Researching witchcraft in Shropshire is similar to panning for gold when the river has run dry. These days, there is a wealth of information regarding the ‘European Witch Crazes’ of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, but Shropshire is rarely mentioned. Even when Shropshire does come up, it’s for no more than a sentence or two. This lack of history can perhaps be accredited to the narrowness of the field of study. Between 1563 and 1736, less than 500 executions were carried out for the crime of witchcraft in England.1 Europe on the other hand saw 100,000 individuals tried and less than 50,000 put to death.2 Accusations of witchcraft also rarely saw just one person implicated, resulting in numerous ‘suspects’ popping up once once the accused was questions. This resulted in localised pockets of witches being discovered in certain towns and villages, rather than nationwide witch hunts.Continue reading →
I want to sink bells into the pond.
Plant them just below the waterline,
where the ripples look like scales
lifting out of the shallows slowly
on the back of an endless snake.
Then at night when the moon lifts,
turns her face to watch,
I’ll slip out onto the decking,
strip down to my silver skin.
Drop like a stone or a witch
into the quiet cold of a place
not quite what I wish of it.
Wonder as the bells ring out
if anyone else may be listening.
There’s a lot of Shropshire Folklore about women and water. The River Severn is often characterised as female, and there are tales of women (or women-like creatures) inhabiting lakes and ponds. Another image in Shropshire folk tales, is that of church bells falling into water and being lost forever, but the sound of their ringing being heard at night.
I’ve always been in love with myths and legends, but more often than not it was the classic Greek, Egyptian, and Norse myths that I turned to as a child. More recently I started to look into the tales from my native county, and one of the poems in my collection was inspired by this research. During the lockdown I’ve been trying to read more books to keep myself occupied. I ended up purchasing ‘Shropshire Folk Tales’ by Amy Douglas. The one off poem on Shropshire Folklore that I included in my collection now looks like it might grow into something more.
One paragraph for all the lost bodies,
somewhere still beneath dirt and grass
and the slow trundle of grazing cattle
meandering, one fence line to another.
Musket balls get plucked up on odd days,
rolled across a palm like a marble,
dropped into a Tupperware tub,
they outlasted the bones and flesh.
A field with five hundred years to forget
yet the calf gets sick with lead
loses its eyesight to a pellet
from a gun fired half a century before.
History reaches past its paragraph
of three thousand nameless men.
Another misery of litter
leftover once the war was done.
Following tonight’s theme of smoke and mirrors, and feeling like the older you get, the less you actually know, I started thinking about how we learn about the history of warfare in schools. There’s a disconnect between the modern day and its wars, and battles such as the one at Bloor Heath* in Staffordshire where around three thousand men are thought to have died in the fighting.
It’s easy to look at these historic events and pick apart the motivations, and the mistakes that were made. However, when dealing with similar situations in more modern settings, the issue can often seem clouded.
I’m left to wonder what will be written five hundred years from now about the current wars being fought and the empires being built.
*The Battle of Blore Heath was part of the Wars of the Roses. I’ve been debating getting back into writing some historic posts so if you’d be interested in knowing more I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. Would it be odd to re-introduce history posts onto the site?