Could the ghost that has been seen be that of
Along with names of the martyrs who died during the reign of Queen Mary commemorated on the plaque by the riverside is the name of Thomas Bilney, possibly the most famous martyr to have died in the Norwich pits. Little is known of the early life of Bilney. Records show that he was born in 1495 and that he may have spent his early life in the village of Bilney. What is known for definite is that Bilney entered Trinity Hall, Cambridge when very young. Just a few years later, at the age of 24, he was ordained a priest by Nicholas West, Bishop of Ely.
Shortly after being ordained, Bilney discovered a Greek version of the New Testament which, he believed, revealed the truth of free salvation by the faith of Jesus Christ. The teachings were quite different to those of the Catholic church and Bilney began preaching to his fellow students and teachers at Cambridge.
The Guildhall where Thomas Bilney spent his last night before being burnt.
Bilney left Cambridge and began to spread his beliefs amongst the poor, the sick and even the lepers. In 1527 after giving a sermon at Christ Church, Ipswich he was arrested and imprisoned. Following pressure from his friends Bilney was persuaded to recant and in 1528 he was released and he made his way back to Cambridge. As a condition of his release he was forbidden from preaching but Bilney had regretted his recantation almost immediately and now, free again, he could no longer subdue the urge to carry on spreading the word of Christ as he saw it.
In 1529 he made his way to Norwich where he began preaching to crowds as they left their churches. He was quickly brought before Bishop Nixe who had him imprisoned whilst he sent for a writ to burn him. Bilney was tried, again, for heresy. This time he refused to disavow any of the beliefs he held and accordingly he was convicted and condemned to be burnt in the pit.
The night before his burning he was held in the Guildhall on Norwich Market Place. When visited by his friends for the last time he tried to convince them that he was willing to die for his beliefs. To demonstrate his faith he lit a candle and held his hand over the flame. As his friends looked on in disbelief, he allowed the flame to consume one of his fingers before removing his hand.
The following day when Bilney arrived at the pit he addressed the crowd: "Good people! I am come hither to die." Bilney then listed his beliefs before removing his gown and making his way to the stake. There he knelt on the small ledge where he was to stand and prayed. Having composed himself he asked the officers if they were ready and, after they had confirmed they were, he removed his jacket and doublet and stood upon the ledge in front of the stake whilst officers wrapped the chain around him. The fire was then lit beneath him but the wind was so strong that it blew the flames away from his body. What this meant was he was getting very, very hot but he wasn't actually burning, one report at the time described his flesh as bubbling, he was being slowly cooked alive. Finally one of the officers took pity on him and knocked out the staple holding the stake in the ground allowing it to fall forward. A few moments later the same officer placed a burning fagot on his lifeless back to help the flames consume the rest his body.