Blackwater

A Witchcraft Tour of England

pendle witches

England has a long and varied history of witchcraft. As a tradition stretching back centuries, it is hardly surprising that there are a great variety of places that abound with legends, stories and histories about witchcraft, witches, persecution and execution. When researching the topic, I came across lots of interesting stories and made a long list of places that I’d love to visit. Some of them I have been lucky enough to visit although I would like to visit again one day. In fact, what I’d really like to do is go on a witchcraft tour of England – spending time in all these places. All offer something interesting and informative; some are fun and have more to do with legend, myth and fairy tale than the brutal truth of the horror of the witch hunts; other places I have found to be spots where poor, misunderstood and persecuted women (let’s not forget that the majority of the witch hunt victims were women) can be remembered and honoured in some small way. These are the places I’d love to visit and re-visit.

The North West

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No witchcraft tour would be complete without a visit to Pendle Hill in Lancashire and it’s a great place to start. Pendle was the location of the famous 1612 trial for witchcraft. The accused all lived in the area, and ten were hanged on Gallows Hill. Of course, rumours now abound that the hill is haunted – TV’s Most Haunted has filmed there. As a sceptic I don’t believe that these women haunt the hill – I like to think they are at peace, free from the horrible persecution they suffered and no longer afraid. But I must admit I’m not sure I’d like to spend the night on the hill!

The North East

witch pricking

Margaret Brown and thirteen other poor souls were hanged on the Town Moor in Newcastle in 1650. Margaret was a victim of ‘witch-pricking’ – it was claimed she had a devil’s mark on her body that, when pricked by a pin did not bleed. She protested her innocence right up to the last according to Ralph Gardener’s 1655 book ‘England’s Grievance’:

“These poor souls never confessed anything but pleaded innocence and one of them, by name Margaret Brown, beseeched God that some remarkable sign might be seen at the time of her execution.”

The Town Moor is a place I’d like to visit, to pause for a moment and think about poor Margaret and the other terrified accused – hoping against hope that something would end their terror.

Yorkshire

mother shipton

I have heard a lot of stories about Mother Shipton and the ‘Petrifying Well’ or ‘dropping well’ in Knaresborough. It used to be believed that the water was magic – turning objects to stone. Now of course we know that the calcifying is due to the high mineral content of the water – but that doesn’t make it any less fascinating. And Mother Shipton herself is an interesting character – allegedly born in a cave near the dropping well, she has become a legendary figure of folklore, renowned for her prophecies. There is a whole park devoted to her now, with the dropping well, cave, a museum, castle ruins and gardens. You can even buy a petrified teddy bear in the gift shop!

East Anglia

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This area was the stomping ground of Matthew Hopkins – Witchfinder General.  There are a wealth of places to visit – though few traces of the man himself remain. I’ve visited Colchester Castle and stood in the cells where Hopkins interrogated his victims (a very spooky and uncomfortable experience). I’ve also eaten dinner in ‘The Mistley Thorn’, a lovely pub that stands on the site of the inn where Hopkins set up his witch finding business and where he is rumoured to have lived. The food is lovely. I did get a bit freaked out when leaving though as we decided to go for a walk in the dark – and I have to say it was incredibly chilling to think we were walking where Hopkins may have walked. My imagination did get the better of me, but that might have been the wine.

 

The South

coven of witches

Burley is a very pretty village in the New Forest known for its connection with the witch Sybil leek. Leek moved to the area in the 1950s and opened a shop – ‘A Coven of Witches’ – still open in the village. There are now other shops in the village selling various witch-related items and a tea shop called ‘The Black Cat’. I’ve been to Burley several times and it is a really beautiful place – and a bit of light relief too!

The South West

Museum of Witchcraft

Two places of note in the South West – the wonderful Museum of Witchcraft in Boscastle, Cornwall and Exeter in Devon.

I won’t say too much about the Witchcraft Museum other than saying again how utterly fabulous it is – quirky and weird, packed full of witchcraft related stuff, but you can read about my visit here.

Alice Molland plaque

I regret not stopping in Exeter on my way to Boscastle as I would have liked to have seen the plaque at Rougemont Castle commemorating the execution of the Bideford witches and Alice Molland – you can find out about Alice here.

I know I have missed out some wonderful places but there are so many that it is hard to choose. And I know I have also ignored Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales – I am planning separate posts on the history of witchcraft in these countries.

Do you know of any interesting places connected to witchcraft in England?  I’d love to know about them (any excuse for a holiday – I mean research!).

 

I am a UK-based writer, editor and independent novelist. I love reading and I love to write. These are the two great passions of my life. Find out more about my editing services here. I am currently offering discounts to new clients – do get in touch to discuss how I can help you to make your book the best it can be.

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Flowers, Friends, Food and Fun – 17th Century Wedding Customs

17th century weding band

Researching my novel ‘The Black Hours’ was often a very dark and depressing business, focusing as it did on real accounts of persecution, terror, torture and death. When I came to write the prequel ‘Blackwater’, I did find some light relief. There is a wedding in ‘Blackwater’ and so I spent a much more cheerful afternoon reading up on the wedding traditions and customs of the 17th century.

My main source for this research was a lovely booklet by Denise Taylor called ‘17th Century Wedding Customs’. This booklet, though small in size, is packed full of useful information and interesting facts that really helped me to envisage the wedding between Samuel and Elizabeth. And it was refreshing to research using something other than the internet – something that I know I overuse.

wedding customs

As we are now coming into the most popular times for weddings, I thought I would provide a small glimpse into the way weddings, particularly those of the lower classes, were enacted all those years ago, courtesy of Denise Taylor’s helpful booklet.

Before they even got to the wedding, lower class adolescents in the 17th Century had a lot more freedom than you might think. This had a lot to do with young people very often leaving home early to take up jobs in service. This independence at a young age provided plenty of opportunities to spend time alone with members of the opposite sex, often without any chaperone.

These sweethearts would give gifts to show their affection. A silver coin, broken in half with one half kept by each of the couple, was enough to signify an engagement. Oaths and prayers would often be said over these coins, giving them much significance and importance, and making these tokens valued not only as a signifier of love, but also as a talisman against evil spirits.

It was very rare that a new dress was bought specially for a wedding. Most brides would simply wear their best dress, usually the one they wore to church, possibly with some extra adornment. More important than the dress were the bride’s garters! These were generally blue in colour, and were regarded as trophies. For although they were worn by the bride, tied just above the knee, they formed the centre of a rather risqué tradition. Once it was bed time, rather than being left in privacy with her new husband to remove the garters, they were instead removed by the ‘bride-men’ (two bachelors who would have led the bride to church carrying branches of rosemary). The garters would then be fastened to the men’s hats.

Along with garters, gloves were also important. These would be given to the bride either by her groom, or by a failed suitor who would use the opportunity to show her that she had chosen he wrong man, by presenting her with the most extravagant gloves he could afford.

Flowers were as important then as they are now. Most country brides would dress their hair with wildflowers, myrtle or miniature sheaves of wheat. Myrtle would also be used in the bouquet along with orange blossom. When the bride left the church after the ceremony, wheat would be thrown on her head to bring fruitfulness – perhaps a pre-cursor to confetti.

Orange blossom - a traditional wedding flower

Orange blossom – a traditional wedding flower

If the bride lived in the north, then she may also have cake broken over her head! This again was a fertility charm. It was also believed that the future could be seen in the broken pieces of bread and that those who gathered the pieces would have good luck.

Eating and drinking was very important. Cakes, meats and treats would all be specially prepared, with the whole community helping to provide a feast for the couple and their guests. The traditional tiered cake of today’s weddings may have featured, but in the earlier part of the century, the wedding ‘cake’ was likely to consist of small buns built into a huge pile and placed before the couple at the table. The couple would try and kiss over this mound of cakes – if they managed to reach each other they were guaranteed prosperity and plenty of children.

Going to bed on the wedding night was not a private, romantic affair. Instead, the couple were escorted to bed by the bridesmaids and groomsmen. Once the garters had been removed and distributed, the bridesmaids would undress the bride, making sure that any dress pins were removed and thrown away, lest they bring misfortune. The bride would then be surrounded by her female relations and friends, waiting in the ribbon be-decked bed for her groom. He would climb in with his bride and then all the guests would come into the bedchamber to wish the couple luck. The company would then return to their celebrations, finally leaving the newly-weds in peace!

Some of the traditions may seem rather odd, but many haven’t really changed that much through the years; the flowers, the friends, the food and the fun remain an integral part of wedding celebrations.

 

Do you have any unusual wedding traditions in your part of the world or particular to your family? I’d love to hear about them.

17th Century Wedding Customs by Denise Taylor is available on Amazon.co.uk here.

Find out more about ‘Blackwater’ and ‘The Black Hours’ here.

I am a UK-based writer, editor and independent novelist. I love reading and I love to write. These are the two great passions of my life. Find out more about my editing services here. I am currently offering discounts to new clients – do get in touch to discuss how I can help you to make your book the best it can be. 

More tales of witchcraft and sorcery – Eleanor Cobham, Duchess of Gloucester

Researching my novel ‘The Black Hours’ led me to discover many strange and horrifying stories of persecution, suspicion and murder, most of which seem hard to believe in this day and age. Much of my research centred on Essex, East Anglia and parts of Kent in the period that Matthew Hopkins, Witchfinder General and antihero of my book, was operating. However, there have been many other instances of accusations of witchcraft in the UK, from both before and after Hopkins’ horrible reign. Predictably, most of them centred on poorer, older women, outcasts or those on the edge of society. However, the rich and powerful didn’t always escape.

Eleanor Cobham was the mistress and second wife of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester. In 1441, she was imprisoned for the impressive sounding crime of treasonable necromancy.

Eleanor Cobham

Eleanor Cobham

Eleanor’s downfall came about through her interest in both astrology and the monarchy. Her husband was the fourth and youngest son of King Henry IV by his first wife Mary de Bohun. His brother was King Henry V. When Humphrey’s older brother died in 1453, Humphrey became heir presumptive to the English throne. Eleanor, perhaps feeling that the crown was within her husband’s grasp, consulted astrologers Thomas Southwell and Roger Bolingbroke. They predicted that the king, Henry VI, would suffer a life threatening illness. Word of this reached the court, and the two men were arrested along with Eleanor’s personal confessor, John Home. Under interrogation, Bolingbroke named Eleanor as the instigator of their predictions. She was arrested and tried.

Although she denied most of the accusations, Eleanor did confess to obtaining potions from ‘the witch of Eye’, Margery Jourdemayne. She denied that these potions had anything to do with the predictions however, claiming that they were purchased in order to help her conceive. Poor Margery was also arrested.

Not surprisingly, as a woman of some power and influence, and being such a close relative by marriage to the king, Eleanor escaped rather more lightly than her fellow accused. Bolingbroke was hanged, drawn and quartered, Southwell died in the Tower and Margery was burned at the stake. Eleanor was sentenced to carry out public penance, forced to divorce her husband and imprisoned for life. She died at Beaumaris Castle in Anglesey in 1452.

Eleanor carrying out her penance

Eleanor carrying out her penance

I am a UK-based writer, editor and independent novelist. I love reading and I love to write. These are the two great passions of my life. Find out about my historical novels ‘Blackwater’ and ‘The Black Hours’ here.
Find out more about my editing services here.

Blackwater – out now!

 ‘How will you protect her from lies? From superstition? How will you protect her when your father comes calling, with threats and accusations? When a mob comes to our door?’

In a time when death is common, life is cheap and superstition rife, anyone can find their world torn apart by gossip and accusations. Can one lonely girl find the love and companionship she craves? Or will her heart lead her into more danger than she can imagine?

Lizzie Prentice, daughter of a cunning woman, is no stranger to scandal. She carries it with her, like the scar on her forehead. Samuel Pendle, her protector since childhood, could hold the key to a normal, safe life. But when Samuel defies his parents, it seems that history is bound to repeat itself and Lizzie’s life is at risk. 

‘Blackwater’, prequel to the historical novel ‘The Black Hours’, follows Lizzie as she strives to escape the same terrible fate her parents suffered; her life thrown into turmoil, and everything she holds dear at stake, but determined to find happiness  in a world of intolerance, cruelty and hate.

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Since publishing ‘The Black Hours’ I have been asked about the story of Maggie and her daughter Elizabeth, and what happened to them before ‘The Black Hours’ begins. I knew their story before I started writing ‘The Black Hours’ of course, and so I have written a prequel, ‘Blackwater.’

‘Blackwater’ is out now and is free to download from the Smashwords site. You can find it here. Unfortunately, Amazon doesn’t allow independent authors to list books for free, so it is priced at 75p or 0.99c here. I am hoping that Amazon will price match it and that it will soon be free on their site too.

Here is an excerpt to whet your appetite!

BLACKWATER

Chapter 1

 Lizzie could feel the scar under her fingers. It began just below her hairline and stretched in a puckered ridge to the edge of her left eyebrow, the flesh uneven beneath her touch. Although she had rarely seen the scar herself, she knew from the averted eyes of others that it had not much faded; that, even after seven years it still marred her young face, whatever her mother might say. She pulled at a lock of yellow hair now, arranging it over the ruined skin. Her mother was watching from the hearth.

‘Leave it now, Lizzie. We need to go. I know it’s not a long walk to Finchampstead, but I do want to get there early.’

Lizzie turned and tried to smile, though her mother’s words made her heart heavy.

‘I’m ready, Mother.’ She paused, pursing her lips. ‘Although, must we go? It will be so busy. You know how it will be. All those people pushing and shoving at each other to get the best view. It’s horrible.’

Maggie sighed. Walking over to Lizzie, she tucked some loose strands of hair behind the girl’s ear.

‘Lizzie, I know you hate it but we have talked about this. You need to think of those women. Think how afraid they must be today. Stepping out into that jeering and shouting to meet their deaths. And not one look of kindness to fall on their poor heads. Not one bit of comfort. Would you deny them that? We must be there.’

Lizzie nodded, ashamed of her selfishness.

‘I’m sorry. It’s just that I hate the staring. The whispers behind our backs. And I hate to see their suffering.’

‘I know you do, but you know, it’s something you will get used to. If you are to follow me in my work. Don’t be ashamed of what we do. There are many women in these parts grateful to me for their very lives. You know that from the gifts left on the doorstep! Now stop fiddling with your hair. The scar is not as bad as you think it. And besides, if it was twice as big and twice as red, you’d still be the most beautiful girl in Eversley!’

The women stepped out of the cottage into the bright sunlight. It was unseasonably warm and the weather had encouraged plenty of spectators who now thronged the narrow lane despite the early hour, all making their way to the scene of the executions. Lizzie could never understand the fascination of these people for the spectacle of death. Her mother had made her attend executions as soon as she had been old enough, although what age was suitable to witness that horrible sight, Lizzie didn’t know. But Maggie’s reasons for attending were far removed from those of these other early travellers. Lizzie had witnessed it far more often than she cared to remember. The villagers treated these occasions as holidays. They wore their best clothes and thought nothing of bringing their children along, some mere babes in arms. They happily bought refreshments from vendors who did a brisk trade both before and after the executions. There seemed to be no compassion for the poor souls who would be the focus of the spectacle. Lizzie scowled as she was jostled by a large woman, striding along the lane with her children in tow.

‘I can’t understand how they bring their children with them. Or why they come at all for that matter.’

Maggie sighed.

‘Their lives are dull, Lizzie, and this is a bit of excitement.’

Lizzie bristled.

‘The deaths of their neighbours? Of those they have known all their lives? It is bad enough they have accused their friends, without enjoying their murders.’

Maggie gave Lizzie a warning look.

‘Be careful, keep your voice down. You know how it is, we have discussed it often enough. These people are poor, their lives are hard. When things go wrong, as they do so often, they look for someone to blame.’

‘But why blame those who have helped them in the past? The people who have given them cures, helped them when they were desperate?’

Her mother shook her head, her eyes sad. Lizzie knew that Maggie herself had suffered suspicion and persecution all her life.

‘Because they are scared. Because it is easy to turn on those who don’t fit in, who are different.’

Lizzie felt a shiver of fear.

‘Those like us?’

‘You know Lizzie, I have spent my life working with the plants of the earth, using those things that nature has been kind enough to give us, to help us if we only open our eyes and know where to look. And, yes, I have been shunned by some; have even been accused by others of terrible things.’ She paused, a shadow darkening her face. ‘You know it has not been easy. Moving around from place to place.’

Lizzie nodded. They had indeed moved at least five or six times before coming to Eversley when Lizzie was seven. They were lucky to have been able to stay here for as long as they had. In those years, Lizzie had seen the good that Maggie did, witnessed the gratitude of those helped in their most desperate times, and when she had been allowed to assist Maggie in that most wonderful feat of nature, aiding at the births of so many babies, she had known that, despite the danger, the work they did, the work that she would continue, was worthwhile and right. Even when they heard horrible tales of women like them, accused, frightened, tortured and eventually led to their deaths at the noose, she knew that she would carry on Maggie’s work – it was what she was born to do. So now, in the midst of these excited crowds, who would soon cheer as those poor women swung from the ropes, she tried to be brave, tried to ready herself to bring some small comfort to them in their hour of need. For in the back of her mind was the knowledge that one day she might have need of that same fellow feeling, that same small comfort, if suspicion and fear ever came knocking at her door.

 

Coming soon – ‘Blackwater’

Since publishing ‘The Black Hours’ I have had a lot of feedback from readers who are intrigued by the character of Maggie Prentice. They want to know more about Maggie and about Alice’s mother Elizabeth and what happened before Alice was born. The story of Maggie and Lizzie has always been in the back of my mind – indeed it was all there waiting to be told before I started writing ‘The Black Hours.’ So, Maggie and Lizzie are the subject of my new novella  ‘Blackwater’  –  now in the final stages of editing.

I have a cover ready, designed by Paul Drummond who also designed the cover for ‘The Black Hours’.

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Paul offers a great service for eBook design, including cover design, formatting and document conversion. Find details here.

I am hoping that ‘Blackwater’ will be ready for publication at the beginning of March. More details to follow soon. You can follow this blog, like my Facebook page or find me on Twitter to make sure you receive any updates.

Vexed and Troubled Englishmen

vexed and troubled

I am currently working on a prequel to my dark historical novel ‘The Black Hours’, focusing on Maggie Prentice and her daughter Elizabeth. Looking for a suitable name for the mother of Samuel Pendle, I did a quick Google search for popular names of the time (my research is usually far more involved than that, honestly!) I stumbled upon a 1968 book ‘Vexed and Troubled Englishmen’ by colonial historian Carl Bridenbaugh, concerned with the period from 1590-1642 and using sources such as parish and court records to give an idea of the circumstances that caused people to leave the country and settle elsewhere. Mike Foster compiled a list of names using the book for Ancestry.com. Besides each name he has given an extremely brief summary of the reason for their inclusion in the book. It is this brief sentence that makes compelling reading, giving as it does a little snapshot into the lives of these real people. Some of them are sad, some baffling and others completely hilarious. Here is a very small selection:

Awdy Bartholomew, South Elmham, Norfolk – vicar, unlearned & useless

Ayres John, London – “poor man”, called Hanna Mobbs a whore

Banks William, Wetherby, Yorks – begat bastard 1614, whipped

Barrett Bridget, Lewes Ct – stuck pins in Mrs Dumbrell in church

Benbury Christopher, Southampton brewer – bad beer 1630

Brooke Ralph, Arlington, Sussex – wore horns in churchyard at wedding

Cauker Katherine, Somerset – had bastard child, whipped 1617

Dell Ann, wife of Sditch butcher – unlicensed surgery 1615

Lincolne Marie, Swanton Morley, Norfolk – jilted 1597

Merrett Thomas, Somerton, Somerset – bawdy thievish alehouse 1627

Laney Julius – branded as dangerous beggar aged 7yrs

Johnson Otilwell, Manchester – lacked chimney for hovel fire

Why on earth did Ralph Brooke wear horns in a churchyard? And what kind of unlicensed surgery was Ann Dell, butcher’s wife, carrying out? Then there are the clutch of unfortunates; poor, jilted Marie Lincolne, and Otilwell Johnson, lacking a chimney! Behind each of these sentences there surely lurks a story and some of these characters will hopefully be turning up in one of my future novels. In the meantime I chose the name Bridget for Samuel’s mother. As a character, she is definitely the type of woman who would stick pins in someone in church!

You can see the full list here

And you can even buy the book here (if you have ninety quid to spare!)