The parish church of St Anne, Woodplumpton, has been in existence since since 1340, being rebuilt in both 1639 & 1900. It’s a very curious looking place and appears rather cosmopolitan in style.
During restoration original stonework dating back to the 12th century was discovered. The main entrance into the churchyard is through the Lychgate which was erected in 1912, flanked on one side by the now restored 18th century stocks and a mounting stone, which was well used in times gone by when travellers arrived on horseback.
The burial ground lies mostly to the south and west of the church building where the graves seem to have been placed nonsequentially, as if the mortal remains were placed there in a hurry – and one such occupant was . . . for on Saturday the 2nd May 1705 the torchlit interment of the Woodplumpton Witch took place under cover of darkness, as the tintabulation from the west tower heralded the midnight hour. (Probably!)
But who was the Woodplumpton Witch/ Fylde Hag?
Meg Shelton (Aka Margery Hilton) was reputed to be a malevolent and powerful witch and although she did actually exist it is thought her misdemeanours were somewhat exaggerated.
Was Meg just an unmarried or widowed wise woman, with botanical knowledge of healing plants and herbs and perhaps some capability in childbirth?
We do know Meg was clever, shrewd and frugal, surviving on just her wits and what she was able to steal from the local farmers. Corn and milk were often reported to have gone missing but the perpetrator could never be found, this was put down to Megs otherworldly ability to transform herself into all manner of innocent domestic equipment. Flights of fancy tell of the old woman disguising her milk jug as a goose and of her own metamorphosis into a sack of grain.
Her dwelling was a ramshackle hovel known locally as ‘Cuckoo Cottage’ which formed part of local landowner Lord Cottam’s Catforth estate. Legend has it Meg won the cottage from Cottam in a bet, as she was known to have lived out her life there rent free. Even stranger tales tell of blackmail, black artistry and even surrogate motherhood (Lady Cottam being infertile) being the reason behind such an arrangement.
The pronounced limp Meg walked with was also attributed to her witchy shenanigans. The aforementioned bet consisted of Meg transforming into a hare and racing her landlords dogs back to her home, the leveret was witnessed heading towards Meg’s cottage followed by a baying pack of hounds. It raced through the front door, beating them by a whisker, but not before receiving a nasty nip to its hind leg.
Some believe these stories may be a cover up for a dalliance, as Meg was rumoured to have once been the paramour of a local dignitary. Was it he who funded her rent free cottage and paid for her moonlight burial in consecrated ground?
If Meg’s life appeared to be clouded in a mix of fact and fiction it seems her death also was. Even after her life was ended she refused to go quietly.
Meg was discovered dead in her isolated home in 1705, apparently the victim of a freak accident which resulted in her becoming crushed betwixt the cottage wall and a heavy oak barrel.
The villagers were convinced her dealings with the dark lord had resulted in her demise.
Being in no doubt that a witch had the power to return post-mortem the locals decided her spirit may rest if placed in the hallowed ground of St. Anne’s.
But, as the sun rose on the morning after her interment her cadaver was spotted lying beside the freshly opened grave. It is claimed this happened again and again, after each & every attempt at reburial. The alarming regularity of her escapes caused a local catholic priest to be summoned who decided it was in the community’s best interest to reinter Meg head down and her resting place be covered by a large glacial boulder, which fortuitously was lying nearby. One exorcism later and the good folk of Woodplumpton once again slept safe in their beds.
But in her own indomitable style Meg Shelton has ensured her name is still whispered from the lips of West Lancashire folk. Locals claim to have spotted Meg around the village on many occasions, grown men have felt the ghostly thwack of a broom on their backsides only to turn and spy nowt but a bedraggled hare limping off across the fields. During one visit a small boy was terrified by ‘a wicked old woman in old fashioned clothes’ chasing him around the church as his parents chatted outside!
Should you ever visit the picturesque village of Woodplumpton (it’s beautiful hiking country and I’d highly recommend it) do pay a visit to Meg’s grave, I always gift her a trinket, if I’ve nothing pretty in my pocket I’ve been known to slip off an earring to leave! If you stand atop her boulder and turn around three times you can even make a wish.
I’ve also known others to walk around her stone thrice chanting her name in an attempt to renew the blessing/curse which keeps the dwellers of Woodplumpton at peace from this formidable lady!