Abbey ruins are another rich source of local legends. Peggy Dack, of Marham, introduces Sister Barbara, who devised a clever plot to secure riches ~ but paid a high price for her scheming. (Forward to the story as printed in Mawther Maggie’s Book of Legends ~ from B.B.C. Radio Norfolk’s DINNER-TIME SHOW postbag).
If you look in the field opposite the church at Marham, you will see the ruins of an old Abbey. The Abbess was a nun called Sister Barbara. Now Sister Barbara was an ambitious nun and liked the riches and comforts of life, but to get these, you have to have money and Sister Barbara devised a way of getting it.
Along the top of Marham village is a hill called Vinegar Hill and a narrow, rutted road ran along the top of this hill with high, dark hedges on either side. This road was a main route from Swaffham to King’s Lynn. Sister Barbara paid some men of ill repute to stop (and render senseless) any rich merchant who came this way, pretending to rob them ~ giving the spoils to Sister Barbara.
When the unconscious victim came round, the first face they was the gentle face of Sister Barbara and her nuns. They would take the wounded person back to the Abbey and nurse them back to health. The grateful relations of the victim would then thank Sister Barbara by showering her with gifts. So the Abbey became prosperous.
Now the monks from Pentney Abbey, across the fen, didn’t like this idea at all, so they kept watch on Marham Abbey and, when they saw Sister Barbara paying off the robbers, they reported her and her fate was that she was to be bricked up alive behind a wall.
Now, on a bright November night, don’t go anywhere near the path that leads up to Vinegar Hill, because a ghostly figure is seen walking along it ~ and if you think I’m telling lies, ask a person in our village who, not many years ago, was saying goodnight to her boyfriend near a house built on this path ~ when a bright figure of a nun came gliding across the lawn towards them. Standing very still, too scared to move, they watched this glowing figure disappear through the wall of the garage. They didn’t stop to see if it came out the other side. Would you?
If you ever come into Marham, stop and have a look at our village sign ~ you will see the figure of Sister Barbara on it.