27th May Somerset Witches by Andrew Pickering

The fascinating story of one of England’s darketst periods which includes the trials for witchcraft in this area.  Our speaker is Andrew Pickering, Senior lecturer in History and Archaeology at Strode College and Programme Manager for local University of Plymouth students reading History and Archaeology. Together with David Pickering he has just completed a book, Witch-Hunting in England.

With its local focus and relevance to students likely to go on to Strode College this should be a lecture that will attract a lot of interest.

27th May, Friday in the Balsam Centre 7.30 pm. £6 for adults  – special rate to be decided for school students, refreshments included.

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Andrew Pickering’s Talk
Tue May 31, 2011, 19:25:57

Andrew Pickering, together with his brother, is author of Somerset Witches, the result of his researches on the subject. As Senior Lecturere in History at Strode College he often finds himself teaching students from KA who have gone on to study History at A or AS levels or to begin a university course. After hearing his presentation I think they are really lucky to have a historian of such distinction and a teacher of such enthusiasm for we all saw he is someone who can really bring his subject to life and yet does it without oversimplifying or giving easy answers.Andrew started by reading excerpts from the account written by Joseph Glanville in 1670 of the terrible story of Jane Brooks of Shepton Mallet. This very ordinary village woman on the evidence of a young boy was accused of witchcraft and finally hanged in 1657. It was a horrible story for from our modern perspective the case against her sounds unbelievably thin and speculative and those concerned frighteningly gullible. The poor woman had done no more than stroke the boy’s arm and give him an apple. The point Andrew made initially, with his dramatic reading, was that it is very difficult indeed for us to get inside the heads of people living in the seventeenth century for then acceptance of the supernatural and of magic and witchcraft as real phenomena was not only part of the mindset of ordinary working people of little or no education, but also of the educated gentry and in the case of Joseph Glanville, someone who was a member of the Royal Society and regarded as a serious scientist.

Andrew went on to tell us how in England between 1562 and 1685 between 500 and 1000 women were executed for witchcraft. These numbers were small compared to the executions carried out in Europe, particularly in Bavaria, Franconia and Alsace-Lorraine.
While there was never a case of a witch being accused in Wincanton, both Stoke Trister and Brewham produced cases.

Overwhelmingly it was women who were picked on, usually old maids or widows, some with odd habits or as we would say “Mental Health issues.” Others could find themselves picked on by family enemies or people who might have an eye on their homes or their land. The move from Catholicism to Protestantism also made many people uncertain and fearful. Add to this the massacre and mayhem suffered across the country by the Civil War which raged between 1642 and 1648.

Andrew brought the whole period vividly to life and his talk stimulated the large and attentive audience to ask a good number of interesting questions. In all it was an excellent evening.

John Baxter

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