A CASE OF WITCHCRAFT

and other crimes


Ron Dale

There is no law against flying

Hertfordshire Assize Records show several 16th century accusations of witchcraft in East Hertfordshire, but only one in Stanstead Abbotts.  Most were for bewitching animals and in the days when superstition was rife, if domestic animals became ill or died, often a warring neighbour was blamed and charged with witchcraft. Fortunately most such cases were dismissed due to lack of evidence.JOHN SELY, yeoman, of Stanstead Abbotts, was indicted for witchcraft on 31st May, 1592, at Stanstead Abbotts, accused of bewitching 40 pigs belonging to John Spencer. Found Not Guilty.  (Hertford Assizes Records)It is interesting to note that the last witchcraft conviction in England also took place in Hertford Court. In March, 1712, Jane Wenham of Walkern was accused of conversing with the devil in the shape of a cat. A witness at Hertford Lent Assizes testified that Jane could fly, whereas Judge Sir John Powell (obviously a wise man) replied that there was no law against flying!   In spite of this she was found guilty. However, Sir John set aside the conviction and sought a pardon from Queen Anne which was successful.  Jane Wenham was cared for by William Cowper, 1st Earl Cowper until her death in 1730. This case was the end of an era as far as witch prosecution was concerned in England, but many people throughout the 18th century still believed in witchcraft. And, of course, a few still do today.

OTHER PETTY CRIMES IN VICTORIAN STANSTEAD

The following reports are from Hertford Quarter Sessions with one exception:

A FOWL DEED: 21 February, 1857. Thomas Hawkins (29), labourer of Stanstead Abbotts was charged with stealing 29 fowls (age not supplied), the property of Thomas Dean. How a man could kill and carry away 29 chickens was not explained).

A VICAR-BASHER: 28 October, 1854. William Edmonds of Stanstead Abbotts, was charged with assaulting the vicar, Rev. J. W. Thomas. No details given unfortunately.

EMBEZZLEMENT CASE: William Rose, a clerk and salesman for Mr. Hunt, the Miller at St. Margarets, was charged with embezzling various sums of money, the property of his employer. (Mr. Hunt lived at Stanstead Hall, High Street).

WHAT LARKS AT THE FAIRGROUND! 1 June, 1850. Watkins, a young bargeman, was charged with assaulting Anne Wheatley. The complainant stated she was walking home from the fairground in Stanstead Abbotts, when he indecently assaulted her at two o’ the clock in the morning!  Good little girls should have been at home in bed. (In those days the fairs were held in Town Mead, today the car park, children’s play area and Meadow.)

TOLLGATE ROBBERY: 8 June, 1857. George Cass, toll-collector, of Stanstead Abbotts, was brought before the court by police constable Williams and charged with stealing the toll-house ladder-wagon, property of Mr. Knight.

A SPRINGHAM IN COURT: 23 December 1855.  John Springham of Stanstead Abbotts, was brought before the court by police constable John Brewer, on remand, charged with larceny. The Springhams are a well-respected and long-established village family.

FOLLY HILL, ST. MARGARETS: Many of the cases brought before the Hertford Quarter Sessions in the 1850s concerned damaged walls, bridges, blocked streams and damaged roads. The following report concerns the road we now call Folly Hill:

Presentation that the highway leading out of the common road from London to Ware, commonly called FOUR-WANT WAY, to St. Margarets is out of repair for half-a-mile, one side of which is within the care of St.Margarets and the other side within the care of Great Amwell. (This road has always been the boundary between Thele/St. Margarets and Great Amwell). It is presented that the inhabitants of St. Margarets ought to repair their side of the road and the inhabitants of Great Amwell to repair their side. Later the court issued a certificate confirming the necessary repairs had been done.

The modern Great Amwell roundabout has six exits, but in the Victorian era, the crossroads offered only four ways, hence the strange name of Four-Want Way.


R.D.