Monday, 27 October 2014

Witchcraft in Somerset

 Samhain, otherwise know as All Hallows Eve and most commonly Halloween, is
 one of the biggest festivals in the witches’ calendar, it marks the end of the 
Celtic old year and the start of the new. It is on this night that the veil between
 the world of the living and that of the dead is at it’s thinnest, allowing the souls
 of the departed to cross over. It is also the time that witches gather together 
 to celebrate one of their biggest sabbats. In medieval time on nights like this 
when witches were believed to be about, church bells would be rung to stop
 them flying over the villages and towns; all of the inhabitants would come out
 into the streets armed with hand bells, old pots and pans, anything that would
 add to the noise. It was believed that the noise of the bells ringing in the night
 would cause the witch to fall off her broomstick and fall to the ground.
 Belief in witchcraft was widespread throughout the county and according to an 
historical document written in 1681 Somerset was awash with witches; one
 could almost imagine the night skies filled with flying hags!
 Joseph Glanvil, a demonologist and clergyman living in Frome, gives a detailed 
account in his Sadducismus Triumphatus of the two great covens, one at Brewham 
and the other at Wincanton, situated just miles from Glastonbury, which was and 
still is the ancient seat of Pagan forces. 
 As well as the ringing and wearing of bells the people of Somerset took other steps 
to protect themselves against witchcraft as the many artifacts found will testify. 

A number of witch bottles have been discovered hidden in old buildings, these
 were a favourite tool to counter any evil spells. Anybody thinking they had
 been bewitched would fill the bottle with pins, their urine and nail clippings 
and then hide it somewhere, usually beneath the front doorstep or the fireplace. 
Bullocks hearts stuffed with pins were placed in chimneys to stop entry by a witch; 
horseshoes, often seen over doorways,were placed there to break the spell of an
 evil wisher and even animals, usually cats, were crucified in the roof space of
 houses. But the simplest witch deterrent was urine, it was sprinkled over the 
doorstep to prevent entry and in some cases sprinkled over people to prevent 

Less common was the finding of any witches belongings although an interesting
 discovery was made in Wellington in 1878 when workmen broke into a secret
 room in an old house  that was being demolished. Inside they found a Witch’s 
Ladder, an armchair and six well used brooms. The ladder, which is now in the 
Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, is a long length of knotted cord with feathers 
woven into it and would have been used to cast spells, usually a death spell. 
Strangely enough the room situated in the roof space was inaccessible from 
the main house but according to many, witches were able to fly by anointing 
themselves with ointment made of the fat of young babies, hemlock, aconite, 
poplar leaves and soot. 

It was also a common belief that witches were able to transform themselves by using 
a magical spell into ‘familiars’, a toad or frog but most frequently a hare.  

“ I shall go into a hare
With sorrow and such and muckle care
And I shall go in the devil’s name
Ay ‘till I come home again”

   There is a story of a witch in Wambrook, who having caused much trouble and 
strife in the area, was shot by a resident of the village. He spotted a hare running
 through the village and believing it was the witch who in the form of her familiar
 had been suckling milk from his neighbour’s cow  ran to get his gun. His first shot
 had no effect so he loaded his gun with silver pennies. With his second shot he hit 
the hare. Chasing it back to the old woman’s cottage  he found her crouched in the 
corner of the room with blood pouring from her leg. There are many tales of old 
women transforming themselves to escape pursuit; Black Smock Inn at Stathe was 
named after a witch who flew up the chimney and ran off across the moors in the 
shape of a hare, although she avoided the flames her clothing got scorched in the 
hot chimney. Mother Weller from Milborne Port was another witch who could 
transform at will but her favourite form was a toad. Greatly feared in the area she 
was known to possess the evil eye. Whole litters of pigs would die, horses would go 
lame and cattle would sicken and die; any misfortune that occurred in 
the area would be laid at her  door. She met her end at the hands of a disgruntled 
local farmer, who finding a toad sat in the doorway of her cottage stabbed it with
 a fork. Mother Weller was found dead the next morning with stab wounds in her back.

The strong belief in the power of ‘overlooking ‘or the evil eye formed the basis
 of many of  the witch craft trials that swept the country in the 16th and 17th century.
Mathew Hopkins was the most notorious Witch Finder General in Britain but 
Somerset had it’s own witch finder; Richard Hunt JP. He personally led a zealous
 hunt for eight years, tracking down ‘a hellish knot of witches’ in Somerset and 
presided over the  many cases of suspected witchcraft  brought forward at the
 Assizes  held in Taunton Castle. 
 Elizabeth Stile, a member of the Wincanton witches, was accused in 1665 of 
bewitching Elizabeth Hall into having such severe fits that she was unable to speak.
 Stile wildly confessed to having made a pact with the Devil. She was examined in
 court by five  women, two of which historical records show were professional 
witch finders. Known as ‘prickers’ they searched the accused’s body for witches 
marks; which would signify that they had been touched by the Devil. Any blemish, 
birthmark or spot would be suspect. Once a mark was found it would be pricked
 with a bodkin or needle to see if the witch could feel any pain. These people 
would travel from town to town to uncover witches for a hefty fee; one ‘pricker’ 
was reputed to earn 20 shillings for each witch that was uncovered. However they  
were not averse to falsifying evidence, some of the bodkins, a sharp instrument
 made for punching holes through cloth, and needles they used had hollow 
wooden handles and a retractable needle so although it looked as though the 
needle had entered the body it had in fact disappeared up into the handle. 
On being found guilty Elizabeth Stile was condemned to be hanged but thwarted 
her gaolers by dying a day before her sentence was due to be carried out.

One of the most bizarre case was that of Mary Hill of Beckington, who in 1689 
accused Elizabeth Carrier, an elderly women of bewitching her after she began 
to have severe fits during which she vomited up a number of strange objects.
 Beginning with pins then nails then within a month it progressed to handles of 
spoons, lumps of lead, iron, more pins tied up with thread and large nails. 
The woman she accused  were searched and found to have several witches marks. 
After being ‘cross bound,’ her right thumb tied to her left big toe, she was thrown 
into the river near the town.

  Ducking or ‘swimming the witch’ was another popular method in determining 
the guilt of a suspected witch. If she floated after being thrown into deep water 
it was a sure sign that she was a witch.  Margery Coombes and Ann More, both
 elderly woman, were also accused by Mary as she continued to vomit up strange 
objects.  Elizabeth Carrier died as soon as she was in prison but the other two 
were tried at the Assizes and acquitted due to lack of evidence.
Authorities were becoming increasingly sceptical of so called evidence but many
 maintained that Mary was possessed of a diabolical presence.

But of course the most well known witch in Somerset is the Witch of Wookey. 
According to locals the witch had been spurned in love and had retreated to the
 cave where she spent her time casting evil spells on the young of the village. 
In desperation they appealed to the Abbot of Glastonbury to rid them of the witch
 so a monk was dispatched to confront her. On seeing him she tried to flee her 
cave but the monk managed to sprinkle her with Holy Water as she rushed past, 
as soon as the Holy Water touched her skin the witch turned to stone and there 
she remains to this day.

Many innocent women were also accused of being witches, the exact amount
 executed vary wildly according to different historians. Elderly, single, infirm 
or simple, anybody that was outside the mainstream of village life, or even
 owning a pet was suspect behaviour. 
The so called wise women who were proficient in the use of herbs and midwives 
also began to fall under suspicion as well but by the late 17th century thanks 
to a growing scepticism, the cases of witchcraft began to decrease with the 
 Witch craft Act being repealed in 1736. The last case in Somerset was that of 
Maria Stevens in 1707 who was accused of bewitching Dorothy Reeves, she 
was acquitted after the judge and jury failed to believe any of the evidence.

 Contrary to popular opinion witchcraft is still alive and well in Somerset, although 
changed somewhat from the image of old, gone are the pointed hats and broomsticks. 
The modern day witch is usually a devotee of Wicca;  whose practices involves working
 in harmony with nature, magic, folk medicine, spiritual healing and shamanism.
 The popular Wytches Market held twice yearly in Glastonbury is a  testament to 
the enduring draw of this ancient and sacred site for all types of pilgrims, pagans, 
witches, druids and Christians alike. 

Just adding this postscript Feb 2017 as I have been kindly contacted by email with regard to the Elizabeth Stiles mentioned in the above post.
When writing the article I drew on various old documents and 'eyewitness' accounts, however there is always the problem of verifying the facts ( usually impossible due to the length of time that has expired) so it is always interesting to receive another version of events. So Samantha has kindly given me permission to add her comments onto this blog. If, like myself, you are interested in the history of witchcraft I am sure you will find this addition interesting.

"You might like to know that the accused witch Elizabeth Stiles of Bayford was never formally indicted.She was therefore not sentenced and we do not know where she died.There are no records of the trial at the Quarter Sessions and in fact we only have magistrate Robert Hunts word that the preliminary hearing later reported by Joseph Glanville actually took place.The reason for the reports may have been a complex interaction between Hunt and Glanville who were likely to have planned to use them to present to the Royal Society in an effort to bolster failing belief in witchcraft.Both were advocates of Natural Philosophy- which sought to explain magical power in the approaching Age of Enlightenment and scientific rationale."

Always happy to receive any comments from interested readers

Friday, 24 October 2014

25th of October is St Crispins Day

St Crispin and Crispinian's Day, and of course it is the anniversary 
of the English victory at Agincourt in 1415.

'This day is called the Feast of Crispian...
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by
From this day to the ending of the world
But we in it shall be remembered.
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.'

Henry V IV iii written in 1599 by Shakespeare.

A commonly repeated legend claims that the two fingered salute or V sign
 derives from a gesture made by the Welsh longbowmen fighting in the English
 army at the Battle of Agincort.
According to the story, the French were in the habit of cutting off the arrow 
shooting fingers of the captured archers, and the gesture was a sign of defiance
 on the part of the bowmen showing the French that they still had their fingers.
The bowmen had a devastating effect on the ranks of the French.

According to a dubious legend Saints Crispin and Crispinian were
shoemakers from either Soissons in France or Faversham in Kent. 
They were both martyred by being pricked to death with cobblers awls,
and so of course became the patron saint of shoemakers. Their feast day is
 called the cobbler's feast or snobs holiday.

The twenty fifth of October
cursed  be the cobbler
that goes to bed sober.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Faerie Trees

Almost all kinds of trees found in the Celtic countries have been thought to have 
special powers or to serve as the abode of the faeries.

According to the Celts the oak was the Father of the Trees and worshiped in
 vast groves which formed their holy shrines. These places gave protection and 
power to their magic and spells. They revered the oak 
above all other trees because of the powerful magic that the tree contained and it 
was used in many of their celebrations and rituals. The name Druid means
 ‘Knowing the Oak’.
The oak represented doorways to other realms, it was believed to provide 
protection and shelter when passing through to other realms.
On Angelsey in Wales stand the ancient sacred Holy Groves of the Druids, this 
grove of oaks was destroyed in AD 60 on the orders of the Roman General 
Gaius Suetonius Paulinus  who was determined to break the power of the Druids. 
The remnants of the sacred oaks can still be seen there.
The Romans vehemently opposed Celtic druids, whom they did not see pious priests, 
but as ferocious freedom fighters. The Druids continuously tried to rally the 
population of Britain to take up arms against the Romans and Anglesey became the 
centre of Celtic rebellion in the country.

Oak Apples: The galls on oak trees are caused by the larvae of a certain type 
of wasp and the galls were used to find out if a child had been bewitched.
Three of the galls would have been plucked from the oak and thrown into a
 bucket of water. The bucket would then have been placed underneath the child’s
 cradle. If the galls float then the child is safe but if they sink it means the child 
is bewitched. All of this must be done in silence otherwise it will not work.

The Well of Wisdom, otherwise known as Connla’s Well in Tipperary Ireland, 
stands at the centre of the Celtic Otherworld. From here flows the water which
 feeds all other sacred wells and springs throughout the rest of the world.
Overhanging this well grows a sacred hazel tree which produces the nine nuts
 of poetic art and wisdom, these nuts fall into the water and are eaten by
 Fintan the salmon of knowledge.
When the nuts fall into the water bubbles of inspiration rise to the surface 
which with the husks then float down the five streams that flow from this well
 spreading the wisdom to the rest of the world.
The hazel tree has been considered a magical tree for many hundreds of years 
and to the Celts it was known as the Sacred Tree of Knowledge and it’s nuts 
treasured, believing them to be the food of the Gods.
It was not just the nuts that they valued but also the wood itself from which they 
made wands, using them in magical ceremonies and for divination.
The power of the wand has been recognised by Pagans and Christians alike, for 
example it was with a hazel wand that St Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland.
Along with the wands, which are still used by the modern day Druid, hazel
 dowsing rods are commonly used to find underground springs, 
although in Cornwall they are also used to locate mineral deposits.
Great care has to be taken to cut the wands or dowsing rods at the the correct time.
Midsummer’s Eve is the best time as the hazel tree is at its most powerful then.
The smaller more flexible branches of the tree are woven into hats, placed upon 
the head they can then be used to make wishes.
Sailors also wore these hats as protection against storms.
This belief in the power of the hazel was and is still wide spread throughout
 Britain; in the more remote parts of the country it is still a custom for brides to 
be presented with bags of nuts upon leaving the church to encourage 
fertility in their marriage.

This is an ancient sacred tree which can live for anything up to 3000 years,
 its evergreen leaves a symbol of mourning and resurrection. Many yew trees
 can be found  planted in graveyards, and small sprigs of yew were often placed 
in the grave to protect the spirit.
One old tale that is told about the yew is that the tree became dissatisfied with
 its dark green needles envying the other trees in the forest their beautiful 
coloured leaves. It grumbled to the faeries asking them to change its appearance, 
so to keep the yew happy they changed its leaves into gold. The golden leaves 
glittered in the sun but this attracted the thieves and they stripped the tree bare.
 The faeries then gave the tree delicate leaves of crystal but a storm came and 
the rain smashed the delicate leaves leaving the tree naked.
The tree was then clothed in bright green and gold leaves that fluttered in the wind 
but this attracted all the wild animals of the woods, and the tree was again stripped 
bare of its leaves. The yew tree stood there in the wood and moaned  for its own 
evergreen leaves to be returned  so the faeries once again did their magic and 
returned the yew tree to its original form,but because the tree still envied the 
other trees their colourful leaves the faeries gave it bright red berries to wear
 every year, and made the berries along with the leaves poisonous to discourage 
the beasts of the forest.

The elder, having clusters of white flowers and red or blackish berry like fruit, has
many associations with the faerie world. For instance on the Isle of Man it is
 commonly thought of as a faerie tree while in Ireland it is believed that the tree is 
haunted by faeries and demons.
If you stand beneath an Elder tree on Midsummer’s Eve you will see the King of the
 Faeries and his entourage but be careful you do not get swept away to Faerieland.
Elder wood is greatly prized by the faeries so do not use it for a cradle or the 
baby will be pinched black and blue.
The Elder Mother guards the tree and although she is usually kind she can
become dangerous if her trees are harmed so you must always ask 
permission before cutting an Elder tree.

”Ourd  gal, give me some of thy wood
An oi will give some of moine
When oi grows inter a tree”

The magical properties of the Apple tree were recognised by the Celts who 
used them in their Samhain festivals.
Great care was taken of the trees by the Celts, wassailing them at the turn of 
every season to ensure good crops, for they believed that the apple was the the fruit 
of the Gods. Blessings and prayers were said in the orchards and hot spiced cider 
drunk in toast to the trees.
Anything left over in the wassailing bowl would be poured over the roots of the 
trees as a tribute to the spirit of the trees.

“Old Apple Tree we wassail thee, and happily thou wilt bear,
 For the Lord knows where we shall be , 
Till apples another year....”

Two customs that are left over from the Samhain festival and are still in
 practice today are the dunking for apples in a barrel and peeling an apple in
 front of a mirror to see an image of your future partner.
May Eve is the traditional time to plant new trees, place a piece of coal beneath 
the roots, then water with cider.
The Apple Tree Man is the guardian of  orchards in Somerset, he is to be found in 
the oldest tree. Also keeping him company is the faerie horse, the Colt Pixy. 
The last apples of the harvest must be left for the pixies. The Somerset name for 
taking these are Pisking, Col-pixying, Griggling, Pixyhunting and Pixywarding.

The ash tree was regarded with awe in Celtic countries, especially Ireland; where 
at times in the past, even though wood was scarce, people refused to cut the ash for
 fear of having their own houses consumed with flames.
The ash is sometimes used in the Beltaine rites, together with the oak and thorn, 
the ash is part of a magical trilogy in faerie lore.
Ash seed pods can be used in divination and the wood has the power to ward of faeries.
 In Scotland children were given the astringent sap of the tree as both medicine and 
as protection against witch craft.

This wood can be used as a protection against faerie charms and dairy maids
 used it as a charm to stop butter from spoiling when being churned. 
Hang branches around the house and outbuildings to bring good luck.
Every croft in Scotland would have its own rowan tree planted outside the front 
door for protection. Red ribbons would be tied to the branches to keep witches from
 the door. It is one of the most sacred trees in Scottish folk traditions and does not 
allow the use of the timber, bark, leaves or flowers except for sacred purposes.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Wonderful magical wells and faerie springs

Well dressing used to be a very common practice especially at Ascension tide to mid August, it survived in many areas up until the start of the second world war. Unfortunately many customs were put to one side at this time and were never revived after the war.
It is especially associated with the Derbyshire villages. At Tissington and Buxton the wells were dressed with large framed panels featuring biblical subjects, at Buxton the whole town used to take part in the procession, the well was blessed and a Festival Queen was crowned. In fact Tissington used to boast that the festival had been held without interruption since the drought of 1615, although some say it is from the time of the Black Death, the wells never failed and farmers brought their cattle ten miles to drink at the wells. At Endon the two wells were dressed on the 29th May and the May Queen crowned on the same day, this was a blending of the ancient practice of well worship, may day rites and christian beliefs.
Well worship has been observed for centuries, the origin laying in Pagan traditions. According to some it originated in the pagan custom of making sacrifices to the Gods of wells ans springs to ensure a plentiful supply of clean water. Like many other folk practices it was later adopted by the church.
The practice of well dressing has in the last few years seen a revival.
Whaley Bridge Well Dressing, High Peak, Derbyshire will take place 28th June 8th July 2015 while the well dressing in Tissington and Endon start in early May.

There are many other wells and springs around the country that have myths surrounding them, for example the Holy Well at Roche, Cornwall was used for curing the insane. It had another use on Maunday Thursday ( the thursday before Good Friday) local women would throw pins into the water and from the bubbles that rose up through the water they would read their future.

St Madrons Well; on the first sunday in May parents would take their sick children to the well to cure ricketts. The child would be immersed in the water three times while they face the sun, the parents would then carry the child nine times around the well. A strip of the child's clothing would be left on a nearby tree as an offering.
This dated back to a  pre christian belief in the goddess of the wells  who was associated with earth motherhood, fertility, love and vegetation.
Menacuddle Well St Austell; people would drop pins into the water to cure stomach problems.
In Somerset however, there is a well that is used for a different purpose. The Devils Whispering Well at Bishops Lydeard, found behind the churchyard, is a cursing well. People would throw offerings into the water along with a curse aimed at a certain person. The recipient of it would have to visit the well and throw ina more valuable offering to remove the curse.

Somerset has quite a few interesting wells, St Agnes Well, Cothelsone is a pixies well and you must leave a pin as a offering if you visit it.
Pins that cross as they settle in the water of a well are unlucky, if they lie together it fortells a happy marriage and if they drift apart then so will you and your partner.
Nether Stowey Blind Well is also a faerie well, these waters have healing powers, Dulverton also has a well with healing powers, specifically for eye problems. When you visit this well remember to leave a red rag tied to a bush as an offering to the guardian of the well.
Skimmington Well, Rockhill, Curry Rivel; these waters cure rheumatism, the sufferer must bathe in the water at sunrise for three consecutive mornings for the cure to work. People have danced around this well on midsummer day for many years to cure their illness's.
In Dorset the waters of the Upwey well ( which is still there) have healing powers for eye problems. Take a few sips of the water and then throw the rest over your shoulder and make a wish.

At St Augustines Well, Cerne Abbas, newborn babies used to dipped into the water and at Easter it is said that the faces of people about to die can be seen in the water.
If you wish to make use of the power of the waters at St Candidas Well Stanton St Gabriel you have to visit it at daybreak. Bent pins are thrown in as offerings  while chanting ' Holy well, holy well
take my gift and cast a spell.
At the other end of the country in Scotland, on the slopes of Schiehallion 'The Faerie Hill of the Caledonians' is an old well. It is inhabited by faeries who grant wishes and can cure all sickness.
It used to be visited every May day by the local girls who would offer flowers to the faeries to bring them good luck.

Pixies, Elves, Faeries and Nymphs are common residents of sacred wells and springs, faeries also reside in St Annes Well near Trellech village in Wales. One story tell of a locale farmer who dug up a fairy ring around the well to prove that he did not believe in 'them silly tales.' However the next day when he attempted to draw water from the well for his cattle, it was bone dry. The strange this was that is was only dry when he attempted to get water. A tiny old man was seen on the wall of the well one day and told the farmer that he was very cross that the fairy ring had been destroyed and that he would never be allowed to draw water from the well again until the fairy ring had been restored. As soon as he had repaired the damage the water started to flow again.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Zombie Walk, Glastonbury


The Dead will be roaming the streets in Glastonbury on 25th October.
The zombies will be gathering outside the Crown Inn at the Market Place from 3.30 pm. 
At 5pm they will be unleashed on the defenceless inhabitants of Glastonbury.

 All this blood and mayhem is in aid of the charity Martha Care, which helps the
 families caring for sick children.
Martha Care is a hospital based support and advice service for families when their child is admitted with a serious illness or injury.
Service is aimed at all families whose child is likely to need a longer in-patient stay, who have travelled longer distances, who are experiencing hardship, who are particularly vulnerable. Service provided to Bristol royal hospital for children & St. Michael’s Neo-natal Intensive Care Unit.
Martha Care aims to bridge a critical gap in social support, providing a Family Support Worker to support families when their child is rushed into hospital in the South West. We know that families deserve to be looked after and feel cared for themselves. We can’t take away how awful life suddenly becomes, but we can provide emotional and practical support; help families access available services, find accommodation, care for their sick child and other children, keep their employment, stay physically and emotionally healthy.

Will anybody make it out alive?!!
For more information visit the charity's website

Monday, 13 October 2014

Glastonbury Wytches Market 2014

It's the month for all the witchey things happening, it started with the hugely 
popular Wytches Market held in the Guildhall, Sat 4th October.
The morning started very gloomy with lashing rain but it eventually 
cleared and the market soon became very busy.
Here are just a few pictures of the stalls etc.

I sold several of my dolls on the day one of which was Jazz:

She has been taken off to the USA by the new owner.
(I wonder what the rules are for transporting live faeries?)
Another doll that flew off the stand was Bluebird

So at the moment busy  creating more dolls for the coming season!

Sunday, 12 October 2014

The Lavender Witch part 13

‘Silence!’ the Coroner Edward Foulstone shouted, banging his hand on the desk. ‘Any more noise and this room will be cleared.’
The angry muttering of the crowd subsided.
‘Now I’ll ask you again, what did you see on the night of April 9th?’
‘Nothing,’ said Ava. ‘But I knowed he did it.’ She stared at the rigid form of Robert Beamish sat on the benches near the front of the room.
 Ava pointed at him, trembling and shouted, ‘He murdered her! I know he did. I saw him threatening Hannah before. Sir,’ she pleaded.’ you’ve got to believe me.’  Ava turned to look appealingly at the people in the room, picking out the familiar faces in the crowd.  ‘We all know he did it, he’s a bad man, Sir.’ She wiped the tears that were trickling down her face with her sleeve and stared at the Coroner.
He was staring at the papers on his desk and fiddling nervously with his watch chain, he cast a desperate look at Beamish sitting just in front of him, who stared quietly back at him, a slight smile on his lips.
‘Sir,’ he said quietly stroking the head of his walking stick. ‘If I may just point out that she is just an ignorant farm girl, young and foolish. I tried to discourage her friendship with the woman, who I believed to be a bad influence,’ he paused and glanced across at Ava. ‘And it seems that I was right. She is naturally upset that the woman died in this way and has become overwrought and judging by this outburst hysterical.’
‘Indeed,’ said the Coroner. He stared first at his paperwork and then glanced back at Ava. ‘You are very young and your emotions have made you lose any sense that you, I hope, previously had, Mr Beamish is a respected member of the community and to suggest that he would have had anything to do with this is ridiculous, and,’ he carried on warming to his theme. ‘You are fortunate that Mr Beamish has decided not to sue you for slander. Now.. .’ he went on staring at Ava’s parents.
But Ava jumped to her feet interrupting any further comments that he was about to make and shouted across the courtroom ‘He murdered Hannah and he murdered his brother as well, we all know it,’ and she pointed at the Coroner. ‘And you know it as well.’
‘That’s enough!’ Foulstone’s face flushed and he glared at the young girl and then around the room, quelling the mutterings with his stare. ‘Your testimony will be discounted, any more outbursts and you will be taken downstairs to the cells. It is clear to me, with my medical experience,’ he continued glancing quickly at Beamish, ‘that the woman Hannah Beamish died of water on the brain....’
The rest of his words were drowned by the groans and shouts from the onlookers. Beamish smiled slightly and stood up from the bench and walked quietly through the hostile crowd to the door. Ava could hear, even over the noise from the court room, the sound of his footsteps descending the stone steps to the street below.

‘Beamish wait!’ Edward Foulstone hurried after the figure striding up the street. ‘Wait,’ he repeated.
He turned around. ‘Well Edward, a good result don’t you think?’
Edward stared at him in dislike. ‘This is the last favour I will do for you. I cannot and will not be a party to any more of this; I have my reputation to think of.’ His face twitched as he said this hardly able to meet Beamish’s eye.
Beamish stared at him coldly.
‘Keep your voice down Edward; we wouldn’t want any of this to come out would we? And you should think of your poor sister, an unmarried woman with a baby, that wouldn’t do your family’s reputation any good either, would it?’ He looked him up and down ‘So protesting now is a bit late isn’t it?’ he pushed his face into Edwards and said softly ‘So I  think you had just better keep quiet and we’ll just jog along as we have been doing. After all we’re nearly family now.’ Beamish slapped the man on the arm and left him standing on the pavement outside the court house.
He strode up the street ignoring the hard looks directed his way from the people milling about in the market square and headed back towards the Inn where he had left his horse.
Just in front of him and walking slowly surrounded by her family was the young girl Ava. She heard his footsteps close behind and moved closer to her father.
‘You, Ava!’
The family turned to meet his furious gaze.
‘You brat, how dare you tell such lies in court, showing me up in front of the town and
Foulstone,’ he raged at her.
‘Twas the truth,’ she said boldly. ‘And you know it, we all know it.’
Beamish’s face became mottled with rage. ‘She was an evil old harridan and you’re just as bad, you little bitch,’ he shouted at her.
‘Now that’s enough,’ put in her father stepping in front of Ava. ‘You’ve no right to talk to her like that.’
‘Right! Right! I’ll tell you what rights I’ve got, you and your blasted family,’ he pointed his stick at Ava. ‘I’m warning you now Ava Marsh, if I ever you or yours ever set foot on my soil again, the devil take you! And that’s a promise; it will be the worse for you! Do you hear me girl?’

Gordon switched on the torch and led the way up the church path, past the porch and round behind the church where the majority of the graves were. It was very dark behind the building, a dog barked in one of the houses and they could just hear the sound of music coming from the pub.
Kitty shivered and stayed close to Gordon.  ‘I don’t know why I’m worried, after all what could be worse than Robert?’ she whispered.
‘Not a lot. Where is it?’ he asked Queenie.
‘It’s over there,’ she said gesturing towards the hedge.
They wound their way through the gravestones following the wavering light from Gordon’s torch and stumbling over half sunken kerb stones hidden in the grass. The dog barked again and in the distance a door slammed.
‘I hope nobody’s going to see us,’ said Kitty glancing nervously towards the village.
‘Nobody will notice us up here,’ reassured Sybil.
 William was walking closely by her side with a hand on her shoulder.
 ‘I hope not,’ he added. ‘I haven’t been up here for years,’ he said quietly.
‘Don’t you have anybody buried here?’ whispered Kitty.
‘My wife is buried in Colyton, that was where she was born.’
Queenie slowed and tugged at Gordon’s jacket.  ‘Stop,’ she whispered.
She pointed to the right. ‘Over here,’ she added ‘and be careful you don’t trip on the stones.’
They followed single file after Queenie who had stopped by a neglected grave near the hedge. The headstone had toppled over to one side and the writing was nearly illegible from weathering and the grey lichen that had grown on the stone.
‘Here he is,’ she said quietly.
Gordon knelt down on the grass and read the inscription.
 ‘Robert Beamish Died October 31st 1910. Is that all?’ he asked surprised. ‘It’s not much of an epitaph is it?’
William snorted. ‘What else could we have said about him?’
Gordon stood up wiping the damp grass from his knees. ‘Sorry William, I didn’t mean to be rude.’
Kitty glanced around the graves nearby. ‘Where is his wife buried?’
‘His first wife was buried in Axminster and his second, my grandmother, is buried over there,’ William pointed back to the path. ‘Father didn’t want them together.’
‘I didn’t know he was married twice.’ Kitty said curiously.
 The sound of a zip opening behind her made her jump.
 Queenie pulled out the jam jar from her bag.  ‘Now who’s got the spade?’
‘I have,’ said William. ‘Where do you want me to dig?’
‘Just in front of the headstone will do, I expect the ground is going to be really hard but get as deep as you can.’
There was grunt as William put the spade into the turf.
 ‘You’re right, it’s as hard as rock.’
Gordon handed the torch to Kitty.
 ‘William, let me try,’ and held out his hand for the spade.
‘Okay,’ he said ruefully. ‘You have a go, you’re a bit younger than I am.’
 He stepped back and watched as Gordon began to dig a small hole in front of the headstone.
Kitty kept the torch trained on the hole. The sound of the spade hitting the ground seemed to travel far in the night air and she glanced back towards the village, expecting at any moment to see a curious person coming to investigate the noise.
‘Kitty, keep the torch still,’ hissed Gordon. ‘I can’t see what I’m doing.’
‘Sorry,’ she held it still and pointed it towards Gordon struggling to dig into the hard packed soil.
He straightened after a few minutes, panting and wiping the sweat off of his forehead.
 ‘Is this deep enough?’
Queenie peered forward in the dark. ‘I can’t see, how far have you gone down?’
He knelt on the grass and pushed his hand into the hole. ‘It’s about ten inches deep,’ he looked up at her. ‘That’s about as far as I can get, it’s too hard and rocky here.’
She patted him on the shoulder. ‘That should do.’
Queenie held out the jar to William. ‘I think you should be the one to put it in.’
He nodded and took it carefully from her hand and bent stiffly over the hole. She held his arm to steady him as he placed it in.
‘Do we need to say anything?’ William asked.
‘Let Gordon put the soil back first.’
William straightened, moved back to Sybil’s side and watched as Gordon refilled the hole.
‘It’s going to show where I’ve dug,’ Gordon sounded worried and glanced up at the two sisters. ‘Somebody is going to notice all this fresh soil.’
‘Nobody comes over this side of the graveyard so don’t worry.’
‘I’ll come up tomorrow and disguise it,’ added Sybil. ‘I’ll put some flowers on top of it or something, and Arnold isn’t due to cut the grass for another week.’
Gordon carried on reassured. ‘Okay if you’re sure, now what?’ he asked Queenie who was opening her bag again.
She handed him a bundle of short sticks. ‘I want you to push these in around the hole and get them in as far as possible.’
Kitty peered over her husband’s arm and directed the torch beam at his hands.
‘What are they?’
‘Rowan, holly, bramble, the same as the sticks I put around the jar. They are all magical protective trees which will hold his spirit in the grave and prevent it from wandering.’
‘Couldn’t his spirit have just been sent on to where he should be?’ Kitty hesitated. ‘It just seems a bit cruel to trap him in there forever.’
‘Are you feeling sorry for him?’ asked Sybil acidly. ‘Because we don’t, he deserves this.’
Queenie put her hand on her sister’s arm.  ‘Now Sybil don’t be like that,’ she said calmly and looked across the grave at Kitty in the dim light. ‘You see, I’m afraid our sympathies lie with Hannah, not Robert.
Kitty nodded ‘I know but,’ she hesitated and stared at them, their faces were unusually grim. ‘I’m sure you know best,’ she finished lamely.
‘Well, I for one agree with the girls,’ Gordon said firmly hefting the spade in his hand. ‘Is that it? I’ve pushed the sticks in.’
Queenie peered at the filled hole. ‘Push them down a bit farther, until they are level with the ground. I don’t want anybody spotting them and pulling them all up.’ she instructed.
Gordon tapped them down gently with the flat of the spade.
‘That’s better, now.’
Queenie stood over the grave of Robert Beamish and breathed deeply and extended her hands slowly over the grave. All around the grave yard the sounds of the night grew still, even the soft breeze dropped, it became so quiet that Kitty could hear the grew still, even the soft breeze dropped, it became so quiet that Kitty could hear the blood pounding in her ears.
Queenie began to quietly speak, the torch light casting strange shadows across her face.
‘When the witching hour rings true,
and the moon is burning bright above,
Let mine will be done this night.
Answer now my Pagan spell,
Lend thy power to these words,
Protect us and banish his spirit,
and let evil be no more.’
Kitty watched a chill in her heart as Queenie imprisoned the spirit of Robert in his grave forever.
Her words hung in the breeze for a while and then slowly all around them the usual night time noises started in the hedges and fields and an owl hooted in the trees. They all shifted and looked at Queenie.
 She sighed. ‘Well that should do it,’ and stared down at the grave for a minute only turning away when Sybil spoke.
‘A cup of tea now, don’t you think?’ Sybil put her hand on William’s arm making him jump.
He dragged his eyes away from Queenie. ‘What? Oh yes, a cup of tea, that would be nice.’ He glanced doubtfully across the grave at her sister. ‘I think it’s time we got out of here.’
‘Yes, let’s go,’ Gordon said shakily and took Kitty’s arm, they walked carefully back to the path skirting around the gravestones. A light autumnal mist had risen and swirled around their feet.
 ‘Careful where you’re walking,’ warned Gordon. He paused and stared back at Queenie who was still staring down at the grave. ‘Coming?’
She looked up blankly before replying, ‘Yes, yes, I’m right behind you,’ and followed her sister back to the path.
To their left the church still stood dark and quiet, a light wind whistling around the tower, rattling the rope on the flag pole. A slight noise came from the front porch and they paused looking nervously into the dark space in front of the church and out from the shadows strolled the grey cat.
Kitty sighed in relief, bent down and picked it up, welcoming the warmth of its fur.
 ‘Hello puss,’ she said. ‘What are you doing wandering around a dark churchyard?’
‘It’s probably thinking the same about you Kitty,’ whispered Gordon. ‘Come on let’s go, I have had enough fun for one night,’ and led her towards the steps.
Behind them they could hear the voices of the two women close behind them.
 ‘Have you got any cake Sybil? I am feeling a bit peckish.’
‘Rose brought me a fruitcake yesterday, so we can have that.’
‘Oh dear, well I hope it’s better than her sponges,’ she said acidly.

Sybil unlocked her front door and pushed it open.
‘Come in, William can you put the fire on? My feet are so cold and wet from that grass.’
She bustled about switching on the lamps around the room and pulling out chairs for everybody.  ‘Now, tea everybody?’ she asked.
‘Tea would be great, Sybil.’
‘Would you like some help?’ offered Kitty, putting the cat down near the hearth.
‘No, no, dear you sit down and relax for a while, you’ve had a long night,’ and disappeared into the small kitchen at the back of the house.
William knelt in front of the gas fire and fiddled with the ignition switch.  ‘Now, let’s see if I can get this thing to work,’ there were a few clicks and the flames flared up and started to leap up over the false coals.  ‘There, lovely,’ he said and looked sideways at the grey cat who had sat down next to him. ‘Well, well, I’m not getting hissed at,’ he said and struggled stiffly to his feet. He rested his hand on the mantelpiece and smiled at Kitty. ‘Come and sit here Kitty, you look quite done in.’ He shifted one of the armchairs closer to the fire, ‘There you’ll soon warm up.’
‘Thanks William,’ she stepped carefully over Nigel and the cat and settled into the chair.
Queenie sat down in the chair opposite and felt in her pockets.
 ‘Anybody seen my cigarettes?’ she complained staring around the room.
 William pulled up a chair and sat down next to her, he looked at her questioningly.
 ‘I thought you had given up?’
‘Bad night to quit smoking,’ she said seriously and leant back in the chair and sighed. She closed her eyes and a slight frown appeared on her face.
‘Are you feeling alright?’ asked Kitty.
Queenie was looking very pale and tired and there was big bruise turning purple on the side of her face. She opened her eyes and looked over at Kitty and gave a rueful grin.
 ‘Not as young as I used to be, and boy did I feel it tonight!’ she sighed and rubbed her forehead. ‘Well that’s over with anyway.’
Gordon had sat down at the small dining table and found Queenie’s cigarettes hidden beneath a church magazine.
He passed them over and said ‘Here you are I think you deserve one of these. Just finish it before Sybil gets back otherwise you’ll be in trouble again.’
Queenie pulled one out of the packet and lit it, taking a deep pull, she sighed and blew out a puff of smoke. ‘That’s better,’ she offered the packet around. ‘Anybody else? No? What about you William, have you given up?’
He looked sheepish. ‘I caved into the nagging I’m afraid.’
She grinned and winked at him. ‘She’s half your size you know.’
William laughed. ‘It doesn’t make any difference, she still bullies me.’ He shrugged his shoulders at Kitty as she laughed.
 ‘I’m sure Sybil wouldn’t call it bullying, it’s all for your own good you know,’ she said mockingly.
The cat opened her eyes on hearing Kitty laugh, stretched and delicately stepped over the sleeping dog and jumped up into her lap. She gently scratched behind its ears feeling the deep throbbing purr reverberating through her legs.
Sybil tottered in bearing a loaded tray.
‘Here, let me take that for you Sybil.’ Gordon stood up and put the tea tray onto the table.
In the middle of the tray sat a very pale flaccid looking fruit cake.
‘Well I have brought in the cake but don’t blame me if you get a stomach ache tomorrow, I didn’t make it,’ she said firmly handing out cups of tea.
William looked at the cake. ‘Rose’s is it?’ he asked. ‘Well I’m sure it’s fine.’ He took a slice from Sybil and bit into it, ignoring the snort from Queenie and chewed slowly. ‘Um yes I see what you mean.’ he said grimacing.
Sybil handed him a plate of biscuits ‘Have one of these instead dear.’ Sybil grinned and offered the sliced cake around. ‘Cake anybody?’
Her sister grunted in disgust. ‘What do you think she does to her cakes to make them taste like that?’
Sybil shrugged and put it back on the table.  ‘I have no idea. I’ll throw it out in the morning, she’ll never know.’
Gordon passed over the plate of biscuits to Kitty. ‘Would you like one?’
She shook her head ‘No thanks, I’m just thirsty.’
‘How are you feeling now dear?’ asked Sybil reaching over and refilling her cup.
Kitty sipped her tea and nodded slowly.  ‘Okay, considering,’ she smiled slightly. ‘It’s been an interesting night hasn’t it?’ Kitty looked across the room at her husband ‘Are you okay?’ she asked.
He nodded and smiled reassuringly.
Queenie drained her cup and sighed ‘Well that was a good night’s work.’
‘Do you think Hannah will be satisfied with this? I mean is she going to feel that justice has been done, or will she still be haunting us?’ asked Gordon, he still looked worried. ‘I would like to think that was it.’
Queenie looked up from her contemplation of the cat that was still curled up and purring contentedly on his wife’s lap.
 ‘Oh I think so.’
The two sisters exchanged a strange look and Sybil smiled. ‘Definitely happy now,’ her smile became broader as the cat jumped down from Kitty’s lap and walked across to William. It fixed him with a stare from its pale coloured eyes then sprang up onto his knee.
‘Well I am honoured!’ he said quietly and put out a tentative hand to stroke it.
‘Well I think it’s all settled now, don’t you think sis?’ said Sybil.
‘William, if you don’t think I’m being nosey,’ asked Kitty quietly. ‘What happened to his first wife?’
Gordon snorted. ‘That is being nosey Kitty.’
‘No, no it’s okay Kitty, after tonight I don’t think I have any secrets from you,’ William smiled slightly. ‘Rachel his first wife died trying to give birth to his third child.’
‘Third? Oh of course,’ she exclaimed. ‘He had two other sons’ didn’t he?’ she turned to Gordon. ‘We saw that on the census form. What happened to those two boys?’
‘I’m not too sure, all I know is that they left home as soon as they could and nobody heard from them again. Although I’m sure my mother knew something, she kept it very quiet but I think she used to get letters from one of them. She never told grandfather about it of course,’ he said thoughtfully. ‘Mother did let it slip once that one of them had gone into the army.’
‘And his second wife?’ prompted Kitty.
William smiled at the protest that came from Gordon.
 ‘I’m sorry William, you’ll have to excuse my wife, she never knows when to stop.’
Queenie laughed. ‘Don’t take any notice of him Kitty, ask away, I think you have earned the right.’
He sat back and raised his hands. ‘Okay,’ he laughed. ‘Just don’t give her your bank account number William, she loves shopping.’
William grinned at Kitty’s indignant face.  ‘Well if you want to know, my gran was born in Medbury, she was the daughter of Rose who used to work in the dairy at the farm.’ He sighed and looked thoughtful. ‘Why she married him I’ll never know, well actually I do,’ he admitted looking uncomfortable. ‘Let’s just say that my father was a seven month baby.’
Kitty looked baffled and glanced at Queenie.
Queenie started laughing. ‘He used his charms on her, dear and got her in to trouble!’
She winked at Kitty as it slowly dawned on her what Queenie meant.
‘Oh, you mean?’
‘Yes, that’s right Kitty.’ William said and gently stroked his hand along the cat’s backs. ‘I suppose he wanted an heir as the two boys had gone. Sad really, two sons and he drove them away.’
Kitty looked at the old man. ‘What a way to live, hating everybody and everybody hating you.’ she shivered and looked around the room. ‘He should be pitied really.’
‘Kitty!’ said Sybil.
William turned and looked at his friend sat at the table.  ‘No Sybil, she’s right, my grandfather had everything that he could want, a family, a good farm, a lovely home and he wasn’t happy. There’s many a man that would have given his right arm to have all that, so what went wrong with him?’
Sybil banged down her cup and glared at the back of his head. ‘Huh,’ she snorted. ‘He was a horrible evil man and I for one am glad that he got his just deserts.’
‘You won’t convince my sister that he deserves any pity, you know!’ Queenie grimaced. ‘I think the worst thing is that if Hannah had been still alive she would have been able to save Rachel and his third son, I wonder if that ever crossed his mind?’
‘Ah but,’ said Sybil firmly, ‘if she had saved Rachel then he wouldn’t have married William’s gran and William wouldn’t have been born. So there!’ she finished triumphantly.
Queenie nodded. ‘You are right Sybil, but I think you’re getting off the point a bit though,’ and lit another cigarette staring at her through the smoke.
‘Queenie, not in the house!’

The night air was quite cool, the mist had gone and the sky was clear and full of twinkling stars. Kitty shivered as she waited by the car outside Sybil’s cottage. They gathered around her talking in hushed tones, their voices carrying on the night air.
‘Are you going to spend the night at the house?’ William asked.
Gordon hugged Sybil and looked across at the old man. ‘No,’ he said. ‘We’ll go back to the guest house tonight and come back in the morning. We will start clearing up then and I’ll have to board that window up,’ he looked up at the cloudless night sky. ‘Doesn’t look like rain, thank goodness so I’m sure it will be okay for tonight.’
William nodded. ‘Well make sure you come and get me in the morning and I’ll give you a hand,’ he added thoughtfully ‘I’m sure there is some wood in one of the sheds that we can use.’
Kitty smiled at him and gave him a hug. ‘Thanks William.’
He gave her a kiss on the top of her head and said seriously ‘You’re welcome my dear.’ He turned to Sybil. ‘I’d better be off, it’s getting late. Queenie, will I see you in the morning before you go home?’
 She nodded, finishing another cigarette and flicked the glowing butt into the road.
‘I‘ll be off in the afternoon so we will drop in on you sometime in the morning, just to see how you are getting on with the cleaning, not that we are going to help of course.’ she grinned as Gordon reached forward and hugged her.
‘Thanks for all your help Queenie and you too Sybil, I don’t know what we would have done without you.’
Queenie gave him a kiss on his cheek.  ‘We should thank you, especially Kitty,’ she reached across and squeezed her hand. ‘It gave us a chance to finish this business and put it right, and without you we wouldn’t have been able to.’ She moved over to William’s side and patted him on his arm. ‘Sorry that you had to find out about it like this, we tried to keep you out of it, but I’m glad you were there William. You have been a good friend to us over the years and we appreciate everything that you have ever done for us,’ she looked around at her sister ‘Oh dear this is getting very mawkish isn’t it? I’ll shut up now,’ she laughed.
Kitty moved slowly over to stand next to Sybil. ‘Sybil,’ she started diffidently. ‘Tomorrow do you think you could come up to the cross roads with me?’
She looked at Kitty and raised her eyebrows. ‘The cross roads? What do you want to go up there for?’
Queenie heard the surprise in her sister’s voice and turned away from her conversation with William.
 ‘What?’ she asked.
‘Well I would like to take some flowers up there and put them on Hannah’s grave and I don’t know where it is,’ she went on quietly. ‘It just seems awful that she’s up there on her own.’
Kitty felt embarrassed that everybody was staring at her and cast an appealing look at Gordon. ‘Don’t you think that it would be nice to put some flowers up there for her?’
The two sisters started laughing.
‘Oh bless you, Kitty,’ said Queenie putting an arm around her and giving her a hug.
‘Hannah’s not at the crossroads.’
‘But Beamish had her buried up there,’ protested Gordon looking from one sister to the other.
‘Yes, him and the Vicar. But they weren’t going to leave her up there. That night, Michael Guppy and the Trevitt boys dug Hannah up and took her body down to the graveyard.’
Kitty sighed and closed her eyes. ‘Thank you,’ she said blinking back a few tears. ‘Do you know where?’
‘Of course we know dear,’ she smiled softly at Kitty. ‘They buried her with Samuel and her little baby boy.’ She patted Kitty on the arm. ‘We’ll show you where their grave is tomorrow.’
Kitty wiped her eyes and smiled in relief at her husband who had moved closer to her.
Gordon sighed. ‘Nowhere near Robert I hope?’
They both shook their heads.
‘Good,’ he put an arm around Kitty’s shoulder. ‘We’ll come down tomorrow and visit the grave,’ he reassured her. ‘And now I think it’s time we went. Kitty, I think you have had enough excitement for one day, I know I have.’
He opened the car door for her and helped her into the passenger seat. Gordon paused, his hand on the car door and stared at the two old women standing in the dim light in front of the cottage.
‘Would I be right in assuming that you both have the same abilities, as you call it, that
Hannah had?’
Queenie looked at him; a strange light flickered for an instant in the depths of her pale coloured eyes and she smiled slightly.
‘It runs in the family dear,’ they said in unison.

The End

Authors Note

The Lavender Witch is based on the true story of Hannah Henley who lived in the small remote village of Membury in Devon during the early 1800’s. She is now the most famous witch in Devon and was rumoured to have killed several people in the surrounding area. Hannah was believed to have been able to change form at will and would regularly be hunted by the local hounds. She angered several of the local farmers in Membury by constantly begging for food and money, when they refused and ill luck came their way Hannah was blamed. One of the wealthier farmers hired a white witch from Chard who spent a month living in the farmhouse trying to get rid of her. At four in the morning on Good Friday 1841 he went to Hannah’s cottage and found her body lying over the branch of a tree wound in a sheet. There was blood and glass inside the cottage and her body was also covered in bruises and cuts, looking as though she had been dragged through a window. It was widely rumoured in the village that she had been taken by the devil. Villagers had met her several days previously and noted that she had seemed frightened, stating ‘that he was going to come for her’. They assumed in hindsight that she had meant the devil but did she?
One hundred pounds at that time was a lot of money; was it enough to kill for?
The young servant girl who was friends with Hannah would often visit her before her death and the so called witch would give her food; the excellence of her cooking was well known in the village while in another account it stated that despite being poor she was known for keeping a clean and tidy house and was often seen around the village wearing a silk bonnet and clean white pinafore.
Despite the strange manner of her death the inquest found that she had died of water on the brain. There are no full records of the inquest as no coroners records have survived from before 1940 and there is no record of her death.

I would like to thank Prof. Mark Brayshay  Hon. Editor of the Devonshire Association for allowing me to quote from the Transactions Volume 14 concerning Hannah, however I have edited it slightly, for the full account visit their website