Ludlow Self Catering Holiday Cottages, Shropshire
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Whist staying in our self catering in Shropshire you might like to reflect on some of the superstitious practices that used to take place in this part of the England.
Shropshire Charming, Divination and Superstitious Cures. The use of charming and divination was common in Ludlow and throughout Shropshire until the late nineteenth century. “The Bible and Key” was mainly used for detecting dishonesty. There are documented uses of this in Ludlow in the 1870s and 1880s. In 1878, a Mrs. Martha Cad had a sheet stolen. With some friends she went to the backyards of her neighbours. At each backyard, they opened the Bible and Mrs. Cad crossed her forefingers over it,” the key was balanced on the fingers, the name of the person living in the house mentioned, and as Mrs. Cad (who should have done so) could not read her neighbour, Mrs. Mary Ann Collier, repeated for her the sixteenth verse of the first chapter of Ruth......” This was done several times until they reached the yard of Mrs. Elizabeth Oliver. When Mrs. Oliver’s name was mentioned “both the key and the Bible turned completely out of their hands.” All this came out when Mrs. Cad charged Mrs. Oliver at the Ludlow Borough Sessions on 8th January 1879 much to the “astonishment of the Mayor and his colleagues who dismissed the case.”
A similar thing happened in 1883. “A Mrs. Caroline Pardoe of Upper Gaolford, Ludlow lately lost a watch from the room in which her daughter, recently dead, had lain.” The suspect was Ellen Wall, a neighbour who had helped to nurse the sick child. Mrs. Pardoe “turned the key on the Bible, and when Mrs. Wall’s name was called, it fell to the ground...” This was repeated, with the same result, for ten times. A very abusive exchange then ensued between the two ladies. This resulted them both appearing at the Ludlow Borough Sessions on 13 February, 1883. The proceedings were equally abusive and “ the matter ended with the infliction of a shilling fine on both parties.”
We think of divining now as being used to find water but in 1861 in Corve Street “an old charmer with his queer-shaped rod” was used to find the proceeds of a robbery and the thieves. The rods pointed to a house and the police found the stolen goods there and arrested the inhabitants. Impressive though this was, I cannot help wondering whether the explanation is she was simply one of those people who knew everybody else’s business.
There were lots of superstitious cures in Shropshire, some connected with the Christian religion. For instance, rain that fell on Ascension Day was thought to be a good cure for ailments of the eye. In Oswestry, a remedy for ring worm was to use the grease called blotch from church bells. This was evidently in short supply as people started to use the blotch from cart wheels. This innovation was dis-approved of by the church officials who “aver that whereas grease which has been in with bell metal is efficacious, that which has only touched iron is useless for the purposes of healing.” A drop of sacrament wine was supposed to be an excellent cure for whopping cough. Whilst, if you had rheumatism a cure, recommended in Shrewsbury, was to wear a “ring made of three nails taken from three coffins out of three several churchyards.” A cure for tooth ache, equally bizarre, was to take “a woman’s front tooth from the churchyard “ and carry it around with you, that is if you were a man. Women had to use a man’s front tooth.
Frogs featured in cures for whopping cough. One involved putting the head of the unfortunate creature in the mouth of sufferer. A woman at the nearby village of Ashford cured her child by using this method and described how once the frog had inhaled the breath of the sick child, it went round the garden “cough coughing .......till it would have made your very heart ache to hear it.” An even more extreme use of frogs was recommended by a clergyman’s wife from Clun. Her cure was to “draw three yards of narrow black ribbon three times through the body of a live frog, and to let the patient wear the ribbon round his neck.”
Quotes from Shropshire Witchcraft by C. S. Burne