I was contacted by Reg Bargee, who used to live in the village, on behalf of Dr. Collin Barnes, who told me of the Gresalda.
Tales of Gresalda appeared in Fen Folklore by Alexander Shelton 1857, this being to my knowledge the last time the name appears in print and has probably been lost in the mists of time.
I came across the story while writing my book, which was thirty plus years ago now. I was talking to some of the local people obviously pumping them for information. A lot of the characters I conversed with I should imagine have long since past away, they were elderly then. It is my used and proved theory that elderly people tend to be happy to relate historical tales, although one has to be careful of tales which may be apocryphal. They all seemed in agreement (they were all interviewed individually, so I was not the butt of some joke) about the tale of Gresalda.
Gresalda was probably not her real name even if she may have been a real person, but the local records show of a Mary Ireton who it was said was a ‘goodly woman, blessed withe poweres and giftes’ living in the area in the late 14thc. Gresalda (or Mary) who was a widow woman, lived on the outskirts of Benwick (Beymwick) and had the reputation of a seer and a healer. The local population, although somewhat in awe of her, appeared to like her and respected her.
Sadly she contracted ague, a form of malaria, which was a common illness of the day in the area. The symptoms are severe with a fever of hot and cold fits and a swelling on the spleen, often leading to death. Gresalda had cured her neighbours of the ague, but sadly was unable to save herself. It was said, as it frequently does in these tales (e.g Bernadette at Lourdes), God came to her and told to her ‘she would not be cured but a better place waits for her’. She died at the young age of 29.It is at this point the river supposedly becomes magical, as God took away Gresalda he blessed the waters and gave the community the power of foresight, in order the community might be safe.
For some reason, Gresalda / Mary was never recognised by the church and was later branded a witch, it could be for this reason that the confusion over her name occurs. Mary, of course, is a biblical name and Gresalda is a name which often is related with the Devil. Of course much of this tale is open to interpretation and apocryphal, but it is a wonderful tale nevertheless. May be in these days of Television, video and Playstation there is little need for these tales of magic and it has long since been forgotten, but it appeared to be a popular tale among the ‘old folk’ thirty-five years ago.
Reg Bargee for Dr. Colin Edward Barnes