In the old Lancashire village of Woodplumpton near Preston, England, is the church of St. Annes, originally 11th Century but rebuilt in 1639 and 1900, with its structure that stands to this day.
Interestingly, among the variety of gravestones in its burial ground, lies the very distinctive sight of a large boulder partially embedded in the ground.
In front of it, a small sign reads:
“The Witch’s Grave. Beneath this stone lies the remains of Meg Shelton alleged witch of Woodplumpton, buried in 1705.”
When one mentions Lancashire and witches in the same sentence, the first thing that comes to mind is the sad story of the Pendle witches, one of the most famous cases from the (hysterical) witch hunts of the 17th Century. In short ten people, mostly members of two feuding families who lived close to Pendle Hill in east Lancashire, were executed in 1612 after being accused of witchcraft and marched many miles over the hills to go on trial at Lancaster Castle.
However, the woman known as the Woodplumpton Witch isn’t linked to the case of the Pendle witches. It dates from almost a century later, by which time much of the hysteria around witch hunts had died down, although belief in witches and witchcraft could be found still today.
Meg Shelton actually lived in the nearby village of Catforth, and was a 17th-century maid who gained quite the local reputation for witchcraft and trickery.
It is said she caused illness in cattle, made crops fail, transformed herself into animals and did a whole manner of underhand deeds, earning herself the nickname “the Fylde hag”.
Curious fact, her real name is recorded by St Anne’s Church as Margery Hilton.
Meg died rather brutally, found in her cottage, crushed between a wall and a large barrel.
Was this an accident, murder, or one of her own devious plots gone wrong?
Perhaps she was really a witch?
Or simply mentally ill, suffering from a condition like schizophrenia or dementia, conditions which can cause sufferers to behave in ways that are frightening or confusing to others, especially in the past.
Or perhaps she was simply different from other women of the village.
Don’t forget that the reasons for witchcraft accusations in the 16th and 17th centuries are multitudinous and tragic.
However, with Meg, the legends surrounding her life are only bettered in death.
She reputedly walked with a pronounced limp, and this was said to be the result of an injury obtained while she was in the form of a rabbit due to a bizarre wager.
Apparently, she had a bet with her landlord that she could turn into a rabbit and race his dogs from the village of Wesham, where he lived, to her cottage in Catforth, which she rented from him.
The prize was to be that she took ownership of the cottage itself, and Meg attempted to ensure victory by insisting the landlord did not employ his largest and fiercest black dog on the grounds it was too dangerous. Of course, he released the beast which bit her hind leg just as she got through the cottage door.
Other stories told about Meg stealing milk from farmers’ cows using in a goose’s appearance.
Another tale had the woman transform herself into a sack of corn and hid in a farmer’s barn in order to steal his food. The farmer, somewhat smarter than she, noticed there was one sack too many present, he stabbed each one with a pitchfork to make sure they were all filled with corn, Meg letting out a scream and returned to her human form before fleeing away.
In any case, Meg is buried in consecrated ground at the village church of nearby Woodplumpton, unusual for a woman deemed a “witch”, and, even more bizarrely, she is buried upside down, in a curious fact commonly referred by archaeologists to as a “deviant burial”.
According to legend, villagers buried her only for her to claw herself out of her grave on multiple occasions.
This led to Meg’s re-burial, head-first, topped with an enormous boulder and, since this attempt, no further sightings of the poor witch were reported.
An alternative story suggests that she was buried head down in a narrow shaft, accounting for the relatively small size of the boulder.
But, still today, the boulder remains in place and can be visited anytime.
However, the question remains as to whether the grave is still occupied, and rumours have persisted that the “Fylde Hag” still wanders around.
Either way, should you ever visit Meg’s grave, make a stop to the Wheatsheaf Inn, just opposite the church. It literally boasts “Good food. Fine ales. Resident ghost.”
Did the witch got rid of her grave to settle to the pub?
Do you like this happy ending?
Images from web – Google Research