Meg Shelton, the Fylde Witch at St Anne's, Woodplumpton.

I recently visited St Anne’s Church at Woodplumpton, between Blackpool and Preston. It’s a queer-looking church, rebuilt in the 1630s in a rather continental style. In its churchyard, among the graves which do not seem to be in any chronological order, lies a small boulder. A little metal sign next to it explains that this is the grave of Meg Shelton, a local witch who died in 1705. She is known as the Fylde Hag and had a reputation for flying and turning into animals. Legend says that they buried her upside down and placed the boulder over her grave to prevent her getting back up again and flying off.

The truth is less interesting. She was really called Margery Hilton and according to the church’s own website, ‘was found dead in her cottage crushed between the wall and a barrel’. If she really had magic powers and the ability to fly, she would surely have seen this one coming and got out of the way. In 1705, the craze for trying and killing witches was well and truly over in Britain (though the New Englanders continued this practice with great enthusiasm at Salem, thirteen years before). It’s also noteworthy that she was buried in the church yard. This was not afforded to persons out of communion with Anglican belief and custom. As a ‘witch’, she was probably an unmarried or widowed old wise-woman with a knowledge of herbal remedies and experience of safely delivering children. Today, she would have been called a midwife or pharmacist. How apt we are to mistake good for evil and evil for good.