Who was St Osyth and The Witches’ Cage, Essex?

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TRACY MONGER recounts the supernatural history of St Osyth in Essex

St Osyth

St Osyth in Essex has an interesting combination of legends and supernatural occurrences.

Saint Osyth was a female saint in the 7th century (daughter of Redwald). She married the King of the East Saxons, Sighere.  He granted her a nunnery, north to the later priory, in Nuns Wood. Danes beheaded Saint Osyth in 653 and she walked back to her nunnery with her head in her hands to the door and died there.  However, other tales suggest she dropped her head in the doorway of St Peter and St Pauls Church.

Tales suggest where she was beheaded a spring formed and became known as a healing spring. Her ghost in Nuns Wood has been seen, carrying her head in her hands.

There is an anniversary haunting on the 7th of October at midnight and Saint Osyth can be seen in the churchyard.

It is recorded that during 1179 a fire-breathing dragon set some properties alight and other sources tell of a dragon’s lair in the priory cellars.

The priory also has a white monk apparition carrying a lighted candle.

The Cage was once a medieval gaol, last used as a gaol in 1908. The Cage became the holding place for 14 witches during 1582 but only two were hanged. When the building was bought recently the owners moved out after 3 years, due to the various paranormal activity. Activity including, voices, pulling of hair, objects being moved, door handles/latches rattling,taps turning on and blood stains appearing.

Ursula Kempe is the famous witch of St Osyth. She was a midwife and nursemaid, she gained a reputation for helping people by removing spells from them.  Ursula was convicted with help from her son, Thomas Rabbet. Offered lenience if she admitted her guilt of witchcraft and having four familiars, a lamb, a toad and two cats and claimed to have fed them on beer, cake, bread and drops of her own bloody. She also named other witches. Elizabeth Bennet was found guilty and confessed of having two familiars and killing four people through witchcraft. She was imprisoned for 6 months before being hanged.

Two separate skeletons were found in St Osyth in 1921 – one skeleton was found in a back yard, at Mill Street. The owner, Mr Brooker decided to make some quick cash, by charging to look at the skeleton, until an unexplained fire at his home in 1932.  The skeleton was re-buried.

Both skeletons had iron rivets in their elbows and knees; it was thought to stop witches from rising out of the grave. People are assuming the two skeletons are Ursula and Elizabeth, but no carbon testing has been done to establish this.  

Three witches were tried in 1645 and five died before witch trials, the skeletons could be of any of the witches.  The skeleton was exhumed at Mill Street, sold to Boscastle, Cornwall (Museum of Witchcraft), and sold in the 1990s to Robert Oscar Lenkiewicz, until his death in 2002.  The skeleton was then re-buried.

Read more about The Witch’s Cage here

Have you been to St Osyth and The Witch’s Cage? Tell us about in the comments!


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