Haunted Yorkshire

They're Closer Than You Think!

Tales Of Witchcraft

A Case of Witchcraft?

 

Located in a quiet rural corner of the Essex countryside Sible Hedingham can be found, in 1863 the large village had over 1700 occupants mostly made up of farm workers, labourers and small tradesmen. It was here that Sible Hedingham was to become the scene of what is regarded by many as the last case of witchcraft to occur in this country.

 

Sible Hedingham, Essex

 

Located in a quiet rural corner of the Essex countryside Sible Hedingham can be found, in 1863 the large village had over 1700 occupants mostly made up of farm workers, labourers and small tradesmen. It was here that Sible Hedingham was to become the scene of what is regarded by many as the last case of witchcraft to occur in this country.


By the 19th century peoples views on Witchcraft had changed but there were still some superstitious people who believed in witchcraft and those suspected of being witches were treated as outsiders and often avoided by other villagers. However in 1863, an elderly man died as a consequence of the shock of being `swum in water' as a witch and two people appeared in court as a result of his death.


The victim was an elderly man of French origin who was deaf, dumb and was estimated to be in his mid 70's when he died was at the centre of the story. He resided in a small house on the outskirts of the village and was known to most locals as ‘Dummy'. A strange character who was always accompanied by several dogs when he was seen by the other villagers, unable to speak he communicated by using crude sign language and  made a living by fortune telling.


The swan public house was to found in the centre of the village and on the evening of the 3rd August , Dummy was in the tap room of the pub. Being a very popular haunt 40 -50 other villagers were also at the swan that evening. Emma Smith, 36 years of age, the wife of the beerhouse keeper at nearby Ridgewell spoke out in a loud voice that she had been ill for some 9 - 10 months and that her illness was caused by Dummy, who had bewitched her. She begged him to return with her to her home at Ridgewell and remove the curse. Smith was so desperate for Dummy to remove the curse she offered to pay him the sum of 3 sovereigns but he declined the offer. Smith continued to plead with the man to the amusement of the now packed pub, by now the group moved outside.


Seeing she was getting nowhere, she hit dummy several times with a stick and dragged him towards the brook, where she pushed him in. Dummy tried to get out of the brook at the opposite bank, but was stopped by Smith who had rushed round to the other side. Samuel Stammers, 28 years old who was a local man now joined Smith in pushing Dummy back into the water. Eventually he managed to pull himself from the water and lay exhausted on the bank only to be once again thrown back into the icy waters. By now the gathered crowd who were at first encouraging the actions of the pair were now beginning to become concerned that it had gone to far. Someone shouted, "If someone does not take the old man out, he will die in a moment." Stammers, perhaps coming to his senses, jumped into the brook and pulled the old man out on to the bank.
Dummy was helped back to his home where he was left alone. The following day he was visited by a villager who found him in a terrible state, still wet and trembling violently and very badly bruised. Superintendent Thomas Elsey, was informed and had Dummy taken to the Halstead Workhouse where he died on the 4th September, of pneumonia brought upon by the immersion into the icy waters.


The police began to piece together the events of the 3rd August and on the 25th September, Smith and Stammers were charged by Superintendent Elsey, before the magistrates at Castle Hedingham, with having "unlawfully assaulted an old Frenchman commonly called Dummy, thereby causing his death." The case had attracted much interest and the small courtroom was packed. Witnesses to the events were reluctant to give evidence against Smith and Stammers, but several told the court the facts as are related above. Mr Sinclair, a surgeon to the Halstead workhouse, said that death was due to the treatment the old man had received. They were both committed to the next Assize court at Chelmsford.
On March 8th 1864 the two accused stood next to each other in the dock. They pleaded Not Guilty. Smith told the court that the deceased had come to her house, had spat at her and told her that after a time she would become ill, and she was ill. She had called a doctor twice in one night and he could not cure her. Dummy, she told the court, made her ill and bewitched her. A telling witness against the two accused was a girl called Eva Henrietta Garrad, described as a ten year old child of precocious intelligence. Despite her tender years she unfolded in clear terms the events of the night to the court.

 

The defence made strenuous efforts to discredit her, but her evidence was enough to place the guilt of Smith and Stammers beyond doubt. Much was made of the mental state of Smith and the fact that Stammers had pulled the old man out of the water. The judge, Sir William Erle, took these factors into account when he sentenced both defendants to 6 months hard labour.

 

The First Witches to Hang

 

In 1566 in Chelmsford, Essex, two women who had owned the same familiar at different times, a white cat by the name of Sathan, where tried for witchcraft. The first of the women to own the cat was Elizabeth Francis of Hatfield Peveral, Essex. Elizabeth had been given the cat by Mother Eve, her grandmother. It was mother Eve who had shown Elizabeth, at the age of twelve the art of witchcraft.

 

In 1566 in Chelmsford, Essex, two women who had owned the same familiar at different times, a white cat by the name of Sathan, where tried for witchcraft. The first of the women to own the cat was Elizabeth Francis of Hatfield Peveral, Essex. Elizabeth had been given the cat by Mother Eve, her grandmother. It was mother Eve who had shown Elizabeth, at the age of twelve the art of witchcraft.


At her trial, Elizabeth was said to have used the cat to bring her wealth. This Sathan did by providing her with a number of sheep. Elizabeth would repay the cat by giving him a drop of blood which she did by pricking herself. Elizabeth then asked the cat to provide her with a lover. A man called Andrew Byles. Sathen agreed to do so but when Mr Byles refused to marry Elizabeth, she, with the aid of her cat had killed him by just one touch on his body. Sathan then provided another man for Elizabeth. Christopher Francis was not as rich as Andrew Byles but he agreed to marry her and the couple had a child. Elizabeth then became unhappy with her situation saying that her child irritated her and caused her to swear and curse. She had Sathan kill her baby and changing himself into a toad, the cat caused Christopher Francis to become lame by touching him on his foot.


Elizabeth kept the cat for some sixteen years or so before giving him to a neighbour, Agnes Waterhouse from Hatfield Peveral. Agnes who then had the Sathan for a further nine years used the cat to kill her neighbours cattle and then to murder William Faye, a man who had previously upset her. She also confessed that she had asked Sathen to kill her husband as she no longer desired to be married to him. This the cat did. The pair where tried for their crimes at Chelmsford, and no less than the Attorney General, Sir Gilbert Gerard partook in their trail. They where both found guilty and sent to the gallows. Agnes Waterhouse was hung in 1566, three years after a law was passed that an act of murder by sorcery would now be punishable by the sentence of death. She was the first reported witch to be hung in England, the first of many. Elizabeth Francis was hung soon after

 

The Witches of Warboys

 

In 1598, 10 year old Jane Throckmorton from Warboys, the eldest daughter of Robert Throckmorton, began to suffer from unexplainable fitting. To make matters worse the child would often cry out while suffering a fit that the Throckmorton's neighbour, Mrs Alice Samuel, was afflicting her. At first Robert and his wife could not believe such a thing and sent for the eminent Cambridge physician Dr Barrow to examine his daughter. After Dr Barrow had examined Jane and could not find any earthly reason why the child should suffer from such fitting his conclusion was that the child had been bewitched.

 

In 1598, 10 year old Jane Throckmorton from Warboys, the eldest daughter of Robert Throckmorton, began to suffer from unexplainable fitting. To make matters worse the child would often cry out while suffering a fit that the Throckmorton's neighbour, Mrs Alice Samuel, was afflicting her. At first Robert and his wife could not believe such a thing and sent for the eminent Cambridge physician Dr Barrow to examine his daughter. After Dr Barrow had examined Jane and could not find any earthly reason why the child should suffer from such fitting his conclusion was that the child had been bewitched.


Robert and his wife took no action but before long the other Throckmorton children became ill, followed by some of the household servants. As if this was not proof enough as to bewitching the children's Aunt, who lived in a neighbouring village also began to suffer. Still the Throckmorton's did nothing. Towards the end of 1590 and with no let up from the illness and fitting suffered by those involved, Lady Cromwell who's husband, Sir Henry Cromwell, Knight of Ramsey and landlord to both the Throckmorton's and the Samuel's, heard of the suffering, and paid the afflicted family a visit. Lady Cromwell summoned Alice Samuel to see her at the Throckmorton's house. As soon as Alice entered the house the Throckmorton children all began to act strangely and became very agitated. Lady Cromwell wasted no time and immediately accused Alice of witchcraft.


She then forcefully took a lock of Alice 's hair and told the Robert Throckmorton to burn it as this would undo the spell on the family. This attack angered Alice . She turned to Lady Cromwell and was heard to say “Why do you use me thus. I never did you no harm yet ”. From that night on Lady Cromwell began to suffer from bad dreams and nightmares. She then became ill and remained so for some fifteen months at the end of which she died in 1592.
Alice Samuel, who by now herself was ill due to the accusations made against her suddenly and out of the blue confessed that she had indeed bewitched the Throckmorton children and would undo the spell immediately, but no sooner had she said this, she then retracted her confession.

 

Enough was enough, and Robert Throckmorton called in the authorities. Alice Samuel was brought before the local Justice of the peace at Lincoln and was accused of practising witchcraft and of the murder of Lady Cromwell. The Local Justice also accused Alice 's husband John and their daughter Agness of assisting in these crimes.

All three were sent to Huntingdon to await trial. On the 5 th April, 1593, Alice, John and the couples beloved daughter Agness where found guilty of witchcraft and murder. They where hanged for their crimes.

 

The Pendle Forest Witches

 

Pendle Hill and the surrounding area have become famous for their association with witchcraft. It was in the later part of the sixteenth century when a feud started between two witch families and resulted in the now famous trial in Lancaster. In 1595, thousands of supposed witches were being arrested, tortured and executed across Europe . Torture was illegal in England although the notorious 'witchfinders' as they were known found ways around this.

 

Pendle Hill and the surrounding area have become famous for their association with witchcraft. It was in the later part of the sixteenth century when a feud started between two witch families and resulted in the now famous trial in Lancaster.


In 1595, thousands of supposed witches were being arrested, tortured and executed across Europe . Torture was illegal in England although the notorious 'witchfinders' as they were known found ways around this.


The first 'supernatural' deaths in the Pendle area were blamed on an old woman called Chattox and her daughter Alizon after a local Christopher Nutter and his son Robert, died within a short time of one another. The women and her relatives were tenants of the Nutters land at Higham, and allegedly cursed the family after falling out with them. The trouble really started when Chattox and her family came into conflict with another family who were well known for their witchcraft activities. Demdike and her son-in-law John Device lived with his family at Malkin Tower near the village og Newchurch. It wasn't until 1612 that the authorities became involved.


On the 18 th March Alizon was travelling on the road to Trawden, just south of Colne, when she was approached by a pedlar John Law selling his wares. She asked him for some pins, but as she had no money Law refused. Alizon became angry and cursed him, as he turned away from her he suffered a stroke. Law was taken to a nearby ale-house having lost his speech and his son was sent for from Halifax . When Law regained his speech he accused Alizon of bewitchment and his son Abraham put her up before the magistrates.


Upon questioning Alizon claimed that when Law refused to give her some pins, a large black dog appeared beside the man and spoke to her in English. It offered to lame the pedlar and she accepted this offer without a second thought. Alizon told the magistrates how she had been initiated into witchcraft by her grandmother and implicated Chattox and Demdike too.


Arrests followed this Demdike, Chattox and her daughter, Anne were arrested and questioned in the nearby village of Fence . Altogether the women were accused of sixteen supernatural murders aswell as livestock killing and graveyard robbing at Newchurch.


On 10 th April 1612 more than twenty witches met at Malkin Tower to plot the release of those who had been arrested . Magistrates Roger Nowell and Nicholas Bannister question Elizabeth Device, James Device and Jennet Device about the meeting at Malkin Tower.


The trial of the Pendle Witches begins at Lancaster . Elizabeth Device, James Device and Chattox are found guilty of witchcraft. Anne Redfearn tried on a second charge of witchcraft and found guilty. Alizon Device, Alice Nutter, Katherine Hewitt, John Bulcock, Jane Bulcock, Magaret Pearson and Isobel Robey are all tried and found guilty. On 20 th August 1612 Alizon Device, Elizabeth Device, James Device, Chattox, Anne Redferne, Alice Nutter, Katherine Hewitt, John Bulcock, Jane Bulcock & Isobel Robey are hanged at Lancaster gaol.


Within the churchyard is a tombstone known locally as the 'Witches Grave'. Its manifest age, a skull and crossbones and the name of Nutter on the gravestone have misled many people into believing that this is where Alice Nutter is buried.
In 1633 seventeen people were arrested and accused of witchcraft in the hamlet of Hoarstones, near the village of Fence . Tried and condemned to death they were given a reprieve by the King after a hoax was uncovered.