There is a curious tale attached to the village of Orford in Suffolk
which took place during the reign of King Henry II (1154-1189). Orford
Castle the strange polygonal keep was then under the care and management
of Bartholemew de Glanville a local man, in the service of the crown.
The event was actually documented in the "Chronicon Anglicanum"
a history of England written by Ralph of Coggeshall a medieval
chronicler some forty years after the occurence took place.
The local fishermen of Orford caught what they believed to be a merman
in their nets. The man was naked with a long shaggy beard, almost bald
but with an excessively hairy chest. The fishermen took the creature to
the castle where Bartholemew de Glanville imprisoned it in the dungeons.
The merman was happy to eat anything that was given to him but if it was
raw would first squeeze all of the juice out of it. He did not speak
even when the authorities attempted to get him to do so by hanging him
up by his feet and torturing him, something that Ralph says they did
regularly. Taken to church this wild man of the sea is said to have
shown no signs of belief in God. Each day he always sought his bed at
sunset and remained there until sunrise.
Ralph of Coggeshall documented "As to whether this was a mortal
man, or some fish pretending human shape, or was an evil spirit hiding
in the body of a drowned man, as can be read in the life of blessed Ouen,
it is not possible to be precise; the more so because so many wonderful
things of this kind are told by many to whom they have happened."
As time went on it was decided that they would allow the merman to
exercise in the sea. Three rows of strong nets were placed across the
harbour and the merman was allowed into the water. The townsfolk watched
in amazement as he easily dived right beneath the nets and appeared in
the sea beyond. "He raised himself again and again from the depths,
and showed himself to those watching on the shore, often plunging into
the sea, as if he was jeering at the spectators because he had escaped
Then, unexpectedly, the wild man returned to his captors to resume life
on land. But interest in him waned and the guards became lax and some
months later he dove under the nets and was never seen again.
Legend has it that the ghost of the merman still haunts the castle of
Orford, where inside you will find a model of this legendary Man of the
Sea covered in hair with his long shaggy beard. Orford Castle is now
managed by English Heritage.