Molly Leigh

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Molly Leigh (1685–1746) was an English woman who was accused of witchcraft, died before being tried, and had her grave disturbed following claims that she still haunted the town. The 20th-century witch Sybil Leek claimed to be a descendant of Leigh's, and took to keeping a crow, named Mr Hotfoot Jackson, around with her, just as Leigh had done.

Early life[edit]

Leigh was born in 1685 in a cottage on the edge of the moors at Burslem (now one of the towns of Stoke-on-Trent) in Staffordshire. She was a solitary character who made a living selling milk from her herd of cows to travellers and passers-by. She was an eccentric person who kept a pet blackbird. The bird often sat on her shoulder when she brought milk into Burslem to sell to the dairy. She was known for her quick temper, and the people of Burslem were suspicious of her. This was not surprising as, throughout the country, women, particularly elderly women, who lived on their own in remote places were often labelled as witches.

Witchcraft[edit]

In Leigh’s case it was the local parson, Rev. Spencer, who made the accusation. He claimed that Leigh sent her blackbird to sit on the sign of the Turk’s Head pub that the parson frequently visited, and that the bird's presence was responsible for turning the beer sour. Leigh was also blamed for other ailments suffered by the townsfolk.

Death[edit]

Leigh died in 1746 and was buried in Burslem churchyard, but there were claims that her ghost haunted the town. Spencer—along with clerics from Stoke, Wolstanton, and Newcastle-under-Lymeexhumed her body, opened the coffin, and threw in the still-living blackbird that had been her companion. They then reburied Molly in a north to south direction, at a right angle to all the other graves in the churchyard.

Mythology[edit]

There are stories that her ghost appeared to walk the streets of Burslem apologising for her sins. Further stories claim that her spirit was exorcised by a group of several priests and that while it was successful, some of them died in the process.

Some claim that if one skips around her grave three times chanting the mantra "Molly Leigh, Molly Leigh, Chase me around the apple tree," her spirit will return. These ghost stories are still told to young children to this day.

Contemporary Culture[edit]

Aside from the persistence of ghost stories revolving around Molly Leigh, her story has been used as the inspiration for a feature film - Molly Crows, by Flashgun Films - filmed in the Stoke area in 2012 and expected to be released some time in 2014. The film plot involves the spirit of Molly returning to wreak revenge upon the descendants of those who wronged her.

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