Molly's tomb, as it is today
Molly Leigh - the witch of Burslem
Everybody who lives in the north part of Stoke on Trent knows the legend of Molly Leigh (not Lee!). Her strangely-shaped grave and tombstone can still be seen to this day. Sue Lightwood has written an account of Molly's life for us....
I researched this story some years ago and found the following information, though maybe down the years some legends have got mixed up with the facts!
Margaret Leigh was born in Burslem, which is now one of the Six Towns of the Potteries, about 1685.
There were allegations from the start about her strangeness. it's said she had an adult mind and abilities from birth. "Evidence" for this came from the story that she was able to eat a hard crust of bread just a few hours after being born; and that she refused her mother's milk, to suckle farm animals instead.
Ostracised because of her deformities, and possibly friendless too, she seemed to have developed a vicious temper as she grew older.
It's clear that the atmosphere of the time thus led created a sequence of events which would lead eventually to some bizarre happenings one midnight in Burslem churchyard.
Molly grows up
More difficulties came to her.
Her parents died when she was young, and she had to earn her living quickly - which she did by taking milk into the town and shouting out her wares.
Her cottage was some distance from the town, at Hamil Grange (then known as the Jack-field) in the middle of the forest then in that part of the area.
But now Molly made a bad enemy.
Parson Spencer, Rector of Saint John's Church in Burslem accused her of rarely attending church. In those days, everyone went.
And things now got out of hand.
It's not clear how things developed now. Perhaps in such a small community, the strength of either side in this dispute was recognised , and a grudging stalemate came about.
Death and burial - and reburial
But the final irony came when Molly died in April 1748 (some say 1746).
It was the same Parson Spencer who laid her to rest in St John's churchyard. But the good townsfolk had concerns - was this witch really dead? Their concerns were even greater when the blackbird started to make a nuisance of itself in the town.
Apparently, with a little drink inside them, they paid a visit to Molly's cottage in the woods. And what they saw astonished them.
The story now gets to its oddest part.
But questions remain.
Why did Parson Spencer turn her body? The rite of laying-the-spirit should have been enough. So why did he not trust his judgement?
Second, even today, in St John's churchyard, Molly's grave can be seen, and it is easy to spot. It's the large tomb (it's some four feet high) lying in the different axis to all the others. But who paid for such an expensive tomb? Molly herself would not have had money to speak of.
Thirdly, Sybil Leek, a self-declared witch and associate of the Satanist Aleister Crowley, once visited Burslem (possibly in the 1940s or 50s?), and walked round the town with a jackdaw on her shoulder, claiming descent from Molly Leigh.
Finally, the legend is that if, at Halloween, you dance around her grave and sing "Molly Leigh, Molly Leigh, you can't catch me" her apparition will appear. But who would know? Did someone actually see her after performing this incantation?
If you know the answer to any of these remaining questions or have any more material about Molly... please use the messageboard!
last updated: 28/10/2009 at 18:22
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