Claimed by some to be the most haunted house in Britain, a small cottage in Essex was once a medieval jail where many accused witches were imprisoned while awaiting trial. One of these women was said to be Ursula Kemp, who was imprisoned there before being hanged in 1582. In the mid-2000s the property was bought by a local woman who returned to the village she had grown up in after spending time working abroad. Over the years that followed she would experience many paranormal encounters, some of which would all but put her life in danger.
Eventually, unable to live in the property herself and equally unable to rent it out, the witness opened the property up to the paranormal world, both to researchers and investigators, as well as those who wished to conduct ghost tours. Her decision to do so, as well as her willingness to speak of the bizarre and unsettling activity and encounters she experienced during her time at the property, has provided the paranormal community with a peak inside this unnerving world.
Indeed, the property is without a doubt one of the most intriguing and unsettling in the United Kingdom, possibly in all of Europe. And the strange goings-on continues today.
- 1 A Small Village With A Murky Mysterious Past
- 2 The Trial And Execution Of Ursula Kemp
- 3 Somehow “Drawn” To This Mysterious House
- 4 Strange Activity Starts Straight Away
- 5 Multiple Visitors Experience Bizarre Encounters Also
- 6 Something “Goading” The Witness
- 7 Activity Increases
- 8 A Need To Leave Immediately
- 9 The Research Of John Fraser
- 10 Likely Many Different Spirits Inhabit The Cage
- 11 A Hub Of Paranormal Activity
A Small Village With A Murky Mysterious Past
When Vanessa Mitchell bought a small cottage in the small village of St. Osyth in Essex in 2005, she had no idea of the world she was about to step into.  The village features many other similar cottages, all of which are located around a monastery that dates back to the twelfth century. It is also a village that appears to be permeated with supernatural accounts, with an origin itself that is covered in mystery.
Even the legends of the village are of a slightly morose nature. It is claimed that the village was named after Osyth, the granddaughter of the last Pagan King of England. Local legend states that Danish invaders beheaded Osyth, but she then managed to carry her own head to a nunnery.
Another legend states that a “fire-breathing dragon” reduced the village to ashy ruins in 1171. This is perhaps a legend worth considering a moment. Was this merely a case of accidental fire spreading from one building to the next? Or perhaps even arson? Or might we consider that this blaze was caused – intentionally or not – by something such as a UFO, which the locals of the time could very well have perceived to be a dragon?
Without a doubt, though, the village is best known for witchcraft, and specifically the 13 women who were tried as witches, two of whom were hanged. One of those women, perhaps today the most well-known, was Ursula Kemp, who during a Satanic Panic of sorts in 1582.  And it is to Kemp that we will briefly turn our attention to next.
The Trial And Execution Of Ursula Kemp
Ursula Kemp was born and lived in St. Osyth and was a midwife. She also, however, was well-known to the locals for having the ability to treat a number of ailments and illnesses with remedies and potions of her own making. She was also known to have the ability to remove curses from people.
While in reality this would have simply been Kemp’s knowledge of such practices (likely from Pagan knowledge), and even the psychology of using mental placeboes to remove a curse that was likely only in the person’s mind, this ability would eventually lead to her being accused of something more supernatural and “evil”. She was accused of causing the deaths of a local woman, Edna Stratton, as well as two children in the village, Joan Thurlow and Elizabeth Letherdale, and ultimately of being a witch.
As we might imagine, the accusations were beyond shaky, as was the apparent confession of Kemp (and of the half a dozen women she named as fellow witches). Ultimately, Grace Thurlow had complained that Kemp had caused the death of her baby daughter (who in reality had fallen from her cot and died of a broken neck) due to her being unable to pay for her healing services with her son (an amount said to be 12 pence).
Another woman, Alice Letherdale, made similar accusations. She claimed that she had refused to sell scouring sand to Kemp because she knew she was a “naughty beast”. Following this, her daughter, Elizabeth, claimed that Kemp had murmured something at her when she had passed her in the street. Several hours later, Elizabeth suddenly fell ill and died.
Even Kemp’s 8-year-old son, Thomas, claimed his mother kept spirits in the house whom she often gave beer and cake. And while we can easily dismiss these claims as the confused recollections of a confused and scared child, they were perhaps the final nail in the coffin for Kemp.
According to Justice Brian Darcy, Ursula Kemp admitted to all of these charges, although this admission was in private and not witnessed by any other third party.
The cottage that Vanessa Mitchell bought in 2005 served as the medieval prison where Kemp was imprisoned and was known as The Cage. From there, Kemp was taken to Chelmsford and hanged. The Cage served as a prison until 1908 after having undergone a rebuild in brick during the nineteenth century. By the 1970s, two bedrooms were added, and the cell was converted into living space and the property was offered as a cottage home.
Incidentally, in 1921, two female skeletons were discovered in the village, and it was eventually believed they were the remains of the two women who were hanged in 1582, including Ursula Kemp. However, this has been thrown back into debate in recent years, with new forensic studies suggesting that the two women are more likely from Roman-era Britain.
Perhaps also of interest is the fact that Salem in Massachusetts in the United States, home to arguably the most well-known witch trials, is in Essex County. When we discover that many of the settlers and pilgrims of this region came from Essex in the United Kingdom, it is clear that these self-transplanted English men and women brought their old superstitious beliefs to the New World with them, beliefs that would prove deadly for many hundreds of women.
Somehow “Drawn” To This Mysterious House
In the book Poltergeist! A New Investigation Into Destructive Haunting, Including The Cage Witches Prison, St. Osyth, author and paranormal researcher, John Fraser, details his investigation of The Cage after he received a letter from Mitchell, in 2010. She claimed that she had lived there for three years herself and had rented the property out for a year after that. 
However, as stated in her letter, “No one ever stays there long” and that her (then) current tenants were “in the process of moving out”. She also claimed that she had “seen many ghosts in there in broad daylight” and that there was “also a huge amount of paranormal activity” and that she was now looking to rent the property to paranormal groups. Fraser replied and ultimately arranged to investigate the property and spend time in the house himself. We will return to Fraser’s investigation shortly, but ultimately, he would compare the property to the infamous Amityville House in New York.
Mitchell would tell writer, Jeff Maysh for an article in Medium, that she “remembered seeing the plaque outside” the house when she first purchased the property, but that she didn’t sense any fear or trepidation. In fact, as she had grown up in the village she was fully aware of the property, even claiming that she was somehow “drawn to it”, and when she was looking to purchase a property, something about this one made her feel she simply had to buy it.
What Mitchell didn’t know was the rumors of intense paranormal activity, and this was largely because she had spent the best part of the decade before her purchase working as a sales agent in Tenerife, as well as Scotland. For example, one couple who had rented the property claimed that they regularly witnessed books being flung from shelving. Many other tenants were so terrified by events they witnessed in the property that they happily broke their tenancy agreement in order to leave immediately. One person had even taken their own life in the property (something Mitchell was aware of but was not concerned about). However, she would quickly learn of the strange goings-on there first-hand, and in her own words, she was “completely unprepared for what was to come”.
Strange Activity Starts Straight Away
Almost as soon as Mitchell moved into the property, she began experiencing strange happenings. And these ranged from the intriguing to the outright disturbing. She noted how she would often see doorknobs rattle as if an invisible hand was attempting to turn them, or ornaments on shelves moving of their own accord. Taps would also often turn on by themselves and, even stranger, blood spots would appear in the hallway.
Of more concern, though, were the times something physically pulled on Mitchell’s hair, and, on occasion, even struck her in the back. At least one visitor to the property claimed that something had attempted to throw them down the stairs.
And Michell wasn’t alone in experiencing these strange goings-on. Her best friend, Nicole Kirtly, would move in with her. And Kirtly, who worked as a barmaid in the local pub, was fully aware of many of the stories associated with the property. One particularly bizarre account was that of a family who rented the property, and whose son became possessed and set fire to his room. Needless to say, the family vacated the property a short time later.
In fact, it was as Kirtly was unpacking on the afternoon that Mitchell got a true sense of what was to come. She was in the kitchen boiling the kettle in order to make a cup of tea. When she heard footsteps behind her she casually turned around expecting to see her friend. Instead, she was confronted with a bizarre black fog that simply “drifted” through the door. Mitchell opted to keep the occurrence to herself.
The pair, though, would experience other unsettling events. For example, when they were cleaning the property, they discovered “thousands and thousands of maggots” after lifting up an old rug so they could replace it. They also noticed how the property would remain extremely cold, even when it was hot weather outside. Other strange events were strange odors that would appear out of nowhere. Sometimes the two women would pick up the scent of pipe smoke, while on other occasions the smell of baking bread filled the property.
Without a doubt, one of the strangest episodes was when a young boy, 12-year-old Freddie Young, appeared on the doorstep after knocking on the door three times. When Mitchell went outside to see what the issue was, Young responded that his grandmother – who he described as a “white witch” who “used her powers for good” – had warned him that he mustn’t walk past the property without knocking on the door three times “as a sign of respect to the witches” and to “ward off evil”. With that, the boy turned and ran off, leaving Mitchell perplexed. At another meeting several weeks later, Young would reveal that he had been sitting in the pub garden across the road from the house when he noticed an “old woman” looking out of the window of their property.
Despite these initial unnerving incidents, both Mitchell and Kirtly both felt happy to be there and largely unconcerned. That, however, would soon change.
Multiple Visitors Experience Bizarre Encounters Also
The increase in intensity of these strange events would begin relatively benign, to begin with. The pair would often see “tiny bright lights” moving through the house. They would also notice how their possessions would often go missing before being discovered in another part of the house, as if someone had intentionally moved it for their own amusement. Even stranger was the sense that a strange force would often try to prevent them from entering the property, making walking in through the door feel as if “you’re trying to wade through jelly”.
A particularly bizarre and unsettling incident occurred while the pair were preparing for a Halloween party. Each was in their bedroom when a sudden loud crash sounded out from downstairs. Mitchell, thinking it was Kirtly shouted out what was going on. When her friend appeared in the doorway of her bedroom, Mitchell quickly realized that she wasn’t the source of the noise, and both women cautiously made their way downstairs. When they reached the lower level of the property, although they couldn’t see anyone, both agreed that they could sense something there.
As the days went on, the strange incidents continued. And of more concern, the atmosphere of the house began to change for the worse. While they were watching television the volume would suddenly rise and fall randomly. There was also an old chain on one of the doors – that appeared to be from the original jailhouse – that would swing of its own accord. Even more harrowing were the strange voices of children (likely the children of the women accused of witchcraft who would have spent time in The Cage with their respective mothers).
The two women eventually approached the local vicar, Reverend Martin Flowerdew, to request his help with a possible exorcism. He arrived at their property and the three of them spoke at length. He would reveal to the two young women that even though he had been in many different parishes while being a vicar, it was only when he moved to St. Osyth that he received regular requests from parishioners to bless their properties due to them being haunted.
Following a brief blessing of the house, the three of them walked around the property once more. When they reached the bathroom, however, all were amazed to see the taps suddenly turn themselves on by themselves. Despite his best efforts, and his own admission that there was “something not quite right” about the property, the bizarre events continued.
Something “Goading” The Witness
Over the following month, Mitchell’s boyfriend, Jay, moved into the property. And he too was witness to the bizarre events. One particularly bizarre event unfolded while the pair were watching television in bed. On the bedside cabinet on his side stood a can of Coke. Suddenly, without warning, the can launched itself from the cabinet straight into the wall opposite. Although they arranged to get married, the wedding was soon called off and Jay moved out. The bizarre activity continued, however.
Incidentally, a short after this, Kirtly’s boyfriend moved into the property, claiming he didn’t believe in ghosts or the paranormal. Within months he would refuse to ever be left alone in the house. When Kirtly became pregnant in late 2006, she and Jim decided to move out.
Mitchell would begin sleepwalking, something she had never done previously. Even more unnerving was that she would always wake up in the same place, directly under the spot where a previous tenant had hanged themselves. Upon waking after these sleepwalking episodes Mitchell began to hear voices urging her to “kill yourself”, again and again. She began to feel that something in the house, perhaps even the house itself was “goading” her.
Now feeling terribly alone, isolated, and vulnerable, Mitchell began inviting people to the house increasingly. On one occasion, with her friend, Kirsty and her husband visiting, all three of them sat shocked as multiple droplets of blood appeared on the floor as if falling from a wound that couldn’t be seen. Despite the three of them searching for some kind of rational explanation, they simply couldn’t explain what they had seen.
By the summer of 2007, after experiencing several weeks of feeling particularly unwell, Mitchell discovered she was over five months pregnant. Although pleased on the one hand, she immediately realized she didn’t wish to raise a small child in a house so full of strange, ominous happenings.
As the pregnancy progressed so did the abnormal activity within the walls of Mitchell’s home. And worryingly, it appeared to be increasing in severity and intensity. On one occasion while she was getting ready in front of a mirror, she felt a sudden push in the back from two invisible hands. The shove was so hard that she hit the floor from where she was sitting. On another occasion, a plumber she had hired to update her bathroom ran from the house in sheer fright claiming to have heard “heavy footsteps”.
Another particularly shocking encounter occurred while the previously mentioned Freddie Young was there. He happened to mention to Mitchell that his grandmother had “cast some kind of protection thing on me”. Young, who was one of the few people not to be moved by the property and the strange events that took place there, was more than shocked when a voice suddenly appeared close to his ear telling him, “That shit won’t work here!”
On another occasion when Young spent the night at the property due to an argument he’d had with his grandmother, he awoke on the sofa to see an elderly woman knelt by his side running her hand over his face and brushing his hair. He recalled he was so frozen with terror that he couldn’t scream or even move. After several moments, the unsettling woman faded away.
One of the strangest events took place when Mitchell was watching television when a strange man, who was only visible from the waist up, almost floated across the room. What’s more, as he did so he looked directly at Mitchell. He appeared to be dressed in “old-fashioned clothes” and Mitchell got the distinct feeling that he was quite possibly one of the jailors who had once worked at The Cage.
A Need To Leave Immediately
Her son, Jesse was born on Christmas Eve 2007 and the combination of being a new mother and the bizarre activity began to push Mitchell toward breaking point. She increasingly kept to the modern part of the house as much as she could and certainly didn’t take Jesse into the one-time prison section.
Even so, she would often wake to hear footsteps booming on the stairs, as well as the rattling of the latches on the door, as if someone was attempting to break into the property. Eventually, after having spoken to several close friends about the bizarre and unsettling activity that was taking place at the house, she was put in touch with a police detective who had an active interest in the paranormal and with psychic ability, a woman named Wendy. However, when Wendy visited the property, she was immediately hit with a sudden headache the moment she walked through the door. She would further recall that she had the feeling that someone was trying to physically “crush her skull” and that she had the distinct feeling that she was being watched.
Without a doubt, the most disturbing incidents were those that involved her four-month-old son, Jesse, specifically the dark “male apparition” that she witnessed looking over his cot while he slept. Around the same time, she also captured what she believed to be a “satanic goat” on her CCTV (you can see the picture above). On another occasion, after she had placed her young son on the bed, he was physically pushed onto the floor. Luckily, he was uninjured but Mitchell took to carrying him with her wherever she went.
She decided to move out of the property and put it up for sale, looking to rent it in the meantime. Even when she was moving out the strange events continued. One of the removal men later claimed to a newspaper that as he pulled the removal truck up to the property, he happened to look into one of the windows of the house. To his shock, looking back out at him was the figure of a strange woman in old clothing.
She did manage to rent the property out on several occasions, but each time the tenants would leave after only a few months. One such tenant attempted to employ a psychic to “clear the house” of the malevolent spirits. However, when she arrived she simply refused to enter the property, claiming there was something truly evil there. The tenant in question left the house after only four months.
A short time after, she got in touch with the previously mentioned John Fraser. She would also let her house out to paranormal research groups, a move which saw several investigations take place.
The Research Of John Fraser
Fraser was one of many researchers who investigated the haunted house in St. Osyth, Essex. As we mentioned earlier, he would compare the case to that of the Amityville House in New York. However, unlike the better-known American haunted house, The Cage was not just witnessed by the family who lived there but by multiple people who were merely visiting the property.
Although nothing out of the ordinary occurred when Fraser first visited the property in order to speak with Mitchell, he immediately found her to be “a credible witness giving consistency of testimony and accepting that some facts may appear to be difficult to believe at first”. With him was fellow paranormal researcher, Rosie O’Carroll.
As well as conducting their own investigations and examining the accounts of Mitchell, they also looked at others who had experienced strange events in the house, not least other paranormal researchers and investigators. One investigator received intense red markings on her legs while in the house. These were eventually examined by a doctor who concluded they were burn marks (this is interesting in itself as this detail can be found in other intense poltergeist cases).
Mitchell – who by now was struggling financially due to her circumstances – decided to rent the property to companies who would advertise trips there as “ghost hunts”. With this, came national attention from the media. And as we might imagine, the more people who ventured into the property, the more claims of encounters and even photographs of entities from beyond the veil emerged. A former police officer with an interest in the paranormal attended one of these ghost tours and claimed to have captured a photograph of “four ghosts carrying a dead witch”.
Although the tours were a huge success, and indeed resulted in claims from multiple people that all but corroborated Mitchell’s version of events, the young mother would soon face claims from some people that she had manufactured the entire affair for financial gain.
Likely Many Different Spirits Inhabit The Cage
As Fraser delved further into the strange goings on at The Cage, including speaking to some of the other witnesses to the bizarre events, they began to build a stronger case for the credibility of the encounters, and one that certainly wouldn’t suggest that Mitchell had orchestrated the events.
For example, her friend, Nicole Kirtley revealed further strange incidents she had witnessed while living there. She claimed that on many different occasions, the latch on her bedroom door would undo itself with the door then being opened, always only part of the way. He would also highlight further incidents of objects disappearing, people being struck by invisible hands, and general sounds such as voices and footsteps.
What is perhaps also of interest is that despite the history of the property and its close association with witchcraft, only two of those sightings (each experienced by people who didn’t live at the property) were of an elderly woman whom we might have been a perceived witch during the witch hunts of the 1500s and 1600s. Much of the other activity not only involved poltergeist-like activity but also the manifestations of male-looking entities. We might suspect, then, that the building, while indeed very haunted, is likely home to many different spirits.
Ultimately, in January 2020, Mitchell finally sold the property. In reality, however, and by their own testimony, she made losses on the property. She would offer that she had “learned about being terrified of something you can’t do anything about”. Perhaps ironically, and with a sense of how history repeats itself, the person who bought the property, despite being fully aware of the bizarre things that have taken place there, insisted they had no belief in ghosts. Whether they have experienced any unsettling incidents while in the property, at least for now, remains unknown.
A Hub Of Paranormal Activity
As we can see, then, the events that have been documented at The Cage, the seemingly unassuming cottage in a small village in the south of England are certainly one of the most thought-provoking and intriguing on record. Furthermore, it is one that while on the surface is a standard haunted building with a brutal history in its background, it displays many of the details of what most of us would understand to be a poltergeist case. Might we find, through further study of such hauntings and poltergeist cases that they are indeed one and the same?
We might also consider that the location itself could be some kind of hub for paranormal activity of all kinds. Perhaps, for reasons unknown relating to its ambiguous and mysterious beginnings, this particular location attracts entities from other realms of existence, as if it is some kind of energy portal. Unlike some hauntings and poltergeist cases, the activity appears to be limited to the building, and to a lesser degree the road that runs along the back of it. Once a person is away from the house, they are no longer subject to the bizarre activity.
Whether the current tenant experiences any of the strange behavior witnessed by Mitchell remains to be seen, as does whether the attention of curious onlookers and paranormal enthusiasts becomes a problem. The property remains a place of intrigue. And despite all of the investigations that have taken place, there is still much to learn about The Cage and just what resides there.
The video below looks at Mitchell’s experiences in this fascinating house a little further.
|↑1||I Bought A Witches Prison, Medium https://jeffmaysh.medium.com/i-bought-a-witches-prison-ad2e7cbcecb|
|↑2||The Cage: The Witch Prison, Paranormal Hauntings https://paranormalhauntings.blog/2017/03/16/the-cage-the-witch-prison/|
|↑3||Poltergeist! A New Investigation Into Destructive Haunting: Including ‘The Cage – Witches Prison’ St Osyth, John Fraser, ISBN 9781789 043976 https://www.amazon.co.uk/Poltergeist-Investigation-Into-Destructive-Haunting/dp/1789043972|
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