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Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Witchcraft on the Isle of Man

The Isle of Man has a rich history of associations with witchcraft. Ronald Hutton Professor of History at Bristol said “At one point the Isle of Man was regarded by everybody else in the British Isles as a hotbed of sorcery.”

There is even cases of England sending witches to the Isle of Man. In 1441 Eleanor, Duchess of Gloucester - (Wife of Humphrey), along with Margery Jourdemaine and two noted Oxford Scholars - (one an astrologer and one a doctor), was accused of using sorcery to seek the death of King Henry VI. Her punishment was to be banished for life to the Isle of Man.

Whilst in England hundreds of people lost their lives in witch trials, the Isle of Man was far more tolerant. There were only two people to be executed for witchcraft on the Isle of Man. These were Margaret Ine Quane and her young son. Margaret was accused of using witchcraft to secure a good crop by working a fertility spell. When she was found guilty, it meant her son was automatically guilty of having 'witches blood'. They were burnt at the stake in Castletown in 1617. The incident is mentioned in Gerald Gardner's book 'The Meaning of Witchcraft'.

Gerald Gardner was also a resident of the Isle of Man when he moved there with his wife Donna in 1952, where he became owner of the Museum of Witchcraft.

The Museum of Witchcraft was originally founded by Cecil Williamson. Cecil worked with MI6 during the second world war. He was employed to investigate the Nazi's occult interests, and formed the Witchcraft Research Centre. In 1947 he decided to open a museum dedicated to witchcraft. He originally planned to do this in Stratford Upon-Avon, but local opposition prevented this from ever actually happening. It was in 1948 that he purchased the near derelict 'Witches' Mill' in Castletown on the Isle of Man. The museum – (then called the Folklore Centre of Superstition and Witchcraft) – opened in 1949. He turned to Gardner, who he'd met a few years earlier at a talk he was giving in London, to become 'resident witch'. A few years later Williamson decided he wanted to return to England, and move his collection to a new museum in Windsor. In 1952 he sold the museum to Gardner who installed his own collection of artefacts.

Williams original collection remained in Windsor for a year, before a brief spell in Gloucestershire, before ending up in Boscastle in 1960, where it remains today.

The Isle of Man still embraces its occult history and Manx National Heritage have held a number of events and talks.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Bede's World

Bede’s World is located in Jarrow, in North East England. It is a visitors attraction based on the life, times and works of the Venerable Bede who lived from 673 to 735 AD.

Bede was a monk, and from the age of seven onwards, he barely left the monastery of St Peter at Monkwearmouth. He dedicated his life to writing and teaching. He was the first person to write academic works in Old English. He was responsible for translating the Gospel of John into English, sadly only completing it on the day of his death. Today Bede’s writings are seen as an invaluable source of historical information, though unfortunately, only fragments of the writings he completed in English have survived today.

Bede’s World has all you would expect from a good museum. The museum building itself is beautifully laid out, with eye catching displays of historic pieces brought together with modern artwork. They also have a lovely on-site cafĂ©, housed within Jarrow Hall, and a gift shop that boasts some genuinely unique gifts and interesting books.

However, the museum is not constrained within the main buildings, far from it. Bede’s World is situated on the site of the Anglo-Saxon monastery of St Pauls, and you can visit the medieval monastic ruins.

They also have a fully reconstructed Anglo-Saxon farm, complete with animals, that they run demonstrations from. This is situated amongst many reconstructed timber buildings you can look around.

Throughout the year Bede’s World hosts a number of events and fairs. These range from exhibitions and talks from some of the country’s top historians and archaeologists, to family fun days and craft fairs.

The fun days and craft fairs are not to be missed. The have included things such as battle re-enactments and birds of prey displays. There are also lots of fun activities for children of all ages including horse cart rides, and making clay tiles. There’s also plenty for the adults. The wide range of local craftsmen these events attract make for a truly unique shopping experience. In addition, on days such as this, Bede’s World will often open it’s doors for free. Getting there isn’t much of a trial either with lots of local public transport links near by.

Bede’s World is open seven days a week, but does close briefly over the winter period. Full details of opening times and events can be found on their website.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

The Bideford Witches

The town of Bideford in Devon has it’s place firmly marked in the history of British Witchcraft. It was the home of Temperance Lloyd, Mary Trembles and Susanna Edwards. In 1682, these 3 woman became the last people in England to be executed for Witchcraft.

Temperance was the first to be accused. A local shop keeper, Thomas Eastchurch, claimed she had used witchcraft to torment local woman Grace Thomas. After a chance meeting between to two woman, Grace took ill with severe internal pains. Temperance was also accused of conversing with the devil, who took the shape of a black man. She was also said to have sent the Devil, in the guise of a magpie, to Grace’s windowsill at night. She was accused of causing Grace’s pains by using a wax doll and pricking it with pins. An accusation based on nine marks Grace claimed to have on her knee. When Temperance admitted to pricking a piece of leather nine times her fate was made. She was sent to Exeter Assizes.

Suspicion of Mary and Susanna began merely due to them being seen in public with Temperance. When another local woman, Grace Barnes, began having fits they were quickly blamed. At the local magistrates, it was claimed that Mary had been seen loitering outside her house. Grace was physically carried into the town hall to give evidence. To add to the drama a man who was present, Anthony Jones, began foaming at the mouth, jumping around as if possessed, and shouting “I am now bewitched by this Devil.” Mary and Susanna were then sent to join Temperance in Exeter.

The three woman were held awaiting trial for over a month. Within this time public interest grew, and with it outrageousness of some of the accusations. At one point it was claimed that Temperance Lloyd had the Devil suckle at unnatural teats that grew on her body. All the women fell apart under questioning and not only admitted to the charges levied against them, but all began to blame each other. They were all found guilty.

They were sentenced to death by the judges presiding, one of which was Rodger North. The motives for this sentence are debatable. Lord North - (Rodger North’s brother) - wrote to the secretary of state following the trial. In this letter he stated that the women must be put to death, or else the country would loose faith in the capability of the legal system in dealing with cases of witchcraft. He claimed this would lead to illegal, vigilante witch hunts being carried out, outside of the legal system. Sir Francis North later completed an investigation into the case and found it to be deeply flawed.

The women were put to death at Heavitree, on the 25th August 1682. The English legal system eventually abolished the death penalty for witches in 1736.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

The Pendle Witches

In 1612, the town's of Pendle in Lancashire played host to one of the most famous witch trials in British history.
The story begins with a relatively mundane argument between Alizon Device, and pedlar John Law. When John refuses to sell her pins, she threw a casual curse at him. When the pedlar was then instantly gripped by a seizure and collapsed, a panicking Alizon, convinced that she is the cause, confesses she has laid a curse on him and apologised.
The story might of ended here had it not been for Abraham Law, John Law's son, who brought Alizon's confession to the attention of magistrate Rodger Nowell. This led to suspicion falling not only on Alizon, but also her mother, Elizabeth Device, brother James Device and grandmother Elizabeth Southern (known as Demdike).

Demdike was also accused of using witchcraft to kill the daughter of Richard Baldwin, after he refused to pay the family wages due to them after they carried out mill work. It was during a statement from Demdike that Anne Whittle (known as Chattox) and her daughter Anne Redferne became implicated. Demdike said she had found them making clay poppets of the Nutter family.

Chattox stated that she had targeted Robert Nutter not only because he had tried to seduce her daughter Anne but also because his own grandmother, Elizabeth Nutter had requested she help kill him, offering her land in exchange for her assistance.

Both Chattox and Demdike were rumoured amongst locals to be experienced witches, and a feud had developed over the years. This led to the two women and their families making various statements and allegations against the other throughout the investigation. Alizon claimed Chattox burgled her family and even used witchcraft to kill her farther. Chattox claimed that the only reason she became embroiled in witchcraft to start with was due to Demdike's influence.

As the investigations continued more and more people were implicated. Partially due to the 'witches sabbat' that was said to have taken place at Malkin Towers on Good Friday 1612. This meeting, and other general strange occurrences surrounding Malkin Towers featured throughout various statements made. A large number of the people who attended that sabbat made up the accused.

There were 13 people that made up the Pendle Witches. Ten were hanged at Lancaster Gaol, these were; Alizon Device, Elizabeth Device, James Device, Chattox – (Anne Whittel), Anne Redferne, Alice Nutter, Katherine Hewitt, John Bulcock, Jane Bulcock and Isobel Robey. Due to living just over the county boarder Jennet Preston was tried in Yorkshire and hanged at York. Magaret Pearson was found guilty for the crime of witchcraft, but innocent of using it to murder anyone, and sentenced to one year in prison.

Demdike – (Elizabeth Southerns) – was never found guilty of witchcraft or murder. She died whilst in Lancaster Gaol still awaiting trial. Though, the tales of the Pendle witches has led her to be one of the best known witches in British history.