Cumberland Crones

February 28, 2010

From time to time in my genealogical research I come across tasty tidbits from the olden days of Cumberland preserved by 19th Century historians. These are two such tidbits:

Witches, too, have abounded according to report, and some were drowned, or otherwise persecuted because of their evil repute. Mary Baynes, the witch of Tebay, died in 1811, aged ninety. She has been described as a repulsive looking woman, with a big pocket tied upon her back, and she was blamed for witching people’s churns, geese, and goslings, so that on account of her witchcraft she became a terror to her neighbours. Many strange things which happened were laid to her charge, and thoroughly believed by the people.

Ned Sisson, of the “Cross Keys Inn,” had a mastiff which worried old Mary’s favourite cat. The owner decided to have the grimalkin respectably buried in her garden, and a man named Willan dug a grave for it. Old Mary handed Willan an open book, and pointed to something he was to read. But Willan, not thinking it worthwhile to read any-
thing over a cat, took pussy by the leg, and said :

” Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
Here’s a hole, and in thou must.”

Mary grew angry, and warned her companion that he would fare no better for his levity. Soon afterwards Willan was ploughing in his field when the implement suddenly bounded up, and the handle struck one of his eyes, causing blindness. Immediately Mary Baynes was given the credit for having bewitched the plough.

The old lady seems to have tried her hand also at prophesy. Once when the scholars of Tebay School were out playing, Mary predicted to them that some day carriages would run over Loupsfell without the
aid of horses. The railway now goes over a portion of the land to which she referred, which was then a large stinted pasture.

The best known other ” witch ” was ” Lizzie o’ Branton,” otherwise Lizzy Batty, a remarkable woman, who, in the early years of this century, occupied a cottage on the roadside between Brampton and Talkin. She acted in a peculiar manner, dressed curiously, and generally “acted the part,” with the consequence that she was credited with many supernatural powers.

She died in 1817, at the age of eighty- eight. The date of her funeral in Brampton was for long years remembered as the stormiest day the town had ever seen. Although it was in March, yet darkness came on so suddenly that lanterns were lighted at the grave-side, only to be again and again extinguished by the fury of the tempest. A tradition still lingers that those who bore the coffin to the grave solemnly affirmed that it was empty and the body gone.


One comment

  1. You can see how easy it must have been for these people to leap from ignorance to persecution. How fearsome for the old women involved.

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