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  • The Last Witch in Dorset? March 20, 2013

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback


    This news story comes from the first quarter of the nineteenth century and from Bridport (Dorset, UK). It is a particularly vivid bit of witch-hunting from the south-west of the country at a date when these things were quickly vanishing into the past: though there would be another century of such attacks in rural Britain. We are in court.

    Mr Williams briefly opened the case, which he stated to be an assault of a most cruel and violent kind, committed by the prisoners on a poor woman of Bridport of the name of Eliz. Parsons on the most unjustifiable, and in these times, most extraordinary pretence – viz. that the woman was what they termed a witch – Elizabeth Parsons, examined by Mr Williams: Lived at Bridport; was there on the 2 January last, knew Wm. Fudge; lived with him; he was an old man; 81 years of age. On the night in question she was in bed, when Mr Fudge, who had been out, came home, she got up. He had been drinking. Knows Robert Northover and his wife, saw them at twelve o’clcok at night on the 2nd January, at Wm Fudge’s house. It was after Wm. Fudge had come home; heard Northover say to Fudge ‘are you locked in?’ Fudge answered ‘Yes’’. Northover then said, ‘Betty will not let you out: she’ll murder you tonight, and set fire to your house; she murdered six horses and a pig for me. She is a white, white **** bitch, who murdered my six horses and a pig.’

    What is the significance of this swear word and the word ‘white’? White as in white witch?

    He then asked Fudge if he should break open the door? Fudge told him to do so; and the door was forced open by Northover, who came in, and said, ‘Are you going to murder Mr Fudge?’ He struck me a violent blow on the head, which forced me against the stairs. I ran up to Mr Fudge’s room. Northover followed me: his wife came in with a light. Mary Northover said, ‘Now old hag, I have got thee. Where are my six horses and fat pig.’ Both of them beat me. I cried for mercy and said I was innocent that I never did any harm nor meant any. They continued beating me, and I struggled to get out. I had only my shift and cap on. At length I escaped from them, and went to bed. A few minutes after, they both came into my room. I know Charlotte Stiller; I saw her there; she was leaning against the chamber door when they were beating me. She rents a little house near Duge’s, and goes by the name of Great Charle. She hindered me from passing through the door. She struck me two violent blows on the head. After this they went down stairs. The Northovers came up again into my bed room. They asked me again what I had done with their six horses and pig? Mary Northover said: ‘I won’t lieave the room until I have got the old hag’s blood.’ Robert said, ‘I’ll be d***d if I don’t murder her, for there’s no law to hang me.’ He then took out of his pocket a clasp knife, and cut me in the face, breast and arm.

    This is perhaps not just the drunken sadism that it might at first seem. By cutting the witch, by taking her blood you can negate her magic. Note now the wife’s comments, which confirm this interpretation, though what is the cold water about?

    His wife stood, with the candle in one hand and beating me with the other. Looking at her hand and beating me with the other. Looking at her hand, she said, ‘Now, you old hag, I have got what I wanted: now I shall be able to keep a horse and a pig. Why didst not give the man [Fudge??] the cold water. Thou hast been ill for three days thou hast been hag ridden for three nights. Robert, I’ll not leave the room till the old hag’s down in prison.’

    It is interesting how the ‘hag’ and her assailants all seem to believe that the law will be against her. Note too how the constable clearly does not want to get involved.

    I said, don’t put me in prison tonight, but have me examined by Mr Gundry tomorrow. Robert said: d**n you and Mr Gundry too. He then went to call the constable. The constable came to the house, but not up stairs. He refused to come. Robert then said, I’ll turn constable myself; he then dragged me out of the bed, down stairs into the street. I was naked at the time, or nearly so. I begged for mercy, and said I was innocent. Innocent of being a witch. I did not know there was any such thing before. He said I should go to prison. His wife went up stairs, and brought me down a petticoat and a gown. The watchman came. I saw the Northovers no more after. I went to bed. What occasioned them to go, was a cart coming to the public house. They went to see it, and I crept up stairs. In cross-examination, the witness said, that she did not know exactly what the Northovers meant by asking her about cold water. A man came to the public house. She did not know after that he was a conjuror. Did not know till that night there was any such thing as a conjuror. She had lived in Mr Duge’s house seventeen years. The woman’s evidence was corroborated by other witnesses and the Jury having without hesitation returned a verdict of Guilty, the prisoners were sentenced to one year’s imprisonment.

    Any other late witchcraft: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com