One autumn day in 1926, a schoolteacher, Ruth Wynne, was walking through the countryside with one of her pupils. In 1934, Wynne wrote ghost-researcher Edward Bennett of what they had seen during their stroll:
I came to live at Rougham, four miles from Bury St. Edmunds, in 1926. The district was then entirely new to me, and I and my pupil, a girl of 10, spent our afternoon walks exploring it.
One dull, damp afternoon, I think in October 1926, we walked off through the fields to look at the church of the neighbouring village, Bradfield St. George. In order to reach the church, which we could see plainly ahead of us to the right, we had to pass through a farmyard, whence we came out on to a road.
We had never previously taken this particular walk, nor did we know anything about the topography of the hamlet of Bradfield St. George. Exactly opposite us on the further side of the road and flanking it, we saw a high wall of greenish-yellow bricks. The road ran past us for a few yards, then curved away from us to the left. We walked along the road, following the brick wall round the bend, where we came upon tall, wrought-iron gates set in the wall. I think the gates were shut, or one side may have been open.
The wall continued on from the gates and disappeared round the curve. Behind the wall, and towering above it, was a cluster of tall trees. From the gates a drive led away among these trees to what was evidently a large house. We could just see a corner of the roof above a stucco front, in which I remember noticing some windows of Georgian design. The rest of the house was hidden by the branches of the trees. We stood by the gates for a moment, speculating as to who lived in this large house, and I was rather surprised that I had not already heard of the owner amongst the many people who had called on my mother since our arrival in the district....
My pupil and I did not take the same walk again until the following spring. It was, as far as I can remember, a dull afternoon, with good visibility, in February or March. We walked up through the farmyard as before, and out on to the road, where, suddenly, we both stopped dead of one accord and gasped. "Where's the wall" we queried simultaneously. It was not there. The road was flanked by nothing but a ditch, and beyond the ditch lay a wilderness of tumbled earth, weeds, mounds, all overgrown with the trees which we had seen on our first visit. We followed the road on round the bend, but there were no gates, no drive, no corner of a house to be seen. We were both very puzzled.
At first we thought that our house and wall had been pulled down since our last visit, but closer inspection showed a pond and other small pools amongst the mounds where the house had been visible. It was obvious that they had been there a long time.
The “Rougham Mirage” (as it is usually called) has continued to make appearances over the years. As far as I know, the most recent reported sighting was in 2007. Jean Bartram and her husband were driving on Rougham’s Kingshall Street when they noticed a beautiful Georgian mansion. When they drove on that same road later in the day, the house and its gardens were no longer there.
Old maps suggest that there may once have been some large property in the area where the “mirage” has been seen. However, even if it could be established that a Georgian mansion once graced that part of Rougham, it fails to explain why the house refuses to rest in peace.