Churches are often built on sites that were sacred to the ancient pagan peoples of this island, so it is little wonder that their burial plots have long provided the spooky setting for tales of witchcraft and mysterious rites. Bushbury churchyard in Wolverhampton is no exception, and for years local residents have whispered of the strange legend attached to one grave in particular.
This grave, of Sarah and Lewis Clutterbuck, local landowners disinterred here within a decade of each other in the early nineteenth century, has been known for generations as the "witches' grave," due to the sinister symbols incised in the soft sandstone.
Way back in June 1988, when we published an article on the so-called witches' grave, we were contacted by Mr L.B. Jackson, of Trinity Road in Short Heath, Willenhall. Recently, we were contacted again by Mr Jackson, as his recent discoveries appear to show that Bushbury is not the only site in the Midlands to have such inexplicable carvings. He writes...
"This early nineteenth century grave in Bushbury bears carvings - cut across the inscription at some later date - variously said to depict hands, feet and fish, along with suggestions of witchcraft and the odd superstition that if someone's hand or foot matches the size of the carving, they are doomed to meet with misfortune, and even death. If I remember rightly, more than one Bugle reader recounted a tale of just such an event of which they had first-hand knowledge. I have to admit that on my several visits to the grave (one of them a particularly spooky moonlit visit while taking part in a ghost hunt at nearby Northycote Farm) I have found the carvings almost impossible to make out due to the accretions of lichen and moss.
"However, at the time of your articles, I wrote to describe my discovery of similar footprints (a few even hobnailed) on the grave slab of Alice Thomas at St. Michael's Church in Rushall, near Walsall. I said that this grave was about the same age as that of the Bushbury mystery, but in fact it dates from around a century earlier, Alice having died in May 1714. It has only just occurred to me to proffer pictures of the carvings.
"A few months ago, I was walking from the Staffordshire village of Brewood towards the little community of Coven when, crossing the bridge at the edge of the village, I saw a footprint cut into the sandstone parapet. Intrigued, I looked over both sides of the bridge and discovered three footprints and two hands. Other symbols included a dog's head with studded collar, a human head with Mohican hair or North American chief's feathers, a swastika, male heads and a number of well-executed geometrical shapes. I was moved to detect later a possible 'family' connection here, as the location of the carvings appears to be called Jackson's Bridge, sadly after someone who killed himself here.
"The following week, walking between Tamworth and Lichfield, I came to the charming village of Hopwas where, in the 1980s, the beautiful woods made the pages of the local press more than once, after being reportedly the site of strange rituals carried out by a group of people calling themselves the "Society of the Silver Star".
"Here, on a much longer sandstone bridge, I found six foot marks, two hands and a welter of other symbols, ranging from natural history (horse's heads, birds, a pig's face and a rabbit) to daggers, hearts and an anchor, such as you might associate with tattoos. There were also the usual initials, plus a Union flag and depictions of racing cars, an aeroplane and even a bicycle, all very old-fashioned. It would be interesting to try and enter the minds of those who carved these.
"Perhaps the most 'hallowed' carvings of all, however, are far from here, at Priddy in Somerset, where a Bronze Age coffin bears the marks of five bare feet. Nevertheless, the esoterically minded will always point out that Christ himself is said to have walked on the village green at Priddy, on his way to Glastonbury..."