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  • Witches in Nineteenth-Century Hastings April 21, 2013

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback


    Ever since this blog began Beach has been fascinated by stories of nineteenth-century witchcraft. Here is one described by that old curiosity shop writer Charles Mackay. Note that we’ve not been able to find any connection between the author and the town of Hastings on England’s southern coast. Can anyone help: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com

    More than one example of the popular belief in witchcraft occurred in the neighbourhood of Hastings so lately as the year 1830. An aged woman, who resided in the Rope-walk of that town, was so repulsive in her appearance, that she was invariably accused of being a witch by all the ignorant people who knew her. She was bent completely double; and though very old, her eye was unusually bright and malignant. She wore a red cloak, and supported herself on a crutch: she was, to all outward appearance, the very beau ideal of a witch. So dear is power to the human heart, that this old woman actually encouraged the popular superstition: she took no pains to remove the ill impression, but seemed to delight that she, old and miserable as she was, could keep in awe so many happier and stronger fellow-creatures. Timid girls crouched with fear when they met her, and many would go a mile out of their way to avoid her. Like the witches of the olden time, she was not sparing of her curses against those who offended her. The child of a woman who resided within two doors of her, was afflicted with lameness, and the mother constantly asserted that the old woman had bewitched her. All the neighbours credited the tale. It was believed, too, that she could assume the form of a cat. Many a harmless puss has been hunted almost to the death by mobs of men and boys, upon the supposition that the animal would start up before them in the true shape of Mother XXXX.

    We’ve looked through the local newspapers and found nothing. Nothing either for Mackay’s next anecdote.

    In the same town there resided a fisherman, – who is, probably, still alive, and whose name, for that reason, we forbear to mention – who was the object of unceasing persecution, because it was said that he had sold himself to the devil. It was currently reported that he could creep through a keyhole, and that he had made a witch of his daughter, in order that he might have the more power over his fellows. It was also believed that he could sit on the points of pins and needles, and feel no pain. His brother-fishermen put him to this test whenever they had an opportunity. In the alehouses which he frequented, they often placed long needles in the cushions of the chairs, in such a manner that he could not fail to pierce himself when he sat down. The result of these experiments tended to confirm their faith in his supernatural powers. It was asserted that he never flinched. Such was the popular feeling in the fashionable town of Hastings only seven years ago; very probably it is the same now.

    So had Mackay spent some time in Hastings in the mid 1830s?