Witchcraft In England (Newspaper Letters)
11th February, 1960
Letters by Eric Maple and H. E. Priestly.Sir, - Recently, while investigating the legends of Carewdon (sic), Essex (still known as “the Witch County”) I met an old lady of eighty-six who had lived in the village as a girl.
She told me that at the age of fourteen she had been present at a ritual in her own home, at which several old women tried to destroy the power of another whom they regarded as a witch. They sat in a darkened room and burned nail parings and human hair upon the fire.
Does anyone know of a later instance of such a ceremony.
James “Cunning” Murrell
“Cunning” Murrell appears in the Census of 1841, as a shoemaker, aged 51. If this is the case, he was born about 1790, but this is not certain as in the early censuses people were never very particular to a year or two when giving their ages.
Also in the census return, living at the same house were “Elizer,” ages 20; Matilda, 18; Edward, 11, and Eleanor, aged four. There is no mention of his wife.
Your correspondent Mr. Eric Maple will find the place of Murrell's origin if he consults the census returns for 1851 at the Public Records Office, for in that census everybody's place of origin is entered. If Murrell told the truth for that record, it should then be possible to go to the Registers in the parish of his birth and find out more about him. The 1851 census would also give further particulars about his family.
In the Award to the Hadleigh Tithe Map of 1846 Murrell is entered as the occupier of a house in a street on the south side of the old Hadleigh High Street, belonging to James Tyrrell. Both the Tithe Map for Hadleigh and the award may be consulted at the Essex County Record Office, County Hall, Chelmsford. - H.E Priestley, the Benfleet and District Historical Society.
Thank you for publishing my recent letter in which I asked for information regarding “Cunning Murrell.” The replies have been most informative and useful.
May I tresspass upon your kindness once again. I am collecting the folk-lore of South Essex before the old legends are forgotten.
Can any of your readers assist me with stories about the Canewdon witches and Witch Hart of Latchingdon?