Molly Leigh – a Staffordshire witch?

St John’s, Burslem

There is no inscription on the grave. Other than a small roadside plaque, which perhaps understandably commemorates Wedgwood and has only a footnote for Molly, there is little trace here of Molly Leigh. Only the transport cafe – Molly’s Cafe (the sign is pictured below) – celebrates this famous north Staffordshire story. A week or so ago I travelled to Burslem – the Mother Town of the Potteries – to see Molly’s resting place.

Molly Leigh’s grave

Molly was born in 1685 and back then, long before the industrialisation of north Staffordshire, Burslem would have been an out of the way village surrounded by woodland. It’s hard to imagine as the church of St John’s is surrounded by a neat line of seventies houses, a breaker’s yard, wasteland and a busy cut-through road leading down to the A500 and M6. Just across the road from the church are three magnificent bottle kilns pictured below. It may be difficult to imagine how the landscape was 300 years ago, but there is definitely an atmosphere in the churchyard. When I visited I had to take photos between heavy downpours. The sky was black and a crow sat on a nearby headstone.

I heard a rustling and turned to see a white carrier bag floating and drifting in the breeze.

Perhaps Molly is not celebrated as the local authority is worried about Satanists or rituals being performed. She was an outsider almost from birth, marked for taking solids as a baby and preferring the milk of animals. Poor Molly was said to be ugly and she lived alone in a cottage on the edge of a wood. She sold milk but locals accused her of watering it down. She went about with a blackbird or crow on her shoulder, singing. She might be what we’d now call an eccentric. She was certainly a strong character and, in a God-fearing age, got on the wrong side of the local clergy by refusing to attend church. When she died her spirit was restless and she was seen sitting in people’s houses. She lived to a good age but when buried in St John’s churchyard (her tabletop tomb is above) she continued to haunt folk. Her spirit was forced into the trough beside the grave and her grave was moved to be set down at right angles to all the other graves.

Molly’s snacks

She was been an inspiration to many, including another daughter of Staffordshire Sybil Leek. Sybil went about with a black crow on her shoulder and claimed to be a descendant of Molly. She emigrated to America and published many books on astrology and witchcraft.

Molly’s story has many versions and it’s difficult to separate myth and rumour from fact. What is fascinating is that unlike many other mythical figures in folklore and storytelling Molly was a real person. She had a will and there are other documents bearing her name.

I’ve written a short story involving Molly and can’t understand why more isn’t made of her.

Post industrial Potteries

Shopping for vinyl

Had a few bargains in the town charity shops and record shop.

The Associates

In Oxfam I picked up The Associates’ Sulk album. I’ve always been a huge fan of Billy Mackenzie’s voice.

The Teardrop Explodes’ Kilimanjaro

As it was Staffordshire Day yesterday it was appropriate I picked an album by one of my home county’s famous sons Julian Cope. I love this album and was delighted to find it had just come in to Double Double Good Music Emporium.

TTD

Finally I always enjoyed this album and I’m old enough to have bought it first time round on tape.

What is interesting is to see the vogue for vinyl means CDs are suddenly being thrown out. There are piles of them at 99p each or even 2 or 3 for a pound. I love the sound and feel of vinyl and the space and love given over to the art and photography. But there’s a real opportunity to pick up CD bargains and I will not throw mine out however chipped and scratched Everything Must Go or Who Killed the Zutons? get.

Down the cut

The cut

Last weekend we walked a stretch of the Staffs and Worcestershire canal. It was very busy with walkers and boaters and great to see people out and about.

The picture above is where we began, a bridge at the junction of the Trent and Mersey canal and the Staffs and Worcestershire canal. In its day this would’ve been like the junction of the M6 and M5, or if you prefer rail, the approach to Euston or Kings Cross.

In the heyday of the canal or ‘cut’ as it’s often referred to in these parts this junction presented a choice of the Potteries, Wolverhampton or the Trent and links to the East.

It’s a great section to walk, and idyllic – even in the days of the Industrial Revolution a far cry from the furnaces of the Black Country and pot banks of Stoke.

So much history and wildlife can be seen on this short two or three mile stretch of the cut.

Shugborough, once home to Lord Lichfield, is nearby and the beautiful woods and heathland of Cannock Chase. Essex Bridge is close by as is Tixall Gatehouse where Mary Queen of Scots was kept imprisoned.

Tixall Gatehouse

Another wonderful landmark is the Bottle Lodge nearby. But more of these in a later post.

Hero of a past epidemic – RIP Bernard Fry, surgeon

It has been a distressing and difficult year. Many have suffered loss of relatives or friends or perhaps their livelihood due to the effects of Covid.

There have been parallels drawn by some with past epidemics. Perhaps learning about the past offers some lessons to us. Or the knowledge that others managed to get through the hardship and grief.

There is a lot of doom and gloom and blame but we are at least fortunate to have many privileges our forebears in workhouses and tenements could only have dreamed about. Food, warmth, clean conditions…a wonderful health service.

I wandered through Stafford today, a little more optimistic that although shops weren’t open they were being dusted and vacuumed in readiness for Monday.

However, I wished things were back to normal and life could return to what it was before. Wished I could even sit inside a cafe and enjoy a coffee while I read my book.

Then, propped against a wall in St Mary’s churchyard, I saw this grave…

Bernard Fry rests here….

Bernard Fry was dealing with a past epidemic – the spread of typhus at Stafford Poor House. His duty and care cost him his own life as he succumbed to typhus in 1827.

His gravestone is listed by Historic England and the inscription and details can be found here https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1212789

RIP Mr Fry. ‘For saving others he a victim fell.’