THE legend of St Osyth witch Ursula Kemp has been passed down by Paul Scolding’s family for almost a century.

Charlie Brooker uncovered the infamous skeleton in his garden in 1921. More than 40 years later grandson Paul came face to face with the haunting skull and its pure white teeth after resurrecting the ancient bones again.

He spoke to reporter Chris Wilkin for the first time about how his grandfather helped create a myth that endured for more than 90 years.

CHARLES Brooker had always been a larger than life character in St Osyth ... even before he unearthed what was believed to be the skeleton of the country’s most famous witch.

Ursula Kemp was imprisoned in the village’s Cage on suspicion of witchcraft before being hanged in Chelmsford in 1582.

More than four centuries later Charles was digging in the garden of his home in nearby Mill Street when he unearthed what many believed were her grisly remains.

The discovery became an overnight sensation.

Charles had a knack for spotting a money-making opportunity and put the skeleton on display.

Clacton and Frinton Gazette:

  • 'Crafty old boy' Charles Brooker liked his Guinness

Decades later the bones were bought by the Museum of Witchcraft in Boscastle, Cornwall, and then sold to eccentric artist and book collector Robert Lenkiewicz.

When he died in 2002 the skeleton was given to film-maker John Worland.

While making a documentry called The Witch Who Wouldn’t Stay Buried he made the revelation that the bones were actually those of a young man.

They were quietly reburied in St Osyth in 2012.

Charles Brooker’s grandson Paul Scolding, 75, played a cameo part in the tragic tale which has been passed down through generations of his family.

He has spoken for the first time about his grandfather’s role in reviving the story of Ursula Kemp.

“He was a well-known character in St Osyth and used to love his Guiness,” said Paul.

“At Christmas time he would buy all the poor families a goose.

“He lived at 37 Mill Street, just down from the priory.

“He was digging sand in his back garden and came across the skeleton in 1921.”

The skeleton was laid north to south instead of east to west, sparking speculation that it was the long lost remains of Ursula Kemp, who was 57 when she was hanged for witchcraft.

Wily Charles decided to cash in on the intrigue and put the skeleton on show.

The witch theory was given extra spice by iron nails found driven through the skeleton’s knees and elbows which would have been used to shackle Ursula.

But Paul admitted: “Grandad put the nails there. She was meant to have been buried in 1582 but when they dated the nails they were relatively new.

“He embellished things - that was Charlie Brooker.”

Clacton and Frinton Gazette:

  • Postcards of the skeleton were snapped up by tourists

The newly opened grave became a money-spinner.

“When the body was identified as a witch my grandad thought he’s cash in on it,” said Paul.

“He had photos printed on postcards and sold them at the post office in the village for sixpence each which was a lot of money in those days.

“My grandad put safety railings around the skeleton and all the charabancs came down to see it.”

“There are rumours that the king and queen of Denmark came over.”

Clacton and Frinton Gazette:

  • People travelled miles to see the skeleton

But the grim tourist trade ended abruptly in 1933 when the house burnt down in a mystery fire.

Paul believes his grandfather may have knocked over a gas lamp after a few too many pints of his beloved Guinness.

“It was totally destroyed except for a silver spoon,” he said.

“A fireman fell into the grave when they were putting the fire out and they blamed it on the curse of the witch.

“Mum moved next door and the others went to Clacton.”

The grave was covered up again with corrugated iron but 30 years later Paul himself would come face to face with the skeleton.

His father, John Victor Scolding, was a plumber and wanted to build on the site of the destroyed home.

“My father bought it off my grandad but couldn’t get planning permission because Ursula Kemp was still buried there,” said Paul.

“He wouldn’t dig her up because he was religious so in the end he asked me.

“I was on leave from Trinity House. I said ‘Where is she?’, but he said ‘You’ll find her’.

“There were waist-high weeds everywhere but they were only an inch high over the grave.

“I soon found out where she was and the digging was easy. I dug down and there she was as large as life. I’ve still got the photos.

“There was a very long spine, pure white teeth and nails through the knees and elbows, which turned out to be 18th century “There was a skull beneath Usula’s feet and to the right there was another skeleton.”

Paul says the remains were exorcised before his father sold them to the Boscastle museum for £99.

Clacton and Frinton Gazette:

  • Paul Scolding at the graveside

Finally telling his story for the first time comes as a relief.

“This is a load off my shoulders - I’ve never told anyone before,” he said.

And he admits he chuckled when the truth about the skeleton came out in 2012.

He claims his grandfather really believed it was a witch’s skeleton - but wasn’t above adding a few finishing touches to help bring the legend to life.

“That’s Charles Brooker,” said Paul. “He was a crafty old boy.”