It was cold on the hands today.

Somewhere I have a book detailing interesting graves in Lancashire, Who Lies Beneath?  I can’t find it at the moment. But I remember visiting Woodplumpton a couple of years ago when I was taking my late friend with advanced Alzheimer Disease for a ride out and a lunch in the splendid Wheatsheaf Inn. After lunch of fish and chips, her favourite, we crossed the road to have a look at St. Anne’s Church. I always wanted to return to search for a curiosity in the graveyard. On a ride some weeks ago, the road to Woodplumpton was closed due to the substantial work on Preston’s Western Relief road. I intended to make amends today and cycle in from a different direction.

I’d come through Inglewhite, Bilsborrow and Cuddy Hill.  After the motorway and A6 it is all fairly flat with a maze of lanes, many seemingly going nowhere. A sort of no man’s land between the motorway and the Fylde. I crossed the Lancaster Canal a couple of times and passed the Plough At Eaves, a pub we used to visit when working in Preston, but that was years ago. The pub is one of the oldest in Lancashire, dating back to 1625. In former times it was variously known as the Plough at Cuddy Hill, the Cuddy Pub and more unusually the Cheadle Plough Inn. It has recently been refurbished, so I wonder what they have done to the cosy inside.

Once in the straggling village of Woodplumpton, I ignored The Wheatsheaf and headed straight to the Medieval church on the other side of the road. Outside the church’s Lychgate were the ancient stocks and mounting block. I found the squat sandstone church open, it was a Sunday, and was impressed with the stained-glass. Those well known Lancaster architects Austin and Paley were responsible for renovations at the beginning of the C20th.

But my main search was outside in the churchyard for the burial place of an alleged witch, a local 17th-century woman named Meg Shelton, also known as the Singleton Witch or the Fylde Hag.

According to legend, she was feared by the local community and tales grew up of her changing shape and form to steal food and create mischief. She died in 1705, crushed between a barrel and a wall. Apparently it was thought that she miraculously escaped from two graves and was then buried head first in a narrow slot, a boulder placed on top of her to prevent further escape. The disturbance of the first two graves could have been caused by vandalism towards her.

I soon found the boulder in the rows of conventional headstones. It was about a metre across and looked a hefty barrier even for a witch. A little brass plaque identified it and there were remains of some flowers placed alongside. I found it strange that she had been buried in consecrated ground, though there was a rumour that she was a mistress to the local lord, who might have arranged her burial.

She died a century after the infamous Pendle Witches, but her kind were still feared by the community. Did she practice the dark arts, using herbal remedies and so-called spells?  Thus earning herself a reputation and being blamed for calamities in the general run of life by the more suspicious locals. Had she been mentally ill, frightening others and becoming marginalised? Or was she just the area’s criminal?  It would be hoped that people’s illnesses or differences would not be victimised in the same manner four centuries later. Perhaps that bunch of flowers shows some understanding.

Whatever the truth in Woodplumpton, there was certainly a bewitching sunset back in Longridge.

9 thoughts on “A RURAL RIDE TO FIND A WITCH.

  1. Michael Graeme

    There must be something in the air. I’ve been re-reading stuff on the Pendle witches, and Alice Nutter was also buried in consecrated ground.

    1. bowlandclimber Post author

      Yes, she was buried in Newchurch. That was in the family grave, so perhaps an exception was made for that.
      When we followed the Lancashire Witches Walk, the church at Newchurch was visited, but somehow we missed the Nutters grave.

  2. conradwalks.blogspot.com

    I think your lost guide would be invaluable. Even if you know there is an interesting burial in a certain churchyard it is not an easy job to track down the grave amongst the many most with faded inscriptions and the like.

  3. sylvanoak

    Gorgeous photos and fascinating bit of history about this poor lady. The facts usually were that most of these women accused of witchcraft, either were skilled at herbal remedies so locals sought them out for healing , but if anything should go amiss,the fingers were inevitably pointed at them. Mostly widowed or unmarried , often elder women who lived on the edge of a village or outside the village apart from the other villagers . Being that everyone would have been brimming over with superstition anyway, it would not take much for these lone, possibly unusual in some way , sometimes mentally ill women, to be the scapegoat for anything that went wrong. There are very few cases where women like these with herbal knowledge etc ever did any active harm to anyone . I think in some ways the response by humans in general terms is still much the same re: if you are different in obvious ways from the herd , you will be the brunt of jokes, misunderstanding , bullying or cruelty. Plenty of people are very intolerant of anyone who thinks, acts or look different than the majority. I know we have moved past thankfully,some of our prejudices and ignorance but think in some ways , it is still alive and thriving . Wonderful post.

    1. bowlandclimber Post author

      I agree, there is still a lot of prejudice about. Disabilities, mental illness, race, LGBT, race, immigrants, refugees. The list goes on.
      The world will never be perfect.

      1. sylvanoak

        Indeed. Happily though we no longer seek out innocent women to torture and burn! I always think that many humans are a hair’s breadth away from crossing over from civilised to uncivilised. Fortunately most people seem more civil than not. Always enjoy your posts although I have not commented for some time. My email was marking them as spam ! I do however see most of them now. Can’t believe how many yrs I have been following your lovely blog! Hope all is well with you and yours.

  4. Pingback: A SECRET SANTA. | bowlandclimber

Leave a Reply