It is advisable that new visitors to this website should read the first three parts before continuing. This building, known locally as ‘The Establishment’ has been on the periphery of the village for over 80 years. Silently operating behind a stand of trees and accessed by a circuitous route via a cinder track beyond Setchell’s Copse, no-one was seen entering or leaving, and there was no contact in the village by those who worked there.
In December last year a crack team of ‘urban’ explorers (myself, Anmer Pardow and Barry Thule) went back to see what was there… there was some strangeness about our visit which was recorded in previous posts, so we continue our investigations a while later….
In mid-March I received a strange item in the mail. Although it was recently posted judging by the postal markings, it looked as if was much older.
It had all the hallmarks of having being carried in someones pocket or bag for many years; quite wrinkled, stained, slightly greasy with constant handling and dog-eared at the corners. It also smelled faintly of fish. It had been addressed directly to me but the sender did not identify themselves. Inside the envelope was a hand-drawn map on a single sheet of paper, folded twice. The labelling was in a Scandinavian language, possibly Swedish or Finnish judging by the postage stamps.
At first glance I did not recognise the map, but over my morning coffee it became clearer that this was a map of the Establishment. There were nothing I could understand of the writing, except the word ‘Soddenham’ and as I considered the layout on the map I realised that this did not quite correspond with my own knowledge; the rooms were not as I remembered them, and there was another smaller structure marked on it I have absolutely no recollection of.
During the course of the day, I my desire to revisit the place grew in intensity and whilst I was dressing a beautiful portion of honeycomb tripe for Anmer Pardow, in came Jessie Blunt (of Nature Notes fame!) to place his weekend order. Jessie had shown a keen interest in our activities and had previously expressed interest in joining the SHSCC (Soddenham Historical Society and Curry Club) and in the spur of the moment, I proposed that he join us in our next visit. Anmer agreed, stating that he was “just the sort of stout-hearted, level-headed person” needed to take his place (following Anmer’s ‘funny turn’ and his long recuperation after the last visit, his doctor has advised him not to return for fear of a more serious reprisal.
After a lengthy discussion at Clacker’s later in the day, Jessie, a keen naturalist and amateur philosopher (as well as a very talented tonsorial artist) agreed to join us. In the last post I had put out a call for volunteers to assist us in our explorations and had been disappointed at the lack of response. There were just two responses, one from Brian ‘Foxy’ Mulgrew, who called in to see me shortly after the request was posted. Although he showed a great deal of interest in joining our group, he could give me no satisfactory reasons for his sudden motivation. Brian has been a prominent critic and antagonist of many of our activities over the years, and none of us have quite forgiven him for the dreadful Hochhalter Hoax in 2001. We formally declined his services in favour of a rather unexpected offer of assistance.
Many regular readers of these pages will have on occasion noticed the name of Pickard in our posts and comments. It was Mr. Pickard who sent us a tin of old photographs he inherited from his uncle, who, like his father was a Soddenham man. Indeed, it was amongst these photographs that we came across the image of the Establishment that instigated this entire investigation. Although Mr. Pickard was born and raised in Soddenham, he no longer lives amongst us, living and working ‘somewhere beyond the Fens’ as the local saying goes! Mr. Pickard contacted me via email to express his desire to become involved in some way, but was uncertain as to whether he would be eligible to join the SHSCC as he is no longer a permanent resident (the village has a unique governance with strict but arcane rules about society memberships and affiliations, of which Mr. Pickard was very well informed.) After a lengthy discussion with other members of the SHSCC and a written request directly to Alderman Drudge, it was decided that Honourary Temporary Membership would be granted, given his lineage within our community, as well as his highly creditable reputation as a scholar. Thus, our new team was formed:
A new date was set for another visit to the site. This was just over a week later to allow Mr. Pickard to arrive and familiarise himself with the task ahead – I was very encouraged by his meticulous approach during our conversions in the days leading up to the visit, and both Jessie and I were eager to get on.
Unfortunately, Mr. Pickard was unexpectedly delayed (oh, Dr. Beeching!) and would not arrive until later in the day. Jessie and I decided to go to the Establishment without him, in order to look over the site (Jessie had not yet been) and make some further preparations.
We arrived at 10.24am to find that there had been some activity at the site since our last visit; freshly scrawled graffiti on the walls and concrete apron surrounding the building; a few broken window panes; cigarette ends, litter and discarded bottles of flavoured cider were liberally strewn around, suggesting that local youths had been hanging around the place, and quite recently too. We walked the perimeter of the building and were horrified to find the rear door open, as we had firmy closed it and knocked in a couple of long nails as we left last time. We shouted a few times to see if anyone was inside and cautiously went in. The minor vandalism and littering continued inside, but there was no evidence of anything destructive, as we were expecting more serious damage or the remains of a fire.
Jessie pointed out the open door at the far end of the room – this was the door to the ‘long room’ as we called it and it was definitely closed when we left. We were both quite nervous by this point, and I was concerned that someone had ventured further into that darkness, especially following Anmers peculiar reaction last time. Again we shouted loudly through the door and waited for a response, but none came. Neither of us had come prepared for a full exploration, and were not prepared to place ourselves in any risk without further precautions, so we decided head back and wait for Mr. Pickard, who seemed to have a very practical idea about how we should undertake the exploration. We secured the site as best we could and laid a few small booby traps which would inform us if further ingress was made.
As we waited for Mr. Pickard’s arrival at The Teat, Jessie and I discussed the implications of someone getting trapped or hurt at the Establishment, and whether more considerable security measures may be called for, over a very delicious plate of fresh tongue and turnips, and a few bottles of Witches Brew. At just after 2pm, there were ripples of concern amongst the regulars at the bar, as Brian ‘Foxy’ Mulgrew had brought the news that a couple of local youths had been found wandering around in some state of distress and a doctor from Dereham had been sent for.
Intrigued, Jessie and I set out into the village to find out more. It was not long before we had ascertained that Carl Vigrass, aged 17, eldest son of Des and Shelly Vigrass of South Horseshoe, had been found walking back and forth at bottom end of Pricking Lane, snivelling and mumbling incoherently. The other youth, Nathan Swanpole, aged 16, son of Richard and Rose Swanpole of Murrows Drift was discovered cowering in the bushes up School Lane in a similar state. Neither of the boys was able to say anything that might explain their similar, but separate states, which are quite out of character. Some have already begun to speculate that drugs were involved, but I wish to state here that there is nothing to substantiate this and we will reserve judgement following a medical examination.
An hour later, a third youth was discovered close to Candlesmoke Bridge bearing the same signs of distress and incoherence. This boy, Daniel Wendle, aged 16 and the youngest child of Tony and Janet Wendle of Main Street was friends with both Carl Vigrass and Nathan Swanpole at it is assumed that all three have been affected by the same thing, whatever that is.
All three are confined to their beds untill the Doctor can examine them. Both Jessie and I discussed the probability that these youths were responsible for the vandalism at the Establishment, and the possibility that whatever was affecting them right now is a result of their entering into the ‘long room.’ Time will tell.
It was almost 7.30pm when Mr.Pickard finally arrived. I was somewhat surprised to note that he was considerably older than in the photograph he had sent previously. He clearly was a man on top of his form though and I estimated him to be around 50 years of age, indicating that he was much more experienced than I had expected. Within minutes of his arrival he was ready to discuss the situation, but given that he had not yet established his digs at the Vicarage (The Rev. Blencowe always has a room prepared for visitors) we insisted that he get himself installed first.
Jessie and I helped manhandle his luggage and equipment over to the vicarage; well, Jessie did much of the lifting – Mr. Pickard had come very well prepared. In fact, as we were waiting for him to return to us at The Teat, we both commented that we must appear to be a very amateur outfit to say the least! After reminding ourselves that we were in indeed amateurs, we decided that Mr. Pickard was just the fellow for us…
Over another ‘Brew’ we brought him up to date with all our findings so far, and informing him of todays developments. He didn’t say much, but took a great deal of notes. He shared with us his inventory of equipment and an exploration checklist that he thinks we should all carry. We retired at 10pm in order to make an early start in the morning. I don’t know about Jessie, but I was very impressed by Mr. Pickards meticulous preparation and very excited to be heading back.
ADDITIONAL As he keeps a regular journal we have decided to let Mr. Pickard present his own account in a regular section called “The Pickard Papers” starting very soon…