Margaret "Molly" Leigh was born circa 1685 in a forest cottage on the outskirts of Burslem, Staffordshire, England, "the mother town" of the Six Pottery Towns. Sadly, Molly was born with severe facial deformities which, due to the superstitions and prejudices of the time, caused her to be socially ostracized and the victim of immense cruelty. This, undoubtedly, was the cause of her ill-temper and eccentricity; although, it was alleged that from the moment of her birth there was something extremely peculiar about her. She was reported to have possessed an adult mind and capabilities at birth, as evidenced by her eating a hard crust of bread mere hours after being born and refusing the milk from her mother's breast, preferring the milk of farm animals.
More tragedy befell the most unfortunate Molly when, as a young child, she was left an orphan and forced to survive on her own. She eked out an existence by carrying pails of milk to town to sell. Shunned by all, her only companion was a blackbird (some say jackdaw) which accompanied her on her trips to town. A well-known figure in the small community, the highly despised, Molly, was constantly accused of watering down the milk. Rumors concerning her abounded—one being that the townsfolk claimed that the hawthorn bush outside her cottage in which her beloved blackbird perched produced no blossoms and much ado was made about this.
Further misfortune followed her when she made a powerful enemy of the Parson Spencer, rector of St. John's Church in Burslem. He declared her to be a witch after her refusal to attend church services. The tense situation escalated when Parson Spencer, a frequent patron of The Turk's Head Pub, spotted Molly's blackbird perched on the pub's sign. He claimed that immediately all the beer in the pub soured, causing the customers to become ill. Enraged, he took aim and shot at the biackbird but missed and the bird flew away. The parson, severely ill and confined to bed for several weeks due to extreme gastric distress, was convinced that Molly, aided by her feathered friend, through means of witchcraft was responsible for souring the beer and sickening those who partook of it.
The story gets even stranger when Molly died in 1748. Although the circumstances surrounding her death remain uncertain, her nemesis, Parson Spencer, was tasked with performing her burial rites. Shortly after Molly's internment in St. John's churchyard, the townsfolk became worried that the "witch" may not really be dead. Their concerns were exacerbated when her blackbird became a constant nuisance in the town. It was then that some of the townsfolk decided to drop by Molly's cottage. What they witnessed there astonished and terrified them. They all swore that they saw the deceased Molly knitting by the fire with her blackbird at her side and looking very much alive.
At this point, Parson Spencer made the determination that a rite to quiet her spirit must be performed. So, under cover of night, he and an entourage of concerned citizens, opened her coffin and tossed her blackbird which they captured earlier and was still alive into her grave. Then her body was turned to a north-south direction instead of an east-west direction which was the traditional Christian burial placement. It was believed that the ghost of a witch could only be laid when placed in this orientation.
Molly's tomb is visible today and is very recognizable as it is quite tall and the only one placed in a transverse position. According to the Burslem Parish Register, "An interesting stone coffin, hewn to the shape of the human body, internally, six feet three inches long but only 14 inches across the shoulders, is thought to have been brought from the neighbouring (now demolished) Abbey of Hulton, and may be the coffin which contained the body of Lady Elizabeth, relict of Nicolas, 5th Baron Audley, who was buried in the Choir of Hulton Abbey."It is a mystery as to who paid for this large tomb, since an impoverished Molly could not have afforded such an altar tomb.
Interestingly, Sybil Leek, famous English self-proclaimed witch, astrologist and associate of occultist, Aleister Crowley, claimed to be a descendant of Molly Leigh; although it is believed that Molly never married and was not known to have produced any offspring. It has been reported that during a visit to Burslem, Ms. Leek roamed the streets of Burslem with a jackdaw perched upon her shoulder.
To this day, there are many stories and rumors in Burslem concerning Molly's ghost. Some believe that if one circles her grave three times while intoning "Molly Leigh, Molly Leigh, Chase me around the apple tree" her ghost will appear. I find it very sad that this most tragic soul who was taunted and tormented during her lifetime appears to remain so more than 2 1/2 centuries later.
♥ ♥ ♥ May you rest in peace, dear Molly. ♥ ♥ ♥
As an aside, my g-g-g grandmother, Emily Lockett Adams, is also buried in St. John's Churchyard.
St John the Baptist Churchyard
Stoke-on-Trent Unitary Authority
Created by: Yeé-Lin~☯
Record added: Jul 31, 2012
Find A Grave Memorial# 94607256