Headless woman holding a skull

Today it serves as the headquarters of the Norfolk and Norwich Festival but Norwich’s Guildhall has a darker history, as this live podcast instalment revealed.

The Norfolk Folklore Society joined forces with the Festival’s artist in residence Laura Cannell to tell spooky stories linked to the 15th century building, accompanied by music inspired by fragments written by a long-past composer and chorister at Norwich Cathedral.

The audience was treated to the story of Mary Oliver, at 17th century woman whose transatlantic travels link Norwich to the Salem witch trials. While she escaped the worst of the American Puritans, she ended unhappily back in Norwich where she was eventually burnt at the stake for witchcraft after being tried and held at the Guildhall.

Nearly 200 years later Martha Sheward also ended up at the Guildhall – or at least parts of her did. The Wymondham woman was brutally murdered by her husband and cut up in pieces that he dumped surreptitiously around Norwich. As they were found the were kept at the Guildhall, which at this point was serving as a police station.

These stories and more, including interest observations on the graffiti in the undercroft cells – ranging from medieval to modern day, right up to the 1980s – are charming told by Siofra Connor and Stacia Briggs.

The two came together to write a regular Weird Norfolk column for the Eastern Daily Press, that has now morphed in to the Norfolk Folklore Society podcast – with the evening’s proceedings recorded for a future episode.

Cannell offered some accompaniments and musical interludes, using overbowed violin, recorder, harp, gong and bowl. The sounds were suitably ethereal, adding to the night’s cryptic atmosphere. An inspired pairing.