A Story of Witchcraft in Sussex.
Although not strictly a Ghost Story as such, I do not have a category I can place this in for now so it will have to share the Ghost story section.
Taken from 'Glimpses of our Ancestors', 1883. C.Fleet.
Sussex was, as with most counties in England, subject to a period in our history that was at best misguided, and at worst, downright cruel. I speak of the times of Witchcraft and how, at a certain point in our history, it could mean death for any poor person accused of such deeds. Those souls, some of which were no more than herbalists of the time, country folk with great knowledge of all things healing, and people who preferred to live alone in solitude with few friends for company, became victims of horrendous crimes carried out in the name of the church, the government and the will of the people.
It must be said though, that at this time, education was pretty much non-existent, except for those born into nobility, religious service and a few self-educated persons, most folk were very superstitious and wary of strangers especially of those who lived on the fringe of their lives. This lack of education and fear of the dark was a main reason of the witch hunts that prevailed throughout the British Isles and beyond. Supported by Noted dignataries and the backing of the church, it became a driving force to be feared by all who lived during these years.
The following excerpt I found interesting and wanted to place it online for you to read. I hope you enjoy it......
WE need hardly remind our readers that, in the 17th century, the most enlightened men believed in witchcraft, and that Judges like Sir Matthew Hale sent poor old women accused of dealing with his Satanic Majesty to the stake. It is not, therefore, to be wondered at that country Justices fell into the same delusion; it was a part of the religion of the day.
Sussex was never the scene of such wholesale witch-drownings and burnings as disgraced Lancashire and some other counties ; the infamous witch-finder, Hopkins, did not travel so far south. But that, if he had done so, he would have found the soil ready for him may be judged by the curious narrative contained in the MS. collections relating to Sussex, left by the Rev. W. Hayley, rector of Brightling, to the British Museum. The date of the incidents referred to is supposed to be about 1662. We give it verbalim el literatim :—
AT BRIGHTLING, IN SUSSEX.
As touching ye Relation of ye Brightling Story, which is in substance undoubtedly true, however some circumstances of it may vary, be pleased to take ye following account.
On Monday was three weeks at or near ye house of Joseph Cruttenden, of Brightling, an old woman about noon came to a servant girl of the said Cruttenden's and tells her sad Calamities were coming upon her Master and Dame, their house should be fired, and many other troubles befall them, but tells this Girl withal, That if she spake of what she had told her, ye Devil would tear her to pieces, otherwise she need not fear, for no hurt should come to her.
The same night, as the man and woman lay in bed, Dirt and Dust was thrown at them, but they could not tell whence it came; They rise and pray, during which the disturbances cease. Some say they went to bed again, but finding ye same trouble they are forced to rise. Tuesday, about noon, Dust and Dirt, and several things are thrown at them again ; before night, a part of one end of their house fired ; they rake it down, it flashes somewhat like gunpowder; as they stopped it there, it began in another place, and then in another, till the whole house was burnt down.
Some say something like a Black Bull was seen tumbling about; ye certainty of which I aver not. The house, though it burned down to the ground, it flamed not. The night was spent in carrying away goods, or one thing or another, to one place or another, they I think remaining most without doors.
Thursday Colonel Busbridge (whose house the former was, being acquainted with ye man's sad accident), bid them go into another of his Houses in ye Parish, whither, when ye Goods were brought, such like Disturbances were there also ; ye house fireth, endeavours are made by many to quench it, but in vain, till ye Goods are thrown out, when it ceased with little or no help.
In this condition none durst let them into their doors ; they abide unde a Hut ; ye Goods are thrown upside down ; Pewter Dishes, knives, Brickr bats strike them, but hurt ym not. Mr. Bennett and Mr. Bradshaw, Ministers, came to pray with ym, when a knife glanced by ye Breast of Mr. Bennett, a Bowl or Dish thrown at his Back, but while at Prayers quiet ; they were without doors, there being very many present, a wooden Tut (tut, I suppose to be a word used in Sussex for scoop to lade water - M.A.Lower) came flying out of ye air, by many, and came and struck the man; as likewise a horse-shoe ; which was by some laid away, and it was observed of its own accord to rise again and fly to the man, and struck him in ye midst of a hundred people.
Upon strict examination ye man confesseth that he had been a thief, and did it [the theft ?] under ye Colour of Religion, Sabbath day. Ye girl told her Dame ye former story of ye woman's discourse ; she is sent for and examined before Capt. Collins and Mr. Busbridge, and she is watched and searched twenty-four hours; the girl saith she is like ye woman, but I think will not swear it is the same.
This woman was formerly suspected to be a Witch, had to Maidstone about it, but got away, and hath lived about Burwash some time since ; her name I know not. Tuesday Four Ministers kept a Fast, Mr. Bennett,Weller, Bradshaw, and Golden. Since I hear not of any trouble. 'Tis said that they are in a Barn or Alehouse. While they lay without doors, ye woman sending some meal to a Neighbour's to make some bread, they could not make it up into Loaves, but it was like Butter, and so they put it into ye Oven, but it would not bake, but came out as it went in.
This relation came from Mr. Collins, who was an Eye-Witness to much of it.
The late Mr. Lower, in sending this curious narrative to the Sussex Archaeological Society, adds that the Captain Collins and Colonel Busbridge referred to in it were " both men of good family and county magistrates." They, as well as the four Ministers, Messrs. Bennett, Weller, Golden, and Bradshaw, were evidently firm believers in the existence of witchcraft, and any unfortunate old lady who had been accused before them of that crime would have stood a very poor chance of escape.
In this instance, as in so many others, it seems most likely that the inventor and actor in the above incidents was a girl. It was to the servant-girl of Joseph Cruttenden, the supposed victim of witchcraft, that "an old woman " comes and discloses the " sad calamities" that were coming upon her " Master and Dame," and, of course, in due time, they do come, and the house is burnt down, and all kinds of pranks are played at the expense of her master and mistress.
They remove to another house, and the same " disturbances " take place. Of course the servant-girl was present on these occasions, and she was the only person interested in making her story of the old woman's prophecy come true. " Ye girl told her Dame ye former story of ye woman's discourse," she (the woman) is sent for and examined before Captain Collins and Mr. Busbridge, and she is " watched and searched twenty-four hours ; the girl saith she is like ye woman, but, I think, will not swear it is the same." This passage, by the unknown narrator, refers to some old woman, who, on the girl's testimony, was taken up on suspicion, "watched and searched twenty-four hours," and had, it is evident, a very narrow escape from conviction as a witch, having been
" formerly suspected to be a witch, had to Maidstone about it, but got away, and hath lived about Burwash some time since."
Poor old lady ! She was nearly falling a victim to a cunning girl's tricks and love of mischief. Not only in the witchcraft of olden days, but in the spirit-rapping and other delusions of modern times, it is remarkable how readily children and young people have lent themselves to the imposition and taken a delight in making fools of their elders. If the great majority of so-called supernatural visitations, from those which troubled the household of John Wesley's father down to our own times, could be traced to their real source, they would, we believe, be found to lie, as they did in this case at Brightlin-, in the morbid craving for excitement and love of deception so often found in children and servant-girls.