In the centre of the town of Ipswich, Suffolk, there is an extremely old building that is not only haunted, but whose name has an almost unbelievable link with events from 350 years ago.
The haunting of what is now a kitchen utility shop was first noticed in the spring of 1997. It started just before St. Valentine’s Day when the shop had been set up with special displays of flowers. On coming to work one morning the staff found that the flowers had been removed from the displays and had been carefully rearranged on the door mat. Whoever had decorated the mat in this way should still have been inside because they could not have used the door, but once the staff gained entrance no one was to be found. A similar occurrence happened when the shop was decorated with flowers for Mothering Sunday, but this time the flowers were taken from where they had been arranged and were put back in their previous arrangements.
At this stage the staff were apprehensive, but unexplained events started to become more malevolent.
One shop assistant was preparing to go home and had put her ticket for the car park on the side in the staff restroom. When she could not find the ticket all the other assistants helped to search the shop but it could not be found, leaving the unfortunate woman to struggle with the car park officials in order to get her car out of the park. On coming to work the next day the ticket was plainly visible on the side in the restroom.
Things continued with another assistant being trapped in the cellar when the usually free door stuck fast only to unstick a short while later all on its own.
Bottles of soft drink would disappear then re-appear, a vase fell off a window shelf and an assistant was tapped on the shoulder whilst in the cellar. When turning around she saw that there was no one there. Things started to come to a head with the event of the lost cabinet key. When the key was eventually found, a long time later, the staff saw that the contents had been moved (whilst it had been locked) because the dust still had the impressions of where items had been stored but were no longer there. The hauntings continued with goods and books falling off the shelves for no reason.
It was at this point that the Manager decided to call in a medium to try to see what was causing these happenings.
The medium confirmed that the shop was definitely haunted but she had no idea why nor who was responsible. During her visit the medium kept receiving the name “Lakeland”, but as this was the name for the shop, it was discounted and no significance was attached to the name.
Ipswich’s local paper, The Star, ran the story as well as an amazing coincidence that had been uncovered by their reporter: The Ancient House contained a modern shop known as “Lakeland”, but a witch called Mary Lakeland had been burned to death in Ipswich in September 1645.
It was at this point that a local writer/historian took up the trail only to uncover some very interesting coincidences.
At the local records office a pamphlet was discovered that included the confession of Mother Lakeland which showed that she had been a ‘Professor of Religion’ for many years, ‘and yet a witch (as she confessed) for the space of nearly twenty years.’
Mary had made a covenant with the Devil who, in return, gave her three imps, two little dogs and a mole. It went on to describe how she had bewitched her husband who subsequently died. Shortly afterwards, a Mr. Lawrence and his child also died and it was claimed that Mary was responsible because she had lent him money but, when asked, he could not repay her the debt of 12 shillings that he owed.
“Mother Lakeland” then ‘confessed’ to the burning of a new ship because the Master had been a lover of one of her grandchildren but had given her grandchild up for another. All of these crimes were meant to have been carried out with the help of the imps given to her by the devil.
That was not all though. The historian went on to find that, 350 years before the hauntings of the Lakeland shop, Mary Lakeland was tried at the Ipswich Summer Assizes by the infamous Witch-Finder General, Matthew Hopkins, his side-kick John Stearne and ‘searcher’ Mary Phillips. This trio was ranging through East Anglia on their relentless quest against witches and it seems likely that Mary Lakeland was another one of their many victims. Mary was, unusually, burned at the stake, but there was no obvious record of any link with what is now known as the Ancient house.
So, what made her come back and to make a nuisance of herself in the 20th century? Was it just that the shop housed in the Ancient Building had the same name as her? It seemed a little tenuous and the local writer pressed on and finally uncovered a plausible link.
Peter Jennings, author of a booklet “Supernatural Ipswich” had discovered that Mary Lakeland’s husband, John, was a barber living in St. Stephens, Ipswich and had been a neighbour to the building that is now the Lakeland shop.
Another interesting and relevant historical fact was also revealed. In about 1651 it was said that King Charles II had hidden in what is now the Ancient House (like thousands of other buildings in England!) but a secret room that had been sealed off for over 150 years was found in 1801. After the Restoration the front of the building had the coat of arms of King Charles II set into the plaster – and that is still there to this day.
Now, during the Civil War the Puritan influence was very strong in Ipswich. (Hence the hiding of the King from his enemies). Couple this with the fact that history now tells us that during the Tendring Witchcraft Revelations some of the people who were condemned and executed as witches were, in reality, Royalist agents (supporting the King) who had been uncovered by a network of informers.
So Mary Lakeland could have been a Royalist supporter who was tried and executed on a false charge of witchcraft. Her fate by burning, however, was not because she was condemned as a witch, but because it was believed that she was responsible for the death of her husband.
Today, it seems that Mary Lakeland is quiet. I like to think that her quietness is because now the world knows that she was never a witch, just a Royalist supporter.