WEIRD SUFFOLK: The witch of Ipswich whose ghost is said to roam a shop in Buttermarket

A witch makes a deal with the Devil. Picture: Wellcome Collection

A witch makes a deal with the Devil. Picture: Wellcome Collection - Credit: Wellcome Collection

The witch of Ipswich has the unquiet spirit of a woman burned for witchcraft returned to an Ipswich shop in Buttermarket which bears her name?

Shopping streets in Ipswich

Shopping streets in Ipswich - Credit: Archant

An Ipswich woman is one of the few burnt at the stake for witchcraft, a terrible, slow and painful way to die, which possibly accounts for the fact she is said to have returned to haunt the town.

Mary Lakeland's death by fire on Rushmere Heath in 1645 was due to the fact that in addition to Satantic acts, she was also found guilty of treason, for which the punishment was burning. According to the details from her trial, Lakeland (or Lackland, as other accounts call her) had sold herself to the Devil who had, in return, supplied her with three familiars in the shape of two little dogs and a mole. These imps had helped her wreak havoc, the prosecution claimed.

In Lady Eveline Camilla Gurdon's 1893 book Mother Lakeland of Ipswich, 1645, it reads: "In an old tract bearing the title of 'The Laws against Witches and Conjurations' is preserved a curious statement purporting to be the confession of a famous witch of Ipswich, known as Mother Lakeland.

"According to this document, Mother Lakeland sold herself to the devil, who supplied her with three familiars in the shape of two little dogs and a mole.

"She practiced first on her husband, who, after lying long in great misery, died; then on a Mr. Laurence of Ipswich, and his child, tormenting them to death by her sorceries, all on the account of the former asking her for some ten or twelve shillings she owed him.

"A Mrs. Jennings was also done to death by the mole aforesaid, and Mr. Beale, of Ipswich, suffered much at her hands; a fine new ship owned by him was burnt before it went to sea, and himself reduced to a mere skeleton by her machinations." Mary, thought to have been in her 50s and the wife - or widow - of an Ipswich barber, John, was an unlikely target for a witch hunt.

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Extraordinarily pious and Godly, it is thought that her dedication to the Lord might have been viewed with suspicion to the point where she was linked with one of Ipswich's radical sects with congregations in Ipswich. The accusation that she had been in league with the Devil came at the same time as Witchfinder General Matthew Hopkins was at work in Great Yarmouth in Norfolk and shortly after the infamous Bury St Edmunds witch trials in August 1645, when 18 people had been executed in just one day. Along with the woman said to be her accomplice, Alice Denham, Mary was accused of crimes which included the murder of her husband, William Lawrence and his son and of the maid servant of a Mrs Jennings and of bringing illness and wreaking havoc on the life of Henry Reade, who had courted, then spurned, her granddaughter. Reade's ship sank and he fell victim to a terrible wasting disease. One can only imagine the pressure put upon poor Mary in order to make her confess to the crimes and more - to making a pact with the Devil in her own blood - but confess she did, and she and Alice were sentenced to death at the Ipswich town sessions on September 1. She did not retract her confession, even just before her death.

Four other suspects, three women and a man, who were also said to have helped Mary and Alice were left in prison as the sentence was read out in court: "Incendetur ad cindres" (to be burnt to ashes). On September 9, 1645, Mary was burned on Rushmere Heath, now a golf course - she had been placed in a pitch barrel, kindling surrounding her, and then set alight, her screams piercing the smoke. It cost taxpayers £3 3s 6d to execute her, as opposed to the £1 hanging fee - a huge increase for a far crueler death.

In addition to theories that Mary was a just a bit TOO religious for people to handle, other theories about her death include that, like most accused 'witches' she was a widow who was a burden to her town or the strangest of all, that she was a secret Royalist informer.

On another note, the last woman to be burnt at the stake in England also died at Rushmore Heath: Margery Beddingfield, 20, was accused of murdering her husband John in 1762 with the help of her lover, Richard Ringe, 22. While Ringe and Beddingfield were taken to the gallows on the right hand side of the Woodbridge Road at Rushmere Heath on April 8 1763 and the former was hanged while Margery was strangled before being burned. The Bluecoat boys of the charity school Christ's Hospital were given "half a days liberty" to see the pair executed, a field trip of a most macabre variety.

Although Mary Lakeland breathed her last as a mortal in 1645, it is not the last that Ipswich saw of her: according to staff working at the appropriately-named Lakeland Store at the Buttermarket's Ancient House in the late 1990s, strange things happened that could not be accounted for.

Built at the place where medieval houses and shops once stood, and close to where a certain John Lakeland once ran a barber's shop, the building is said to be haunted by a shadowy presence. Belongings and items move of their own accord, often disappearing entirely before reappearing, flowers are arranged by an invisible hand and once, a member of staff found themselves locked in the cellar until the door burst open by a force unknown.

Could it be that Mary Lakeland is back?

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