Witchcraft at Newton

In: Recent cases of supposed witchcraft in Devonshire.
Transactions of the Devonshire Association, 1875, Vol VII, pp. 267-268.


Paul Q. Karkeek

Prepared by Michael Steer

The paper was presented at the Association’s Torrington meeting in July 1875. This short article formed the third part of the author’s presentation. The case was taken from the Torquay Directory of February 2nd, 1875.  The witchcraft theme was enlarged to include cases from Ashburton, Exeter and Highweek (Newton Abbot). His intent was to provide evidence that belief in witchcraft was still alive in rural Devon at that time. The article, from a copy of a rare and much sought-after journal can be downloaded from the Internet Archive. Google has sponsored the digitisation of books from several libraries. These books, on which copyright has expired, are available for free educational and research use, both as individual books and as full collections to aid researchers.

A curious case was brought under the notice of the Newton Guardians at their weekly meeting on Wednesday. A man named Prowse, of Highweek, applied for relief, when the following colloquy took place:

The Chairman (the Rev. Preb. Wolfe): What is the matter with you?

Prowse: I am bewitched (laughter); and a man who lives near the station, and does a little in the watch-cleaning line, has offered to cure me for a sovereign, and I’ve already paid him a shilling.

The Chairman: Do you know who bewitched you ?

Prowse: Yes.

The Chairman: Who was it ?

Prowse: Some woman who lives near Blatchford Brook. I was going home one day after leaving work, when I found something strike out of my head like. It nearly knocked me down, and I haven't been able to work since.

The Chairman: Do you, as a Christian man, wish a number of Christian gentlemen to believe that you are bewitched ?

Prowse : I know I be.

The Chairman: But there 's no such thing as witchcraft.

Prowse: I’ll bet you five shillings there is. (Laughter.)

The Chairman: I am astonished at your ignorance. Do you really believe that the man you speak of can cure you ?

Prowse: Certainly he can.

The Chairman: Well, that will do.

Admiral Wise stated that he knew the man, who had worked for Mr. L. Bearne, near Blatchford Brook, at draining. About Christmas last he came to him and stated in substance what he had stated now, with the addition that he heard an old woman's daughter say, "He shan't work there again for the next twelve months." Upon that he considered he was bewitched. The fact was the man had doubtless had an attack of apoplexy, and for the present was unfit to work.

Relief was then granted; and in reference to the man who had imposed upon his credulity, the Chairman observed there were such men going, and they ought to be exposed. He suggested that the clerk communicate the facts to the sergeant of police, and allow him to take what proceedings he thought best in the matter.

Here every particular requisite to convict a prisoner for witchcraft was present A quarrel had evidently taken place, a curse had been pronounced, and a result had followed. Nothing could be more complete. In times gone by a "Christian man" would have found no difficulty in con-vincing a "number of Christian gentleman that he had been bewitched." The old woman would have been arrested and well bothered; after which she would have managed to secure for herself a little company on her way to jail, by inculpating two or three other old ladies of her acquaintance, who in their turn would have confessed to anything and everything, thus securing an edifying and imposing spectacle for those of the inhabitants of the city of Exeter who felt inclined to take a morning's walk as far as the Livery Dole, on the Heavitree road, some day or two after the closure of the next assizes.

These four cases are, I feel sure, but samples of what is every day occurring, though others have not come to my notice. It is sufficient only to say that at present there appears to be no signs of a disappearance of the belief in witchcraft.