The Lantern Man

I’m not much for horror as a genre, but I do like a bit of uncanny folklore, so it seemed appropriate to talk about one of my favourite Norfolk legends on Halloween.

The funny thing about being from somewhere is that you don’t realise the prejudices, idioms and beliefs you’ve imbibed; and then you go somewhere else and discover that these things are not ‘normal’. In my case I always assumed, growing up, that we didn’t carry torches at night because we all had excellent night vision, and it was a pointed way of showing up ‘the city folk’ when they came to visit. The other, unspoken, reason you don’t carry torches at night in Norfolk is that to do so attracts the Lantern Man’s attention.

Jack O'Lantern
Jack O’Lantern or Lantern Man? (Photograph by Toby Ord.)

The landscape is known for it’s flatness (it’s not really flat – I refer you to Lincolnshire, where you can watch the dog run away for 3 days, for that), and nighttime is properly dark in Norfolk. The Lantern Man is said to roam the marshier parts of the countryside at night, chasing down anyone foolish enough to carry a light. If you do attract his attention, your best bet is to throw down the lamp/torch/smartphone and hope it distracts him while you run for it. Also, hope that you don’t fall in a dyke (calm down people, local word for ditch) when you do.

According to Westwood and Simpson’s The Lore of the Land, the Lantern Man legend is based on ignis fatuus sightings, and he has been known by a variety of personal names (including Jack) at least as far back as the sixteenth century.

I don’t explicitly remember being warned about Lantern Jack, but not wandering Norfolk lanes at night with anyone dumb enough to bring a torch is so deeply ingrained, he’s clearly still very much alive.