Molly Leigh.The Misunderstood!!

by cobbies69

Sunday 13th January 2013

(Molly Leigh (1685–1746)

Molly Leigh witch or just misunderstood!

Molly Leigh – the witch of Burslem or was just it accusation of an over reacting clergy. Again.

Tomb of Molly Leigh

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….


Margaret Leigh was born in Burslem, which is now one of the Six Towns of the Potteries, about 1685.
Sadly, Margaret, or Molly (sometimes Molly Lee) as she was known, was ugly.  Very ugly.  And in those days, this led to her being shunned, then alone, and then becoming notorious as the witch of Burslem.   She never married.

Poor Molly.

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.
And was it the need for a friend that also made her train a blackbird (though some say it was a jackdaw) … which became her companion, being tame to her call….?
Or was she really a witch?

Molly Leigh’s cottage on Hamil Road, Burslem

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.

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.
She became a well-known, if unliked figure – and she was constantly accused of watering down the milk.

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.
So, shunned there by others, strange rumours  emerged.. especially of the hawthorn bush outside the cottage on which her pet blackbird was to be found – a bush they said, which never produced blossom!

But now Molly made a bad enemy.

Again another church leader does his thing…

Parson Spencer, Rector of Saint John’s Church in Burslem accused her of rarely attending church.  In those days, everyone went.
And he declared her – for her refusal – a witch.

And things now got out of hand.
The Rector was known to spend some time at The Turk’s Head, and the blackbird appeared there one day.  Apparently, immediately the beer in the pub turned sour and gave all the customers rheumatism!
In fury, Parson Spencer shot at the bird, which simply flew off – unhurt.   Poor Parson Spencer then claimed an attack of stomach pains – which kept him to his bed for the next few weeks.

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.

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.
Afterwards, witnesses swore blind (or blind drunk!) that Molly had been sitting there by the fire – knitting, with her bird – as in real life.
Unsurprisingly, they did not stop to talk to her.
Parson Spencer decided that her spirit must be quieted, and chose a strange way to do it.   In the dead of night, the reverend returned to the churchyard with colleagues to perform the rite to silence her ghost.
This was done by opening up the grave, where the now-captured bird was placed in with her – still alive.
Then her body was moved.  Instead of lying in an east-west direction, normal for Christian burial, it was turned, into a north-south direction.
Some historians claim a stake was driven through her heart – but this is more likely to be a product of a modern writer influenced too much by horror films!

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?
It is very unusual to see a body turned like this in any other churchyard.

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.
Interestingly, the Pagan Association offered to pay for a railing round the grave – an offer that the Church of England didn’t know how to react to!

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.
But, though Sybil claimed to have born in Staffordshire, and therefore could have been a descendant,  it’s been very hard to trace her birth records.  What is the truth?

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?
Is Molly still not at peace?

Sadly, Molly Leigh’s cottage was demolished in 1894, but the land where it stood is now a development of houses and a school. There is no way to find out the truth behind Molly Leigh’s story, but whether she was really a witch or just a misunderstood, disabled young woman, her name lives on in the area.

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Enjoy0   GAinger 2013


14 Responses to “Molly Leigh.The Misunderstood!!”

  1. Maybe My Kind Sir; you might like to set back with some tea for this one.. 😉
    (So that you will kindly remember that it was you who started this Gerry; with your interesting post that begs discussion, so I thought I would begin.)

    This piece poses the wise question in my mind as to why did the parson not trust his own Godly rituals? And judgement?

    That her burial ritual was not enough to release Molly’s spirit? How would he know this?
    I am assuming of course this is his first witch.

    Makes one (well me anyway) wonder what new ritual(s) were performed that the parson was actually concerned with the results of.
    What happened to the parson’s religious intelligence? How did he not trust his God to take care of Molly in a God like fashion? And without any questions.
    Grasping at anything and everything to rid the town of an alleged witch would have not been far fetched. Sadly so easy how things can spiral down hill so quickly!

    Great piece of history. (so my my instincts tell me) I do love learning about your New forest and it’s folklore.Looking forward to where you take us next. Thank you for sharing. ~

    • My point exactly about the fact some one in a religious faction has caused the death of an innocent person that is different to the norm.. I did read an article and it was suggesting that Molly might have had Downs Syndrome, which account for her behaviour and possible ugliness..Once again I thank you greatly my lady 😉

      • My Kind Sir;
        Such a great point to focus let me add.
        It is interesting to me that there could be reasons to believe her disability caused the reaction by some of the town’s people.
        I know it was such an archaic and cruel belief system that any mentally disabled or mentally challenged persons must be evil, But how sad. Not their choice.
        Also I do believe it was not Molly’s choice ito be born into this belief, if she was in fact a witch. She had a choice to practice it or not,
        Her peers issue with her revolved around her being different, no matter the cause of the difference.
        . I hope that if in fact she was a white witch, that she made the choice to practice , and that she also found her own community where she could feel part of something out side her self.
        That would be be the spell i would cast for her (heehee)

        I so love this kind of topic Gerry, I have an natural interest for your stories, and when yoiu are adding your peresonal photos and memoioes it take them to a new realm. Makes a great discussion.

        Thanks again for sharing.~

        • It does seem that these ignorances were the cause of many false accusations in their day.. Illnesses that we all know today, thank you my lady it would be nice to see how people see this.. good talking point…welcome as always my lady and thank you..;)

          • You My Kind Sir are always welcome to my thoughts. Had people spoke more openly back then in Molly’s days perhaps the ignorance would not have lived on, perhaps enlightenment through others would have been the norm. Just maybe…

  2. A very interesting and strange tale, Gerry. Superstition was obviously rife in those days. At least they didn’t burn her at the stake.

    • No she was not but was her death brought on prematurely,,and it is possible that she was a downs syndrome sufferer hence her ugliness as is written and her actions..;) Thank you for coming over to read my Sunday guest posting thanks and welcome always..;)

  3. There’s a great deal of research required for these stories you’ve been posting, Gerry. I commend you for your hard work and your willingness to share.

    It’s a terrible shame if Molly suffered so much because of a misunderstood physical ailment and deformity. Even today, with all our “enlightnement,” we sometimes see people who have serious physical and/or mental disabilities treated unfairly because of people’s ignorance and their resulting fear.

    That’s not to say that there are not real witches who bring about a great deal of evil. As a minister myself, I have had to deal with a good deal of witchcraft, but the witches and warlocks involved were not people who were judged on their physical looks or unusual behavior. In fact, most of the witches and warlocks I know anything about are very ordinary-looking and ordinary-acting people. But they clearly profess their allegiance to satan and their commitment to supernatural activity that is anti-Christ. They practice their religion openly, and no one has to wonder if they are real witches.

    Unfortunately, I have also seen some so-called “ministers” who went off the deep end where this subject is concerned, but that was because of their own ignorance as well — or their desire to aggrandize themselves. But on the other side of that coin, I can say that the Lord has allowed me and some of the other genuine minister associates of mine to help people who have actually been harmed by real witchcraft.

    From all that you’ve shared, I would tend to believe that Molly was just a poor, unfortunate, seriously handicapped woman who was feared because of her handicap. Ignorant people often form a hatred for anyone whom they fear. Somehow, that seems to keep them from feeling guilty about being too afraid to help the person they fear. If they can convince others that the person is evil and work to get them punished in some way, they then (in some bizarre way) feel vindicated for their own feelings and behavior. It’s very sad.

    Good job on the post.

    • Wow Sandra thank you for this comment and it is so appreciated. All these viewpoint and so many if and buts and why’s and where for’s.. Peoples ignorance of the day was mostly the cause of others mistreatment. And no matter what we think to day it still remains a shame.. and it is sad that sometimes things like this are still happening in ways. But today we can look at it better and understand it better. No excuses in my mind, diseases ill health mental disorder today can be explained and understood. Any way Sandra thank you so much.. and loved your opinion and comments.. More to follow. and once again thank you..:)


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