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IN BILLERICAY WE HAD OUR OWN WITCHES

As we all know October is the month of ghosts, ghouls and goblins, but did you know Essex has a long tradition of witchcraft? The county has been known as witch and wizard country from at least the fifteenth century with Londoners seeking cures and balms for the many bouts of sickness and plague which defined this time. It was these women, and sometimes men, who then fell foul of the Witchcraft Acts, the first of which came into place in 1542.

In Billericay we had our own witches, not those with pointy hats and crooked noses, but people accused, for whatever reason, by their neighbours of consorting with the devil. Think on poor Agnes Bryant (spinster), a sometime resident of Billericay and Great Burstead, who was accused of bewitching Daniel Fynche (who later died), of bewitching a gelding and of bewitching twenty “brewings of beere” belonging to Gabriel Bee. Despite pleading not guilty she was indicted on all three accounts. While women bore the brunt of the witchcraft accusations men were not immune. John Scates, another Billericay resident, was accused by Richard Tarling of “conjuring” and “practising with the devill for money” and had also tried to encourage others to join him.

It's not just witches we have in Billericay, there are stories of ghosts too. Several ghosts have been reported in or near Burghstead Lodge. One such ghost was described by Edith Sparvel-Bayly who lived there with her family in the late nineteenth century. In her memoir, Yesterday – A Childhood in Billericay, she recalls how she and her two sisters often saw a woman in white walking along the shrubbery which bordered Brentwood Road.

There are many other such tales of the supernatural in Billericay, if you know of any send the Museum an email on supernaturalbillericay@gmail.com. This account will be active for the duration of October and November.

Katie Wilkie
The Cater Museum