It seems that when talking about haunted places, there are certain locales that by their very nature seem destined for the paranormal. Those locations with a history indelibly stained with suffering or dark, bloody, or violent events are almost inevitably pervaded by the supernatural, as if this ominous history has managed to draw these forces, absorb them, and make them a part of the very place itself. Certainly one such place lies in the country of England, and is a former witches’ prison with a sinister history that has turned it into one of the most notoriously haunted places in the world.
The time was the 16th century, in Essex, England, and for the people of the era it was a frightening time when witches roamed the night casting their dark spells and carrying out their arcane rituals. For these people witches were very real, and black magic was a threat that hung over the land like a black cloud. Throughout the region efforts were made to track down and capture witches to eliminate this evil, and the small village of St Osyth was no different, with a total of 14 witches rounded up here on accusations for everything from placing curses on people, to bringing blight and sickness, to unleashing their familiars to wreak havoc.
By far the most well-known of the Witches of St Osyth, as well as the first to be arrested, was a woman by the name of Ursula Kemp. She had been fairly popular among her neighbors in the past, and was known for mixing all sorts of herbal concoctions and salves to heal various ailments. At the time she was known as a healer, and she was ironically often called upon for her purported ability to actually reverse spells and curses cast by witches, for a price. However, with a lonely woman mixing her potions and performing such magic, as well as keeping herself surrounded by several cats, it was only a matter of time in this era of rampant superstition and fear of magic before she was accused of being a witch herself, with numerous people coming forward to claim that she had been causing the very sicknesses she had claimed to heal. She was also accused of casting curses herself, including one that caused a baby to fall and break her neck, and another that allegedly caused a woman to go lame.
Kemp’s trial would be held in 1582, and the number of people testifying against her was overwhelming. There were those who claimed that she had set her familiars upon them, others who said she had bewitched people who angered her by muttering curses, and that she used black magic to cause deaths. Some charges were quite bizarre, such as that she had used her witchcraft to prevent beer from brewing. The most damning evidence of all was presented by Kemp’s very own 8-year-old son, who told the court that she had 4 familiars, two cats, a black toad, and a white lamb, which he had seen suckling blood from her, and that these familiars were, “two male spirits, that killed people, and two female spirits, that brought sickness to people, and destroyed cattle.”
During the trial 13 others would be implicated in witchcraft as well, including a woman named Elizabeth Bennet, and all of them would be found guilty. They were then moved to the witches’ prison known as “The Cage,” where they awaited punishment, which was execution by hanging for the most part. Indeed, Kemp and 6 others would be hanged at the prison for their crimes and their bodies unceremoniously dumped into unmarked graves on unhallowed ground. In later years the prison became a quarantine for plague victims, with many dying here, before becoming a prison again. I know what you are probably thinking right about now, and oh yes is it ever haunted. In fact, it is routinely referred to as one of the most haunted places in Britain.
The Cage itself remained in operation all the way up to 1908, after which it was finally shut down and sold to a string of owners who have more often than not had very intense paranormal experiences there. The first buyer sold it a mere 2 weeks after buying it, and another buyer allegedly went mad and hung himself there. One of the most notorious cases of a haunting at The Cage was experienced by an owner who lived there for 11 years by the name of Vanessa Mitchell, and who was left traumatized by a string of bizarre, often violent ghostly encounters on the property.
Vanessa claims that when she bought the property and moved in in 2004, she wasn’t told anything about the sinister history of the place or the deaths that had occurred there, but she would soon find out. According to her she was constantly plagued by poltergeist activity from the very beginning, which seemed to be never-ending and would manifest at all hours of the day and night. She would say of this paranormal activity:
The daylight hours in The cage were no less active than the night hours. Ornaments would fly of the mantel piece, the old chain from the original prison building would swing back and forward as if to remind me of the horrific history of my home and the hall stairs door would crash open in a forceful almost violent way, blood splatters appeared in the hall in broad daylight in front of witnesses apart from myself. The TV sound would go up and down with no one near the controls to adjust them and you would hear someone pacing back and forth in the upstairs hall …it didn’t stop it was all the time and there was nothing I could do.
Even more ominous than these unexplained phenomena were decidedly more violent and menacing incidents. She says that she would see dark shadowy figures lurking about, and that she was often subjected to being pushed and slapped by unseen hands. The most frightening such occurrence allegedly happened when she was pregnant and an unseen force roughly pushed her to the ground, of which she would say “It was absolutely terrifying, I just remember feeling the force like something had pushed me and falling on my side. When I was on the floor I just lay there in shock.” She also claims that she once walked in on a shadowy figure looming over her son as he slept, and even that there was even CCTV footage taken of a “satanic goat” wandering about. She finally decided to sell the house, and has said of her ordeal:
I’m selling the house now because the house is getting worse, we’re catching evidence all the time of the tortured spirits inside. I’ve had every medium, psychic and investigator in there to try and get rid of what’s in there. I honestly believe the house is cursed, I have lived there for years but for me seeing a tall dark figure standing between me and my son’s cot was the final straw for me. There’s something evil in there, something demonic, whatever it is that’s keeping the other spirits trapped inside. It’s so haunted I don’t know what more I can do, and it’s time for someone to own it who can do more with it than me.
It is unclear just why she would live there for 11 years if she was so constantly under siege by such terrifying ghostly phenomena, but she no longer lives there and moved out in 2012, refusing to even go near the place alone. The story of Vanessa’s experiences at The Cage was a media sensation at the time, and pushed the location and its dark history and hauntings into the public consciousness, drawing in droves of curiosity seekers, paranormal investigators, and ghost hunters to the property. Many of these visitors have had paranormal experiences themselves, such as the paranormal investigator and author Micky Rawlings, who bravely decided to try living in The Cage for research and did not have to wait long before being harassed by some sort of malevolent ghostly force. He has said of his experience there:
I’ve seen books flying off shelves in the upstairs hallway, I’ve watched doors open on their own, and I’ve even seen a shadow person with my own eyes. I’m not a religious man and yet I go to bed every night clutching a crucifix for my own safety. After a few days, I got to learn the natural noises of the house. Now the non-natural noises keep my awake at night. I’d argue that the place is dangerous – I’m convinced it could end up killing someone one day.
Other phenomena Rawlings witnessed include the sound of growling, the pattering of footsteps running around, and most bizarrely of all, the disembodied tunes of what sounds like a tiny piano playing. Another paranormal investigator who had a rather harrowing experience at The Cage was Brad Mac, who went ahead with a plan to spend a night at the location along with some colleagues on December 2, 2017. They would find waiting for them a smorgasbord of weird occurrences, of which Mac would say:
We had 5 Volunteers, one Investigator who had experience in the Cage and myself. Vanessa refused point blank to stay after dark. Through the course of the night, I investigated in a few rooms myself, joined the volunteers as they tried to provoke the dark spirits into reacting, and mainly watched from CCTV to see if we capture anything in the moment. My Mel Meter ( An EMF Measurement tool ) fluctuated like crazy, we constantly heard footsteps both light and quick and some heavy but quicker. I heard faint whispers behind me whilst walking around upstairs, we captured numerous lights flickering on both levels of the house, I got bitten or pinched on the leg and even caught two little stick figures cowering from my touch in the motion camera. The motion camera footage shows a stick figure covering its face and recoiling as I try to touch it. All in all, it was one of the most frantic and terrifying nights of my life.
And this was only the beginning of the evening. At one point during the night, at approximately 3 AM, the investigators were off upstairs exploring the master bedroom, said to be the most haunted area of the house, as Mac and another colleague monitored them on a live feed on CCTV from downstairs. At first all was dark and quiet, but then in quick succession he says, “We saw innumerable inexplicable lights flicker across the room, heard a loud growl coming from the corner, and 3 loud bangs smash of the door behind the volunteers.” Then one of Mac’s colleagues, known only as “Debbie,” was witnessed to undergo a rather unsettling transformation as they were all gathered there, with her nose becoming hooked, her eyes becoming fierce and dark, and her face cracking an evil smile that he describes as “Joker-like.” Mac would explain thus:
Both me and Dave gasped, she was unrecognizable and what I saw shook me to my core. After a moment that seemed a lifetime, I knew I had to film this. I whipped out my iPhone, fully charged – thank God. [Her] nose… it has changed shape completely. Almost like a witch’s, with a sharp arch in the bridge of her nose. That nose… is not a prop.
Making it all even spookier is that Debbie then stumbled out of the room and went downstairs, where she complained that something was burning on her back. The crew then purportedly lifted up her jumper to take a look and were astonished to see what looked like four long burn marks splayed out like fingers and another going straight up her back into her neck. Mac speculates that the ghost of one of the witches, perhaps even Kemp herself, had tried to possess Debbie and had briefly succeeded. You can see photos and footage of the transformation here. Needless to say, the team ended up not going through with their plan, with some of the frightened volunteers even fearing for their very lives if they stayed. Other visitors to The Cage and even people passing by have also reported all manner of strangeness from this place, and photographic evidence includes countless images of mysterious lights of orbs, shadow figures, and even a photo of what appears to be a witch on a stretcher, taken by a local policeman.
Interestingly enough, The Cage isn’t even the only supposedly haunted places in the village of St Osyth, as there is a former insane asylum practically right across the street that is said to be haunted, as well as a tavern right down the road also said to have ghosts that cause cars to careen off the road. Is this all the doing of ghosts and spirits or is there perhaps something else going on? Could it be that perhaps the reason this place is so infused with such strangeness is because of all of the suffering, death, and negative energy that permeate its dark history like a disease? Could this residual energy then be merely a symptom of this sickness, emanating out to cause these phenomena? Of course we are nowhere near knowing the answer to this, but it does seem that such macabre locales seem to hold to them a striking intensity of paranormal phenomena, and The Cage must certainly rank high up there among them.