There are many stories which circulate the UK about historic witches who could perform magic, cast spells and create potions. Yorkshire has a rich past of tales about a few certain witches who forever carved their names in the history books.
Two of these go by the name of Mary and one is the well known Mother Shipton, whose cave is frequently visited by those who visit Knaresborough.
Although they became notoriously known in their time, their past lives and actions are not known by all, but their names, history and the influence they have had on the present day continue to prosper throughout time.
Mary Bateman- The ‘Yorkshire Witch’
Mary Bateman’s name is forever tied to the region, as she is more commonly known as the ‘Yorkshire Witch’. Two hundred years ago, Mary Bateman was found guilty and convicted of witchcraft and criminal activity, which subsequently saw her executed for her crimes.
Her tale is one of notoriety, as for over a period of 20 years, from the late 1700s to early 1800s, she murdered, poisoned and stole from a host of victims.
It is said that she gained control over her victims by sending them into trances and that she once roamed the streets of Leeds after a major fire begging for money and goods for victims, but that she kept all of this for herself.
Her husband left her to join the army after he became tired of her tricks, which left her even more free to continue on her path of deceit. Mary’s cleverly adapted demeanour and speech enticed her soon-to-be victims to call on her, only for them to be duped by her cruel schemes.
She became known throughout Leeds as a fortune teller who could ward off evil spirits, and managed to escape prosecution by constantly moving from place to place.
It was this untruth which became the start of Mary’s downfall came, as a woman named Rebecca Perigio believed she was possessed by the devil and called on Mary her to help. Bateman told Rebecca she would sew four guinea notes into her bed and money and gifts were then given to her in order to replace this.
Suspicions about Mary began to rise so she started to feed Rebecca and her husband William pudding laced with poison, which subsequently caused Rebecca to die in agony.
William then discovered that the guineas were in fact cabbage leaves and arranged the arrest of Bateman.
Her trial for the murder of Rebecca was a national sensation and she was found guilty and hanged at York Castle in March 17, 1809.
Thousands of people attended her execution, some of which then payed to see her corpse and bought cured cuts of her skin as charms.
Her skeleton is now on loan to the Thackray Medical Museum from Leeds University Medical School ,which attracts great interest and is one of their most iconic pieces.
Another witch who went by the name of Mary, was that of Mary Pannal. She is known to have lived in a small hut in Ledston, West Yorkshire, where she is said to have mixed enchantments and frequently had encounters with evil spirits.
Other rumours say that she was merely a herbalist, but when she gave a mixture to a young child named William Esquire of Ledston Hall in 1593, and he subsequently died, she was strongly accused of witchcraft.
Although some now believe that this Mary created this mixture, which was meant to revive him from his illness, to be rubbed on the child’s chest, but which the mother gave him to drink, causing the child to die.
However, the production of this medicine and the child’s subsequent death confirmed for many that Mary was in fact a witch, a punishable crime which led to death.
The exact details of Mary’s death in 1603 varies widely. Some believe she was hanged at York after her trial, whereas some say she was burned alive in woods just outside of Castleford.
For those who say she was burnt to death, it is said that she was the last ever witch in Britain to be burned for the involvement in witchcraft.
Many now believe that she haunts the woods which bear her name, Pannal Hill, located on the edge of Castleford.
Rumour has it that if you see her ghost, which will be leading a horse, whilst in the woods, somebody close to you will then die.
The life and death of this Yorkshire Witch will continue to be a legacy, as she is eternally tied to the West Yorkshire woods where she is believed to have died, and which she will forever haunt until the end of time.
Mother Shipton, also known as Ursula Southeil, is believed to have been an English soothsayer and prophetess. She lived from the year 1488-1561, and it is said that she was born in Knaresborough, Yorkshire, in a cave now widely known as Mother Shipton's Cave.
The tale of Mother Shipton is that she foretold the fates of several rulers within her lifetime, predicted the invention of iron ships, the Great Fire of London in 1666 and even the defeat of the Spanish Armada. It is also believed that she predicted the end of the world, but this is also widely predicted.
Ursula was odd in nature and her nose is believed to have been large and crooked, with a bent back and twisted legs. This is where she got her reputation as a witch. Taunted and teased by locals she began to stay away from others and spent most of her days in and around the cave in which she was born. She began to learn about the forest and its flowers and herbs, subsequently making potions with them.
At the age of twenty-four she met a man who went by the name of Tobias Shipton and although he died a few years later, Ursula kept his name.
Ursula became known as Knaresborough’s Prophetess, the town’s very own witch. She made her living by telling the future and warning those who asked of what was to come, but her livelihood wasn’t viewed negatively and she did not meet an untimely and punishable end like Mary Bateman and Mary Pannal. Ursula died after a very long life in 1561, aged 73, and her legacy as an old woman is how she came to acquire the name ‘mother’ as the prefix to her surname.
Her life continues to be celebrated and relayed today with the Mother Shipton Cave in Knaresborough being a place for visitors to explore and learn more about the renowned Ursula Southeil.
All three of these witches give a rich and varied insight into Yorkshire’s past, the three all being unique in nature, with different stories to tell. Their differing, yet intriguing legacies continue to thrive and be passed on in the present day.