Posted on: March 13, 2017

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The English county of Essex has more than its fair share of strange and weird stories.  It is rife with tales of ghosts, haunted houses, witchcraft, sightings of odd animals, and UFOs.   Borley Rectory – described as The Most Haunted House In The World – was once situated on the Essex/Suffolk border.  During the English Civil War Matthew Hopkins, the notorious Witchfinder General, spread terror in the area, interrogating, torturing and executing anyone he suspected of being a witch.

During World War 2 the village of Great Leighs was home to a poltergeist outbreak, which was thought to have been caused when a boulder was moved to widen a road leading to a military base.  Local legend had it that the boulder covered the grave of The Witch Of Scrapfaggot Green, and she wasn’t happy about being disturbed!  The phenomena ceased when the stone was moved back to its original spot in October 1944.  The village of Canewdon has a long history of witchcraft, dating back to Tudor times, if not even further.

The last recognised witch was one George Pickingill, who died in 1909.   He was known locally as “a cunning man”, whom people went to when they needed magical help.   It seems that most of his antics were fairly benign, although it is said he wasn’t averse to placing the odd curse on people.  In his book Secret Societies though, Nick Redfern writes that Pickingill was far from being just a harmless, eccentric old cove.   He writes that Pickingill – who could trace his family back to the 11th century – had spent time studying witchcraft in France, and had become a Freemason.  Back here in Blighty he had formed the Nine Covens of Canewdon.  It is thought that even Aleister Crowley (who seems to get everywhere) may have been a member of one of them in 1899.  So not quite the quirky old yokel I had originally envisaged.  A distant relative of Pickingill’s claimed that his covens were active up until the 1970s.

Within the parish of Canewdon lies Wallasea Island, described on Wikipedia as “one of the most tranquil places in Essex”.  But Wallasea had a dark secret for centuries.  Situated on the marshes was a strange building known alternatively as Tyle Barn, Tyle House … or The Devil’s House.  It was a ramshackle farmhouse, and its dark history seems to go back hundreds of years.   Local folklore has it that the Devil took up a beam, threw it into the air, and then told labourers to build a house where it fell.  It became known as the dwelling-place of a demon.

Back in the time of King Charles II, during the second half of the 17th century, the house was known as the Demon’s Tenement, and was the home of a witch called Mother Redcap.  Apparently Mother Redcap was a fairly common name for witches.  There are accounts of Mother Redcaps in other counties too, such as Sussex, Lancashire and Cambridgeshire.   Another inhabitant was a man by the name of Davill or Daville, which of course is very close to Devil.

By the 20th century the house had acquired quite a reputation in the area.  Witnesses spoke of sudden drops in temperature there, hearing the flapping of wings, and experiencing a sense of dread.   Locals believed the house was permeated with an atmosphere of evil, during to devil worship and Black Magic practised there many years before.

During World War 1 an army sergeant pooh-poohed the dark stories, and said that he would spend a night alone in the house, and basically show everybody what a load of a old hooey it was.   The following morning he was found pale and shaking, and flatly refused to speak of what had happened.

During the early years of World War 2 came one of the most disturbing stories of all.  A farm labourer was working on the site, when he heard his name being called, and then the words “do it, do it”.  He went to a nearby barn, collected a length of rope, and went into the house, where he threw the rope over a beam, preparing to hang himself.  Suddenly he found a terrifying creature staring down at him.  He described it as a black shape with large, glowing yellow eyes.  Fortunately the sighting of this strange being shook him out of his morbid reverie.

The house was bombed during the War, but would finally meet its end during the devastating storms of 1953, when on the night of 31 January the North Sea Flood killed hundreds of people along the East Coast of England and Scotland, as well as Holland and Belgium.  The Devil’s House was swept out to sea in the carnage.   It is said that the marshes in the area have now inherited the dark reputation of the Devil’s House.



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