When witch trial was real

John Billingsley gave a talk on Witchcraft to members of Hebden Bridge Local History Society.
John Billingsley gave a talk on Witchcraft to members of Hebden Bridge Local History Society.

As the make-believe witches come knocking on our doors it is worth remembering that to our ancestors witchcraft was very real indeed.

John Billingsley, a folklorist and author of many books on the subject, told members of the Hebden Bridge Local History Society about one local case of accusations of witchcraft, 44 years after the famous Pendle Witch trials of 1612.

On this side of the Pennines too, beliefs about witchcraft were part of the way the world was seen.

Women and men valued for their skills in healing or fortune telling could very easily find themselves the focus of suspicion if they were thought to have spoken a curse with malicious intent.

This happened to Elizabeth Crossley, a woman known for her witching skills, when she went begging at the home of Henry Cockcroft of Heptonstall.

Being dis-satisfied with her reception there, she was seen to “go off muttering”, and when the Cockcrofts’ two year old child fell suddenly ill Elizabeth was accused of causing his death through her curses.

Others were also implicated, including a certain Mary Midgley who at first admitted to “witching a little” then pointed to Elizabeth and her daughter Sarah.

At the trial in 1646 it was revealed that Elizabeth Crossley had also been suspected of causing the death of another child two years previously, again following her rejection when begging.

Sadly, historical research doesn’t always offer storybook conclusions: no record remains of the decision of the court about the guilt of Elizabeth Crossley.

This talk followed the Local History Society’s AGM which saw Frank Woolrych, president for more than a decade, step down from his role.

His successor Barbara Atack thanked him for the enormous contribution he has made to the society.

At the next meeting of the society, to be held at the Methodist Hall Hebden Bridge at 7.30 on Wednesday, November 13, Shirley Daniel will be talking about Withens Reservoir.

Details from www.hebdenbridgehistory.org.uk