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Popular Superstitions - Witchcraft In Herts (the Witch Of Tring)

( Originally Published 1884 )

At Tring, in Hertfordshire, one Bdd, a publican, giving out that he was bewitched by one Osborne and his wife, harmless people above 70, had it cried at several market towns, that they were to be tried by ducking this day, which occasion'd a vast concourse. The parish officers having removed the old couple from the workhouse into the church for security, the mob missing them broke the work-house windows, pulled down the pales, and demolished part of the house ; and seizing the governor, threatened to drown him and fire the town, having straw in their hands for that purpose. The poor wretches were at length for public safety delivered up, stript stark naked by the mob, their thumbs tied to their toes, then dragged two miles, and thrown into a muddy stream ; after much ducking and ill usage, the old woman was thrown quite naked on the bank, almost choaked with mud, and expired in a few minutes, being kick'd and beat with sticks, even after she was dead; and the man lies dangerously ill of his bruises ; to add to the barbarity, they put the dead witch (as they called her) in bed with her husband, and tied them together. The coroner's inquest have since brought in their verdict wilful murder against Thomas Mason, Wm. Myatt, Rich. Grice, Rich. Wadley, James Proudham, John Sprouting, John May, Adam Curling, Francis Meadows, and 20 others, names unknown. The poor man is likewise dead of the cruel treatment he receiv'd.

Tring, May 2.

Tho' your account of the riot and murder that lately happened in this place (see p. 186) is in general true, yet several names were mistaken, and some circumstances omitted ; these I have corrected and supplied ; and added some account of the incidents which for several years past have gradually been tending to produce this unhappy event : A little before the defeat of the Scotch in the late rebellion, the old woman Osborne came to one Butterfield, who then kept a dairy at Gubblecot, and begged for some buttermilk, but Butterfield told her with great brutality that he had not enough for his hogs ; this provoked the old woman, who went away, telling him that the Pretender would have him and his hogs too. Soon afterwards several of Butterfield's calves became distemper'd; upon which some ignorant people, who had been told the story of the buttermilk, gave out that they were bewitched by old mother Osborne ; and Butterfield himself, who had now left his dairy, and taken the public-house by the brook of Gubblecot, having been lately, as he had been many years before at times, troubled with fits, Mother Osborne was said to be the cause ; he was persuaded that the doctors could do him no good, and was advised to send for an old woman out of Northamptonshire, who was famous for curing diseases that were produced by witchcraft. This sagacious person was accordingly sent for and came; she confirmed the ridiculous opinion that had been propagated of Butterfield's disorder, and ordered 6 men to watch his house day and night with staves, pitchforks, and other weapons, at the same time hanging something about their necks, which, she said, was a charm that would secure them from being bewitched themselves. However, these extraordinary proceedings produced no considerable effects, nor drew the attention of the place upon them, till some persons, in order to bring a large company together, with a lucrative view, ordered by anonymous letters that public notice should be given at Winslow, Leighton, and Hempstead, by the cryer, that witches were to be tried by ducking at Longmarston on the 22d of April. The consequences were as you have related them, except that no person has yet been committed on the coroner's inquest except one Thomas Colley, chimney sweeper ; but several of the ringleaders in the riot are known, some of whom live very remote, and no expense or diligence will be spared to bring them to justice. [See note, p. 45.]



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