Home > Haunted Britain > On the Trail of the Witchfinder

On the Trail of the Witchfinder

By: Paul Geraghty - Updated: 29 May 2012 | comments*Discuss
 
Witchfinder General Witchfinder Matthew

Throughout the Middle Ages into the Early Modern period, tens of thousands of suspected witches were put to death in Europe. They were mostly women, often the odd sorts in their communities, the ones who didn’t fit in, people whom the majority had taken a prejudice against for whatever reason.

For the most part, Britain managed to avoid the full ferocity of the witchcraft craze. Only a few hundred unfortunates are believed to have been executed in Britain for the crime of witchcraft. Exceptions to the generally prevailing British norm of tolerance and good sense tended to occur during periods of social ferment caused by economic crisis or the chaos of war. It was in the 1640s, as the Civil War raged, that the most famous episode of British witchcraft persecution occurred, when the sinister puritan figure of Matthew Hopkins appeared on the scene.

The Witchfinder General

Styling himself the “Witchfinder General,” Hopkins travelled from place to place, identifying supposed witches, interrogating them harshly to find out about their accomplices, and then presiding over their inevitable executions. For this he received generous fees, and it seems he made a good living from practising his murderous trade.

No one has advanced a convincing explanation of what it is in a human life that causes some people to return as ghosts, and not others; but emotional anguish seems to be a part of it. Hopkins left a trail of anguish throughout Essex and East Anglia, the regions where he was active, and, as might be expected, restless spirits haunt those parts today, ghostly reminders of the witchfinder’s work.

The Witchfinder’s Way

Connoisseurs of Britain’s dark past and haunted present may be interested in the “Witchfinder’s Way” cycle route set up by set up the local tourist authorities. Meandering across 27 miles in total, it manages to mark out the major scenes associated with Hopkins’ trail of destruction, as well as a few other scenic or historically-interesting locales along the way. This part of Britain is famous, of course, for its lack of hills and its pleasant countryside, making it ideal cycling country.

Colchester

When you’re done with a day’s cycling, you may like to visit the nearby town of Colchester. Once the capital of Roman Britain, Colchester has had an eventful history, and has the ghosts to prove it. The Witchfinder himself paid a visit here and carried on his customary persecutions. One of his victims, a chambermaid called Sarah, is said to haunt the Fox and Fiddler pub to this day; and in Colchester castle, which was formerly used as a prison, Hopkins interrogated and presented “evidence” against his suspects. There is a ghost walk tour available on Thursday evenings which will fully acquaint you with Colchester’s spooky side.

The Witchfinder’s Ghost

After bringing about the untimely demise of several hundred “witches,” Hopkins himself died of consumption in Mistley in 1647. His ghost has been spotted in quite a number of places around the locale, including Mistley pond, and the Mistley Thorn Hotel, which stands on the spot where Hopkins conducted a number of his trials. And, in case you needed a further incentive to visit, the hotel is renowned for its fine cuisine!

You might also like...
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice..
Why not be the first to leave a comment for discussion, ask for advice or share your story...

If you'd like to ask a question one of our experts (workload permitting) or a helpful reader hopefully can help you... We also love comments and interesting stories

Title:
(never shown)
Firstname:
(never shown)
Surname:
(never shown)
Email:
(never shown)
Nickname:
(shown)
Comment:
Validate:
Enter word:
Topics
Latest Comments
  • Walkerette
    Re: Signs that Your House is Haunted
    Last few months objects are being moved in my house been here 11 yrs but it has started late Summer batteries being taken out…
    15 December 2018
  • Walkerette
    Re: Signs that Your House is Haunted
    Last few months objects are being moved in my house been here 11 yrs but it has started late Summer batteries being taken out…
    15 December 2018
  • Brutus
    Re: Ley Lines
    I am convinced there is something strange happening at a place called Stockport in Cheshire, it's about 8 mile from the city of Manchester. The river…
    13 December 2018
  • Dimples
    Re: Signs that Your House is Haunted
    My Husband and I Brought a 2 family recovery home, the first Month was amazing cause we finally we became Homeowners.. until…
    4 December 2018
  • Mal
    Re: Signs that Your House is Haunted
    I was on my phone laying in bed around 3:50 when my mirror on the wall standing up suddenly slammed and was about to fall…
    9 November 2018
  • Maverick
    Re: What to do if You Have Seen a UFO
    When I was 18 minute friend Kevin is it on the school field drinking beer looked up at the sky and never uses like no sound…
    29 October 2018
  • My I Phone
    Re: What to do if You Have Seen a UFO
    I don’t know how to explain this when I was 18 a friend of mine Kevin and myself were sitting on the school field the…
    29 October 2018
  • Josie
    Re: Signs that Your House is Haunted
    My bf and I came home from work it was around 1:00am we played a movie called The Passion of the Christ in our bedroom (not…
    11 October 2018
  • Wolfie
    Re: Bradford Ghost
    I live in great Horton In Bradford West Yorkshire I am trying to find out if the area I live in is haunted because I was on my way home and I…
    10 October 2018
  • Bigjimhenderson
    Re: What to do if You Have Seen a UFO
    Umm literally not sure what I've just seen but it's creeped me out. Having my last cigarette before bed being a clear night…
    23 September 2018