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You might have heard of a ship in a bottle - but have you ever heard of a witch in a bottle? This is the tale of one very troublesome witch.

At the Priory of St. Peter in Dunstable, on a cold winter's morning, a local woman called Sally was condemned of witchcraft by the Priory monks. She was slowly burned at the stake. Her cat and broomstick suffered the same fate. But Sally did not choose to go quietly as some did. She died loudly, screaming and cursing to her last breath. She threatened a terrible revenge on the monks who had condemned her.

The monks quickly found out that Sally was far more trouble dead than when she had been alive! Mysterious things began to happen. Invisible hands boxed the monk's ears; the church altar candles flickered and spat with an evil green glow.

Where Sally's ghostly fingers touched the prayer books, the covers were burnt. The monks could not pray in peace or sleep at night. It was driving them mad!

An exorcist was finally called to exorcise Sally's ghost, in a special church service but the troublesome witch would still not go quietly.

When the exorcist began the service, he was struck round the head with a mighty force that threw him to the ground. As the dazed exorcist struggled to his feet, the congregation froze in fear as the witch's menacing laughter rang from the rafters above.

But the exorcist himself was cunning and he finally outwitted the witch by putting a witch's lure in a bottle. The lure was a secret mixture, known only to a few people, of herbs and potions. It was very like a witch's spell itself!

The lure was so strong, it soon attracted the attention of the witch and when Sally's curious ghost went to investigate, the exorcist rammed the cork into the bottle tight! He gave a warning that the bottle must never be broken or the witch would escape and take terrible revenge on everyone.

The bottle was buried in a secret place in the priory grounds, just to make sure any friends of the witch could not retrieve it. However, as nobody knew where it was buried, it was said there were no more burials in the priory churchyard, just in case the buried bottle was accidentally broken, releasing the ghost of the wicked witch of Dunstable.
As far as we know, no strange bottles have ever been dug up near the site of the old priory but, if you should find yourself in the area, just remember to tread very, very carefully.

An 18th century poem - the Witches Warning - gives sound advice:

The spirit in the bottle
Go softly where ye treade
The lady is a cunning one
Disturb ye not the wicked dead

Never tarry on a restless night
Lest ye finde what darkness means
For she will trouble thee until in sleep
And steal thy soul through dreams.

Churchyard of Christchurch, Greyfriars.

This is the site of an ancient burial ground where lie the mortal remains of ‘the she-wolf of France’, Queen Isabella, wife of the English King Edward II. With her lover, Roger Mortimer, she instigated the deposing of the king and had him imprisoned at Berkeley Castle. On the night of 21 September, 1327, he was brutally murdered by way of ‘a kind of horn or funnel… thrust into his fundament through which a red hot spit was run up his bowels’. His screams could be heard far outside the castle walls, and are still heard there on the anniversary of the horrific event. Following Mortimer’s execution by her the king’s son, Edward III, in 1330, Isabella retreated into a polite retirement. She died in 1358, her last years having been racked by violent dementia. She was buried here at Greyfriars, with the heart of Edward II placed upon her breast. At twilight, her beautiful, angry ghost flits amongst the trees and bushes, clutching the beating heart of her murdered husband before her.

Lady Alice Hungerford was considered a great beauty of the Tudor age and she too murdered her spouse, in her case with a lethal dose of poison. In 1523 she paid for her crime by being boiled alive. She was laid to rest at Greyfriars, where her beautiful, serene phantom was soon drifting through the cloisters and aisles of the monastery and, following its dissolution, through the burial ground that sprang up on its site.

And so the two ladies went about their nocturnal rambles, each blissfully unaware of the other’s existence, until one night, in Victorian times, they met among the tombs. Eyeing each other with curiosity, then surprise and finally hostility, they each became jealous of the other’s beauty, and a fearsome battle erupted as they fought over their territory. Bemused witnesses could only look on in terror as the spectral fight became more and more vicious. A night watchman, caught up in the midst of the ghostly squabbling, was so frightened by the experience that he fled the scene and ‘never … came back to collect his pay’.


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© Brenda Diskin 2008 (Webmaster)