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The ghost of Catherine Gurney who haunts Earlham Hall

June marks the anniversary of Catherine Gurney’s – sister of prison reformer Elizabeth Fry – death and is said to be when her ghost appears at Earlham Hall just outside Norwich.

There has been a house on the site of Earlham Hall since the Elizabethan era at least (1580). Built in 1642 by Robert Houghton in the year the English Civil War began, another famous Norfolk dynasty, the Bacon family, owned Earlham Hall by the eighteenth century and it was the Norfolk seat of Edward Bacon MP.

Earlham Hall, 1937. CREDIT: George Plunkett

After Edward Bacon’s death, ownership of the property fell to another Bacon – Frank, who rented the house to the Gurney family in 1785, who lived there for more than a century.

John Gurney and Catherine Bell had 13 children in the household, including Elizabeth Fry, the prison reformer and Christian philanthropist and Catherine, the eldest of the children. The Gurneys were one of the most well-known families in Norfolk. They started a bank of the same name, which merged with Barclays in 1896.

In 2014, in an article in a local newspaper, the then law faculty manager Karen Morley was quoted talking about Catherine Gurney’s ghost, which was said to haunt the hall.

She said: "I have always been fine here…but some people are totally spooked. We had builders who wouldn't come back." The ghost is said to be seen looking out of a window in the room which she’d liked best, resting in her old age – something she definitely hadn’t been able to do as a young woman…

Two Catherine Gurneys lived at Earlham Hall – one was the mother of 13 children, the other was a mother-figure to the same children when Catherine senior died in 1792, 15 months after her youngest child was born. This Catherine took over the household and the care of all her siblings at the age of 16.

She kept a daily journal which offered an insight into the running of Earlham Hall and her brothers and sisters, in particular younger sister Elizabeth, who went on to become a prison reformer. Catherine Gurney died in June 1850, aged 74, and is buried in St Margaret’s Churchyard in Lowestoft.

There have also been a number of eye-witness accounts of ghosts being spotted wandering through corridors and floorboards creaking of their own accord. Lifts appear to have been summoned by invisible residents and some visitors are too frightened to return after their first encounter with the inexplicable goings on at the manor house.

You can still walk outside Earlham Hall, which is on Earlham Park: and if you do so this month, make sure you look up – Catherine’s ghost is said to be in an upstairs window, gazing out across what used to be her family’s gardens.


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