Archive for February, 2021

The Warboys Witches

The Warboys Witches

My wife lived in Warboys before we married and her brother still continues to live there in the family home. Fairly early on in our courtship and possibly before that as a resident of Huntingdon I was aware of the phrase the Witches of Warboys, I knew nothing of them other than that.

There was and is a pond in the centre of the village at the fork of the roads High Street and Mill Green it is called the Weir (pronounced ware). Popular legend suggests this is where the witches were tried for witchcraft and then drowned. The early method of determining guilt for witchcraft:

*It was a popular belief that a witch could not sink if submersed in water.  Suspected witches were put through a process called “swimming” or “floating.”  The victim’s left hand was tied to her right foot, and her right hand was secured to her left foot before she was thrown into a body of water.  It was believed that the innocent would sink while the guilty remained afloat.  Sometimes a rope was fastened around the suspect’s middle in case she proved her innocence by sinking beneath the water.  Both the Church and the courts of law disapproved this method of proving guilt, but it was still practiced throughout England (Holmes 137).

The Weir at Warboys as it is now (photo credit Robert Hogg)

This wasn’t the case with the trial of 76 year old Alice Samuel, her husband John and her daughter Agnes.

Alice’s accuser was initially Jane (possibly Joan by some accounts) Throckmorton the 9 year old daughter of the Squire Robert Throckmorton. In November 1589 Jane accused Alice of causing her to suffer fits, Jane’s four sisters and some of the family’s servants began exhibiting similar symptoms. When Alice Samuel was brought to see the children their illness became worse and they had the urge to scratch her.

Robert Throckmorton was a close friend of Sir Henry Cromwell one of the wealthiest men in the country at that time and grandfather of Oliver Cromwell. Lady Cromwell visited the Throckmorton household in March 1590, whilst there she interviewed Alice Samuel at the family home the Manor House in Warboys. The interview served to confirm as far as Lady Cromwell was concerned the suspicions the Throckmortons had of Alice Samuel. During the interview, Lady Cromwell cut a lock of Alice’s hair and gave it to Mrs Throckmorton to burn, (a folk remedy believed to weaken the power of a witch).

Lady Cromwell was tormented by Alice Samuel in her dreams and later was taken ill and died (she was buried in 1592). This death and the events in Warboys were enough apperent proof to put Alice and her family on trial for Witchcraft

The Manor House at Warboys (Estate Agents photo Fine and Country)

From Wikipedia:

The Throckmorton family

“The first allegations declaring Alice as a practitioner of witchcraft were made in November 1589. Following this, there were a total of twelve maid-servants of the Throckmorton household (in addition to the five daughters) who experienced fits and the torment of Alice Samuell’s witchcraft. Jane’s fits were described as such: “Sometimes she would neese [sneeze] very loud and thick for the space of half an hour together; and evidently as one in a great trance and sound lay quietly as long, soon after would begin to swell and heave up her belly so as none was able to bend her or keep her down, sometime thee would shake one leg and no other part of her, as if the palsie had been in it, sometimes the other, presently she would shake one of her arms and then the other, and soon after her head as if she had with the running palsie”.

Jane’s mother and grandmother were by the child’s side while other neighbors came to see her. When Alice Samuel came in, the child proclaimed: “Grandmother look where the old witch sitteth (pointing to Samuell) did you ever see one more like a witch than she is: Take off her black thrumbed [shaggy or fringed] cap, for I cannot abide to look on her”. Jane’s mother thought nothing of this at first, thinking her child was sleep deprived and sick. However, because Jane continued to get worse, her parents sent her urine to Doctor Barrow of Cambridge, who sent medicine to Jane three separate times thinking it would heal her. It did not. After the third time, the Doctor inquired whether there were any signs of sorcery or witchcraft involved that the parents could see. Jane’s urine was then sent to a family acquaintance, Master Butler, for examination and he sent back the same remedies that Doctor Barrow had sent. Exactly a month later, on the same day almost to the hour, two more of Master Throckmorton’s daughters fell sick to the same illness that was afflicting  Jane

These daughters, two to three years older than Jane, cried out: “Take her away, look where she standeth here before us in a black thrumbed cap it is she that hath bewitched us and she will kill us if you do not take her away”.

The parents were then worried, but could not understand why any such harm would come to them, for they had only moved into the town the “Michaelmas before” (September 29, 1588). Their youngest daughter, nine years old, fell sick less than a month later. Soon after this, the oldest daughter, fifteen years old, fell sick. She was sickest out of the five. Both cried out against Alice Samuell. Their eldest sister, had been the strongest, strived with the spirit, and was grievously tortured not being able to overcome it. This caused her to “(neefe), screech and groan very fearfully, sometimes it would heave up her belly and bounce up her body with such violence that she was not kept upon her bed”. When sitting in a chair, her fits often caused her to break that chair.

The daughters could not see, hear or feel while in these fits. They accused Mother Samuel, asking for her to be taken away. These fits would sometimes last for half a day and happened up to six or seven times a day. They believed that God freed them of this sorcery and afterwards, the sisters remembered nothing of what they had been saying. “

Following the death of Lady Cromwell in 1592 Alice Samuel was interviewed by a local clergyman she confessed to being a witch but withdrew her confession the next day, later she was interviewed by the Bishop of Lincoln and she confessed to him. She was imprisoned in Huntingdon together with her daughter and husband. The family were tried in April 1593 for the murder of Lady Cromwell by witchcraft. Alice’swords to Lady Cromwell,

“Madam, why do you use me thus? I never did you any harm as yet”, were used against her at the trial.  All three were found guilty and hanged.

Following her execution, the hangman and his wife examined Alice’s body and found a witches mark, the so called third nipple, a teat like growth on the pendula. This was taken as proof of guilt.

There seems to be no apparent motive behind the actions attributed to Alice Samuel’s actions in relationship to the Throckmortons. Lady Cromwells’s assault on Alice could be said to be a motive but without the Throckmorton incidents Lady Cromwell wouldn’t have been involved.

Agnes during the trial ended Jane’s (Joan’s)fits by commanding the devil to leave her. She (Agnes) also adimitted she was a witch and was complicit in the murder of Lady Cromwell.

The fens at that time were a strange place, getting around was either by boat, horse or on foot. The watery landscape was a place of mists will o’ the wisps, strange lights and suddden unexplained disappearances, the threat of disease too was never far away. Herbal remedies were for most people the only medicines available, opium poppies were grown widely, the opium produced was used for treating the symptoms of amongst other things the Ague. There is a fine line between those making and supplying medicines and those thought to be involved in witchraft, particularly in a time of ignorance and superstition.

The Secret Life of Bletchley Park Written by Sinclair McKay a review

The Secret Life of Bletchley Park by Sinclair McKay

The Secret Life of Bletchley Park by Sinclair McKay, a review.

Few people today are unaware of Bletchley Park and its vital work during World War 2, cracking the German Codes. Although many of us now know of the Enigma machine and have heard of Alan Turing there is much about Bletchley Park that wasn’t known, even amongst its veterans.

Mr McKay has taken the opportunity to talk to as many of the surviving Bletchley veterans as he could, to learn more of the Park’s back story. He sheds light on what went on behind the scenes. How mainly young, men and women drawn from all over the country came to work together on one of the most secret and important projects of the war.

The lives of the listeners, translators, code breakers and those who analysed the intelligence are discussed the problems of accommodation and travel are covered as is the social life of the park.

It is a fascinating book and illustrates the remarkable calibre of the people who worked at the park. Their tremendous sense of loyalty, is something to marvel at. Many took the secret of their vital wartime careers to the grave, children and spouses unaware of the value that work.

It is possible that had the true value of Turing’s work been more widely known he wouldn’t have been subjected to the terrible treatment that led to his early tragic death.

This is a testament to part of a great generation that did so much for those of us who followed, a story that needed to be told.

A Study in Green, introducing Shadrack Bones

Front cover of a Following Wind click on the link to order from Amazon.

Shadrack Bones made his first appearance in the excellent Whittlesey Wordsmiths collection A Following Wind, in the story:

A Study in Green

A Shadrack Bones Mystery

Philip Cumberland

Shadrack Bones, the consulting detective, and his assistant, Dr Wilkins, waited patiently at Leeds Aerodrome to board the aircraft taking them to Guernsey. There can’t be many steam-powered Zeppelins still in service, thought Bones, now that we have the internal combustion engine.

The stewardess made her way along the line of passengers. Her bustle didn’t seem that fashionable to Bones but, on reflection, ladies’ fashion was not something he studied unless it related to an ongoing investigation.

“You will have to put out the pipe, Sir,” said the stewardess. “There is no smoking allowed on the aircraft.”

Turning to Dr Wilkins, she said, “You will have to put that cigar out too, Madam.”

The irony of being told that they couldn’t smoke on a steam-powered Zeppelin whilst waiting as coal was being loaded was not lost on Bones.

“Look at that, Wilkins. They’re loading coal to power this thing, burning it by the ton, and yet we can’t smoke.”

“Actually its coke, Bones; it’s lighter than coal.”

“But they still burn it to fire the boilers, don’t they, Wilkins?”

“That’s true, but these are remarkable engines. They are a form of lightweight turbine; the boilers are extremely efficient and use a revolutionary condensing system. They were cutting-edge when they came into service. I read the paper by Professor Deitrich Stromm earlier.”

Dr Wilkins was not only a Doctor of Medicine but had a doctorate in mechanical engineering; her PhD was on advanced thermodynamics. Bones appeared totally to ignore the fact that Dr Amy Wilkins was a woman. Though she was attractive, Bones seemed only interested in her mind, a fact Amy Wilkins found very frustrating, as she loved Bones dearly.

After a relatively short interval, a tall man in a German style military uniform, with peaked cap, riding breeches, jackboots and wearing a monocle, strode up and boarded the aircraft. The passengers boarded next; there were twelve including Bones and Wilkins.

Whilst they were waiting to take off, Bones turned to Wilkins and said, “That paper you read by Stromm, was it in German?”

“Yes, why?”

“I didn’t know you spoke German.”

“I know it reasonably well. I am more fluent in Russian and Italian.”

“You have hidden depths, Wilkins.”

Yes, thought Wilkins. To you, my femininity is perhaps the most hidden.

The trip was uneventful. They took on more coke south of Canterbury but that was the only break in their journey.

Bones and Wilkins were investigating the loss of Cuttleworth’s secret gravy recipe. It had disappeared on a recent trip to Guernsey. Lord Jericho Cuttleworth was the owner of a successful chain of fast-food restaurants. Cuttleworth’s Pie and Pudding Emporiums sold a pie, baked potato and carrots together with a mug of tea for threepence. Their trademark strapline was, “The secret is in the gravy”. Yorkshire’s most famous son was troubled by the loss of his gravy recipe. Although he knew it off by heart, the thought of it falling into the hands of his rivals frightened him.

Retracing the steps of Lord and Lady Cuttleworth’s recent trip to Guernsey, they were using the same airline, staying at the same hotel and occupying the same room. For the purpose of the investigation, Dr Wilkins was travelling as Mrs Bones, wearing her late mother’s wedding ring for the journey.

The aerodrome at St. Peter Port in Guernsey was small and close to the town. The journey to their hotel, The Victor Hugo, took fifteen minutes by horse and trap.

Bones helped Wilkins down from the trap and they signed in. Dr. Wilkins found signing as Mrs A Bones very odd. They were shown to their room by a maid who appeared to be in her late teens. Once they were in the room and the maid had departed, Wilkins turned to Bones.

“This won’t do, Bones; we are sharing a room as man and wife but are unmarried.”

“Why is that a problem, Wilkins? You are a medical man – sorry, woman. You have seen enough of the male body in your time, I have seen all too many of our species of both sexes in all states of disarray.”

“But it isn’t right, Bones.”

“Very well. I will marry you when we return to London. I can hardly do it here, since we are, as far as the hotel is concerned, already married.”

“Is that a proposal, Bones?”

“Well, you brought the subject up. Do you want me to marry you or not?”

“Very well, but you hardly seem to notice me: certainly not as a woman.”

“You are four foot eleven and a half inches tall. Your boots, size four, have two-and-a-half inch heels, which bring your height to five foot two. You have brown eyes and dark brown hair, which you have cut short at Mr Andrews’ barber shop in Jerome Street every four weeks. Your hair is kept short so that it cannot catch in machinery when you are working as an engineer. You have small strong hands, normally you wear nothing on your hands or wrists, so that there is nowhere for dirt to accumulate or anything to be caught in machinery. You keep your nails short; your hands are kept clean by rubber gloves when you work. You normally wear your mother’s wedding ring on a fine gold chain around your neck. Your bust is about thirty-five inches, your waist uncorseted twenty-five inches; your hips are wide – about thirty-six and a half inches – allowing for easy childbirth. You generally wear black silk stockings, which you buy from Mrs Rogers in Regent Street. Oh, and you have a tiny chip on the corner of your front right-hand tooth, probably caused by the rebound of a hammer.”

“A spanner slipped. It wasn’t a hammer that chipped the tooth, and it was very painful.”

“I didn’t mention your mind. Yours is the finest I have ever encountered; when we age, when our youth and looks have fled, we will still have our minds.”

“Thank you, Bones.”

“Right. Now let’s get back to the case in hand. Lord Cuttleworth said he hid the formula behind a panel in the base of the wardrobe. He always carries a special pocket knife which has a screwdriver blade.”

Bones produced a large magnifying glass from his case, dropped to his knees, and inspected the bottom of the wardrobe. The front panel was secured by two large screws.

“Have you brought your tool kit with you Wilkins?” asked Bones.

Wilkins produced a small red leather case from her handbag and handed it to Bones. He opened it and removed the screwdriver. The screws were not tight, and Bones guessed this was a well-used hiding place.

“We could do with a light Wilkins.”

“I have a small electric torch: a prototype. Mr Etherington gave it to me. It has a small spring-powered dynamo to produce the power.”

Wilkins reached into her capacious handbag. Removing the torch, she released a catch and passed the torch to Bones. The torch began to make a whirring noise, producing a bright beam of light from one end. Bones shone the torch into the space beneath the wardrobe.

“Aha!” he exclaimed. “Look at this, Wilkins.”

The intricacies of Wilkins wardrobe made it difficult for her to get down on the floor next to Bones, but she managed it nonetheless.

“Look to the left, towards the back at the floorboards, Wilkins.”

“I see. One appears to be loose; there is a gap around it and it extends into the next room.”

“Quite so. Pass me the screwdriver again please, Wilkins.”

Wilkins passed Bones the screwdriver; Bones paused and turned to Wilkins.

“We had better find out if the room next door is unoccupied before we do any more.”

Wilkins stood up and went to the door. “I will check.”

Wilkins knocked on the door of the adjacent room. Getting no response, she checked the door. It was locked. She relayed this information to Bones before walking downstairs to the hotel reception. There was no one at the desk and the register lay open in full view.

Surreptitiously she rotated the register and quickly checked the occupants at the time Lord and Lady Cuttleworth were staying. A Mr Houghton was occupying the adjacent room; his address was given as 15 Atkinson Street, Hyde in Cheshire. The room appeared to be unoccupied at present.

She spun the book back around just before the hotelier reappeared at the desk.

The hotelier, a Mr Morose, was a shortish grey-haired man. He was, Wilkins guessed, in his late sixties. A copy of The Times lay open on the desk near the register, the crossword uppermost – all of it filled in.

“My husband and I wondered if the view of the harbour would be better from the room next door to ours; is it currently occupied?”

“Not at the moment, Madam.”

“Would it be in order for us to have a look?”

“I can’t see any difficulty in that,” said the hotelier and handed Wilkins the room key.

Once in the adjacent room, Bones was quickly on his hands and knees in the right-hand corner. He pulled back a rug and located the suspect floorboard that extended under the wall. Using Wilkins’s screwdriver, he unscrewed the single screw securing the floorboard and removed it. He was then able to reach into the space under the wardrobe next door. He quickly replaced the floorboard and, after retightening the screw, replaced the rug.

They viewed the harbour together from the window, Bones putting his arm round Wilkins waist – the first time he had made any physical contact apart from the shaking of hands. Wilkins moved closer in response.

“We know how it was done and roughly when it was done but not yet by whom, and we don’t know where the recipe is now,” said Bones.

“What about Mr Houghton who occupied this room whilst Lord and Lady Cuttleworth were staying here?”

“We can’t discount him, but my money is on a member of the hotel staff. Lord Cuttleworth said he used a small piece of Plasticine as a seal on the wardrobe panel, and that hadn’t been disturbed.” Bones continued, “It is my guess that a member of staff, knowing when both rooms were unoccupied, took advantage of the situation and removed the recipe. It is unlikely that Houghton would know of the special floorboard, whereas a member of staff either knew of the floorboard or arranged it.”

“What do you propose to do, Bones?”

“Setting a trap would seem the best option, Wilkins. But we need a speedy result, before the value of the recipe is realised and it falls into the wrong hands – that is, if we are not already too late.”

Later that day, the manager of the hotel signed for a registered package addressed to Mr S Bones, Victor Hugo Hotel, St Peter Port, Guernsey.

The package was handed to Bones as he and Wilkins returned from a walk in town. Once safely inside their room, Bones opened the envelope, peered inside and put it to one side.

“I sent it from London before we left.”

“Why did you do that, Bones?”

“I thought we might need some bait. Look at the sender’s address on the back.”

Wilkins took the envelope, turned it over and read aloud, “Bank of England, Threadneedle Street London.”

Bones opened his suitcase, took out a small jar, removed the lid and poured some of the contents into the envelope. He then resealed the envelope, recapped the jar and replaced it in his case. The wardrobe panel was unfastened. Bones put the package in the compartment and refitted the panel, tightening the screws with Wilkins’ screwdriver.

“What is in the jar, Bones?”

“Sneezing powder, it should give anyone opening the envelope a surprise and alert us at the same time – if we are within earshot.”

Opening his suitcase again, he removed an envelope and several sheets of blank notepaper. He folded the notepaper, placed it in the envelope, and sealed the flap with sealing wax. Taking a pencil from his pocket, he marked the envelope, S Bones. He asked Wilkins to take the package to the desk and ask if it could be deposited in the hotel safe.

After a late supper they retired for the night. Bones was irritated when Wilkins wore her Mrs Edith Spencer’s impenetrables to bed, insisting that Bones could only avail himself of her facilities once they were properly married.

It was at 1.30 am that Bones woke Wilkins, shaking her gently but with his hand over her mouth. He hissed a warning for her to remain quiet. They heard a faint scraping sound, consistent with a floorboard being slid from under the wardrobe. Bones quietly left the bed, putting on his dressing gown over his nightshirt.

Anticipating such an event, Bones had earlier removed the two screws securing the panel under the wardrobe. He now dropped to his knees and, swiftly removing the panel, reached into the compartment and grasped the wrist he found there.

Wilkins bounded out of bed and raced into the next room. The moonlight streaming in from the uncurtained window revealed the silver-haired hotelier lying prone on the floor.

She grabbed a copper warming pan, fortunately empty and cold, from the bed and swung it hard down on the hotelier’s head, knocking him out cold.

Bones, hearing the bang and feeling the wrist go limp, got up from the floor and joined Wilkins in the adjacent room.

“Well done, Wilkins.”

“I think if we are to be married you should start calling me Amy, Shadrack.”

“Very well, Wilkins – sorry, Amy.”

The hotelier started to regain consciousness, groggily removed his arm from the floorboards, and sat up. Bones demanded the return of Cuttleworth’s gravy formula.

“I don’t know what you are talking about,” he said.

“The game’s up, Mr Morose. Dr Wilkins is a crossword expert too and has completed today’s Times crossword.”

“I still don’t understand what you are alleging.”

“She is also a cryptologist, often employed by the British government.”


“The key to the code was MrHoughton15AtkinsonStreet. It has twenty-six characters, the same as the alphabet. She was able to decode the message hidden in the crossword accepting your terms for the sale of the gravy recipe.”

Seeing the game was up, Mr Morose led them to the office and retrieved the recipe from a secret drawer in his desk.

Lord Cuttleworth, overjoyed at the return of his recipe, not only paid Bones and Wilkins a handsome fee plus expenses but also provided the wedding reception at Cuttleworth Hall.

Copyright P W Cumberland 2019.

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