Witchfinder General Matthew Hopkins: Play 'heals' wounds in East Anglia

The cast of Sisterhood Image copyright Paula Fash
Image caption Many women were held at Colchester Castle before being tried and executed in Chelmsford during the English Civil War period (1642-51), said Philip Cunningham

A woman is attempting to "heal the wounds" caused by the infamous Witchfinder General by performing a play at sites where he tortured women into confessions in the 17th Century.

Sisterhood follows three women talking on the night before their witch trial.

It is written by Jolie Booth and is touring East Anglia - where Matthew Hopkins plied his trade.

His work led to an estimated 100 executions.

The play also has its origins in the Me Too movement, which has seen women talk openly about sexism and assaults.

"I didn't know where to put my anger and saw how there were women around me really inspiring me - really stepping into their power," she said.

Ms Booth described it as a "healing tour" as it travels to sites connected with witch-related arrests, torture, trials and executions, with some venues in buildings which would have been there in Hopkins' time.

Image copyright Tigon Film Productions
Image caption Vincent Price played Matthew Hopkins in the 1968 film Witchfinder General

Hopkins (c.1620-1647) lived in Mistley, Essex and his first accusation was in neighbouring Manningtree.

The playwright said: "He pulled his neighbour out of the Red Lion [one of the tour venues] by the hair and accused her of being a witch."

Methods to extract confessions included "witch-pricking" with needles and dunking in ponds.

If they floated they were guilty of being saved by the devil, and if not they drowned.

Image copyright Coco Maertens
Image caption The playwright said historical re-enactments gave her "my first taste of being accused of something and there being nothing you could do"

Philip Cunningham, of Manningtree Museum, said the Red Lion was a contemporary building, dating from 1600.

He said: "There clearly was a local court where initial hearings took place.

"There may have been a civic building for this or one of the inns could have been used."

Mrs Booth said the play's origins were from when she worked during historical re-enactments at Kentwell Hall in Long Melford, Suffolk, and she was "arrested" as a witch when playing a 10-year-old milkmaid.

"They took me away and I had no idea what they were going to do with me or how far the performance would go," she said.

Image copyright Hulton Deutsch/Getty Images
Image caption Matthew Hopkins earned a small fortune securing evidence and oversaw the largest single witch trial in England at Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, where 18 people were hanged
Image copyright Tigon Film Productions
Image caption Many of the scenes in the movie Witchfinder General were shot in and around Kentwell Hall in Long Melford
Image copyright Coco Maertens
Image caption Jolie Booth grew up in Braintree, Essex and now lives in Brighton
Image caption The Mistley Thorn, where Matthew Hopkins lived

Sisterhood is touring at Stowmarket's Museum of East Anglian Life on Saturday, The Red Lion in Manningtree on Sunday, with further shows in Chelmsford, Colchester, Lowestoft, Bury St Edmunds, Norwich and Ely.

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