Somewhere along a quiet, rural stretch of road between the villages of Rougham Grand and Bradfield St George, in Suffolk England, there exists a gorgeous Goeorgian-style red-brick manor home complete with ornate iron gates and stately, sprawling gardens, which stands there alone surrounded by open countryside. It seems like it would be a grand place to live, yet the problem with this particular mansion is that it isn’t always there, supposedly blinking in and out of existence in front of startled witnesses, and it is not even known whether it even exists at all. Here we get into the strange tale of a ghostly phantom house that seems to vanish and appear at will, and has been puzzling the region for a very long time.
The first encounter with the phantom house that has gone on to be known as the “Rougham Mirage” supposedly occurred in 1860, when a local man by the name of Robert Palfry was walking down a country road on a warm June day and was suddenly overcome by a freezing chill in the air washing over him. Looking about trying to understand what was going on, his eyes met a large red brick Georgian-style house with gardens full of blooming flowers. Palfry was amazed, as the house had not been there moments before, yet as he stared at the manor in disbelief it suddenly dematerialized right before his eyes to leave him once again standing there with no houses or anything else around for miles. Palfry was so excited about what he had seen that he told his family about it, but when they investigated the spot where the house had appeared there was nothing there. Interestingly, Palfry’s own great grandson James Cobbold would also see the house many years later while out for a ride in a horse-drawn cart with his butcher friend George Waylett in 1912. Cobbold would say of what happened:
Next door to my grandmother lived the old butcher, Mr George Waylett. I often used to go out with him on his Saturday delivery round through Rougham and the Bradfields. My job was to look after the pony. We had just left one of his calls in Kingshall Street and were jogging along nicely towards Bradfield St George when “Whoosh”! There was a loud swishing noise as of air displacement, it became very cold (again the month was June), the pony reared and whinnied — it was more like a scream of sheer terror, Mr Waylett was shot clean over the back of the cart; I very nearly went with him but I did manage to hang on.
The pony bolted, but in those fleeting moments I most distinctly saw a double-fronted red brick house roofed with pantiles, three storeyed, of pronounced Georgian appearance. But it was those flower beds, a central oblong one flanked on either side by a circular one and smaller oblong ones in front of those three making six in all, and all of them were in full bloom. All this I can most distinctly recall. Furthermore, it tallied to a T with what my great grand- father had seen, even to the edging bricks, the geraniums and pansies in the flower beds, plus rose trees. Having managed to stop the pony, I turned it round, for I feared for Mr. Waylett. Even as I did so, a kind of mist seemed to envelop the house, which I could still see, and the whole thing simply disappeared — it just went. Fortunately, Mr. Waylett was not much hurt, but much scared, and so was I, and also that pony, which stood there with bulging eyes and would, not go near the spot. “That — house again,” said George, “that’s about the third time I’ve seen that happen.” But poor George had been the target for so much ridicule he wouldn’t talk about it for the simple rea- son nobody in the village would believe him.
The mysterious phantom house was seen by many other people over the coming years as well. In 1926, a young school teacher by the name of Ruth Wynne and her 10-year-old pupil Ruth Allison were out enjoying a beautiful October day in the countryside taking a leisurely walk to the church at Bradfield St George. Wynn’s family had just recently moved to Rougham and she often took these walks to familiarize herself with the area, and since she did not know much about her new surroundings she was not too surprised at first to come across a rather large unknoen house, but this would become one of the strangest days of her life. She would give a very accurate description of the house, and has said of her odd experience:
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 of the road.
Behind the wall and towering above it was a cluster of 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. This house was one of the nearest large residences to our own, and it seemed odd that the occupants had not called. However, we then turned off the road along a footpath leading away to the right to the church which was perhaps under a hundred yards off. On leaving the church, we cut down through the churchyard into the fields and home, without returning to the road or to the farmyard. It was then drizzling rain. On arriving home, we discussed the big house and its possible occupants with my parents, and then thought no more of it.
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 farm-yard as before, and out on to the road, where, suddenly, wo 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 those 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 had been there a long time.
Wynn would ask around the villages about the strange house she had seen, but no one seemed to know what she was talking about, and everyone insisted there had never been a house like she described at that location. What was going on here? Another sighting occurred in the 1940s, when a man named Edward Bentley, who was working for the Bury St Edmunds men's outfitter shop, was on his way to deliver catalogues in the surrounding area along with the shop owner, Aubyn Davies. As the two were driving past a place called Colville's Grove, they passed a large, elaborate red brick Georgian-style house set back from the road. Neither of them remembered ever seeing this particular house before, but they sensed that the residents would make for juicy new wealthy clients so they turned to go towards it. However, much to their surprise, the house was suddenly engulfed in a mist that would soon dissipate to show nothing there but grass and trees. When asking around, the locals insisted there was no house there.
In 1976, a woman by the name of Sandra Hardwick, who was living in Rougham, went out on her bicycle home at dusk after meeting up with some friends at the local youth club. As she rode along, she noticed that it had become unusually quiet, the sound of birdsong gone and a disorienting wall of silence descending on her. There was then a rush of frigid air, despite the fact that it was a warm summer evening, and at that moment a large red brick mansion appeared out of nowhere at the side of the road, which was brightly illuminated, "like the sun had come out on it on a bright Summer's day." She would explain of it:
The windows were very small, but open with the curtains blowing, and it was a happy, carefree, friendly house. It had a thatched roof, it was like a perfect country cottage that everyone wants to live in. But there was nobody there. I thought I was going bonkers. It was beautiful — thatched roof, windows open, and a garden with yellow and pink flowers, a fence and a gate. The curtains were blowing out of the open windows.
Despite the charming appearance of the house, she would report being filled with a sudden, inexplicable sense of dread, and she rode away as fast as she could. Curious about what she had seen, she would go back to the spot later but there was no trace at all of a house. As recently as 2007 there was an account of a sighting of the ghost house. In February of 2007, Jean Batram and her husband Sydney, a retired couple living in Great Barton, not far from Rougham, decided to go for a drive around some of the local villages for some sightseeing. As they meandered about the picturesque countryside, they spotted a large Georgian house out over a field, which they planned to come back and see on the way back, but at that time it simply wasn’t there anymore. She has said of her bizarre experience:
We were having a Sunday afternoon drive, coming into Rougham and going along Kingshall Street (I’d never been that way before) and up to the last bungalow. Looking across the newly harrowed field, I saw a large house on its own very, very plainly. I said to my husband, ‘look at that lovely house; I’ll take a look again on the way back. But coming back later, the house was gone and I asked if we were on the same road and he said ‘yes’, so I remarked ‘how odd’ as I knew very plainly that there was a large house standing on its own quite near across the field with trees behind it. I know I saw this house, I can see it now and could sketch it if I needed to. It was a lovely big Georgian house with a whole row of long windows and trees at the back of it. I have talked to other people and they have heard of it and people in Rougham have heard of the tale. I would just love to get to the bottom of it.
These are only a few of the more well-known sightings of the Rougham mystery house, but there have been others, and it has become quite a famous piece of lore in the area. Historian and paranormal researcher Carl Grove has said:
In all, there seem to have been at least twenty reports of sightings of the house since 1860. In my view, the number of sightings that have gone unreported in the same period is probably far greater. Almost everybody from Rougham knows someone who has seen the house, or knows of someone, but details are usually lacking. And visitors or people driving through may well have seen it but thought it nothing out of the ordinary.
Interestingly, in all of these accounts people have reported seeing basically the same thing, describing what seems to be the same house, even when they have had no contact with each other or have never heard of the phenomenon before. What is going on here and what are these people seeing? One of the most popular theories on the Rougham phantom house is that it is what is called a “time slip,” in which scenes from the past can be seen due to some thin spot in reality. In such cases, witnesses are allegedly looking back into time, with people, structures, or even whole towns appearing from the past, often appearing to be very solid and real but then vanishing into thin air when the window is closed. Another idea is that the house could be an instance of what is often referred to as “place memory.” This theory proposes that locations can record and hold scenes from the past, which are etched upon the place like images on film, playing over and over again on an endless loop but only visible under certain conditions and by certain people. Still other ideas include a parallel dimension bleeding through into ours, hallucinations, misidentifications, mistakes of location, or even lies and hoaxes. What is going on here and how can we explain it? Whatever the answer may be, it remains a mystery and an inextricable paert of the lore of the area.