The area of East Anglia in England has a brutal and sinister history. This area was once riddled with witchcraft and the legacy of witchcraft is so engrained in the history of the land, that for a long time, the entire region was unable to shake off the stigma and association with witches, witchcraft and witch hunting.


How Did Witchcraft Take Such A Hold?

Who were these so-called witches? What sorts of things were they being accused of?  What proof was there? And how did the notoriously brutal and vicious WitchFinder General, Matthew Hopkins, become so feared and admired?

To seek answers, we need to go back in history, and examine the politics of the time, the superstitions of the age and the malleability of the people ruled by a church who dominated through fear and control.


First Recorded Account Of A Witch Trial 

The first recorded account of a witch trial at Bury St Edmunds was in 1599.  Two women were tried, Joan Jordan of Stradbroke and Joane Nayler, but there is no historic record of their charges or verdicts.  The courts were held near Shire Hall, which was always a legal corner of the town and where the Premier Inn now stands.

Later in 1599, Oliffe Bartham of Stradbroke was executed for sending three toads to destroy the sleep of Joan Jordan and for sending a spirit in the form of a cat called Gyles down Joan Jordan’s chimney to kill her.  Oliffe was also accused of killing an unborn child by “nipping out his brains.”  She was found guilty and hanged at Bury on July 12, 1599, the traditional place of execution being a hill outside the town’s northern limits called Henhow. 

In Lowestoft, two elderly widows, Rose Cullender and Amy Denny, were accused of witchcraft by their neighbours.  On 10th March 1662, they were both brought to trial at the Assizes at Bury St Edmunds and found guilty on 13 charges of using malevolent witchcraft. They were accused of causing a toad to fall out of a child’s blanket and vanish with a hiss in the fire; infesting a man with lice; causing a cart to collapse; causing a chimney to fall down; causing the deaths of local pigs, cattle and horses; and making Samuel Pacey’s children vomit pins and nails after he refused to sell herrings to the women. 

Sentenced To Death By Hanging

Sentenced to death by hanging, they would have been first taken to a holding cell on or very close to the site of the Nutshell pub in Bury, where some of their hair and finger nails would have been snipped off, ensuring that their body was not whole when they died.  It was the belief of most religions at the time, that if you did not die complete, you would not make it to heaven and could not come back as a whole witch in the next life. 

Rose Cullender and Amy Denny were hanged a week later at Thingoe Hill on March 17th, 1662.  The bodies of these unfortunate women would have been returned to their home town and buried in unconsecrated ground, close to the site of their “crimes” as a salutary lesson to all.  Their corpses would have been pinioned in the grave with metal stakes or large rocks, to prevent them rising on the day of judgement and to stop their ghost from walking

Other parts of the country burned witches, usually strangling them first, but in Bury St Edmund’s it was the custom to hang witches.  Most would have been hanged on Henhow Hill – an ancient site where the Danish “Thing-how” or Assembly met.  The first Shirehall was erected here when the courts of the Liberty of St. Edmund were moved from their ancient site at Cattishall, Suffolk by the order of Edward I in 1302.  The site was abandoned and a new Shirehall – that in which Amy Denny and Rose Cullender were tried – was erected in Bury St. Edmunds during the mid-16th century.  However, the ancient Henhow remained the site of execution.  Other hanging sites where gallows stood were Tay Fen and Fornham All Saints.


Largest Single Witch Trial in UK

The largest single witch trial in England took place in Bury St Edmunds in 1645 when 18 people were executed by hanging, possibly in the market square.  16 women (Anne Alderman, Rebecca Morris, Mary Bacon, Mary Clowes, Sarah Spindler, Jane Linstead, Mary Everard, Mary Fuller, Susan Manners, Jane Rivet, Mary Skipper, Mary Smith, Margery Sparham, Katherine Tooly, Anne Leech and Anne Wright) and 2 men (Thomas Everard and John Lowes, the Vicar of Brandeston) were found guilty of witchcraft, all of them were from villages in the surrounding area.

The trial, facilitated by sadistic Witchfinder General Matthew Hopkins, saw all 18 executed in one day on August 27, 1645. Until then, the largest witch trial and execution had been in 1612 in Pendle, Lancashire. The trial in Pendle saw eleven people tried (nine women and two men), ten of which were found guilty and hanged.

Although the Pendle trial took place before Matthew Hopkins was born, he was directly responsible for finding all 18 people in Bury guilty of witchcraft due to his detection methods.  While they were all convicted and hanged almost immediately, the trial began to cast doubt on the validity of Matthew Hopkins the Witchfinder General and his cruel witch finding methods.


Thousands Of  ‘Witches’ Tried & Executed

The witch-hunts of East Anglia were part of a wider phenomenon in which approximately 110,000 people, the majority of women, were prosecuted for the crime of witchcraft across Europe between 1450 and 1750 and in which up to 60,000 were executed.

The Lady Prickers, Written & Narrated By Ann Théato

The Lady Prickers, written and narrated by Ann Théato, is an audio documentary which examines the Witch Hunts that took place in East Anglia during the 16th century, the history and politics of the time, the superstitions of the age and the malleability of the people ruled by a church who dominated through fear and control.


[SOUND ON] Listen to the trailer below

The Lady Prickers can be listened to on all major podcast platforms including Stitcher, Google Podcasts, iHeart Radio, TuneIn & Alexa, Podcast Addict, Podchaser, Deezer, Listen Notes, Player FM, Overcast, Pocket Cast, Castro & Castbox.


SPOTIFY PODCASTS: https://open.spotify.com/show/1eFCRZVKk6o5mjXg0NjmEs


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