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The legend of Burslem "witch" Molly Leigh. Fact or fiction?

Updated on November 25, 2010
The tomb of Margaret Leigh today
The tomb of Margaret Leigh today
Molly Leigh's cottage that was demolished in 1894.
Molly Leigh's cottage that was demolished in 1894.
St Johns church in Burslem, Stoke-on-trent. Where Molly Leigh's tomb is situated
St Johns church in Burslem, Stoke-on-trent. Where Molly Leigh's tomb is situated

The paranormal is always something that has intrigued me. I'm open minded but view things with a rational and levelheaded approach. It's fair to say i'm yet to be convinced but i've certainly had experiences that i struggle to explain. This interest in the supernatural has led me to write this hub. Hope you enjoy.

Every place has it's local legends and Stoke-on-trent is no different. The most famous of these spooky stories is the tale of alleged witch Margaret Leigh (or Molly as she was known) Molly was not what you would call a nice looking person, in fact she was ridiculed by locals for being extremely ugly. This led to Molly being shunned by the people of her hometown Burslem and left isolated with her only companion a pet blackbird.

Molly was born in 1685. Rumours began to circulate not long after her birth of strange behaviour that made people believe she had certain 'capabilities' She was rumoured to be able to eat a whole crust of bread just hours after she was born and that she refused her mother's milk, instead preferring the milk of animals.

Molly suffered tradegy at a young age with the death of her parents which perhaps had a part to play in the vile temper she developed. Leigh lived in a cottage just outside Burslem and tried to make money by selling milk in the town but was often accused of watering it down.

Local parson Reverand Spencer accused Molly of witchcraft. According to Rev Spencer Molly reacted to this by sending her blackbird over to the turk's head pub (where he was at the time) The story goes that when the bird landed on the window ledge all the beer in the pub turned sour and the people inside began to suffer from rheumatism. The reverand responded by shooting at the blackbird with no success.

It is thought that Margaret Leigh died in 1748 although some believe it was two years earlier. After her death the townsfolk descended on Molly's cottage. Some say it was to loot the property and some say it was to kill the blackbird who was causing a nuisance around the town. When they got there it is said that they were met by a figure of Molly knitting by the fire in a rocking chair. Some say she was muttering the words “Weight and measure sold I never, Milk and water sold I never”.

The terrified locals took drastic action. They excavated Molly's grave and buried her trusty blackbird (still alive) with her. Some reports suggest they drove a stake through her heart to make sure she was dead. After the excavation Molly's body was positioned differently to the other surrounding ones. Instead of facing in the usual east-west direction which is the norm for a Christian burial she was turned to face North-South. The tomb stands in the same place today. It's easy to spot as it's the only tomb in the whole cemetary that is facing a different way.

The size of Molly's tomb often creates debate. The expense of such a thing could not have been met by herself so the question is "Who paid for it and why?" Today kids dare each other to run around Molly's grave chanting "Molly Leigh, Molly Leigh, you can't catch me" although there are different versions of it such as "chase me around the apple tree" or "chase me into all the holes i see" It is said that if you do this three times then the spirit of Molly will appear.

In 2007 Popular T.V programme Most Haunted claimed to have contacted the ghost of Molly Leigh when exploring the supposedly haunted pub The Leopard Inn in one of their live investigations.

So that's the legend of Molly Leigh. Now i'm certain some things have been lost in translation over the years but there is still enough visual evidence to question whether this legend is in fact true. Do you believe in local legends? Do you have any of you own to tell me? Or have you ever experienced anything paranormal? It would be great to hear from you. Thanks for reading.

Why not check out my other hubs if you have the time?

Do you believe there is any truth to the legend of Molly Leigh?

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    • profile image

      valerie hallinan 

      5 years ago

      molly lee was not a witch she worked for the church ,she was a bell ringer that's why her grave is faceing the church if u look right the church paid for her tum stone so its not true she never went 2 church if any 1 needs 2 no the truth about molly please go in 2 st johns church and ask them about a molly cus they do have records off people who atened the church even from mollys times i hope this is a help for people who think they no about molly thanks .

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      from wat i have read you seem to have got all the information that has been passed around in the years i still havnt been to visit her grave yet but i am planning to but as you say who did pay the expence for her tomb there was someone or some people who must have cared for her in some sort of way i contacted someone a while back who said he was a decendent of molly leigh but i questioned him on weather she had children or not i don't think that anyone has ever been able to clarify that for me or maybe there was a brotheer or sister that was not known of? who concieved children who quite possibly be decendents of her when i do visit her tomb i will not be trying to evoke her spirit as i believe in letting the decesed rest in piece and as far as most haunted goes its a tv show that was making money off old legends and was crap in my personal opinion but 10/10 for this hub it has everything i can think of.

    • Fuller_legend profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Stoke-On-Trent, England

      Thanks for reading missbookworm. It's certainly well known in stoke isn't it? When you visit you'll definitely recognise her tomb straight away without even looking at the name, it's hard to miss.

    • lilmissbookworm profile image


      8 years ago

      I enjoyed this as I live in the same city and I have heard this story a few times and I definitely want to visit her grave. Good hub.


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