Witchcraft in Yeovil

Witchcraft in Yeovil

Medieval beliefs lingered on


In 1657 it was claimed that an old woman had offered a magic apple to a young boy in Yeovil who, despite having been warned, took a bite of it, whereupon "he rose in the air and flew about 300 yards" according to evidence given at the old woman’s trial. She was found guilty of witchcraft and hanged at Chard in 1658.


The inquest on the body of George Lynham, whose sudden death we recorded in our last impression, was held by Dr Garland at the Volunteer Inn, North street. The widow gave evidence to the effect that her husband fell back upon the bed and expired, and Dr Wills said that death had resulted from heart disease, for which he had treated him about nine months since. The jury returned a verdict of "Death by the visitation of God". There is a belief in the neighbourhood that deceased had been 'bewitched'. About two years since deceased, his brother, and a man named Prue left Bridgwater and entered the employment Messrs T Lyle & Son, as brickmakers. Rumour says that the 'witch' was once heard to threaten to 'do' for the men. No notice was taken of the threat, but within a very few months Prue died. About twelve months since one of the brothers died suddenly of heart disease. This awakened suspicion and the 'witch' is said to have stated that "the other (George) would soon follow." Moreover, deceased recently took a house for eight years and the 'witch' is said to have declared that he would not live half so long as that. The death of poor Lynham is thus satisfactorily accounted for. As a rider, comes the assertion that on the day before the funeral deceased opened his eyes in the morning and closed them again at night - an act which those versed in witchcraft declare to be a sure proof of having been 'overlooked', and it is said that the deceased himself, together with two fellow workmen, a few nights before his death, had their attention attracted from their work at midnight by a continual shrill whistling, and that when they looked about the yard to ascertain the cause thereof they saw the excellent lady dancing a dance of defiance upon the burning lime kiln.

Taunton Courier & Western Advertiser, 27 September 1871


More Witchcraft

The man referred to in a paragraph inserted in our last issue has had another consultation with his weird adviser. The result is that a poor innocent cat has been offered on the shrine of superstition, and another is marked for slaughter. The silly fellow now conceives that he, too, is under the ban, as well as his wife, and has told some of his neighbours who the tormentor is.

Western Gazette, 29 May 1874


Extraordinary Case of Witchcraft in Somersetshire

A case of witchcraft came before the Yeovil magistrates on Saturday. Frederick Culliford, living at Crewkerne, was summoned for obtaining money by false pretenses from a servant girl named Hannah Foote, who resides at Odcombe, near Yeovil. The girl's mother had been paralysed for some time, and had an impression that she was bewitched. According to the case for the prosecution, the girl went to defendant, ho has the reputation of being a 'wise man', at one of his weekly consultations held in a Yeovil beerhouse. He asked for a bottle of water of a certain kind, and it was handed to him. After shaking it up, he announced that the poor woman was undoubtedly 'overlooked', and that he could remove the spell. He then placed some thorns and a written curse in the bottle, ordering the girl to bury it neck downwards in her mother's garden for a month. This was done, but as the woman got worse instead of better, the girl took up the bottle and removed the paper (for which she had paid 3s), the writing on which was as follows -

"As long as this paper remains in this bottle of water of mine, I hope Satan will pour out his wrath upon the person that has been privately injuring me for a long time past, and put them upon a bed of sickness with the most violent pains that ever man was troubled with for ever, and such as no man or woman can cure; and, as the water is fermented and troubled with these thorn prickles, so shall the flesh on their body be also fermented and troubled at the same time with the most violent pains for ever; and as this water do waste and dry away, so shall the flesh on their body rot and dry away until there is nothing left but the skin and bare bones, and they shall not live for more than 90 days from this day, and no longer; and then go into Hell everlasting, there to dwell with the devil and his angels until the terrible day of the Lord, and then to be judged by the deeds done by them towards me while upon earth."

The neighbours heard what occurred, and the police were communicated with. The prisoner, who was defended by Mr Glyde, of Yeovil and Bristol, was committed for trial.

Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, 26 June 1876


Witchcraft in Somerset

At the Yeovil Police Court on Wednesday a case of assault between two women was heard, which created considerable amusement. The complainant, Elizabeth Skilling, who resides at Martock, alleged that defendant threw a bucket of soap suds over her, and afterwards knocked the bucket about her head. Defendant justified her conduct by saying that the complainant was a 'morning wanderer' and that she kept a gypsy woman at her house for the purpose of 'bewitching' the defendant. The police described the goings-on between the parties as being 'something dreadful'. A fine of 1s and costs was inflicted.

Exeter & Plymouth Gazette, 7 May 1886


Extraordinary Superstition

An extraordinary case of superstition was revealed last week at an inquest held by Mr Muller, coroner, on the body of a young woman named Mary Jane Saunders, at Lufton, near Yeovil. The young woman had been ailing for some time, and was an inmate of the Yeovil Hospital  for a short period. The parents, however, thinking the girl had been 'overlooked' by someone possessed of an 'evil eye', had her removed from the Hospital and called in the service of an herbalist named Stacey, residing at South Petherton, who, they believed, could 'break the spell' of the evil wisher. Stacey, after consulting an almanack and studying the girl's nativity, informed the parents that the girl was not suffering from the effects of an evil spell, and gave her some herbal medicine. She died shortly afterwards. Dr Walter, of Stone, who made the post mortem examination, was of opinion that the cause of death was softening of the brain and inflammation. The coroner remarked that it was deplorable that the superstition of witchcraft should still linger in a Somersetshire village. He had to repeatedly caution the father and mother for the evasive way in which they answered questions put to them.

Bridport News, 17 June 1892


A Believer in Witchcraft

At the Yeovil Borough Petty Sessions on Tuesday Frederick Terrell a 'bus driver, was bound over in his own recognisance of £10 to keep the peace for six months for having threatened Harriet Carew on March 24th. The defendant had gone to the complainant, accused her of being an 'old witch', and asked her to take a spell off his sister. He said he would beat her brains out and throw her over a wall if she would come out of her house. He also accused her of staying up all night and burning stuff with which to bewitch people. Since then people had called 'wich' after her in the streets.

West Somerset Free Press, 6 May 1893