Witchcraft history By Annette Keatley

Post date: Apr 27, 2014 3:41:46 PM

The worst of the witchcraft hysteria in England occurred in the 1640s. There was a great deal of political and social unrest and the country was looking for scapegoats . People accused of witchcraft were then obvious targets.The notorious witch-finder Matthew Hopkins was operating at this time and he was credited with having been the instigator of the conviction or execution of at least 200 accused witches.

In the latter part of the seventeeth century the witchcraft hysteria gradually tapered off. However, the second part of the twentieth century saw a renewal of interest in witchcraft.This was a different type of witchcraft that is often known as ‘Wicca’. Modern witchcraft or Wicca, is unlike the old types of witchcraft as modern witches do not claim to have any alliance with the devil. Interest in modern witchcraft grew stronger and stronger through the 50s, 60s and 70s and also spread to America where it had a lot of interest.

There are many variations and traditions in modern witchcraft and they are ever changing and evolving. Each ‘Coven’ has it’s own ‘book of shadows’ which notes the coven’s rites, ritiuals, line of authority etc. as many covens regard secrecy as paramount.

Modern witches claim their practices are harmless as they worship natures elements, giving thanks and praise for earth, wind, fire, water and new life. However, many people are suspicious of any kind of witchcraft because of the stigma attached from previous centuries.

It is rumoured that ‘White Witchcraft’, Wicca, or Modern Witchcraft is currently practiced in and around many areas of Staffordshire and indeed the UK .

Hopwas Woods Witches

Back in 1984 strange goings on were reported at Hopwas Woods, Tamworth, Staffordshire. A local newspaper, the Tamworth Herald, carried stories of nude witchcraft rituals and the like. An 'International' occult group, The Order of the Silver Star, conducted magical rituals in the woods. After reading comments made by various members of the order during the course of interviews with Herald reporters, the group doesn't come across as having been sinister or even remotely evil.

Molly Leigh – a Burslem Witch ?

Margaret, or Molly Leigh, was said to have been born in 1685, although there are some reports it was 1723. She lived in a cottage in Jack field, which at the time was in the middle of the forest, close to the town of Burslem , in what is now North Staffordshire. Molly was born in a cottage on the edge of the moors at Burslem . She was a solitary character who made a living selling milk from her herd of cows to travellers and passers-by. She was an eccentric person who kept a pet blackbird. The bird often sat on her shoulder when she took milk into Burslem to sell to the dairy. She was known for her quick temper, and the people of Burslem were suspicious of her. This was not surprising as, throughout the country, women, particularly elderly women, who lived on their own in remote places were often labelled as witches.

In Molly’s case it was the local parson Rev. Spencer, who made the accusation. He claimed that Leigh sent her blackbird to sit on the sign of the Turk’s Head pub that the parson frequently visited, and that the bird's presence was responsible for turning the beer sour. Leigh was also blamed for other ailments suffered by the townsfolk.

Molly died in 1746 and was buried in Burslem churchyard, but there were claims that her ghost haunted the town. Spencer—along with clerics from other nearby areas exhumed her body, opened the coffin, and threw in the still-living blackbird that had been her companion. They then reburied Molly in a north to south direction, at a right angle to all the other graves in the churchyard.

There are stories that her ghost appeared to walk the streets of Burslem apologising for her sins. Further stories claim that her spirit was exorcised by a group of several priests and that while it was successful, some of them died in the process.

Some claim that if one skips around her grave three times chanting the mantra "Molly Leigh, Molly Leigh, Chase me around the apple tree," her spirit will return. These ghost stories are still told to young children to this day.

Aside from the persistence of ghost stories revolving around Molly Leigh, her story has been used as the inspiration for a feature film - Molly Crows, by Flashgun Films - filmed in the Stoke area in 2012 and expected to be released some time in 2014. The film plot involves the spirit of Molly returning to wreak revenge upon the ancestors of those who wronged her.

Stapenhill, near Burton upon Trent, Staffordshire.

In the late 1500s Elizabeth Wright was suspected of being a witch as she had so called witch’s marks’. She was said to have two teat like warts behind her arm and a large number of marks near the top of her shoulder which was described as being like ‘the udder of a ewe’. This, at the time ,was enough for her to be a likely witch!

Witchmarks were believed to be the scars left after a witch had been kissed, or bitten, by the Devil when he made her his own. These marks were often hidden out of view such as under the hair or under the clothes. They were said to be unusual marks that may look like birth marks, moles, extra nipples, warts or other unusual blemishes.

Alice Goodridge – a Burton upon Trent Witch.

Alice was accused of witchcraft in the 1500s on the evidence of Thomas Darling, known as the Burton Boy, as he lived in Burton upon Trent.

Thomas fell ill after visiting local woods, where he had come across Alice earlier that day. He began having fits and seeing visions of the devil, demons and a green cat, and so people believed that his illness was brought on by witchcraft.

Thomas was asked whether or not he had seen anyone before falling ill. He remembered that he had an encounter with an elderly woman. He remembered because he broke wind in her presence and she complained about it and recited a poem that indicated that because of what he had done she would go to heaven and he would be sent to hell.

Because of the description he gave of her clothes and the three warts on her face, relatives deduced that he must have met Alice as she lived nearby and met the description.

Alice admitted seeing the boy and was subject to much questioning and torture. She was also asked to recite the Lords Prayer but as she couldn’t this was also held against her. Despite suffering great torture and pain she refused to confess to witchcraft, but did confess to keeping a dog given to her by her mother. The authorities felt that the dog was a ‘familiar’- something regularly kept by witches. Witchcraft was believed to run in the female line, and as Alice’s mother was accused of witchcraft, they believed she had passed on the ‘familiar’ and the ability to practice witchcraft to her daughter Alice, and so was declared guilty of witchcraft. Before her death sentence could be carried out she died in Derby jail.

As was often the case in witchcraft accusations, a short time later, Darling admitted he had made the whole thing up in order to gain attention to himself.


Spell bottles, also known as "Witches Bottles", have been in use in England and the United States since at least the 1600's. Spell bottles were originally created to destroy the power of an evil magician or witch thought to have cast a spell against the bottle's creator. They were often ceramic vessels, filled with hair, nails, and even the victim's urine. They were also walled up into new homes as magical guardians. Spell bottles of this type continued to be used well into the 19th century.

Archaeologists digging up a car park in Staffordshire unearthed a 17th century bottle used to scare off witches.

The witch bottle was discovered in a pit beneath a back room on the site of the Turk's Head Inn at Tipping Street car park in Stafford.

The vessel is a mid to late 17th-century Bellamine jug which would have been filled with the likes of nail clippings, hair, urine, pins and iron nails.

The period was full of superstition and they were buried near or under buildings to ward off witches or evil spirits.