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Witchcraft, Legend, and Curses from the Forest of Dean?

The Dymock Curse 

An inscribed lead tablet now displayed at Gloucester Folk Museum, was found in a cupboard at Wilton Place at Dymock in 1892, and was designed to drive away its victim. At the top is the name ‘Sarah Ellis’, written backwards in 17th-century script; then come complex designs  representing the good and evil spirits of the moon and the numbers 369, all referring astrologically to the moon, and then the curse itself, which invokes eight demons to add to the charm's influence, ‘Hasmodait, Acteus, Magalesius, Ormenus, Leius, Nicon, Minon, Zeper make this person to Banish away from this place and Countery, amen. To my desire amen’
The Dymock CursePoor Sarah Ellis has never been identified but there is a local legend that the curse so affected her that she committed suicide and was buried at the cross-roads with a stake in her heart. There is an Ellis's Cross on the boundary of the parishes of Dymock and Oxenhall and only about 2 miles from Wilton Place. The curse belongs to the later 17th century. It is unlikely that it originated at Wilton Place as the present building (now flats) was only erected in the mid to late 18th century and inhabited by the Thackwell family during the 19th century.
One can only wildly speculate that it was perhaps initiated by a young lady whose prospective beau was being targeted by Sarah. Local parish records show two Sarah Ellis's. One married Edward Simmons at nearby Ledbury in November 1655 and another John Burford in June 1681.

sacred symbols from Deanweb
A 16th century table showing the origins of some of those symbols (see sacred texts web-site)

The Forest of Dean's First Documented Curse

the Silvanus Curse

One of the artefacts found at the Lydney Park Roman temple site in the early 1800s was a curse tablet, an invocation for revenge. It reads: “To the God Nodens. Silvanus has lost a ring. He has [vowed] half its value to Nodens. Amongst all who bear the name of Senicianus, refuse thou to grant health to exist, until he bring back the ring to the Temple of Nodens.”

It seems extraordinary, but what appears to be the same ring had in fact, already been found, but not at Lydney. It was dug up by a farmer in a ploughed field at Silchester, Hampshire, in 1785. Silchester is the site of the large and important Roman town of Calleva Atrebatum.

Now Senicianus had a new inscription written on it: ‘Seniciane vivas in deo’ (Senicianus, may you live in God). The ring's home these days is the Vyne Museum at Basingstoke and there seems very little chance of it being returned to Noden's Temple. Tolkien's ring

Like The One Ring in Tolkien’s Middle-earth, the Roman ring had gathered dust in a library for many years. It’s story now brought back to life, the 12g golden ring sits on display at The Vyne.  The “Ring Room” also houses Tolkien memorabilia, and leaves the question as to whether the ancient ring might actually be the very one that inspired Tolkien.

 Silvanus is probably spinning in his grave. And did that thieving devil Senicianus ever realise he would end up as Gollum?

The Legend of the Holy Grail and Noden's Temple

The quest for The Holy Grail proved to be a lethal obstacle course that killed many of Arthur's knights. Legend says that Galahad and his party of knights discovered and captured The Holy Grail and brought it back to Camelot Castle to Arthur.

The Holy Grail was found in the possession of Anfortas II, the Grail-King, who was relocated to Britain under King Arthur's patronage, and was given the old iron-age hill-fort at Castell Dinas Bran, at Llangollen, in Clwyd, Wales as his estate.

His family, descendants of Joseph of Arimathea, that is, the "Grail-Kings", served as the official "keepers" of the holy relic, which was kept in an old Roman temple that was refurbished to house it, the one at Lydney Park in the Forest of Dean about nine miles north-east of Chepstow in Gloucestershire. It is situated on a hill overlooking the River Severn.

The temple complex was a hybrid of architectural types. Its basic plan was that of a Celto-Roman shrine with a central inner sanctum surrounded by a portico.

The Holy Grail was later returned to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem by Helyas "The Swan Knight", epic-hero of the First Crusade 1096-99, the last Grail-King, and, the first Grand-Master of the Knights-Templar, who, upon entering Jerusalem (accompanying his son, Geoffrey of Bouillon, the leader (army-commander) of the First Crusade) placed the Holy Grail himself on the high-altar (1099).

The Holy Grail was taken out of Jerusalem to Acre at the time of Jerusalem's fall to the Muslims either in 1187 and/or 1244, and there remained at Acre until 1291 when it was taken by the Knight-Templar Guillame (III) de Beaujeu to Antioch and entrusted into the care of Tibald de Gaudin, the city's bishop.

The Holy Grail after that disappears from history until 1910 when there was found in the ruins of a church at Antioch, a cup, containing an inner cup, that is thought by able scholars to be the Holy Grail. The inner cup is plain silver, however its container, the outer cup, is exquisitely carved silver with the figures of Christ and His disciples at the "Last Supper". The outer cup was obviously made to hold the inner cup, as a sacred, precious object older than itself. The artistic style and workmanship is considered to be of first century date.

The Holy Grail, now called "The Chalice of Antioch", eventually came into the possession of the Cloister's Museum in New York City and is privately owned today by the Metropolitan Museum, New York.

from: "The British Chronicles" by David Hughes - Heritage Books 2007

It was put on display with a certain amount of fanfare in the Hall of Religion at the Chicago World's Fair of 1933-34. Gustavus Eisen, a colourful but respected antiquary had hinted strongly that it was the Holy Grail, and the owners, again a respected family of antiquity dealers, did nothing to discourage the interest which such a suggestion provoked. It is now on display among the Byzantine artefacts in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The journalist and novelist, Thomas Costain used it as the model for his historical novel, The Silver Chalice, in the 1950s. In the novel, Joseph of Arimathea commissioned a young pagan silversmith to provide a silver chalice to house the cup used at the Last Supper. In the course of his work the young craftsman seeks out the followers of Christ in order to sculpt their likenesses for the chalice. Naturally, he finds both adventure and romance with a beautiful Christian girl and becomes a convert to the new faith. Juliette Wood - Cardiff University

Ellen Hayward - Witch or Herbalist? The last woman to be charged with witchcraft in Gloucestershire

Parliamentary Questions

MR. MACVEAGH (Down, S.) I beg to ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether his attention has been called to the practice of witchcraft at May Hill and other parts of Gloucester; whether he is aware that, in the case of a family named Markey, four members last week lost their reason and one attempted to commit suicide at a place called Blakeley, as a result of these practices; and whether, in view of the alarm in the locality, he can state what action will be taken by the authorities to suppress witchcraft. 

MR. AKERS-DOUGLAS I have made inquiry into this very curious case. I find that Markey and his wife consulted a supposed witch about some money which they believed to have been stolen, and that subsequently three members of the family became insane, while the wife left the house and remained concealed in a wood for nearly four days. If sufficient evidence is forthcoming to justify a prosecution, proceedings will be taken by the local police against the woman who was consulted. Hansard : 31st May 1905

She was known throughout the Forest as Old Ellen, and famed as a healer and "wise woman"

Ellen Hayward was born at Arlingham, a village across the River Severn and opposite Newnham, in 1839, the daughter of Charles and Mary Ann Hayward. Her home was at Pembroke Road, Cinderford.

Ellen Hayward at Littledean

As a herbalist she used potions to cure ailments and dress sores of both animals and human beings. Her herbs were gathered by moonlight and dried across the rafters in her cottage. She would cure forestry men, whose only protection against the elements was often only a sack split open and tied round them, of their chronic rheumatism. Farmers from Hereford used to ride over in their gigs seeking her help.

She was known to treat free of charge servant girls from Cheltenham, who suffered from housemaid's knee after washing stone corridors every day, free of charge. She normally charged no fees for her help and advice but simply accepted what her customers offered her. She also called herself a phrenologist. Phrenology is the science which studies the relationship between a person's character and the morphology of their skull. She appears to have been liked and respected by Forest of Dean residents. When sent for to treat a woman with a serious varicose ulcer in Mitcheldean her first action when entering the bedroom was to throw open the window and instruct the patient to keep it open. She cured the ulcer but would not let any man see what she was doing.

She had come to national attention in May 1905. Ellen was at that time visited by John Markey of May Hill who was worried that £50 had disappeared from a drawer in his house. Ellen advised him to go home and rest as she felt that he was unwell.

Within a week of this visit, three members of the Markey family had become violently insane. A daughter and granddaughter had to be taken to an asylum and his wife disappeared. After days of searching, she simply reappeared holding a hazel stick which, she claimed, was to protect against witches. Her son George, who had been involved in the search for his mother, then became violent and managed to impale his eye with a spike. After this 'bootless and hatless' he ran away and had to be detained by the police. He was later certified as insane.

Littledean Prison, Forest of Dean

In the villages of May Hill and Huntley people started carrying hazel sticks around as tales of what had happened to the Markey's spread. The newspapers got hold of the story which then spread nationally. Questions were even asked in Parliament as to what action the authorities were going to take to suppress witchcraft. In the midst of all this furor a letter was published in the Dean Forest Mercury in which Ellen denied pretending to be a witch but accepted that she was well known as a phrenologist. This letter, written either by Ellen herself or, more likely, on her behalf went on to explain that this "cruel attack" by the papers had left her unable to make a living and asked readers to send donations. The house in which the Markeys lived, now called 'Counties View', still stands in Folly lane.

In May 1906 Ellen Hayward (67) was summoned at Littledean Petty Sessions, Forest of Dean, for using, between November 21, 1905, and March 1, 1906, "certain craft, or means, or device, to wit, by pretending witchcraft, to deceive or impose upon one of his Majesty's subjects, to wit, James Davis."  

The prosecutor was Sergeant William Packer of Cinderford police. Our photo below shows him after his promotion to Inspector in 1909. The son of a farm labourer, he was born at Southrop,Gloucestershire in 1860. He joined the Gloucestershire constabulary in 1878 and after serving as a sergeant at Painswick and Stroud was posted to Cinderford around 1903. Inspector Packer retired in 1919 after serving for 41 years. He died in 1929 and was buried at Cinderford's St. John's Churchyard, the same cemetery as Ellen Hayward.

Since 1854, Littledean gaol had been used as a police station and remand prison. In 1874 the east wing was remodelled as the Forest's petty sessional court.

The Dean Forest Guardian reported on May 21st 1906 - "The old lady, attired in black, with a big warm muffler round her neck, and carrying a large handbag, was accommodated with a seat. She pleaded not guilty."

James Davis, a 66 year old hurdle (fence) maker from Pauntley, Redmarley, had purchased a store pig at Newent Market for two guineas in September 1905. It was delivered to him on Gloucester's Barton Fair day. The pig was OK for three weeks and then was taken ill. He felt that someone had a spite against him, suspecting a neighbour, Mrs Amos, of putting a charm on it. He had not seen her on his premises or spoken to her for ten years but thought she was often around there. Davis had two store pigs suffer in a similar way a year earlier and also two cows had been sick.

He somehow came into contact with a 'travelling woman' who informed him that the animals were being charmed and it was indeed a woman named Amos who was responsible.He explained to the court that having heard about Ellen Hayward's experience at May Hill he asked his sisterHannah Elton to write to her enclosing a postal order for two shillings and sixpence and explaining his problem. Pembroke Street, Cinderford

Before receiving an answer and still quite distressed, he decided to visit Ellen at Cinderford. He explained his concern and asked her to fix the pig's problem. He related that she told him he must wait till the moon changes; "the pig will come alright soon". He then paid her five shillings and she said that would do very well, and then gave him some further advice which resulted in the pig recovering.

Unfortunately at the end of November the animal had a relapse. He again sent a letter, written by his sister, to Cinderford enclosing a postal order for ten shillings. He received a written acknowledgement.

In December he himself became seriously ill so he went again to Cinderford and told Ellen Hayward his symptoms and asked her to put him right. He handed her a gold sovereign but she said that was too much. He then said "Be you satisfied? I want you to put me right - I dont want to have to come to you any more. She replied " Its influenza. Dont come again till February."

At the end of February he returned to Cinderford. Mrs Hayward asked him "How be you?" He then asked her to remove the charm affecting him and if she did'nt take it off soon he would 'put it in the Government's hands' and in the end, that was what he did.

James Davis made a report to the police and Sgt William Packer from Cinderford interviewed him on the 7th of May 1906.

In her own statement, made the next day, Ellen Hayward explained that she was a herbalist by profession and had nothing to do with witchcraft or palmistry. She remembered Davis coming to her house and complaining of what the keeper had done to him. She told him that neither the keeper, nor her, nor anyone could do him harm in that way. They had no such power. She acknowledged receiving the money, which was very helpful to her, and had written a letter sending her best love to Mrs Elton. Ellen said that she had advised them to keep very quiet and not to let anyone know how the pigs were.

At the end of the hearing, the court retired. On their return, the magistrates, who had received thirty letters in support of Ellen Hayward, dismissed the charges.

Ellen Hayward described as a "widow and herbalist" died of a stroke in September 1912 and was buried at St. John's Church, Cinderford. Her grave carries the inscription "erected by her friends in loving memory."

In 1991 I interviewed in Cinderford a Mrs Lily Mills who had been treated as a small child by Mrs Hayward. She had no recollection of the encounter herself but had been told of it by parents. Mrs Hayward, no doubt embittered by the court case, had greeted them at her door by saying: 'Oh, you be come to th' old witch, are you?' She was wrinkled and bent. Chickens roamed freely round her living room. Little Lily's parents had taken her because doctors said her leg would have to be amputated. Mrs Hayward supplied a homemade salve which did 'the world of good', and Lily still had her legs almost eighty years afterwards. The Folklore of Gloucestershire by Roy Palmer. (A highly recommended read)

See newspaper article  (Heading - Ellen Hayward charged with witchcraft)



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