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[Looking Back] The Witch's Heart - Kings Lynn

This was originally published on my very first history blog on 27 January 2014. Let's look back at the tale of the Witch's Heart of Kings Lynn.

As I was visiting family this past weekend and wandering the high street of King’s Lynn, I was reminded of a local legend. One of the main areas of interest in Kings Lynn is the Tuesday Market Place and the buildings that surround the square these days are Georgian, many of which house museums and places of interest. One of the houses is a particular talking point.

If you look up whilst walking past number 15-16 Tuesday Market Place, you will see a crude black diamond carved into red brick. Within the diamond is a black heart. There are two commonly told stories that explain just why this heart is carved above the window of this house both of which are equally as morbid as the other.

The Tuesday Market Place was used as Lynn’s place of execution for centuries, and was the site of hangings as well as a number of burnings, in particular the burning of witches. Both stories link to gruesome executions conducted in the market square.

The first involves the execution of Margaret Read in 1590. Margaret was found guilty of witchcraft and sentenced to burn within the market place, and as the flames engulfed her body it is said that her heart burst from her chest and smashed into the spot above the window where the diamond is now carved. The organ is then said to have fallen to the ground and rolled away where it sunk into the river Ouse. Gnarly eh?

The second tale involves treachery and is particularly heart-breaking. No pun intended. A housemaid let slip to her lover that her recently widowed mistress had agreed to leave her the entire family fortune. Said lover agreed to marry the young housemaid and she wrote her own will entirely in his favour. Shortly after the mistress was conveniently murdered and the housemaid was found guilty of treachery – the crime of petty treachery involved a woman murdering her husband or a female servant murdering her master or mistress, and the punishment for such a crime was being burned at the stake. The maidservant kept on insisting that she was innocent, right up until the moment the flames were lit and as she began to burn foretold that as a symbol of her innocence her heart would burst from her chest. As her body was consumed by the flames it did just that and smashed into the site of the heart in the diamond. The diamond was carved in the very spot where the heart hit and left it’s gory blood stains.

Quite a sordid tale is it not? There are various versions of the story, all using different methods of execution but all with the same end. A heart bursting from the chest of a condemned woman. I have no idea whether any of these legends are true, indeed the only information I could find online was regarding the legend, and the tales I had heard growing up. A brief search online for the “Witch’s Heart of Kings Lynn” should give you more information, or indeed a trip to Lynn if you ever get the chance. True or not, the story is particularly gruesome whichever way you look at it, and one that has stuck with me since I was a little girl.

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