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The Lantern Man and the Wherryman

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Would you venture out if a Lantern Man was about? The Lantern Man, or Jack O'Lantern, is the East Anglian name for the mysterious glowing balls of light that lead travellers from the well-trodden paths, into the dangerous marshes. To stay safe, it is important to follow some very specific advice. One man that did not listen to advice was Joseph Bexfield.

Joseph Bexfield was one of the wherrymen who worked on the River Yare, between Norwich and Yarmouth. Bexfield and his fellow sailors would tie up for the night at Thurlton Straithe, halfway between the two places.


Close to the White Horse Inn at Thurlton Straithe, was a track that crossed the Marsh to the river and it was this track that the men used to make their way to the Inn where they would find food and, if needed, a bed for the night.

One night, Joseph Bexfield was sitting by the inn fire talking to his friends, as the mists closed in. It was safe and warm in the inn but danger lurked outside, for some pale lights were flickering in the dark.

If you looked carefully into the pale light, you would see that it came from a lantern held by a 'shadowy little figure'. However, looking closely into the light was very dangerous, as the Lantern Men would attack you, treading you down or swallowing you up. If you were too far away to reach, they would try to lure you to their lights to entice you off the paths, into thick mud and water, to drown.

The Marshmen and Wherrymen of Norfolk knew that the Lantern Men led people to their deaths in the dark and dusk. To survive an encounter, it was important that you remember a few basic principles.

Never carry a lantern or a torch. This mistake could cost you your life, as the Lantern Men were always attracted to the light.

Never whistle. A Lantern Man would always run towards a whistle and kill you if he was able.

If caught in their light, hold your breath. The Lantern Men were able to take a man's breath away. Advice given by one old man was that, "If the Lantern Man is upon ye, throw yourself flat on your face and halt ye breathing."

Never, never mock the Lantern Man. An old washerwoman told how, as a child, she remembered hearing her father say he was coming home after harvest and the old man with him mocked and jeered at 'Jack'. The Lantern Man took revenge by following them home and 'torched up' at the windows!

Joseph smiled to himself at the stories and shook his head in disbelief. He quickly finished his drink and was about to go home, when he remembered he had left a parcel from Norwich for his wife on the wherry. It was very, very dark outside and another of the wherrymen urged him not to cross the marsh, as the Lantern Men's pale lights could be clearly be seen, flashing in the black of the night.

However, when warned that the Lantern Men were out on the marshland, Joseph Bexfield laughed scornfully. He pointed out that he knew the marsh far too well to be led astray by any Jack O'Lantern and off he went into the darkness. He was never seen alive again.

The next day, when he had not returned, his wife asked the Wherry men if they knew his whereabouts and they searched the marshes. It was three days before poor Joseph's body was discovered. It was washed up by the River Yare, between Reedham and Breyton.

Joseph Bexfield was buried at All Saints' Church in Thurlton. Today, on the north side of the Churchyard, you can still see his grave. The tombstone is decorated with the picture of a wherry and tells of Joseph's death by drowning on August 11th, 1809, at the age of only 38 years.

However, the story does not end here, for the ghost of Joseph Bexfield may still be seen; a sad shadow wandering over the marshes on misty nights. And if you look and listen very carefully, you may see him stop to try and light his torch, or even hear him give a nervous whistle, before he disappears once more into the darkness!

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