East Anglia was at one time known as the ‘Witch Country’ and has long been the home of numerous tales of witchcraft. It has a long held history of witches, going back for centuries and was one of England’s prime locations for the witch hunts. So it comes as no surprise that Kings Lynn is steeped in witchcraft history and tales of hauntings. Kings Lynn is a lovely old town, a bustling town, alive with history and once one gets off the ‘beaten track’ and wanders away from the rather tired and tacky shopping centre, one finds that Kings Lynne is a gem of a town with many very fine old buildings, small alley ways and ancient preserved archways. It has a lovely riverside walk; the river Great Ouse being tidal, with echoes and exhibits of its extensive trading history. There are many old and pretty inns and taverns all around the ‘old town’, which of course comes as no surprise giving Kings Lynn’s trading past.
It is said that the witchcraft persecutions in Kings Lynn went on for 160 years; persecutions of the old, the lonely, the slightly different, maybe the eccentric, folks who were healers and wise folk; so many innocent, often women, were said to have been murdered due to the superstitions and religious dogma of the times. The trials were said to be a complete mockery of real justice with people, onlookers usually baying and shouting at the innocents accused. There was no actual legislation to state what a witch actually was and definitions varied, based on superstition, folklore or even hearsay. Therefore many well meant and innocent actions were interpreted as witchcraft. Two women recorded as being executed in Kings Lynne, are both Mary Taylor and Mary Smith, whom were both burnt at the stake close to the Duke’s Head Hotel in 1616 and 1730 respectively, with the latter having been accused of being a witch.
In 1590 in Kings Lynn, a woman named Margaret Read fell victim too; it is said to the murderous impulses of the ‘witch finders’. Margaret was accused and found guilty of witchcraft and was burned alive at the stake in the market place. There are several versions of the tale but the legend states that while she was being consumed by the flames her heart spontaneously burst from her body and hit the wall of a house opposite thus searing into the brickwork a permanent sign which can still be seen to this very day. The still beating heart is said to have consciously bounced all the way out of town and into the river ouse where it disappeared beneath the surface of the water in an angry, sulphurous bubbling wave, rather like a cauldron! This witch heart is also known as the ‘Diamond Heart’ and can be seen high up on the appropriate coloured red brickwork of house number 15/16 on the north side of the Tuesday Market Place. It is a rather crude free hand drawing but it makes sure that the legend endures. No 15 is also home to a poltergeist whom, it is said throws things on the floor.
Number 15/16 on the north side of the Tuesday Market place showing the ‘heart’ above the window where, legend states it is permanently ‘seared’ into the brickwork.
Margaret was definitely a victim of 16th century England’s obsession with witchcraft but she was not a victim of East Anglia’s most infamous witch hunter; the self styled ‘Witchfinder General’ Matthew Hopkins, for she was murdered some 30 years before Hopkins was born. Hopkins reign of terror focussed on Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire, Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire and began in 1645. Records show that King’s Lynn paid Hopkins the sum of £15 for ‘clearing the town of witches’ – this was at a time when the average daily wage was a mere 2.5p!
Another version of the ‘heart’ story is that it was a young woman called Mary Smith who was burnt as a witch in 1616 and as she was dying she proudly proclaimed her innocence and her heart is said to have sprung from her body and landed at the house of the Rev Roberts, the priest who had actually declared her a witch!
There is a further record that in 1582 there was an execution of someone with the name Gabley, in Kings Lynn, but whether this person was murdered for witchcraft is not recorded but what is sure to be true is that many, many innocent folks were murdered in Kings Lynn town centre and many of them for witchcraft.
At the heart of Kings Lynn, is the market which is now a cobblestoned car park. It is bordered by the Corn Exchange and various pubs and Georgian buildings, including the Duke’s Head Hotel; the market was held on a Tuesday for hundreds of years. This market though was also the scene of public executions, hangings, witch burnings and the punishment of wrongdoers; often a very regular sight imprisoned within the stocks. This Tuesday Market Place is said to be riddled with secret tunnels from which many a tale could have arisen; tales of smuggling, espionage and daring escapes no doubt.
The Tuesday Market Place: location of many executions and the Dukes Head Hotel home to a plethora of hauntings and a hidden Masonic Temple too!
The Tudor Rose Hotel, built in 1500 in the old town, on St Nicholas Street, not far from the Tuesday Market, has an interesting history, though more as the most haunted building in Kings Lynn rather than with a connection to witchcraft. It is said to have a number of ghosts one of which is known as the ‘Grey Lady’ who was said to have been killed by her husband, but no actual records of her being a witch. Another tale relates that shortly after a wedding, the bride was stabbed to death by her new husband in the hotel. Since then, a short woman in a long white dress has been spotted and ‘phantom’ footsteps heard.
The Tudor Rose Hotel: Home of the ‘Grey Lady’ and other hauntings.
Another building; The Seven Sisters pub in Exton’s Road, Kings Lynn has among the legends of its origin the tale that it was named after seven sisters who were executed for witchcraft.
The Dukes Head Hotel, shown above, is a fine Georgian building that overlooks the Tuesday Market Place and which dates back to 1683; it stands on the site of an ancient inn called The Gryffin. The hotel is said to be haunted by quiet a few ghosts… In 1531 a maid murdered her mistress by poisoning her; for her crime she was boiled to death in a large pot in front of a baying crowd in the middles of the Tuesday Market Place. Terrified witnesses have reported seeing the ghostly apparition of a weeping lady in 16th century dress throughout the hotel. It is believed that she is the ghost of the executed maid. There is also another ghostly figure reported to have been seen climbing the hotel’s staircase and wandering the corridors; known as the ‘Red Lady’, she is said to be the shade of a woman who committed suicide over her two lovers. Room 18 was once haunted after an attempted suicide resulted in a dying man being bought into the suite; his ghostly moaning once drove people away, who would flee from the room terrified, though this has now faded. It is said that the guests at the hotel had a fine grandstand view of the executions on Tuesday Market Place and that it was also a centre for cock-fighting.
Interestingly the Duke’s Head Hotel is today home to a full Masonic Temple. The temple which is windowless is open to the public on Heritage Day in September; it has Masonic furnishings and decoration complete with an 18th century anti-room. The first Freemasons Lodge was formed on the site on the 1st October 1729 and stood on the site of the old Gryffin (1576-1683). In 1830, the old coach, the Union, from Stamford would call at the Globe and the Duke’s Head on alternative days and then headed for Swaffham, Dereham and Norwich, returning on the next day at noon.
The witches of East Anglia were a million miles away from the wiccans of today; in I would suggest every aspect. One example being from this Kings Lynn record: ‘the Spirits of the dead were evoked by the construction of images made of a mixture of wax and corpse dust. These witches “poppets” were pricked to cause another hurt. A swallow’s heart and liver could be attached to the poppet with pins to charge it. A heart pierced with thorns was used as late as the nineteen sixties for unknown reasons at several locations in the Kings Lynn Area’.
There are many old buildings in Kings Lynn and old buildings often contain hidden ritual objects placed inside the walls, ceilings, chimneys and other concealed places for they were thought to protect from witches and evil spirits. During the 17th Century, it was common all over England to bury cats in the walls or ceilings to deter witches or evil spirits from entering the property. Remains of such a cat were found in the Dukes Head Hotel in Kings Lynn, in room 10 during October 2011. The bones were found when contractors were working on the building and apparently they just ‘fell’ out of the ceiling!
The clergyman, Alexander Roberts from Kings Lynn, said that ‘the power of the witch comes from the devil’ but in order for this to happen three conditions had to be satisfied. ‘First the permitting will of God. Secondly the suggestion of the Divill and his power co-operating. Thirdly the desire and consent of the sorcerer: and if any of these be wanting, no trick of witchcraft can be performed.’
Snuggled in at the side and just behind St Nicholas Church, on Chapel Lane, is a most quaint and unusual small cottage; very ‘witchy’ looking with whitewashed outer walls; known as ‘The Exorcists House’. The house, built in 1635 and replacing an older house is a grade two listed building with a very interesting history. It was once attached to the church and it is said that one way that a priest could progress within the church was to hold the position of ‘Exorcist’, it is also said to be haunted by a former occupant.
The Exorcist’s House – very appropriately situated…
As I was wandering around taking the photos for this research, this spot particularly caught my eye; unknown to me at the time it is known as ‘Devils Alley’ and is a short cut from the riverside through to the Old Town. As I am very fond of a mysterious alleyway or two, I could not resist venturing down. Apparently, a single footprint, known as ‘Satan’s Hoof Print’, and belonging to Old Nick is said to be visible down this aging alleyway. I wished I had known at the time for I would certainly have searched for it!
Where i wonder is ‘Satan’s Hoof Print’!
The whole area of East Anglia is full of many tales of witches but also very chillingly one can view the actual executions lists on line, which makes very sobering reading indeed, with quite a few local names on it. I wondered what was really going on and why innocent folks were being blamed for witchcraft. Was this a cover up for something else that was going on elsewhere – smoke and mirrors? I tried to find out more on this subject but came to dead ends.
Often churches reveal many surprises and none more so than the beautiful moon-phase clock on the tower of The Priory and Parish Church of St Margaret’s of Antioch, St Mary Magdalene & all the Virgin Saints, to give it its full name! It is located on the corner of Queen Street and Church Street, opposite the Old Gaol House; it was founded as a Benedictine Priory in 1101 by Herbert de Losinga, the first Bishop of Norwich. This amazing clock is said to denote the tides rather than the time; although it could be said that ‘time and tide’ are as one. It was originally presented to the church in 1683 by Thomas Tue, churchwarden and clockmaker, although the present one is a twentieth century reconstruction. The letters around the dial read as ‘LYNN HIGH TIDE, but if only read backwards though and very interestingly it has a dragon pointer. I did wonder, if because it was a moon-phase clock, that there may have been at some point in time, a connection to witches, magic or the occult but I could find no further clues apart from the fact that the clock does feature on a ‘Knight Templar’ webpage on sacred geometry. The face of the clock itself, if one looks closely, does seem to feature sacred geometry and the more one looks at it, the more one sees, so very intriguing.
The Moon Phase clock and just opposite the Old Goal House
I did try to find out if there were any connections relating to the Knights Templars in the area, but drew blanks there. Kings Lynn does has a long maritime tradition and a prominent connection to The Hanseatic League; a group of German cities and has the only remaining Hanseatic Warehouse still standing in the counrty, so maybe the Templars with their maritime traditions, and experience of trading and finance could have a connection here?
Hanse House with maybe a Templar connection?
So finally I was left with some random thoughts which could involve scratching further beneath the surface of what actually appears to be; what is the real reason why so many innocent, mostly women were persecuted as witches, especially in East Anglia? Was it really because of their so-called magical or healing practices or were they in fact used as scapegoats? But whatever the reason Kings Lynn is certainly a town flowing with fascinating history, much of which is of the more unusual kind with many mysteries still unsolved and holding their secrets close to their hearts.
Two of the old historic gateways still remaining and now preserved
Symbolism on the font in the church
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