Molly Leigh was said to be the Burslem witch. She lived in a small cottage, a photo of which I based this picture on. There are no photos of her so I tried to find a painting of an elderly woman from about that time and chose a picture of a French peasant by Theodore Gericault as an inspiration. The plants in the background are meant to be foxgloves and different herbs in a garden I imagined to be full of things you could use for remedies. I didn’t find much out about her life, except she is meant to be buried in a local church yard with the grave orientated East West, instead of the normal North South way. We went for a walk and ended up in the graveyard, only to get told off by someone from the church who kept getting people messing about round Mollys grave. When we explained we were on a photo walk of Burslem and we didn’t want to do any strange rituals he was OK. The painting is set on a night of the full moon and I tried to make the sky atmospheric and spooky. I’m sorry people won’t be able to see my murals in the Leopard anymore. No doubt they will be painted over or removed.
All hallows eve. The night before all saints day, Halloween. October 31st. Tomorrow…
It was almost midnight. The moon was about half full, gliding in and out from behind the clouds. Smoke from an early November 5th bonfire drifted across the woodland. A mist was forming and swirling around the trees.
Why am I doing this? She thought for the thousandth time. Why do I want to be a Witch? It was all very strange. The recruitment, in a cafe! What did they think they were, spies?
Next to her stood her best friend, Gerry, she was slightly older and into Wiccan ideas, she had persuaded her to come along. Come on, whispered Gerry. It’s almost midnight.
They followed a short path through the trees. Their bare legs scratched and nettled. Not far now. They came out into a wide open space, a gap in the trees. One Oak sapling grew at the centre of the clearing. A crude rock alter lay in front of it. The clearing was full of women in black dresses and capes, holding broomsticks and with the traditional conical hats on their heads. She started to laugh. This was ridicuous. She shivered, all she and Gerry were wearing were dark cloaks like those of the women in front of her. What am I bloody well doing…..
Come forward, a tall woman ordered them. Kneel. Put your heads on the altar.
What? She struggled so two women grabbed her and pushed her down. She felt the slab of rock cold against her cheek.
People danced and a fire flickered, out of the corner of her eye she saw the leaves falling like snow from the trees although there was no wind or breeze.
She heard cackling laughter and the tall woman sat astride her broomstick. It lifted! Slowly the woman rose, all the while maniacal laughter flying from her mouth. Twice round the clearing. The witches gradually stepped forward and surrounded the two women at the altar.
The tall woman landed next to them.
You have both passed the test, she said. You are now witches. I salute you.
Would you like a Sloe Gin with tonic and ice ?
it was late when she arrived. The rain had been pelting down all day, flooding the lanes. The car had struggled through the murk. But the hotel looked warm and inviting. She signed in and opted for a quick visit to the bar.
Soon she was chatting with the hotel owner. He told her how quirky it was. Wait till you see it in daylight. He said. It’s got a lovely feeling to it, ancient yet beautiful. She smiled as she chatted. Just what she needed, a quiet scenic stay in a plush hotel. Pampering and relaxing.
It’s a few hundred years old, he told her. Some parts are ancient. You can see the timbers. Old oak beams, even some wattle and daub in the older parts.
That’s great, really interesting. I bet you could tell some tales? She only asked with the expectation of some story for the tourist trade.
The hotel owner smiled. Well there is one story about the witch, he said. Oh, not a ghost? She replied.
No, it happened in the room next to where you are tonight. An old woman, they decided she was a witch simply because she had bright green eyes. The story goes they didn’t want to hang her so they walled her up in a cupboard in the wall. We’ve never seen anything, he reassured her. Just one of those spooky stories you get in old buildings.
Still, she felt a little nervous on the way up to her bedroom. The lighting was very low, making every shadow ghostly puddles of blackness. I can’t wait for morning, she thought.
Up two flights of stairs, the porter showed her into the bedroom. It was en suite with a four poster bed! Satin drapes to keep the damp breeze out. A tray full of goodies and proper coffee. The bathroom had a roll top bath, gold taps, luxurious. Soon she was feeling relaxed and calm. She drank a gin and tonic and read her book for a little while.
She decided to turn in about midnight, with the drapes round the bed pulled tight it was too dark so she put the side table light on and settled down.
She was very tired and soon fell asleep. She was only a light sleeper and something woke her.
A hand was pulling the drapes aside, a face appeared at the bottom of the bed. Two bright green, glowing eyes stared at her.
Old Belladonna Green watched as the moon rose. It was full and glowing tonight. Just the right time to be abroad for some witchery…..
She stood on top of the hill looking down at the old town. What enchantments could she weave to change people’s lives tonight?
She was a solo witch. A bit like solitary bees. Not part of a coven, but quietly making a difference where she could. The world was too modern for her really. No apprentice had been to see her for twenty years and her stock of charms had worn out long ago. Yes she could go to the local magic shop, but the stuff in there was mainly tat. Who wanted to buy a whoopee cushion to help indigestion?
And the Internet? It spread such falsehoods that no one knew what to believe anymore. When texting arrived she almost gave up. As it was she had to be very circumspect about what she did. All those satellites and droney things. She was good at weaving invisibility which she needed to keep out of sight of CCTV! More than once she had been forced to take the form of a black cat to avoid detection.
She looked over at Larch Street. A small row of terraces which were humble but cozy.
Oh yes. Mr Hughes, he needed some help, he was losing his hair rapidly…. She climbed up the drainpipe. She was still quite nifty at climbing even though she was 74… As she had thought, the bedroom window was open to let the cool moorland air in. She pushed the sash window open and deftly stepped through. Her soft shoes made no sound… She had a pouch of green herbs on her belt and she moved over to where Mr Hughes was sleeping. Gentle fingers massaged the green goo onto his head, he snored and turned in the bed, putting an arm round his wife. Belladonna stood back, approving her own work, then swiftly left the way she had come.
As the alarm clock went off the following morning Mr Hughes went into the bathroom. He was rather shocked to see in the his face in the mirror… A full head of hair…. But why was it blonde?