true crime

The woman who bought a witch prison.

When you see images of the quaint English village of St Osyth, a few things stand out - the seaside, the rolling green hills and the picturesque medieval homes.

But there's one building in particular in this town that disrupts this idyllic image. It's a building, called The Cage. It's one of the most haunted houses in Essex.

And although photos of it now show that it's painted a very sunny yellow shade, there is a dark, ominous history that permeates The Cage all these years on.

It used to be a prison for witches, as well as a village lockup where local criminals would be kept. 

Watch: The eerie story behind St Osyth. Post continues below. 

Hundreds of years ago, Britain was in the midst of its witch era.

The 16th to 18th Century was plagued by witch trials and witch-related accusations, the British public and its aristocratic leaders terrified and paranoid about the supernatural. 

Many unfortunate women were condemned to death after being accused of witchcraft or sorcery, and subjected to torture and an unethical justice system. The Cage was centre stage for these sorts of horrors.


During this Satanic panic, The Cage was a medieval prison - 13 so-called witches were kept there in 1582 while awaiting trial. 

They became known as the 'Witches of St Osyth'. At the end of the trial three of the women were found guilty, and they were sentenced to death by hanging in the gallows. 

One of the women killed was Ursula Kemp. Her story then became an urban legend.

Kemp was a midwife in St Osyth and was considered a good member of the community who helped heal the sick. But following a feud with a local family and some rumours regarding her line of work, she was accused of witchcraft. A neighbour accused Kemp of healing a sick child by chanting incantations, i.e. magic spells and charms. 

She was also accused of death by bewitchment, suggestions made that Kemp had killed another local in the community via incantations. 

Kemp reportedly confessed to witchcraft to an eight-year-old boy from the town, who then testified during the trial. 

She was subsequently found guilty and hanged. 

Image: A sign outside St Osyth The Cage. 


The Cage's checkered history continued.

During the 1800s, The Cage was rebuilt/renovated with brick and remained a jail until 1908, holding local delinquents and drunks before their trial. By the 1970s, The Cage had been transformed into a house, a developer turning the cells into a living room and adding bedrooms upstairs. 

In 2005, Vanessa Mitchell bought the property.

"I remembered seeing the plaque outside. I don't remember being scared of it. My earliest memories are just being fascinated by the house. I remember being drawn to it," Mitchell said to Medium.

It was nothing like she had anticipated though. The experience of living there was traumatising.


From her first day living there, Mitchell says she saw apparitions walk through her room and heard ghostly growls. She was pushed over by spirits while pregnant and spanked on the bottom by a ghost. She saw objects fly around the kitchen. She was punched, bitten, and thrown to the floor. Mysterious figures floated through her home and attacked her guests. It soon became too much.

After three years of hostile paranormal activity, Vanessa moved out, fearing for her young son's safety, and feeling forced out due to her encounters with paranormal activity. She also went on to write a book on her experiences called The Spirit of The Cage. The stories shared are seriously spooky.

Reflecting on the decision to buy and move into The Cage, Mitchell said she had been struck by "love-blindness". 

She had even visited the local vicar in St Osyth to try and garner answers about the haunted nature of her home. 

"The vicar walked in, and he sat down in the front room and we had a really long chat. He started getting his robes and his holy water out and everything, and I said, 'Is this common?'" said Mitchell.

The vicar replied to her: "I've been in lots of parishes…but never since I've come to the parish in St Osyth have I had so many people coming to me in private, and coming to me in church, saying 'I need you to come to bless the house, I've got a haunted house.' I can tell you of at least four houses up this road I've been into."


Sadly though, the vicar's efforts didn't do anything. 

At one point during her time at The Cage, Mitchell said she would hear voices telling her to end her own life. It turns out a previous owner of the property had ended his life at The Cage years prior, according to local documents. 

In her book, Mitchell wrote: "Living inside the Cage was gruelling. The longest slog of my life. It drove me to the brink of exhaustion and nervous breakdown."

After she left The Cage, Mitchell described the feeling as "pure relief".

In the years since there have been a multitude of different residents, many not lasting long in the haunted home.

In 2019, The Cage went up for sale, Mitchell deciding to part ways with the building. In 2020 she accepted an offer for around $300,000 for the "two-bedroom cottage". 

The new owner is a female divorcée. She doesn't believe in ghosts at all. 

When selling The Cage, it was described by the real estate agent as "one of the most notorious and well-documented haunted 16th Century cottages in Britain". They weren't wrong. 

Feature Image: St Osyth Museum/Facebook. 

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