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17th Century witches from Beckington!

At their September meeting, the Frome Family History Society welcomed Andrew Pickering who gave a fascinating talk about three seventeenth century witches from Beckington.

In an extremely well researched talk, Andrew, programme manager for history heritage and archaeology at Strode College and Plymouth University, kept the audience enthralled with tales of witch trials, bewitched teenagers and coincidences.

The women tried for witchcraft were Elizabeth Carrier, Ann Moore and Margery Coombs. Of these we know something of the life of Elizabeth Carrier from a report by the Rector at Beckington, a gentleman called May Hill.

A young lady called Mary Hill, no relation to the Rector as far as we can tell, was bewitched by Elizabeth Carrier following the death of Mary’s mother. A ring was involved, possibly given to Elizabeth to pay for the laying out of the body. Mary requested that she should borrow it and was struck down by fits and vomiting up pins, nails and other foreign bodies.

This was considered to be the work of a witch and Elizabeth Carrier was tried by immersing her into water where she floated proving that she was indeed a witch. The alternative would be drowning! Elizabeth was tried this way three times before being sent to the County Jail to be tried but she was acquitted in1689.

Elizabeth may have lived to the great age of 97 according to the parish records and interestingly, she is recorded as swearing the affidavit, necessary at the time to ensure that everyone was buried in woollen shrouds, on many of the death records in the registers. Perhaps she was the person who laid them out.

Mary Hill was eventually cured and became a servant in the Rector’s household. She was left the sum of 20 shillings in his will. Could she have been suffering from a bizarre form of bulimia?

Of the other two women we know that Margery Coombs died in Illchester Jail and Ann Moore was released.

The evening finished with several members of the audience asking questions and Andrew was thanked for a very interesting and often amusing insight into local witchcraft.

Andrew Pickering has written two books on the subject of witchcraft, ‘Witch Hunt: the persecution of witches in England’ (2013) and ‘A Hellish Knot: witches and demons in seventeenth century Somerset’.

Our next event will be on Tuesday 27th October  where Marek Lewcun will be talking about Somerset clay tobacco pipe making. Regular family history mornings continue on the first Saturday in the month. Please book a place with the library staff if you would like to come along.