With my Blue Badge Tourist Guide hat on, I (Josie) led a guided tour of Manningtree and Mistley for a book group from the south of Essex recently. (Just to be clear, I wear a Blue Badge, not a hat…)
The group had recently read the novel The Manningtree Witches by A.K. Blackmore, and were very keen to explore the area where the book was set.
A.K. Blackmore is a poet, and this was her debut novel. It was described by The Guardian as “a superb fictionalised account of the 1645 Essex witch trials, by an award-winning poet, (which) resonates painfully with the experiences of women today”.
The novel is based on the events of the “witch hunts” led by Matthew Hopkins, the self styled Witchfinder General, and his persecution of vulnerable women in Manningtree, Mistley and across the wider East Anglia area between 1643 and 1647. Events in the novel take place at locations that can still be visited today, including The Green in Manningtree, the Red Lion Pub, the former White Hart pub, and The Thorn at Mistley. And more recently Daisy May Cooper and Kim Tey provided a black comedy about these events for the BBC.
Another novel about Matthew Hopkins is the Witchfinders Sister by Beth Underdown which I also included in the tour. The Guardian says “there’s (also) a chilling twist, indicating that the darkness never really goes away.” (It is “a clever novel that stays faithful to its period and its premise.”)
I have led very similar tours over the last few years for book groups, school groups and even visting academics and students from Wake Forest University, North Carolina in the USA.
If you’re interested in this tour for your group, please do contact me on email@example.com