At St Mary’s church in Runwell, near Wickford, there is a burnt-in impression of a great clawlike hand on the inside of the south door, which is said to be the hand mark of the Devil. The story tells of Rainaldus, the parish curate, who was conducting a service when the Devil made a grab for him. The terrified curate escaped through the south door while the Devil, unable to pass through the sanctified portals, angrily burned his mark into the old oak door.
The congregation dispersed and came back later but their curate had disappeared. On the spot where he had been standing was a puddle of green liquid, which was bubbling by the south porch. In this pool lay a small stone resembling a human head. Later, this was mounted on the south wall near where Rainaldus held that last Mass. It bears the Latin inscription ‘Stipendia peccatimors’ (The wages of sin is death).
I’ve lived in Essex pretty much my whole life, and this book is full of things I did not know. The 999 emergency phone system was created because of a murder in Essex – one in which the victim’s eyes were shot out because the killer thought his face would be preserved on the dead man’s retinas. Holst wrote the Planets Suite in Essex. “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” was written by an Essex woman, and the lifeboat was invented by an Essex man. These are just nuggets Kent strews around as she goes about her task of gathering strange stories and rituals from this weird county, which sometimes feels like the last discovered place in Britain:
Perhaps, of all the counties of England, the one which is least known by English people generally is the county of Essex.Frances C. Burmester, John Lott’s Alice, 1902
Organised by theme, it resists just dipping into: you want to digest a full chapter each time you pick it up, for a complete and entertaining surrounding of each theme. It’s well researched without choking out the reader with dry data dumps, and will doubtless inspire searches and deeper reading.
An absolute pleasure to read, and, for others, a comprehensive introduction to the stories we stand on.