A Case of Nineteenth-Century Witchcraft at Easthorpe

In Essex Countryside Magazine,

Issue 115, August 1966

By G.W Martin

The peace of the small village of Easthorpe was shattered during the summer of 1858 by rumours of witchcraft, and some amazing scenes took place that were reminiscent of the seventeeth-century witch-hunters.

It appears that one Emma Brazier, ages twenty-two, the daughter of a labourer living in the village, started the commotion. Shouting around the village and using the most abusive language, she maintained that she had been bewitched by a Mrs. Mole, aged seventy-five, the wife of a labouring man – both very highly respected villagers.

Mrs. Mole was also accused by the Braziers of working marvellous spells upon their livestock, such as causing one of their pigs to climb a cherry tree and help itself to the fruit from the topmost branches.

To counter the so-called witch, the Brazier family called in the services of a “cunning man” named Burrell who lived in the neighbouring village of Copford. This man, nicknamed “the wizard of the north,” used all his skills in an attempt to break the spells but had to give up – owing, he said, to the peculiar character of the case!

There was, however, one more hope – the famous “Cunning Murrell,” of Hadleigh, and no time was lost in paying him a visit. He undertook to effect a cure. First a bottle of medicine was procured (for which he charged three shillings and a sixpence) and then he promised to come to Easthorpe and visit the “old witch,” Mrs. Mole, to put an end to her subtle arts.

All this rumpus went on during the absence of the rector, and he returned to find the village seething with stories of witchcraft, witch-doctors and the like. His first action was to visit the chief parties concerned, and he came to the conclusion that Emma Brazier was insane, and at once commenced negotiations for her admittance into the union house.

All went well and the necessary papers were procured, but the village overseers refused to act on them until Murrell had been to see, and perhaps cure, the girl. They expected would work out satisfactorily. All that the rector could do was to approach the magistrates for advice and get a promise that the police would keep an eye on the village – particularly for the protection of Mrs. Mole.

Meanwhile the news of the expected arrival of Murrell spread over a wide area, and at the appointed hour of his arrival 200 people had gathered near the old lady's cottage. Drunkenness and riotous behaviour were characteristics of the meeting, and the rector was obliged to stand guard at the cottage door.

At first the police did nothing, but later – presumably as things worsened – the stepped in and broke up the crowd. Emma Brazier was soon apprehended by the police for threatening the life of Mrs. Mole, and she was bound to keep the peace.

This, however was not the end, for rumours began to spread around Easthorpe that the rector himself was a believer in witchcraft. This rumour was started by the fact that eleven clergymen came to the rector's house and he himself made twelve, and it was soon to be “a well-known truth that the twelve clergymen can unbewitch a person.”

The rector was led to defend himself by writing to the county papers to explain that the gathering at his house was purely a clerical meeting arranged some time previously, and proclaim his anhorrence of the practice of witchcraft in any form. But the peaceful life of Easthorpe was shattered and no doubt it took many long months to return to normal.

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