A list of famous witch stories from around the area, Haunted Yorkshire have listed some of these below!
The Simmerdale Witch
This is a story that comes from old North Riding of Yorkshire, regarding a legendary sunken village known as Simmerdale. Many years ago a witch is said to have visited this village, which had a church at one end and the house of a Quaker woman at the other. The witch went door to door asking for food, drink and somewhere to rest, but at each and every house was turned away. Eventually she arrived at the house of the Quaker woman, where she was charitably treated to meat, bread and beer.
She finished her meal and went to sit on the front step, without hesitance she then raised a twig of ash (presumably a magic wand) in the direction of the rest of the village, and chanted:
'Simmerdale, Simmerdale, Simmerdale sink,
Save the house of the woman who gave me to drink!'
The water level in the valley began to rise to monstrous proportions and swallowed every building except for the house of the Quaker woman.
Other villagers from then earlier on were convinced that, if they stared hard enough into Simmer Water, they could still see the ruins of the village and the church.
Creswell Crags Witch
The Crags are a well-known cave formation around a natural lake, in which evidence of a Stone Age settlement has been found. They are now a protected site, and attract visitors from miles around, particularly during the summer months.
Towards the end of summer on a warm evening in the 1980s, a couple were driving home after an evening out when they stopped at the traffic lights at temporary roadworks, close to the Visitors Centre at the Crags.
The woman passenger was resting her head against the window and trying to sleep as her husband waited for the lights to change. Despite the weather being warm, she remembers feeling a sudden chill and shuddered, this was also felt by her husband, who wound up the window on the driver's side.
The sides of the road in this area are uncultivated, and the bushes grow densely underneath the trees. Only a few feet from where the woman was sat a pale circular shape around the size of a football was clearly visible to the woman. It appeared to be suspended two feet off of the ground and caught in the bushes.
The woman stared hard at the shape almost straining her eyes to see it more clearly, unable to make out what it was, and reached for the handle to the car window to wind it down and take a better look. But before she had the chance, the shape began to float backwards and forwards.
Has the woman stared in amazement at it, she could clearly see that the ball was now beginning to form facial features of what she later described as 'an old hag', with dark eyes and a pointed nose.
At first she thought it must be some sort of practical joke by someone who was hiding in the bushes, she remained sceptical as to what she was witnessing. However, the longer she observed the shape, the clearer it became. Feminine features were forming before her eyes, with a gaunt looking face and long dark hair below shoulder length framing an almost skeletal face. As the apparition became clearer, the woman was convinced that she was witnessing a paranormal event.
She later described the face as belonging to 'a witch'. When the face had fully formed, but didn’t seem to have a body attached to it.
All of a sudden the face then began to 'float' towards the car where the couple sat, she screamed in terror. Her husband looked soon saw what his wife was screaming at for himself, an eerie face what looked like a witches, terrified he slammed the car into gear and raced off into the darkness.
Unfortunately, the incident proved so shocking to the young woman that on their arrival home, a doctor was called who prescribed her a sedative to calm her down. It was the doctor who persuaded the woman's husband to call the police, convinced that a dangerous prank had been played on the lonely country lane. A neighbour was called in to sit with his sedated wife while the man accompanied local police to the scene of the incident.
The police searched the area but were unable to find any clue as to what could have been responsible for the appearance of the mysterious head. One of the policemen even entered the thick brambles and thorn bushes at this point, to ascertain whether access would indeed have been possible for a practical joker. Entry to the site was found to be almost impossible. The policeman received cuts and scratches and ripped his uniform in the attempt.
Strangely, this was not the only sighting of something unusual to be reported in the area that night. Around dawn, a lorry driver was forced to brake hard and swerve to avoid a mysterious, dark figure which crossed the road from the Visitors Centre side at Creswell Crags. Thoroughly shaken by his encounter, he later described the figure as 'floating' and 'seemingly headless'. Instinctively, the lorry driver reported that the figure was female, although he had seen no face or other indication as to its sex. Once across the road, the cloaked figure disappeared into the thick bushes and vanished from sight.
Mother Shipton and her cave
Knaresborough's most famous resident of all time was undoubtedly Mother Shipton, the famous 'witch' of Yorkshire who was born in a cave in Knaresborough in 1488 during a violent thunder storm.
Mother Shipton's original name was Ursula Southeil and her mother, Agatha, died giving birth to Ursula. The birth was said to be accompanied by eerie screams, though some may think that not so unusual. But these were different!
Throughout her childhood Ursula was associated with many mysterious events, such as furniture moving up and down stairs of its own accord and bright lights coming from a property. Later she married Tony Shipton near York in 1512 and became well known as a fortune teller. Her crooked facial features frightened many - though presumably not Tony - and she was often thought to be a witch.
Mother Shipton is associated with many famous predictions and is said to have foretold the Great fire of London and the defeat of the Spanish Armada as well as the invention of telegraphs and trains, although these last two predictions are now thought to have been fabricated in the nineteenth century:
Carriages without horses shall go
and accidents fill the world with woe
Around the world thoughts shall fly,
in the twinkling of an eye.
Iron in the water shall float
As easy as a wooden boat.
Even if you don't believe in witches or Mother Shipton's prophecies, you cannot deny the magic power of the petrifying well near Mother Shipton's cave which can turn things to stone. Objects, most notably Teddy bears and dolls are hung up inside the cave and the limestone drenched water from the petrifying well gradually turns the objects to stone with its sediment.
MOTHER SHIPTON'S PROPHECIES
This rare collection of Mother Shipton's Prophecies was sent to us by a Nexus reader who told us that , 30 years ago, she painstakingly transcribed them and managed to smuggle them out of the Mitchell library, Sydney, now the State Library of New south Wales.
The originals were kept in a locked room, along with many other volumns of prophetic writings deemed unsuitable for viewing by the general public.
Mother Shipton reputedly was born Ursula Sontheil in 1488 in Norfolk, England, and died in 1561. She exhibited prophetic and psychic abilities from an early age. At 24 married to Toby Shipton, she eventually became known as Mother Shipton. Many of her visions came true within her own lifetime and in subsequent centuries. These rare verses from Mother Shipton seem to have prophetic indications for our times, but, of course, are open to interpretation.
A carriage without horse will go, disaster fill the world with woe. In London, Primrose Hill shall be in centre hold a bishops sea.
Around the world men's thoughts will fly, quick as the twinkling of an eye. And water shall great wonders do, How strange, and yet it shall come true.
Through towering hills proud men shall ride, no horse or ass move by his side. Beneath the water, men shall walk, shall ride, shall sleep, shall even talk. And in the air men shall be seen, In white and black and even green. A great man shall come and go for prophecy declares it so.
In water, iron then shall float as easy as a wooden boat. Gold shall be seen in stream and stone, In land that is yet unknown.
And England shall admit a Jew, Do you think this strange, but it is true. The Jew that once was led in scorn shall of a Christian then be born.
A house of glass shall come to pass, In England. But alas, alas, a war will follow with the work where dwells the pagan and the Turk.
These states will lock in fiercest strife, and seek to take each other's life. When north shall thus divide the south an eagle build in lion's mouth then tax and blood and cruel war shall come to every humble door.
Three times shall lovely sunny France be led to play a bloody dance. Before the people shall be free three tyrant rulers shall she see?
Three rulers in succession be each springs from different dynasty. Then when the fiercest strife is done. England and France shall be as one.
The British olive shall next then twine, in marriage with a German vine. Men walk beneath and over streams fulfilled shall be their wondrous dreams.
For in those wondrous far off days, the women shall adopt a craze to dress like men, and trousers wear and to cut off their locks of hair.
They'll ride astride with brazen brow, as witches do on broomsticks now.
And roaring monsters with men a top, does seem to eat the verdant crop. And men shall fly as birds do now, and give away the horse and plough.
They'll be a sign for all to see be sure that it will certain be. Then love shall die and marriage cease and nations wane as babes decrease.
And wives shall fondle cats and dogs and men live much the same as hogs.
THESE VERSES WERE ON THE OUTER WRAPPINGS OF THE SCROLLS
I know I go, I know I'm free, I know that this will come to be, Secreted this, for this will be found by later dynasty.
A dairy maid, a bonnie lass, shall kick this tome as she does pass And five generations she shall breed before one male child does learn to read.
This is then held year by year, till an iron monster trembling fear, eats parchment, words and quill and ink, and mankind is given time to think.
And only when this comes to be will mankind read this prophecy. But one man sweets another’s Bain so I shall not have burned in vein.
THE FOLLOWING VERSES WERE FOUND ON A SCROLL IN ANOTHER JAR
The signs will be there for all to read; when man shall do most heinous deed man will ruin kinder lives; by taking them as to their wives. And murder foul and brutal deed:
when man will only think of greed, and man shall walk as if asleep; he does not look - he may not peep, And iron men the tail shall do; and iron cart and carriage too.
The king shall false promise make; and talk just for talking's sake. And nations plan horrific war; the like as never seen before, and taxes rise and lively down; and nations wear perpetual frown.
Yet greater sign there be to see; as man nears latter century. Three sleeping mountains gather breath, and spew out mud, ice and death, an earthquake swallow town and town; in lands as yet to me unknown And Christian one fights Christian two
and nations sigh, yet nothing do. And yellow men great power gain; from mighty bear with whom they've lain.
These mightily tyrants will fail to do, they fail to split the world in two. But from their acts a danger bred; an ague, leaving many dead.
And physics find no remedy; for this is worse than leprosy. Oh many signs for all to see; the truth of this true prophecy.
THE LAST PROPHECY
In nineteen hundred and twenty-six build houses light of straw and sticks. For then shall mighty wars be planned and fire and swords shall sweep the land.
When pictures seem alive with movements free, when boats like fishes swim beneath the sea. When men like birds shall scour the sky. Then half the world, deep drenched in blood shall die.
For those who live the century through in fear and trembling this shall do. Flee to the mountains and the dens to bog and forest and wild fens.
For storms will rage and oceans roar when Gabriel stands on sea and shore, and as he blows his wondrous horn old worlds die and new be born.
A fiery dragon will cross the sky six times before the earth shall die. Mankind will tremble and frightened be for the six heralds in this prophecy.
For seven days and seven nights man will watch this awesome sight. The tides will rise beyond their ken. To bite away the shores and then the mountains will begin to roar and earthquakes split the plain to shore.
And flooding waters rushing in, will flood the lands with such a din that mankind cowers in muddy fen and snarls about his fellow men.
He bares his teeth and fights and kills and secrets food in secret hill and ugly in his fear, he lies to kill marauders, thieves and spies.
Man flees in terror from the floods and kills, and rapes and lies in blood and spilling blood by mankind's hand will stain and bitter many lands.
And when the dragon's tail is gone man forgets and smiles and carries on. To apply himself - too late, too late for mankind has earned deserved fate.
His masked smile, his false grandeur, will serve the gods their anger stir and they will send the dragon back to light the sky - his tail will crack. Upon the earth and rend the earth and man shall flee, king, lord and serf.
But slowly they are routed out to seek diminishing water spout and men will die of thirst before the oceans rise to mount to the shore. And lands will crack and rend anew do you think it strange, it will come true.
And in some far - off distant land some men - oh such a tiny band will have to leave their solid mount and span the earth, those few to count.
Who survives this (unreadable) and then begin the human race again. But not on land already there, but on ocean beds, stark, dry and bare.
Not every soul on earth will die, as the dragon's tail goes sweeping by, not every land on earth will sink, but these will wallow in stench and stink, of rotting bodies of beast and man, of vegetation crisped on land.
But the land that rises from the sea will be dry and clean and soft and free. Of mankinds dirt and therefore be, the source of man's new dynasty. and those that live will ever fear the dragon's tail for many year but time erases memory You think it strange. But it will be.
And before the race is built anew, a silver serpent comes to view and spew out men of like unknown to mingle with the earth now grown cold from its heat and these men can enlighten the minds of future man to intermingle and show them how to live and love and thus endow. the children with the second sight. a natural thing so that they might grow graceful, humble and when they do the golden age will start anew.
The dragon's tail is but a sign for mankind's fall and man's decline, and before this prophecy is done I shall be burned at the stake, at l my body singed and my soul set free you think I utter blasphemy your wrong. These things have come to me this prophecy will come to be.
East Yorkshire’s last burning of a 'witch' in Pocklington
A few hundred years ago, was not a place to be if you were an old woman, ugly, or suffered from a skin discoloration. Forget dabbling in herbal medicine or healing others with alternative methods, bercause you would be called a ‘witch’.
Many women were routinely punished with prison, the stocks, torture and even death for being witches. In fact, Pocklington was the last place in England where a woman was burned for being a witch.
Not much is known about Old Wife Green but, whatever she did, in 1630 the parish register records state that she was burned for being a witch. This was not the official punishment by the authorities because witches were generally hanged.
But an angry mob, who was angered by the old woman's practices, took her to the square and burned her alive…
Perhaps the most infamous witch in the area was Isabella Billington. While many innocent women were put to death, Isabella was not one of them. The 32-year-old had crucified her mother before burning a calf and a cockerel as an offering.
She was hanged in 1649 for the crime, along with her husband, who was also involved. Some of the accusations against the women appeared to be ludicrous.
In 1654, Elizabeth Roberts, the wife of a Beverley joiner, was charged with witchcraft after a man claimed to have seen her turn into a cat. According to the supposed victim, in this form she lay on him in bed and attacked him, causing him to fall into a trance. When he recovered his senses he saw her in human form escaping up a wall.
Later, he claimed she appeared to him as a bee and threw him violently from one place to another, despite the efforts of five or six people to hold him down. It was possible he was trying to worm his way out of charges of adultery.
Drawing the blood of a witch was thought to blunt their powers.
In Skipsea, in 1650, Ann Hudson was charged with witchcraft after a sick man recovered when he scratched her and drew her blood. Other guards against witchcraft included charm stones from the Holderness beaches and horseshoes hung upside down.
Another "witch" was Peg Fyfe, who reputedly skinned a young resident alive in the 1660s and was later hanged for the crime but swallowed a spoon to save herself.
However, she was finished off by two passing knights.
Another case fuelled by hate was the execution of Mabel Brigge, of Holmpton in Holderness. "Isabel Buck asked Mabel to perform a fast for her to retrieve some money, which was a common religious activity," Mrs Rennsion says. "But Isabel accused Mabel of carrying out a black fast – a tool used by witches to curse others – against the king. "Mabel was tried for treasonous witchcraft and executed. "There was apparently a feud between the Buck family and someone close to Mabel."
The death of so many women is a dark chapter in human history.
Pendle Witch Trials
Perhaps the most notorious witch trial of the 16th Century, the legend of the Pendle witches is one of the many dark tales of imprisonment and execution at Lancaster Castle. Twelve people were accused of witchcraft; one died while held in custody, eleven went to trial. One was tried and found guilty at York and the other ten were tried at Lancaster. Only one was found not guilty. It was an unusual trial in that it was documented in an official publication, The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster, by the clerk of the court, Thomas Potts. As it was well documented, the story has remained as a well-known legend. Also, just over three centuries saw witch trials held in England but fewer than 500 people were executed for this crime. This one series of trials in the summer of 1612 therefore accounts for 2% of all witches executed.
It is important to understand the background to the events of these trials. Six of the eleven “witches” on trial came from two rival families, the Demdike family and the Chattox family, both headed by old, poverty stricken widows, Elizabeth Southerns (aka “Old Demdike”) and Anne Whittle (“Mother Chattox”). Old Demdike had been known as a witch for fifty years; it was an accepted part of village life in the 16th Century that there were village healers who practised magic and dealt in herbs and medicines. The extent of the spate of witchcraft reported in Pendle at this time perhaps reflected the large amounts of money people could make by posing as witches. Indeed, it was a time when witchcraft was not only feared but also fascinated those from common village folk to King James I. James I had been greatly interested in witchcraft even before he took the throne (in 1603), writing a book, Daemonologie, instructing his readers to condemn and prosecute both supporters and practitioners of witchcraft. The scepticism of the King became reflected in the feelings of unrest about witchcraft among the common people.
The King’s views were also imposed on the law; each Justice of the Peace in Lancashire at the beginning of the year of 1612 were instructed to compile a list of all those who refused to attend Church or take communion (a criminal offence). Lancashire had been regarded as a wild and lawless society, possibly related to the general sympathy with the Catholic Church. During the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the people of Pendle Hill openly opposed the closure of the nearby Cistercian Abbey and reverted straight back to Catholicism when Queen Mary came to the throne in 1553. The region of Lancashire was thought of as “where the church was honoured without much understanding of its doctrines by the common people". It was with this background of unease that the two judges made their investigations and sentenced the Pendle witches.
The story began with an altercation between one of the accused, Alizon Device, and a pedlar, John Law. Alizon, either travelling or begging on the road to Trawden Forest, passed John Law and asked him for some pins (it is not known whether her intention was to pay for them or whether she was begging). He refused and Alizon cursed him. It was a short while after this that John Law suffered a stroke, for which he blamed Alizon and her powers. When this incident was brought before Justice Nowell, Alizon confessed that she had told the Devil to lame John Law. It was upon further questioning that Alizon accused her grandmother, Old Demdike, and also members of the Chattox family, of witchcraft. The accusations on the Chattox family seem to have been an act of revenge. The families had been feuding for years, perhaps since one of the Chattox family broke into Malkin Tower (the home of the Demdikes) and stole goods to the value of £1 (approximately the equivalent of £100 now). Furthermore, John Device (father of Alizon) blamed the illness that led to his death on Old Chattox, who had threatened to harm his family if they did not pay annually for their protection.
The deaths of four other villagers that had occurred years before the trial were raised and the blame laid on witchcraft performed by Chattox. James Demdike confessed that Alizon had also cursed a local child some time before and Elizabeth, although more reserved in making accusations, confessed her mother had a mark on her body, supposedly where the Devil had sucked her blood, which left her mad. On further questioning both Old Demdike and Chattox confessed to selling their souls. Also Anne (Chattox’s daughter) was allegedly seen to create clay figures. After hearing this evidence, the judge detained Alizon, Anne, Old Demdike and Old Chattox and waited for trial.
The story would have ended there had it not been for a meeting held at Malkin Tower by James Device (Alizon’s brother), for which he stole a neighbour’s sheep. Those sympathetic to the family attended but word reached the judge who felt compelled to investigate. As a result, a further eight people were summoned for questioning and then trial.
The trials were held at Lancaster between 17th and 19th August 1612. Old Demdike never reached trial; the dark, dank dungeon in which they were imprisoned was too much for her to survive. Nine year old Jennet Device was a key supplier of evidence for the Pendle witches’ trial which was allowed under the system from King James; all normal rules of evidence could be suspended for witch trials, someone so young would not have been able to supply key evidence normally. Jennet gave evidence against those who attended the meeting at Malkin Tower but also against her mother, sister and brother! When she gave evidence against Elizabeth (her mother), Elizabeth had to be removed from the court screaming and cursing her daughter. Some of the Pendle witches seemed to be genuinely convinced of their guilt whereas others fought to clear their names. Alizon Device was one of those who believed in her own powers and was also the only one on trial who was faced with one of their victims, John Law. When John entered the court, it is documented that Alizon fell to her knees, confessed and burst into tears.
In conclusion, it seemed to be a range of exceptional circumstances that led to the extent of these witch trials. Indeed, Lancashire was exceptional in the number of witch trials that were held, in comparison to other regions who experienced the same degree of social depravity. The money that could be made from claiming powers in witchcraft in the 17th Century probably caused the declarations made by the two families; they may have been in competition for the best reputation in the area. This backfired and the wild accusations escalated, fuelled by a general feeling of unrest and fear of witchcraft across the country, making this the biggest and most notorious witch trial.
On Christmas Eve, 1891, the Sheffield Telegraph reported that, 'The last great gale blew down in the ground of Lightwood, Norton, a tree with a tradition. It is said to have been planted eighty years ago "to keep the witch out of the churn" (could be connected with the belief that witches could prevent the churning of butter in a household they had "cursed"). The people there spoke of the tree as the wiggin-tree.' The 'witch-wiggin' tree is another name for the mountain ash or rowan, long believed to have magical properties, including those of protecting innocent folk from black witchcraft. The Vicar of Wortley later added that the tree had been known to his parishioners as the Wickerberry Tree.