The St. Osyth Witches
The trial of Ursula Kemp, Alice Newman and Elizabeth Bennet is one that is very well recorded in the pamphlet A true and just recorde of the information and examination and confession of all the witches taken at St Osyth published in 1582. However, after the trail and sentencing there is no further documentation regarding when Ursula and Elizabeth were executed and where they were executed.
We know that they were held at the Cage Prison in St. Osyth before they were moved to Colchester Prison to await their trial. Ursula and Elizabeth’s sentence was to be hung, but sources state that Elizabeth was still in Colchester prison awaiting execution 6 months after the trial. Alice was sentenced to life imprisonment after appealing her death sentence, but sadly died shortly after perhaps in Colchester or St. Osyth prison.
Nearly 300 year later, an answer to their fates was supposedly found. In 1921, in the garden of 37 Mill Street in St. Osyth, two skeletons were found. Because these skeletons were found lying north to south, instead of east to west, it was assumed that these were the remains of two accused witches. There were also nails through the skeletons knees and elbows, which gave merit to this witch theory. Although science later proved that these had been added to the skeletons, and were not originally from the period.
Speculation lead the locals of St. Osyth to believe that these were the bodies of Ursula Kemp and Elizabeth Bennet. People began travelling from miles around to see the skeletons, and postcards were even sold with photos of the skeletons on.
Unfortunately in 1932 there was a mysterious fire that burned down 37 Mill Street, and the skeletons were buried again.
In a documentary made in 2007 about Ursula Kemp, John Worland tells the story of what happened to these skeletons next. The bones were later dug up and sold to the British Witchcraft Museum whose owner Cecil Williamson promised to safeguard the remains so they could not be exploited again. But the skeletons ended up caught in the estates of the deceased artist Robert Lenkiewicz, who had a fascination for collecting witchcraft and occult items. Worland began a campaign to have the remains released, and he later buried them back at St. Osyth, giving them a burial with both Christian and Pagan representation.
Carbon dating showed that the nails were not from the right period. However, the bones dated back to the 16th Century, so it is very probable that they were in fact the remains of Ursula and Elizabeth, who could have been brought back to their town of St. Osyth to be hung, as a warning to others.
To find out more about John Worland's documentary visit Ursula Kemp