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Monday, 15 February 2010

The Riding Mill Witches

In 17th century England the Tyne valley was said to be the home of up to 5 covens of witches. But while not much is known of the majority of those magical practitioners, or whether they were indeed real or not, one coven has had it’s story told over and over again.

In Riding Mill, a short walk from the station will bring you to a rather charming Public House called ‘The Wellington’. A place once known as ‘The Riding House’, which was said to play host to the now infamous Riding Mill witches. In the early 1670’s a woman by the name of Anne Armstrong of Birches Nook, decided to appoint herself a local witch finder.

Her accusations began with tales of witches becoming swallows and flying under horses bellies to curse them and their riders. Before long her finger of accusation was pointed firmly at three local women. Anne Foster of Stocksfield, Anne Dryden of Prudhoe and Lucy Thompson of Mickley all took starring roles in Anne Foster's colourful accusations.

One off the better known stories tells how Anne Armstrong had woken one night to find herself saddled like a horse. She claimed Anne Forster rode her across the pack horse bridge where she witnessed the three women dancing with the Devil at The Riding House.

In 1673, the three woman stood trial for Witchcraft at Morpeth Magistrates. Anne Armstrong was, of course, called to the witness box, and certainly didn’t hold back. She told of how she had seen the women shape shift on numerous occasions, not just into cats and hares, but also into bumble bees that rode on wooden spoons. She also told how she had witnessed them at The Riding House dancing and swinging on ropes before a man they called God.

After a particularly harrowing performance in the witness box the Judges presiding over the case decided Anne Armstrong’s accounts were too far-fetched to have any truth to them. The case was thrown out and the three women released.

Whether they really were a practicing coven or not is a question you’ll have to answer for yourself. It isn't, however, the only unanswered question in this story. Shortly after the women’s release Anne Armstrong was found hanged in The Riding House scullery.

Did the stress of the trial become to much for her? Or, was it the witches' revenge?

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