A Sad Tale Indeed

Poor old Ruth Osborne, or Mother Osborne as as she was popularly known and her husband John had fallen on hard times during the Jacobite Revolution of 1745.  Mother Osborne resorted to begging for food and one day visited a farmer named Butterfield who had a dairy in Gubblecote near Tring.  She begged him for some buttermilk but he harshly refused her and she walked away muttering about getting what he deserved.

Unfortunately it seems he did!  Over the next year or so a number of his calves fell ill, he suffered epileptic fits  (an exisiting condition doctors couldn’t help) and finally he closed his farm and became a publican in the same village.  The same today as it has always been, the publican and his patrons put the world to rights over a pint and they concluded that he had been the victim of witchcraft.  They, in their wisdom, suggested he consult a “cunning woman” or white witch and so an old woman was summoned from Northampton who wisely agreed that the couple in their seventies had indeed cursed them.  She suggested 6 men stood guard with pitchforks and staves to protect him from evil while wearing charms around their necks to protect them from being bewitched themselves. Unsurprisingly it didn’t help his symptoms.

A few locals with money in mind set the town criers of Winslow, Hemel Hempstead and Leighton to proclaim that witches were to be tried by ducking at at Longmarston on 22 April 1751.  The announcement drew in a large mob on the day and after threatening the workhouse and searching the premises (including the salt box in case she had transformed herself into some small form), when they couldn’t be found they set about breaking the windows and general vandalism until finally setting upon the Governor, they threatened to drown him and clutching straw also threatened to burn down the town unless their location was revealed. In fear of their lives parish officers finally gave up the couple.

The elderly pair were stripped naked, arms and legs crossed, their thumbs were tied to their toes and each of them wrapped losely in sheets were dragged two miles and dumped into a muddy pond.  Seeing that Mother Osborne didn’t sink a ringleader of the mob, chimney sweep, Tom Colley jumped in the water, turned her over and prodded her with a stick.  Slipping out of the sheet, naked and choking on water and mud she was hauled onto the bank of the pond where she was brutally beaten until dead.  Her lifeless body was tied to her husband who was believed to have died from his injuries but later was found to have survived but never well enough to give testimony.  Colley walked amongst the crowd collecting payment for the entertainment they had provided.

A sad tale indeed.

Tom Colley was the only one brought to justice.  The authorities wanted to make an example to stamp out the mob behaviour and superstition put him to trial and the jury found him guilty of murder.  He was executed on the morning of 24th August 1751 at Gubblecut Cross in Tring, and afterwards hanged in chains on the same gallows.  Despite the attraction that an execution would bring many muttered and turned away in outrage that a decent man had been executed for destroying an old wicked woman.

Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org The drowning of an alleged witch (Ruth Osborne), with Thomas Colley as the incitor. The remarkable confession and last dying words of Thomas Colley.

























About Witchcraft Laws

Evil spirits
During the 16th century, many people believed that witchcraft, rather than the workings of God’s will, offered a more convincing explanation of sudden and unexpected ill-fortune, such as the death of a child, bad harvests, or the death of cattle. Witch-hunting became an obsession in some parts of the country.

Witchcraft Act
In 1542 Parliament passed the Witchcraft Act which defined witchcraft as a crime punishable by death. It was repealed five years later, but restored by a new Act in 1562.

A further law was passed in 1604 during the reign of James I who took a keen interest in demonology and even published a book on it. The 1562 and 1604 Acts transferred the trial of witches from the Church to the ordinary courts.

Formal accusations against witches – who were usually poor, elderly women – reached a peak in the late 16th century, particularly in south-east England.

513 witches were put on trial there between 1560 and 1700, though only 112 were executed. The last known execution took place in Devon in 1685.

The last trials were held in Leicester in 1717. Overall, some 500 people in England are believed to have been executed for witchcraft.

Magical powers
In 1736 Parliament passed an Act repealing the laws against witchcraft, but imposing fines or imprisonment on people who claimed to be able to use magical powers.

Read the full article at: https://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/transformingsociety/private-lives/religion/overview/witchcraft/