Canewdon Witches

Canewdon Witches According to a prophecy by the famous 19th-century cunning man James Murrell, the Essex village of Canewdon, located in England’s “witch country” of East Anglia, would be populated with witches “forever.” Indeed, the village and the surrounding area have been steeped in witch lore since at least 1580, when a woman named Rose Pye was accused of witchcraft, tried and acquitted. Legend has it that every time a stone falls from the tower of St. Nicholas Church, one witch will die but another will take her place. At midnight, a headless witch sometimes materializes near the church and floats down to the river. Anyone who encounters her is lifted into the air and let down in the nearest ditch.

Many of the witches of Canewdon were said to keep white mice familiars, or imps. A blacksmith, who became a witch when he sold his soul to the Devil, was given mice familiars. When he reached the end of his life — in fear of his eventual fate — he confessed on his deathbed that he could not die until he had passed on his powers to a successor. All of his imps climbed up on the bed and sat before him as he spoke. His wife refused them, but at last he was able to persuade his daughter to accept them, and he died.

Canewdon witches were usually described as old, ugly women with unpleasant personalities, true to the HAG stereotype. In the late 19th century, their bewitchments were countered by a white witch, known as Granny, with such folk-magic charms as a knife or pair of scis- sors under the doormat, which would keep witches out, and potions made for witch bottles that would break BewitchmentS. See Old George Pickingill.


  • Folklore, Myths and Legends of Britain. London: Reader’s Digest Assoc. Ltd., 1977.
  • Maple, Eric. The Dark World oj Witches. New York: A. S. Barnes & Co., 1962.
  • Pennick, Nigel. Secrets of East Anglican Magic. London: Robert Hale, 1995.

The Encyclopedia of Witches, Witchcraft and Wicca written by Rosemary Ellen Guiley – Copyright © 1989, 1999, 2008 by Visionary Living, Inc.