A leading historian has claimed the body of a woman found in St Osyth in the 1920s may not be that of Ursula Kemp, who was tried as a witch.

Alison Rowlands, one of the world's leading authorities on witchcraft, gave a reading of her research into the St Osyth witch trials to more than 100 local history enthusiasts at Essex University.

Dr Rowlands' research, part of the university's annual Essex Local History Day, claims the skeleton found in a garden in Mill Street in 1921 may not have been that of Kemp, who was hanged after a trial in Chelmsford in 1582.

She claims the skeleton was quickly labelled as Kemp after rival reports in the Clacton Graphic and the Essex County Standard, but no scientific testing of the skeleton was ever conducted.

The skeleton, and another unearthed later that year, were believed to be Ursula Kemp and Elizabeth Bennett, both hanged as a witches, because they were bound by iron rivets driven into their knees and elbows.

She said: "In fact, it could have been one of ten women.

"Two skeletons were found and there are at least ten possibilities - five who died at Chelmsford before witchcraft trails, as well as three women who were tried as witches in 1645.

"When this started out, it was a myth and it was the people's desire to want to believe it was a witch because of the nails in the hands."

Dr Rowlands added that usually villagers would not have wanted to return the witches, who were executed in Chelmsford, to their village.

If it was the family who rescued the body, she said the question must be asked why they would bind the woman's hands in such a fashion.

She added that the skeleton required testing and proper dating before it could be named as either of the women hanged in 1582.