Witch or Herbalist? 'Ursula' is Finally Returned Home and Laid to Rest in the Essex Village of St Osyth

Life in 16th century Essex was quite different from the village it is today with rumour-mongering and superstition having dire consequences for two St Osyth women, Ursula Kemp and Elizabeth Bennett. Now an Essex-based documentary will tell the fascinating story of ‘Ursula’s’ life, death and her journey home to be re-buried after decades on display as a show piece.

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www.ursulakemp.co.uk

The story of 'Ursula' is unearthed

the help of carbon dating, can prove that the skeleton does date back to the 16th century and that there are indeed remnants of iron nails in her bones.

(PRWEB UK) 18 November 2011

Ursula Kemp, like many women of the time made a humble living through attending births, wet nursing babies and treating the sick with herbal potions and lotions. Unfortunately when Ursula’s services were rejected by a pregnant neighbour in favour of another ‘midwife,’ she exchanged such harsh words with the mother to be that when the young baby went on to die by allegedly falling from its cradle it was suspected a curse had been placed on the infant. After that villagers began to suspect that Ursula could treat or induce sickness and lameness at will and she soon became a prime target for the ‘Witch Hunter’, landowner and magistrate Brian D’Arcy.

Elizabeth Bennett was also implicated and according to archives the two of them along with twelve other St Osyth natives, were tried at Chelmsford Court on 29th March 1582. Although held in Colchester Castle and tried in Chelmsford, the place of their execution is not clear. It may have been Chelmsford but it wasn’t unusual for women accused of witchcraft to be hanged in their village and then buried in local unconsecrated ground.

In 1921 two skeletons were discovered in a garden by a Mr Brooker, a tenant in St Osyth carrying out some building work. One skeleton was badly damaged. The bodies were clearly not near a burial ground and Mr Brooker having some knowledge of the history of witches in the village decided to cash in by arranging visits from local people wanting to see the ‘witches’ skeleton. Only the house burning down in an unexplained fire in 1932 halted the interest in what was now believed to be the body of Ursula Kemp and the remains were reburied at the site.

More than 30 years later redevelopment prompted the deliberate, but now believed illegal, exhuming of the skeleton but this time there was little interest in it becoming a local attraction and the bones were sold to the Witchcraft museum in Boscastle owned by witch and pagan Cecil Williamson who promised he would safeguard her and not allow her exploitation again. However, before Williamson’s death he sold the museum but interestingly ‘Ursula’ was not included in the sale. Her last ‘owner’ was the artist and eccentric Robert Lenkiewicz who had a fascination for obsessions including witchcraft and the occult. Lenkiewicz kept Ursula on display in his library along with the embalmed body of a local tramp. A prolific painter and also lover, Lenkiewicz’s life was rather complex and when he died heavily in debt the skeleton of Ursula became tied up in the wrangles of his estate.

Documentary maker John Worland and co-director of the 2007 film Witch Finder, based on the Matthew Hopkins witch trials, has been tirelessly researching the history of Witches in East Anglia in the 16th and 17th centuries. It is thanks to him that now Ursula’s rather unfortunate life, death and subsequent journey has been unearthed. John spent many hours negotiating to have her remains released by the trustees of Lenkiewizc’s estate and from then he began to explore the process of what he and many others believe is the right end to Ursula’s journey – a peaceful reburial back in St Osyth. John, with the help of carbon dating, can prove that the skeleton does date back to the 16th century and that there are indeed remnants of iron nails in her bones.

Working closely with St Osyth Parish Council, a plot with a north-south orientation was located in unconsecrated land and on April 15th with both Pagan and Christian representatives present, the skeleton of ‘Ursula’ was finally laid to rest as a poignant and symbolic gesture for her and her fellow accused.

For more information about this extraordinary project, for feature articles, images, interviews with John Worland or details about the film preview please contact: Kate Everett (press office) on 0845 5272801 or John Worland on 01206 241820
Editors Notes

  •     John Worland has been in the video production industry for many years, having won prestigious awards such as a JVC National award for short documentary category, a fellowship award of the Institute of Videography and winner of a regional BAFTA competition for a short film.
  •     Award-winning documentary maker John Worland has a long-standing interest in 16-17th century witch hunting in the East of England. John Worland’s previous film Witch Finder was co-produced with Kerry King.    Filmed in and around Manningtree, Essex, it was based on Matthew Hopkins, the self-appointed “Witch Finder General” in 1645.
  •     John Worland’s previous documentary led him to produce his new documentary based on; Ursula Kemp- The witch who wouldn’t stay buried, which will be released in January 2012 on the twelfth night, Friday 6th January 2012.
  •     John Worland has been researching the history of Witches in East Anglia in the 16th and 17th centuries. Through extensive research john unearthed Ursula’s rather unfortunate life, death and subsequent journey. John spent many hours negotiating to have ‘Ursula’s’ remains released by the trustees of Lenkiewicz’ estate and from then he began to explore the process of what he and many others believe is the right end to ‘Ursula’s’ journey – a peaceful reburial back in St Osyth. He, with the help of carbon dating, can prove that the skeleton does date back to the 16 century and that there are indeed remnants of iron nails in her bones.

For more information about this extraordinary project, for feature articles, images, interviews with John Worland or details about the film preview please contact: Kate Everett (press office) on 0845 5272801 or John Worland on 01206 241820.

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