The Witch’s Heart of King’s Lynn


Welcome to the final blog post in the brief series exploring some of the myths and legends underpinning my work-in-progress novel BLACK DOG. Those who have read my previous three blog posts will know that the novel is set in North Norfolk and is a police procedural/crime thriller with supernatural overtones (mainly involving the same ‘black dog’ mythology that inspired Conan Doyle to write Hound Of The Baskervilles). However, the supernatural elements don’t stop there! I am also incorporating King’s Lynn’s infamous legend of the ‘witch’s heart’.

My home in Lynn for a year...a rented studio flat in a converted malthouse

As stated, I lived in Lynn for a year when I did my teacher training – and thus I discovered the legend of the witch’s heart…which I shall relate to you now. (BTW I was going to post some of my own photos of the witch’s heart but I can’t seem to locate them right now! Watch this space at a later date amigos!)

East Anglia – with its long-held obsession with witchcraft – was, of course, one of England’s primary locales for witch-hunts and central to the 160-year-long campaign of persecution of the old, lonely and eccentric that superstition, religious dogma and the sadistic, venal impulses of the prevailing authorities visited upon the innocent. In 1590 in King’s Lynn a woman named Margaret Read fell victim to the murderous impulses of the ‘witchfinders’.

The Witch's Heart of King's Lynn

The Tuesday Marketplace in King’s Lynn (the town’s central market – now a rather large cobblestone car park bordered by the Corn Exchange and a variety of pubs and hotels) was, for many years, the scene of the public execution of ‘witches’. Having been accused (and found guilty) of witchcraft, Margaret Read was burned alive in Lynn’s Tuesday Marketplace in 1590. The legend (of which there are several versions) states that, whilst she was being consumed by the flames, Margaret’s heart spontaneously burst from her body and hit the wall of a house opposite – searing a permanent sign into the brickwork that can still be seen to this day. The heart is then said to have quite consciously “bounced” all the way out of town and into the River Ouse where it disappeared beneath the surface of the water in angry, sulphurous waves that recalled the bubbling of a cauldron!

Diamond Heart - closer view

The Lynn ‘witch’s heart’ (also known as the Diamond Heart) can be seen high up on the brickwork of House No 15/16 on the north side of Tuesday Marketplace. It actually looks like a rather crude freehand carving – but the legend endures!

Burning of witches in Baden, Switzerland in 1590...the same year Margaret Read was killed

Although a victim of 16th century England’s obsession with witchcraft, Margaret Read was not a victim of East Anglia’s most infamous witch-hunter – the self-styled ‘Witchfinder General’ Matthew Hopkins. (Read was killed some 30 years before Hopkins was born). However, no blog about witchcraft in East Anglia can surely escape even a brief mention of Matthew Hopkins – so here (briefly!) is a summary of his activities:

Hopkins began his witch-finding purges in March 1645 and retired in 1647. He was active in Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire, Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire. Although only active for just fourteen months Hopkins and his associates condemned to death (and murdered) more people for witchcraft than had been tried and killed in the preceding 160 years by all the other witchfinders put together! In fact, some estimates suggest that Hopkins and his cronies were responsible for at least 40% of the total of all the deaths of condemned ‘witches’ that occurred in England between the early 15th and late 18th centuries – a 300-year period! Witch-killing was a lucrative past-time for Hopkins. Records show that King’s Lynn paid Hopkins the sum of £15 for ‘clearing the town of witches’ – this was at a time when the average daily wage was 2.5p! There is, of course, a direct line from the witch-burning Puritans of England to the witch-hunters of Salem, USA – the same ignorance, fear, superstition and prejudice having been exported across the Atlantic on the Mayflower.

So, the Tuesday Marketplace and the Witch’s Heart will be going into the pages of BLACK DOG! BTW If you haven’t already seen it – I can recommend the old classic Hammer Horror film Witchfinder General (based on Hopkins and starring Vincent Price). As many of you know, I’m a Hammer fan – and Witchfinder General is one of the best (especially if you can find the Director’s Cut with the controversial cut scenes restored).

Scene inspired by the Salem Witch Trials

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16 Responses to The Witch’s Heart of King’s Lynn

  1. Paul Freeman says:

    I love your blog, you never know what is coming next.

  2. Poppet says:

    This is one of those subjects that has me see red. I am familiar with both the black dog and witch’s heart myths / legends, but burning women because they know how to make tea with herbs is enough to make me hate men and … and ….. and…. and you shouldn’t have mentioned him because he deserves to be forgotten – forever.

    I hope hell exists – and I hope he’s tortured for eternity

    • Simon says:

      agree with you fully amigo :)
      i am certainly NOT a fan of hopkins and his ilk – or any other kind of murderous bigot for that matter
      just giving a wee bit of info on the book’s themes/settings…but hopkins def won’t be a part of the narrative
      xo :)

  3. i found out after watching the film witchfinder general that the scenes in the film of witches being burned were actually filmed in the true burning site in lavenham.(suffolk i think).well worth a visit if u never been.love ye blog simon.i live nr lynn n just recently was telling my niec of margatet read when we were in lynn one day.tis so sad.

    • Simon says:

      hi angie. thanx for posting. you are right about the hammer movie, witchfinder general, and the village of lavenham. it was a terrible time of superstition and needless suffering. i am just over halfway through my novel, black dog, and plan for it to perhaps be the first in a series that uses the folklore and myths of east anglia as the basis for the narrative. hope you will enjoy the book when it (eventually!) appears!

  4. well i hope yr book doesv well .also few months ago in kings lynn they they were doin work on the dukes head hotel in the market place n found a body of a cat.they apparently use to put them up in the floor boards n let em die to keep withces away.im sooo glad i wasnt around then.i love my animals so prob would of been classed as a witch lol cos i talk toem all the time lol.i just feel so sad for all those poor women.x

  5. C Dunlop says:

    I Have visited Lynn a few times. I have been to the Harp/tennis string factory, and they told me this story. Life/nature is cruel, and the human race is the worst. Is the market place haunted I wonder? Incidentally harp strings are made of the intestines of cows, but what else would you do with them?? CD

    • Simon says:

      Hi CD. Thanks for posting on my blog :) The Tuesday Marketplace in Lynn definitely has an atmosphere! Some of the hotels are said to be haunted – including one particular room in one particular hotel that, it is said, no-one can spend an undisturbed night in! The Lynn tourist office can tell you more! I’m about halfway through my novel now – following a brief hiatus. I’ll try to have it ready for early 2013 :)

  6. gerry says:

    only in kings lynn normal for norfolk

  7. Thank you for posting this; very interesting and its something I researching myself :)

  8. Gail says:

    I’m from Australia and visited and stayed in King’s Lynn a few weeks ago. The story of the witch’s heart in the Tuesday Market Place fascinated me. I read a book some years ago based on Matthew Hopkins … what a vile creature! It has been interesting to find your blog and read through it. All the best for the book, is it out yet?

    • Simon says:

      hi gail. many tx for posting. i am still working on the novel (black dog). it is taking far, far (far!) loooooonger than i expected – but i’m getting there and (though i say so myself!) it should be a good read :) i’d say i have two-thirds completed of a first draft. you can be sure i will blog about it when it is finally done!! atb S :)

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