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Molly Leigh – The so-called Witch of Burslem

Do you believe in local legends?

The story of Molly Leigh is well known throughout the potteries but as it’s become passed from person to person over the years has it become a mixture of fact and folklore?

molly leighs graveThe Silvertrophy office is situated next to the cemetery where the so-called witch of Burslem known as 'Molly Leigh' is buried. Her strangely shaped gravestone can be seen from our office window.  Over the years since locating to the premises we have experienced strange noises and unexplained activities, our thoughts immediately turn to Molly Leigh and the cemetery next door.

 

 

As legend has it Molly Leigh was born Margaret Leigh in 1685 in a cottage on the edge of the moors near to the town of Burslem, Stoke on Trent, Staffordshire.Molly Leigh

Stories suggest that Molly was born with strange capabilities. It’s believed that she ate crusts of bread within a few hours of being born and refused her mother’s milk – preferring to suckle from farm animals.

After the death of her parents, Molly Leigh lived a lonely existence earning a meagre living by selling milk in the town, but she was often accused of watering it down. Her only companion was a blackbird who would be seen perched upon her shoulder as she delivered milk around the town. People began to claim that the bird was a sign of witchcraft.

Although she was a very well-known figure, she was shunned by the locals for being extremely ugly, (possibly due to some deformity at birth). Her ugliness, vicious temper and eccentricity left the people of Burslem feeling suspicious of her, labelling her as a witch. This left her isolated spending the remaining years of her life alone in her cottage.

Molly Leigh is said to have refused to attend church which was brought to the attention to the local pastor Reverend Spencer.

One day the Rev Spencer was sat in the local pub ‘The Turks Head’ when a blackbird came and sat nearby. As the bird landed all the beer within the pub is said to have turned sour and the people in the pub began to suffer with rheumatism. The rev Spencer thought Molly Leigh had sent the bird to spy on him so took out his gun and shot at it. The shot missed and the bird flew away.

Rumours spread of witchcraft and Molly was blamed for every unexplained and misfortunate event befalling the townsfolk of Burslem.

In 1746 (or possibly 1748), before being tried as a witch, Molly Leigh died from natural causes and was buried in St John’s graveyard in Burslem, but since her burial there were claims of ghostly hauntings. Her blackbird is said to have begun causing a nuisance in the town by attacking people. The Rev Spencer decided to go to her cottage to look for the bird. It’s claimed that when the Rev Spencer and some of the townsfolk arrived at the cottage Molly Leigh was sitting by the fire in her rocking chair with her blackbird perched upon her shoulder. The terrified men fled and it was decided that Molly Leigh’s spirit needed laying to rest.

In the dead of the night her body was exhumed and the now captured blackbird she had as a companion was thrown into the coffin (still alive). Rev Spencer decided that she needed a witch’s burial and her grave was turned from the Christian burial position of east to west to a north to south direction, at a right angle to all the other graves in the churchyard. This is the only grave in the churchyard that’s the opposite way round to all the others.

Some claim that if you skip around her grave three times chanting the mantra ‘Molly Leigh, Molly Leigh, chase me around the apple tree’ her spirit will return. Another version of the rhyme is ‘Molly Leigh, Molly Leigh, you can’t catch me.’

Molly Leigh's story has become one of the most told in the surrounding area, with her gravestone being a popular attraction, but why is Molly’s gravestone so large – who could have paid for this?

Do you know of any descendants of Molly Leigh?

Do you believe in witches?

Do you have any experiences of strange happenings?

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