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Photos from the 2015 Symposium

05/28/2015 in Media

Photographs taken at the Symposium on Saturday 16 May are now available online.

Click on the image below to see the full gallery.

Beat Kümin, 13th Symposium, 16 May 2015 #WNPR15

Clerics and Witchcraft, Part One

02/08/2015 in Blogs, British Isles, Parish Research Today, ritual, devotion and religious change, the clergy

My area of academic research concentrates on magic and witchcraft in the early modern English Midlands. Both personally and academically, and as a born-and-bred Coventrian, I have always been interested in local history, witchcraft, magic, folk customs, paganism, religion and the unorthodox within Warwickshire and the Midlands, hence the geographical area within which I have focussed my attention. I also like to visit the Midlands parish churches my ancestors worshipped at, as part of my family history research, and visiting churches and cathedrals generally as I have a fascination with ecclesiastical architecture and enjoy taking photographs documenting my visits, concentrating particularly on doors and porches.

Church of St. John, Copston Magna, Warwickshire (Pic: Paula McBride)

Church of St. John, Copston Magna, Warwickshire (Pic: Paula McBride)

The main objective for my research is to redress the lack of evidence for magic and witchcraft in the Midlands within existing secondary sources, in comparison with the extensive volumes of information available for the Home Counties, the South of England, and Scotland.  For the MA by Research in History, which I completed in September 2014, I concentrated on the Midland Assize Circuit areas of the Midlands – Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire, Nottinghamshire and Warwickshire. Due to word count limitations and the number of cases I was finding, my original plans to write a full history of witchcraft and magic for the Midlands regrettably had to be reduced, and so the study concentrated only on the areas of the Midland Assize Circuit, leaving around half of the Midlands still to be researched.  I now intend to broaden my investigation through further study including research on the Oxford Assize Circuit areas – Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire, Worcestershire, and some parts of Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire, depending on the county or assize boundaries of the time. My recent research has shown that, with only half of the Midlands researched so far, and if one is prepared to look hard enough for the evidence, there are a surprising number of cases for magic and witchcraft.  One of the exciting questions I hope to look at further is the involvement of the clergy in witchcraft and magic, as accuser, healer and even accused.

Our first vicar, Humphrey Michel, of Horninghold, Leicestershire, was ‘a staunch Tory, a closet Jacobite, a scourge of the local dissenters’, and often presented who he deemed to be ‘moral offenders’ at the local church courts.  Michel also believed wholeheartedly in the existence of witches, and discussed the problems of witchcraft in his diary.  In June 1709, he recorded the swimming of two witches, Mary Palmer, a cripple, who ‘though bound hand and feet, did not sink but swim [sic] before the said company’, and Joseph Harding, who ‘sunk immediately like a stone before them all’.  Other entries include a woman named Goody Ridgway who had ‘in all probability’ been bewitched to death, and Michel had also accusingly noted the strange behaviour of ‘a wench of the widow Barlow, a supposed witch’, who ‘went out of the church when I had named and read my text, Deut Chap 18, where is the word “witch”’.

Sir Richard Newdigate, a lawyer from a family of wealthy landowners in Arbury, Warwickshire, attended a sermon at Fillongley a few miles away, given by Josiah Packwood.  In the sermon, the minister denounced members of the congregation for seeking help from cunning men, as this action of seeking remedy itself constituted witchcraft.  Newdigate carefully recorded the preacher’s advice in his diary, on how to counter the arguments of  ‘those that seek to witches for remedies’, including advising those tempted that help should be sought only from God, and that ‘the Devil is full of subtlety and simulation.  His end is to enlarge his kingdom by curing diseases’.

The English Reformation should have removed the clergy from the world of popular magic, and to some extent this did happen, as the number of sacraments was reduced, sacramentals rejected and exorcism suppressed, relics were destroyed, and prayers had to be said in the vernacular.   However, at parish level, many clergymen, such as Richard Napier, continued to be involved with the physical and mental illnesses and magical distresses of their laity.  Napier, a well-respected Protestant rector of Great Linford, Buckinghamshire, employed a series of curates to deal with the majority of his clerical obligations, and dedicated himself to private study and public practice of natural magic and astrological physic until his death in 1634.  Napier saw himself as fulfilling his Christian duties, charging little if anything for his services for those who considered him both clergyman and physician, by not only healing the souls of his clients who were drawn from all social classes, but also their bodies and minds.  He dealt with hundreds of cases of witchcraft and thousands of patients during his career, all noted carefully in casebooks.  Napier believed in witchcraft, but seldom ever verified any suspicions of bewitchment.  He preferred instead to interpret his clients’ symptoms as the result of natural physical illnesses and diseases or spiritual disorder, as did most doctors, Protestant churchmen and educated laymen.

(To be continued – Clerics as sorcerers and other magical practitioners)


Davies, Owen, Popular Magic: Cunning Folk in English History (London, 2003), pp. 170-72.

Sharpe, James, Instruments of Darkness: Witchcraft in England, 1550-1750 (London, 1997), pp. 286-87.

Warwickshire County Record Office., CR0136/7: Richard Newdigate’s Diary.

Avon Dassett Local History Group Launch New WWI Project

07/24/2014 in British Isles, genealogy and family history, households and the domestic environment, preservation and memory

Summer 1914.

Life goes on as normal in the small rural Warwickshire village of Avon Dassett. But the life of the community is about to change for ever.

On August 4 1914 Britain declared war on Germany. But how did the experience of war affect the lives of ordinary citizens across the country?

This Heritage Lottery Funded Project seeks to follow the lives of the residents of Avon Dassett during the first year of the war. It charts the rhythm of daily life – births, marriages, deaths, school, work and leisure – and the extraordinary experiences of a community living through global conflict. We follow the fortunes of some of the Avon Dassett lads who enlisted early in the war.

Subscribe to the blog. Comment on stories that interest you. Add your own photos or stories of your family’s experience of World War I.

William Winthrope Watts, father of Avon Dassett Local History Group Member, Reg Watts enlisted in January 1915. Follow his story on the blog!

William Winthrope Watts, father of Avon Dassett Local History Group Member, Reg Watts enlisted in January 1915. Follow his story on the blog!

Upcoming talk: Kineton Warwickshire churchyard survey

04/18/2014 in archeology and architecture, British Isles, Events, preservation and memory

In a late change to the advertised speaker, David Freke will give an illustrated talk on the results of the Kineton churchyard surveys undertaken by the Kineton and District Local History Group in 2010-12.   Entitled “Kineton Churchyard survey results” , it will be at Kineton Village Hall on Friday 25th April at 7.30, visitors are welcome (£2 at the door, includes refreshments).  The talk will cover methodology, dating masons’ styles, changing fashions in dedications, links with the Parish Burial Register, the uses of data, and “memorialising” in the wider context.

The memorials and burial register data can be found on the Kineton Group’s website

We hope interested members of the My-Parish community may be able to attend.



Berkswell Hall

08/13/2013 in archeology and architecture, British Isles, households and the domestic environment

The Manor of Berkswell dates from the late medieval period. There is no evidence of a house on this land until Samuel Marrow Bart. ‘built a substantial new house of brick between 1663 and 1674  with a five bay entrance front to the east and a longer wing stretching back with 22 rooms and 17 hearths’. On Samuel’s death his five surviving daughters held the Manor jointly until 1707, two of whom, Elizabeth and Mary, are buried in the Norman crypt at Berkswell church. Mary’s son John Knightley, Sherrif of Northamptonshire, died in 1764 and his widow Catherine was allowed to live in the House at Berkswell, which she did until her death at the age of 92 in 1812. Both John and Catherine are buried in the crypt of Berkswell Church.

The estate passed to John’s cousin Rt Hon Sir John Eardley Wilmot (1709-1792). It was his grandson, who also added an additional ‘Eardley’ to his name hence Sir John Eardley Eardley Wilmot who built the house we see today in 1814. It is suspected that the existing hall was the result of major alterations to the existing brick house of 1600s. This Sir John eventually became 6th Lieutenant Governor of Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) where he died in 1847 trying to clear his name over the issue of  ‘care of the moral interests involved in the system of convict discipline’. This matter was debated over a number of years in the House of Commons and at the highest level.  Sir John was buried in Hobart Tasmania, where a Gothic monument was erected in his memory by the citizens of Hobart. However a monument was erected by his family in Berkswell Cbhuurch in 1849 following the tradition of his father and grandfather.

After a brief period as a school for boys let to headmaster Rev. Charles Bickmore, Berkswell Hall was sold in 1861 to Thomas Walker, a local iron master and owner of the Patent Shaft and Axletree Co. in Wednesbury. It was Walker who enlarged the estate, formed the lake, built the lodges, coach house and stabling. Thomas Walker was obliged to secure a large mortgage against the Hall after dishonesty by a trusted cashier at his Company. Thomas Walker and his wife are buried in Berkswell churchyard near the old private entrance to the Hall.

The 1888 sale catalogue for the Berkswell Estate states that the Hall was a substantial brick building, cemented and painted light stone colour with a HaHa dividing the park from the gardens comprising Italian garden and spacious tennis and other lawns. The elegant double drawing room had richly papered walls and decorated ceiling. Entrance hall with marble mantelpiece, conservatory heated by water full of camelias, ferns and wisteria. Gilt, mahogany and stone staircase lead to 19 principal bedrooms each with marble mantelpieces.. The entire mansion was lit by gas, supplied with water from springs in the village and forced to the top of the house by a hydraulic ram.

Berkswell Estate was purchased in 1888 by Joshua Hirst Wheatley whom locals fondly referred to as ‘the old Squire. The Reading Room in the village, opened by his wife Edith, was built at his expense as was repairs to the Church Bells.  Upon Joshua’s death his son Charles Joshua Hirst Wheatley and his wife Christobel moved into Berkswell Hall in 1925. Charles died suddenly in 1943 and is interred in the family grave with a memorial window in Berkswell Church. Christobel took a great interest in village affairs and hosted the annual Church Fete at Berkswell Hall. Chistobel died in 1987 aged 89 but had remained at the Hall, running the estate, until ill health forced her to sell the Hall in 1984 when it was converted to luxury apartments. Today the Hall is a Grade II* listed building.

Brenda Murray

August 2012