You might have heard of a ship in a bottle - but have you ever heard of a witch in a bottle? This is the tale of one very troublesome witch.
At the Priory of St. Peter in Dunstable, on a cold winter's morning, a local woman called Sally was condemned of witchcraft by the Priory monks. She was slowly burned at the stake. Her cat and broomstick suffered the same fate.
But Sally did not choose to go quietly as some did. She died loudly, screaming and cursing to her last breath. She threatened a terrible revenge on the monks who had condemned her.
The monks quickly found out that Sally was far more trouble dead than when she had been alive! Mysterious things began to happen. Invisible hands boxed the monk's ears; the church altar candles flickered and spat with an evil green glow.
Where Sally's ghostly fingers touched the prayer books, the covers were burnt. The monks could not pray in peace or sleep at night. It was driving them mad!
A palmer was finally called to exorcise Sally's ghost, in a special church service but the troublesome witch would still not go quietly.
When the palmer began the service, he was struck round the head with a mighty force that threw him to the ground. As the dazed palmer struggled to his feet, the congregation froze in fear as the witch's menacing laughter rang from the rafters above.
But the palmer himself was cunning and he finally outwitted the witch by putting a witch's lure in a bottle. The lure was a secret mixture, known only to a few people, of herbs and potions. It was very like a witch's spell itself!
The lure was so strong, it soon attracted the attention of the witch and when Sally's curious ghost went to investigate, the palmer rammed the cork into the bottle tight! He gave a warning that the bottle must never be broken or the witch would escape and take terrible revenge on everyone.
The bottle was buried in a secret place in the priory grounds, just to make sure any friends of the witch could not retrieve it. However, as nobody knew where it was buried, it was said there were no more burials in the priory churchyard, just in case the buried bottle was accidentally broken, releasing the ghost of the wicked witch of Dunstable.
As far as we know, no strange bottles have ever been dug up near the site of the old priory but, if you should find yourself in the area, just remember to tread very, very carefully.
An 18th century poem - the Witches Warning - gives sound advice:
The spirit in the bottle
Go softly where ye treade
The lady is a cunning one
Disturb ye not the wicked dead
Never tarry on a restless night
Lest ye finde what darkness means
For she will trouble thee until in sleep
And steal thy soul through dreams.