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Sarah Wrench was Not a Witch
The myth about the unusual grave in East Mersea Churchyard may make a good story at Halloween but Sara Wrench was not a witch and deserves to be able to rest in peace in the tranquillity of her surroundings. Much research was carried out by the late Mr J. Sunnucks and by Mersea Museum into the background and story of this grave and a summary of their findings follows; further information is available from the Museum and East Mersea Church.
Just to the north east of East Mersea Church is the grave of Sarah Wrench. It is unusual in that it has iron hoops over it, forming a cage. A cast iron plaque on the grave says "Sarah Wrench died 6th May 1848 aged 15 years and 5 months". The cage has been identified as a typical example of a "mort-Safe" - a structure in common use at that time in more urban areas to prevent interference with the interred remains and also to permit floral decorations to be placed there.
There has been much made of the fact that Sarah was buried on the North side of the Church and it has been suggested that this was an area of unconsecrated ground and therefore she could have been a witch and been buried there. Examination of the area show this is palpably untrue as among the graves in that area is the grave of a previous Rector as well as a former Churchwarden.
Local folklore has it that Sarah became pregnant whilst living with her family in Peldon and was sent to her grandparents at East Mersea Hall to conceal her condition from the village. She is believed to have died in childbirth.
Records show Sarah Wrench was buried at East Mersea on 10 May 1848 aged 15 years, of Peldon, by the curate Nathaniel Forster. No civil registration of the death could be found, but it was not compulsory at the time. Research carried out by Mersea Museum shows that Sarah was a granddaughter of James and Elizabeth Croyden (née Harvey) who lived at East Mersea Hall between 1800 and 1850; they married at Peldon on 27th Sep 1796. Elizabeth Croyden, née Harvey, moved back to Peldon (Rose Cottage) on removal from East Mersea Hall (1861 Census refers). However, she is buried at East Mersea, adjacent to the grave of Sarah Wrench. Her husband, James Croyden and 6 other members of the Croyden family are also interred in the same part of East Mersea Churchyard.
Note that there are only four recorded instances of alleged witches on Mersea Island; two of these were from East Mersea and two from West Mersea. All date to the end of the 16th Century but only Joan Colson from East Mersea was sent to Witham Assizes for further trial. She was held in Colchester Castle before going to Witham were she was remanded in custody and as in so many of these cases was never heard of again and is presumed to have died in prison.
From Mersea Life, January 2017, local page 19.
Date: January 2017
Photo: Mersea Museum
Image ID ML2017_001_L19_002
Category 1 Mersea-->East
This image is part of the Mersea Museum Collection.