Mistress Agnes turns Witchfinder

Well it is official, I have the plague – or more strictly a throat infection. Whilst some of my acquaintance are enjoying the peace and quiet it has made working impossible, so I am off sick for the first time in thirty years. I am very annoyed to be missing the fun but I have to admit that miming what not to wear in the C17th isn’t awfully effective. I know I should be able to solve this, probably with lemon balm and echinacea but at present I am on proprietary medicines; can one overdose on Strepsils?

I have been putting the finishing touches to my C17th witchcraft talk – due for its premiere next month at the North Devon branch of Devon Family History Society. I am fascinated by this topic. Partly because three of the last (or possibly the last depending on who you believe) witches to be hanged in England came from Bideford, my nearest town. Witch fever also has resonances with modern day bullying culture and mass hysteria. It was very interesting to watch Channel 4’s programme about an American town where a number of teenaged girls have developed Tourette’s like symptoms. Was I alone in screaming (silently due to the lack of voice) ‘erogtism’ at the screen?

As part of the talk I have been looking at Devon witches, not just those from Bideford. I normally begin my C17th talks by encouraging my audience to think of their own C17th ancestors, named or unnamed. Up on the screen go the three couples amongst my own C17th ancestors who I can name. These include Peter and Katherine Elford of Mary Tavy, Devon. When I get to the list of those indicted in Devon for witchcraft in the C17th who do I find but Johanna Elford. Is it, could it be? Peter had a sister called Johanna………..

Other news is that I am now leader of the North Devon Group of Devon Family History Society. This is a great honour and we are working on planning the Summer Conference for next year. Two excellent speakers booked already and a novel theme – under wraps at present. I croaked my way through a discussion on the form that Clovelly Archive Association‘s database might take. This promises to be innovative and exciting with applications for other One Place Studies and Local History Societies. Then it was back to the memorial inscriptions indexing for my own parish and investigating possible chancel liability for the PCC; a bit different this last. Today I work on regaining my voice, wait for a series of bastardy examinations to arrive in the post and some healing herbs work. Never let it be said that my life isn’t varied.


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