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Legends and traditions of Huntingdonshire online

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I think I shall not — if I set fire to Wellman's, or
Ibbetts', that will spread to Leeds's tithe barn and
the two large shops, and then we can make our
market ; if you stand at my back and hand the



134 Legends, etc., of Huntingdonshire.



old iron chests about, we shall never want any more."
On the evening of the fire, Cook accompanied Savage
to the barn, where they remained until one o'clock
in the morning, when Savage set fire to the thatch
of the barn. Cook looking on. The building was
soon in a blaze, and the flames quickly spread to all
the buildings between the barn and Mr. Morts' house,
which was entirely destroyed. Cook and Wood after-
wards turned King's evidence against Savage, who
pleaded guilty and received sentence of death.

On 22nd Jan., 1830, Hinchingbrook House was
discovered to be on fire. The splendid bay window
built by Sir Oliver Cromwell, uncle to the protector,
in order to give eclat to the entertainment ofiFered to
King James, and in which were shields of the arms
of the family, and of the Williams, in stained glass,
was destroyed, together with the valuable carved arm
chairs, models of ships of war, &c., in Queen Eliza-
beth's room, and other valuable property to the
amount of many thousands of pounds. Fortunately
the fire did not extend to the library and paintings,
which arc numerous and of considerable value.

The village of Woodhurst was almost entirely laid
in ruins by a disastrous fire, which broke out about
six o'clock on the morning of November 6th, 1834.
The flames originated in a barn on the farm premises
of Mr. John Fyson, which was soon destroyed, and they



Legends, etc., of Huntingdonshire. 135



then communicated to the stables, hovels, and other
out-buildings, all of which were consumed. The
wheat, oat, barley, and hay stacks, rapidly fell a prey
to the progress of the fire, and an excessively high
wind prevailing, cottages in various parts of the
village were quickly set in a blaze. Singular, how-
ever, to relate, many of the cottages ignited were at
a considerable distance from the origin of the fire,
while straw stacks and thatched cottages compara-
tively close to, escaped unburnt. The cottages being
thatched were quickly burned, even before the in-
habitants could save their furniture. The scene
rapidly became of an appalling character, as cottage
after cottage was reduced to a mere heap of cinders
and ashes. The inhabitants were each endeavouring
to save their own property and protect their own
houses, so that there was comparatively little help to
be got to stop the progress of the fire, which, fanned
by the gale that was blowing, was rapidly assuming
gigantic proportions. The residents, however, from
neighbouring villages, quickly assembled in large
numbers, and by superhuman exertions about half
the village was saved. After the flames had subsided
the county magistrates met, and held an enquiry,
from which it appeared that when the fire first broke
out many of the labourers became intoxicated, and
exhibited a gross carelessness as to whether the flames



136 Legends y etc., of Himtingdonshire.



spread or not, some of them having a pugilistic com-
bat while the fire was raging. The cottages of the
poor were all uninsured.

A fire, which did damage to the extent of £5,000,
took place at Haddon, on November 28th, 1834.
About 30 corn ricks and the farm premises of Mr.
Rowles of that place were completely destroyed. The
sight was said to be terrific, and attracted people from
distances of 20 miles round. Several acts of plunder
were committed during the progress of the flames.
Mr. Eowles' housekeeper, in making her escape with
a reticule containing a quantity of money, had it
snatched from her hands, and articles were also stolen
from the house.

On the 23rd of April, 1852, the farm labourers
working for Wm. Wells, Esq., of Holme Woodhouse,
were ordered to set fire to a quantity of rough sedge,
for the purpose of clearing the land. During the day
the flames spread beyond where they were intended,
burning the ground in rapid progress, until at night
the scene became alarming. "Women and children
dwelling in the vicinity were seen flying from their
houses, and hastening to the towns and villages to
obtain shelter and assistance. On the following
morning it was found that the fire had extended for
nearly six miles, and destroyed thousands of acres of
growing wheat, oats, potatoes, and other spring-sown



Legends ^ etc., of Huntingdonshire, 137



corn; besides hundreds of thousands of "turf," which
were piled for fuel and intended for sale. On iSunday ^
the fire was not stayed, although it had originated on
Friday morning, and hundreds of men were fetching
water (which had become very scarce) in all directions
from the ditches and drains to pour over the flames.
At length their efforts were successful, and on Monday
the fire had become nearly exhausted. A long tract
of land, in length about seven miles, and in width
about a mile and a half, running over Holme and
Connington Fens, as far as the once famed Whittlesea
mere, which had been then drained, and was partly in
a good state of cultivation, was laid waste. The loss
was computed at £20,000.




©Ijajjtrr X19'fi5«



THE WITCHES OF WARBOYS.

During the 16th and 17th centuries, trials for
witchcraft were of frequent occuiTeuce in every
county in England. Up to the time of the lie-
formation there was little or nothing of the kind.
Trials by ordeal were resorted to at times, but they
had been always discountenanced and discouraged by
the ecclesiastical authorities, and by means of con-
demnations of such practices by several of the
Sovereign Pontifts, by the 14th century they had
become almost entirely abandoned. But the Reform-
ation brought with it a return to many of the most
degrading and extravagant forms of superstition,
and thus, in a few years, all the good work which
it had previously taken centuries to accomplish,
was undone. Belief in witchcraft became popular



Legends, etc., of Huntingdonshire. 139



and wide spread. It was encouraged and fostered
not only by the heads of the government, but also by
the leaders of the new religion. During the Common-
wealth, it is stated that 40,000 women were executed
in England as witches. Men made it a profession to
hunt out and bring to justice — or rather execution —
old women and young girls, on charges of sorcery
and witchcraft. One of these, Mattliew Hopkins,
who has been described as "the celebrated Avitch-
linder," published a statement in 1048, of his ex-
ploits, and in this pamphlet he declares that he was
the means of discovering and hurrying to execution,
no less than 200 Avitches in Huntingdonshire, the
Isle of Ely, Cambridgeshire, Northamptonshire, <tc.
Annual sermons were established in various places to
be preached against witchcraft. One of these was
annually preached at Huntingdon until the present
century. An agreement is still preserved in the
archives of the Huntingdon Corporation, made be-
tween the Corporation and Queen's College, Cam-
bridge. It bears the date Sep: 28. 15Do, and it
provides that the Corporation shall pay to the Queen's
College, the sum of £40, in order that a sermon
against witchcraft should be preached in All Saints'
church, Huntingdon, upon each Lady Hay. The
sermon was to be preached by a Doctor or Bachelor
of Divinity, who was " to inveigh and preach against



140 Legends, etc., of Huntingdonshire.



sorcery, for which he should have 40/-, but should
distribute to the poor 10/- thereof." The witch
sermon was annually preached for about 200 years
after its institution, and was allowed to fall into
dissuetude about the year 1814. Its founder was Sir
Henry Cromwell, the husband of Lady Cromwell,
who is alleged to have been bewitched by the Samuel
family, of Warboys, dying 15 months after having
been so bewitched. When the three witches were
executed, their goods were forfeited to Sir Henry,
who was Lord of the Manor of Warboys, and were
estimated to be of the value of £40. Sir Henry
handed this sum over to the Corporation, on condition
that a sermon against witchcraft should be preached
as stated.

"The witches of AVarboys,* as the unfortunate
family of the Samwells have been denominated by
the credulous votaries of a rank and debasing super-
stition, occupy a distinguished page in the bloody
annals of witchcraft. These miserable victims to
popular delusion, were John Samwell, Alice, his wife,
and Ann, their daughter, all of whom, in defiance of
common sense, and in the absence of all rational
evidence, were publicly tried and executed. Their
history, as given at length in a pamphlet of the time,

• Brayley's Huntingdonshire, 503.



Legends, etc,, of Huntingdonshire, 141



furnishes a memorable instance of the infatuated
credulity in regard to witchcraft, which at that period
possessed even the superior ranks of the community ;
and shows how strongly the human intellect may be
fettered by prejudice and folly. The title of the
narrative, as re-printed in London, in 1693, is as
follows : ' The most strange and admirable Discorerie
of the three witches of Warboys, arraigned, convicted,
and executed, at Huntingdon, in this county, for the
bewitching the five daughters of Robert Throck-
morton, Esquire, and divers other Persons, with
sundrie devilish and grievous Torments ; and also
for bewitching imto Death, the Lady Cromwell : the
like hath not been heard of in this Age.' It will be
seen from the opening of the narrative, that the whole
of the dreadful business sprung from the observation
of a child.

"About the tenth of November, 1589, Mistress
Jane, one of the daughters of Master Throckmorton,
being near the age of ten years, fell upon the sodaine
(sudden) into a strange kind of sickness, the manner
whereof was as foUoweth. Sometimes she would
sneeze very loude and thicke for the space of halfe
an houre together, and presently as one in a swoone
lay quietly as long ; sometimes she would shake one
leg, and no other part of her as if the palesie had
been in it ; sometimes the other : presently she would



142 Legends^ etc., of Hnnti7igdonshire,



shake one of her arms, and then the other. In this
manner she had continued to be affected for several
days, but without any suspicion of witchcraft, when
old Alice Samuel came to visit the sick child, and sat
down by the side of her in the chimney corner,
having a black knit cap on her head. This the childe
soon observed, and pointing at her exclaimed: 'Grand-
mother, look where the olde witch sifctethe : did yon
ever see one more like a witch than she is ? Take off
her blacke thrumb'd cap, for I cannot abide to look
at her.' The child afterwards became worse, and Dr.
Barrow, a man well known to be excellent skilful in
phisicke, being applied to, repeatedly tried the effect
of his prescriptions without success, and then said,
that ' he had had some experience of the malice of
some witches, and he verily thought that there was
some kind of sorcerie and witchcraft wrought towards
this child.' Exactly one month afterwards more of
the daughters were seized with the same malady and
complained in the same manner of Mother Samuel.
Six of the servants also who were at different periods
afflicted in a similar way brought the same kind of
charge against the now strongly reputed witch, who
was reported to be confederated with some familiar
spirits, whose visits to her were usually paid in the
form of dun chickens.

"Just before the ensuing Christmas, one of the



Legends^ etc., of Ihmtmgdonshire. 143



children was attacked with a more violent fit than it
had yet experienced, and 'was threatened by the
spirit with one still more terrible,' though at the same
time Mother Samuel, who was present, was so 'affected
at the sight that she prayed many times that she
might never see the like again in any of them.' The
children then entreated her to confess that they might
be well, and keep a merry Christmas ; and their father
also seconded their entreaties, but in vain. He then
requested her to charge the spirit, that his daughter
might escape the fit, with which she was threatened,
on which she presently said ' I charge thee spirit in
the name of God, that Mistress Jane never have this
fit.' And again at the father's request, the old woman
charged the spirit in the same manner to leave all the
children immediately and never to return there again.
' Scarce had she uttered these words, before three of
them, who were then in their fits, and had so con-
tinued for the space of three weeks, wiped their eyes
and instantly stood upon their legges.' This event
appears to have surprised the old woman herself, who
immediately fell upon her knees, and entreating Mr.
Throckmorton to forgive her confessed that she was
the cause of all his children's troubles ; and on the
following day she publicly confirmed this confession
in the church. She was then permitted to go home ;
but her reflections, when in the midst of her family,



144 Legends, etc., of Huntingdonshire.



assumed their natural tone, and she denied everything
which before she had been induced to acknowledge.
This being communicated to Mr. Throckmorton, he
threatened to take her before the Justices ; and on
her steadily persisting in her innocence, he gave the
constables a charge both of her and of Agnes her
daughter, and on the same day they were taken before
the Bishop of Lincoln at Buckden. Here on her
different examinations she was led to confess that *a
dun chicken did frequently suck on her chin before it
came to Mr. Throckmorton's house, and that the ill
and trouble which had come to his children, had come
by the means of the said dun chicken, that she knew
that the said dun chicken had gone from the children,
because it was come with the rest unto her, and they
were then in her bellie, and made her so full that she
could scant lace her coat ; and that on the way as she
came, they weighed so heavy that the horse she rid
on did fall downe, and was not able to carrie her.'
These insane ravings with many others of similar
import, were thought sufficient by the sapient prelate,
and two Justices, his assistants, to warrant her com-
mittal to the gaol at Huntingdon, together with her
daughter, against whom as yet there appears to have
been no specific charge.

" Previous to these latter events however the children
were visited by the lady of Sir Henry Cromwell, and



Legends, etc., of Huntingdonshire. 145



she had not been long with them, when they fell into
their usual fits, 'an occurrence which invariably took
place when any strangers came to see them.' 'Where-
upon she caused Mother Samuel to be sent for : and
taking her aside she charged her deeply with this
witchcraft, using also some hard speeches to her ; but
she stiffly denied all, saying ' That ^J-Iaster Throck-
morton and his wife did her much wrong so to blame
her without cause.' Lady Cromwell unable to prevail
with her by good speeches, sodainly pulled off her
kercher, and taking a pair of sheeres, clipped off a
locke of her haire, and gave it privately to Mistress
Throckmorton to burn ; upon which Mother Samuel
in resentment, operated upon Lady Cromwell, be-
witching her in like manner. Her Ladyship's fits
were much like to the children's ; and that saying of
Mother Samuel's 'Madam I never hurt you as yet'
was never out of her mind.'

" At the quarter sessions following the committal of
the girl and her mother, IMr. Throckmorton requested
the High Sheriff and the Justice to suffer him to
' baile this maide, and to have her home to his house,
to see whether any such evidences of guiltiness would
appear against her as had before appeared in the
children against the mother.' After some demur this
was consented to. And within a few days after
Agnes Samuel had accompanied him home * the



146 Legends, etc., of Htmtingdonshire.



children fell all of them into their fits, and then the
spirits did begin as plainly to accuse the daughter as
ever they did the mother, and to tell the childi'en
that the old woman hath set over her spirits to her
daughter, and that she had bewitched them all over
agayne.'

"On the suggestions of the spirits various proofs of
the guilt of the hapless girl were afterwards tried,
and as the narrative affirms, always with 'instant
success ' as was ' repeatedly proved by different people,
and even by the Judge himself, the day before the
trial of the culprits.' One of these was a charm
or formula, conceived in the following words : * I
charge thee, Devil, as I am a witch, and a worser
witch than my mother, and consenting to the death
of Lady Cromwell, that thou suffer this child to be
well at present.' Encouraged as it were by the
attention paid to their remarks 'the spirits now began
to accuse the father, John Samuel, as they had before
done the mother and daughter, and appealed to
similar charges in attestation of the truth of their
accusation,' but from the perversity of circumstances,
and the 'obstinacy of the old man' this was only once
proved previous to the trial of the three delinquents."

"On the 5th of April, 1593, these three wicked
offenders were arraigned before Mr. Justice Tanner
for the bewitching of the Lady Cromwell to death ;



Legends, etc., of Huntingdonshire. 147



and for bewitching of Mistress Joane Throckmorton,
Mistress Jane Throckmorton, and others ; when
Master Dorrington, Doctor of Divinitie, and Parson
of the toun of Warboys ; Thomas Neet, Master of
Arts, and vicar of Ellington ; the father of these
afflicted children, and others of their relations, ap-
peared as evidence against them. By these the before
related proofs, presumptions, circumstances, and
reasons, with many others of the same species, were
at large delivered, until both the Judge, Justices, and
Jury, said openly that the cause was most apparent,
and that their consciences were well satisfied that the
sayed witches were guiltie, and had deserved death.
During the trial Mistress Throckmorton was brought
into court, and there in her fit was unable to speak, or
to see any one, though her eyes were open, till old
Samuel, intimidated by the threat of the judge, that
if he persisted in his refusal to pronounce the charm
*the court would hold him guiltie of the crimes
whereof he was accused,' said in the hearing of all
that were present : 'As I am a witch and did consent
to the death of Ladie Cromwell, so I charge thee
Devil to suffer Mistress Jane to come out of her fit
at this present ; ' which words were no sooner spoken
by the old witch, but the said ]\Iistress Jane, as her
accustomed order was wiped her eyes, and came out
of her fit."



148 Legends^ etc., of Huntmgdonshire.



" On such puerile and contemptible evidence," con-
tinues Brayley, "were these ill fated beings adjudged
guilty, and condemned to die. At the place of execu-
tion, the mother, who was nearly eighty years old, and
whose faculties were impaired by age, and still further
by the brutal reasonings of those who had supported
the accusations of witchcraft, 'confessed her guilt,'
and asserted that her husband was her associate in
' these wicked proceedings ; ' at the same time she
strongly exculpated her daughter. The father re-
solutely denied the charge against him, and the
daughter with equal warmth protested her own in-
nocence ; but 'being willed to say the Lord's Prayer
and creed, when as she stood upon the ladder ready
to be executed, she said the Lord's Prayer, until she
came to say, * but deliver us from evil,' the which she
could by no means pronounce,' and in the creed, she
missed very much, and could not say that she beheved
'in the Catholic Church.' "

The following particulars of the trial and execution
are extracted from Dr. Hutchinson's Historical Essay
concerning Witchcraft. " Three persons, old Samuel
and his wife, and Agnes Samuel, their daughter, were
condemned at Huntingdon by Mr. Justice Fenner
April 4, 1593, for bewitching as was supposed, five
of Mr. Throgmorton's children, seven servants, the
Lady Cromwell, and the gaoler's man &c. The father



Legends, etc., of Huntingdonshire. 149



and daughter indeed maintained their innocence to
the last ; but the old woman confessed. It ought to
be observed that this prosecution was not founded
upon any previous acts of sorcery that these people
had been taken in, but upon experiments and charms
which the prosecutors compelled them to use, and
tried upon them.

" One of Mr. Throgmorton's daughters had fits and
was ill ; but there were no signs or thoughts of witch-
craft, till this Old Mother Samuel living near them,
came in to see her, and set in the chimney corner,
with a black knit cap on her head ; and when the
child in her fit saw her, she said she looked like an
old witch, and from that time took a fancy that she
had bewitched her. And after that the other children
had the same fears and fancies, and fits like hers.
After this the Lady Cromwell to whose husband these
Samuels were tenants, came to Mr. Throgmorton's
house. She sent for the old woman and called her a
witch, and abused her, and pulled off her kercher,
and cut ofi" some of her grey hair, and gave it to
Mrs. Throgmorton to burn for a charm. At night
this lady — as very likely she should after such an ill-
day's work — dreamt of Mother Samuel and her cat,
and fell into fits ; and about a year and a quarter
after died. It was stated further in the trial, that
there were nine spirits (or familiars) that belonged to



150 Legends, etc., of Hiintingdonshire.



these people, and called Mother Samuel their old
dame. Two of their names I have forgot, but the
other seven were Pluck, Hardnarae, Catch, three
Smacs (that were cousins), and Blew. The children
were said to talk with these spirits in their fits. The
standers by however never saw any shapes, nor heard
any voices, but only understood what the spirits said
by the children's answers, and by what the children
told them afterwards. The following is a specimen
of one of these delectable dialogues : it took place
between the familiar, Smac, and Mistress Joan, the
eldest daughter of Mr. Throgmorton, about sixteen
years of sge.

" Mistress Joan : From whence come you, Mr. Smac,
and what news do you bring ?

" Smac : I come from fighting.

" Mistress Joan : "With whom, I pray ?

"Smac: With Pluck.

*' Mistress Joan : AVhere did you fight, I pray ?

" Smac : In my old dame's bakehouse (which is an
old house standing in old mother Samuel's yard), and
we fought Avith great cowl staves last night.

" Mistress Joan : And who got the mastery, I
pray ?

" Smac : I did, for I broke Pluck's head.

" Mistress Joan : I would that he had broke your
bead also.



Legends, etc., of Huntingdonshire. 151



" Smac : Is this all the thanks I shall get for my
labour.

"Mistress Joan : Why do you look for thanks at my
hands ? I would you were all hanged up one against
the other, and dame and all, for you are all naught,
but it is no matter. I do not well to curse you, for
God, I trust, will defend me from you all."

" The old woman confessed ; but, I pray take notice
bow her confession was drawn from her. For about
2 years after the first accusation, she maintained
her innocence strictly, and said tliey were wanton
children. But by long ill-usage, her husband on one
side swearing at and beating her ; and on the other
side Mr. Throgmorton and the children, scratching
and playing unfair tricks, and keeping her from her
own house amongst his children ; for, contrary to all
other cases, her presence was their preservation : I
reckon her health was so impaired, that one night she
was vapoured to that degree, that they thought the
Devil was in her. Then observe how very forcibly
they drew her confession from her. The children
with tears begged that she would confess. They said
they should be well if she confessed, and they would
forgive her from the bottom of their hearts ; and
besides that they would entreat their parents and
friends, so much as in them lay, clearly to forgive
and forget all that had passed. Still this would not



152 Legends, etc., of Huntingdonshire.



do. She would not confess, she said, what was not
true. But Mr. Throgmorton prevailed upon her to
charge the spirit in the name of God that they might
have no more fits. She yielded to him and then the
children grew well. This surprised the poor woman
and very likely made her believe, that all had pro-
ceeded from her ill-tongue ; and having been told so
often, that if she would but confess, all would be


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