Reffley's secret society

LYING in the middle of Gaywood's Reffley Woods are the remains of a temple built by a secret sect in 1789.

IF you went down to Reffley Woods in the 18th century you could have been in for a big surprise. For lying among the trees was the meeting place of a secret group who met to toast Bacchus, Roman god of wine.

Their temple was guarded by two stone sphinxes and an obelisk bearing the inscription: "Whosoever shall remove this or bid its removal, let him die the last of his race."

The home of the Reffley Brethren, a secret society born after the execution of Charles I in 1649, now lies in pieces – destroyed by vandals in the 1970s and '80s.

Opposed to the rule of Oliver Cromwell, the Brethren formed a society in defiance of a law he had passed prohibiting meetings of 30 men or more.

The membership of the exclusive society was limited to 30, and more than 300 years later it still exists. There are now around 20 members whose identities are strictly guarded by the Brethren.

One of the them told the Lynn News: "It started as a Royalist society, but it is now essentially a social club which meets a couple of times a year. The Society and its members do not really need or want publicity."

He refused to be drawn further and would not divulge where the sphinxes and obelisk, which were moved for safety in 1991, are now kept.

All that remains of the old meeting place is a spa basin, where the Society would use the natural iron-bearing springs in Reffley to make their secret punch, and the plinth which the obelisk used to sit on.

At its height the Brethren would meet once a year at their Octagonal temple, surrounded by beech trees and fields.

The obelisk was erected in 1750, with a celebration of dedication to Bacchus and Venus, 39 years before the Temple itself was built by the Ffolkes family, who owned the land.

It is believed the mysterious sphinxes may have been donated to the society by Martin Ffolkes (1690-1754), who was president of the Society of Antiquities and interested in Egyptology.

At their meetings the Brethren would traditionally eat a large joint of beef, saddle of mutton and a lobster salad.

However, a menu for one 19th Century celebration shows a wide range of snacks were enjoyed. These included rabbit and gravy pie and red cabbage salad, washed down with Ale of Reffley and a tawny port.

After, the Society would smoke a secret tobacco, the blend of which is unknown, through huge clay pipes.

The Reffley Woods are now the focus of a clear-up operation to restore them to their former glory.

And British Trust Conservation Volunteers, are clearing paths to open up the woods once again. Project officer of the charity in West Norfolk, Toby Cheadle, told the Lynn News they are considering cleaning up the temple area in the future.

Anyone who wishes to discover more about Reffley Temple or any other piece of local history should visit Lynn Museum, on Old Market Street.

* Due to the secrecy of the Reffley Brethren some dates and events are disputed. The Lynn News has used the most probable information available.