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’.
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 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!
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!
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).