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Sunday, 12 December 2010

The St. Osyth Witches

During the late 16th and 17th century Essex felt the force of the witch trials that were sweeping Europe more than most places. In total the county saw well over 700 people accused of either being witches, or associates of witches. This was largely due to it being the main stomping ground of Matthew Hopkins, aka Witchfinder General. One of these trials was that of the St Osyth Witches.

In 1582 fourteen people were put on trial for witchcraft, the best documented of all the charges are the ones made against Ursula Kemp. Ursula was a local midwife and nursemaid. She was first accused of witchcraft by Grace Thurlow, who had once been a friend and neighbour of Ursula’s.

Grace claims that Ursula came to her aid when her son became seriously ill, casting spells to cure him. Grace also turned to Ursula a few months later when she became ill herself, following the untimely death of her baby daughter. Ursula agreed to cure Grace’s condition as long as she paid her. However, some time after Grace then refused to pay Ursula claiming she could not afford it. After this disagreement Grace’s condition worsened dramatically, leading to Ursula being accused of cursing her.

During Ursula’s trial, her own son was called as a witness against her. Thomas Kemp gave an account as how his mother kept four familiars, two cats, a lamb and a toad, that she fed on her own blood. Later in the trial Ursula herself pointed the finger of accusation at others. She named Elizabeth Bennet, Alice Hunt, Alice Newman and Margery Sammon as witches. Not only did these women confess to witchcraft but made accusations of their own. Agnes Glascock, Cicely Celles, Joan Turner, Joan Pechey, Elizabeth Ewstace, Anis Herd, Alice Manfield, Margaret Grevell and Anne Swallow were all subsequently named as witches. Most of the women were either fond not guilty, or found guilty of lesser charges and sent to prison, only Ursula Kemp and Elizabeth Bennet were sentenced to death and hanged.

This however is not the last we hear of these women, over 300 years later, in the mid 1900’s this tale takes a slightly grizzly turn. In St Osyth two female skeletons were discovered by accident, buried on unconsecrated ground with metal spikes through them. Pinning witches into their coffins was a technique employed during the witch trials to stop their corpses rising from the dead and seeking revenge. It was widely believed that these were the remains of Ursula and Elizabeth. The one believed to be Ursula went on to be displayed in an open coffin as a tourist attraction, before becoming part of the private collection of Robert Lenkiewicz.


  1. I find these things very much troubling. I have a hard time grasping that people were so very narrow minded and superstitious back then to accuse fellow people of hurting them and thus being put to death. It makes you wonder all of the things we have read in the bible pertaining to Jesus being able to do miraculous things and Christians think nothing of it. Yet, they are against magic in its many forms and fail to see that what Jesus and Moses did in the bible would get them hanged today if they were to show up and perform the many miracles they did. They would not consider it a miracle, but magic.

    Many blessing to all those that died from the accusations of witchcraft and to their families.

  2. hi lily
    my hubby is a medium and a couple of days ago he had a woman speaking to him telling him that she is not a witch, but she had to be to save her boy she is saying that it is wrong what has been said about her and she told us her story,after looking on the internet i found you and thought you might be interested with what she has said x

  3. Hi Nikki, I'm always interested in stories like this, contact me via my website www.hedge-witchery.com x