Category Archives: Bideford

DARK HISTORY: THE WITCHES OF BIDEFORD

Bideford  has one claim to fame that some may find discomforting, namely that it was the last place in England where the hanging of witches took place. This happened in August 1682, when three women went to the gallows after being found guilty of witchcraft. 

WitchplaqueTemperance Lloyd, 

Mary Trembles,  

and Susanna Edwards 

were put to death on the strength 

of little more than gossip. 

Their execution highlighting a tragic period in the countries history. It was a time when women who lived on their own, or were old and perhaps a little eccentric, were vulnerable. It was a time when an insect bite could be taken as a mark of the devil and where a cat or magpie seen at someone’s house would be taken as the sign of the diabolical at work.

From the late 15th Century through to the mid eighteenth century, 200,000 people were put to death across Europe on the grounds of witchcraft. 

Witch-hunting in England saw about 500 people put to death and reached it’s heights in the 1640s with figures such as Matthew Hopkins gained national notoriety.  He claimed to hold the office of Witch Finder General, though no such title was ever bestowed by Parliament. 

For anyone familiar with Arthur Miller’s ‘The Crucible’, the way innocent people could be branded by others during the witchcraft craze is clear.  But by the late seventeenth century, that craze had faded in England and most trials ended in acquittal, which made the Bideford Trials all the more unusual in that they ended in execution.

The misfortunes of those three women from Bideford began in July 1682, when one of the town’s shopkeeper’s, Thomas Eastchurch, reported to some of the town’s constables that Temperance Lloyd had been practising witchcraft. Temperance was subsequently arrested and locked up in an old chapel before being taken before the justices to answer for her crimes.

The actual charges she faced were listed as ‘suspicion of having used some magical art, sorcery or witchcraft upon the body of Grace Thomas, and to have had discourse or familiarity with the devil in the likeness or shape of a black man.’  The evidence against Temperance was thin in the extreme. For example, Grace Thomas was convinced that Lloyd was responsible for her illness simply because she had been so relieved when Thomas had regained her health. 

Other ‘evidence’ included that fact that a magpie had flown to Thomas’s window. The evidence may have been thin, but when Lloyd was questioned by the justices on July 3rd, she confessed to the charges and effectively sealed her fate. She stated that she had in fact killed three people and blinded another. 

The case against the other two women, Mary Trembles and Susanna Edwards, was triggered after a local women, Grace Barnes, blamed Trembles for her illness. She was subsequently arrested, as was Edwards, who had been begging for food along with Trembles. 

Once again the evidence against the two women was little more than gossip, over-heard conversations and marks on their bodies. But once again the women did not put up a strong defence of themselves. Trembles blamed Edwards for luring her into witchcraft and eventually Lloyd was drawn into the case, being blamed by Edwards. Public opinion at the time also saw Lloyd as the one who had effectively debauched the other two. 

The actual trial of the three women took place in Exeter on 19th August 1682, with the dubious evidence arrayed against the women. That evidence may have been limited, but hysteria of the times gave it added credence and the women’s appointment with the hangman was ensured when they readily admitted their own guilt.

The executions took place on 25th August at Heavitree, which is just outside Exeter.

It was a public event, with children sitting on the shoulder of their parents to get a better view and clergyman loudly berating the women for their crimes. The gravity of their situation must have suddenly hit home to the women, as they stated their innocence and denied the charges against them. But it was too late and their sentence was carried out. 

Temperance Lloyd was the last to be executed. The Sherif asked whether she believed in Jesus Christ and Lloyd replied: “Yes, and I pray Jesus Christ to pardon my sins.” And then the noose was placed around her neck and she left this world, taking with her the reasons why she had confessed to a crime she could not possibly have committed. 

Why did  women not declare their innocence before and why had they so readily admitted to their crimes in the first place? Were they incapable of grasping what was happening, did they revel in their notoriety, or were they simply unable to deal rationally with the irrational situation they had to deal with? 

The witch-trial period was a dark chapter in our history. It was a time when women, and it was overwhelmingly women, could face the death penalty for being different, old, foolish or eccentric. It was a time when the power of gossip, hearsay and jealousy could be enough to leave you facing the death penalty.  

A plaque commemorating the deaths of the three women can be viewed on the wall of Rougemont Castle in Exeter.

The Charms of the North Devon Coast – 1921

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Harold tells of the charm and beauty of Lynton and Lynmouth, Clovelly, Ilfracombe, Bideford and Westward Ho a region which has been called “The Switzerland of England,” and is at present attracting large numbers of visitors. Lynton and Lynmouth and that section of the north coast of Devon have frequently been called the “Switzerland of England.” The Exmoor hills, the steep cliffs, the massive and jagged rocks, hills and vales, streams and brooklets, and the villages and resorts nestling amid crags and verdure- clothed slopes, bespeak the charms of the Alpine land across the Channel. Lynton is perched upon the rocks some hundreds of feet above the sea. You can reach it by means of a remarkable cliff railway from Lynmouth, or climb the zigzag path that winds its way up slopes and crags, passing a picturesque house here and there, till it gains a shelf about large enough for it to expand into a straggling street like an Alpine village. Lynmouth, on the other hand, nestles in a valley at its feet. If it is not as deep as most Swiss valleys are, the effect is similar. In one respect Lynmouth and this applies to other North Devonshire resorts has an advantage over most Swiss villages, for there is a much brighter glow of colour over everything. The red sandstone crops out everywhere along the great stretches of cliff on either side, the newly turned soil is deep red instead of brown and black, the crimson heath outvies the paler ling on the moors, the bracken begins to assume in early June the glorious hues associated with the late autumn in our northern regions, the stone walls and banks are thickly draped from top to bottom with that most beautiful of all flowering trailers, the ivy-leaf toad-flox, rarely found even in Derbyshire, and from walls and rocks and garden hedges alike spring giant clusters of red, pink and white valerian. The evening prim rose is a comparative rarity in northern gardens in Devonshire its large flowers give a golden glow to the hedges and sweet scent to many of the field paths. The white and pink foxgloves flourish equally with the common red, and there are places where even Canterbury bells and sweet-williams rear their flowers in wild luxuriance over the waving grasses.

From Lynton the great moorland rolls away westward towards Ilfracombe; it is for the most part now furrowed by the plough, fenced by hedge or bank, and forest no longer, though here and there tracts still remain open upon the uplands. R. D. Blackmore’s Lorna Doone has made this part of North Devon famous no one who has read that enchanting romance should fail to visit Bredon, within walking distance of Lynton, where the remains of the houses of the Doones may still be seen. Ilfracombe, the best known of the North Devon resorts, has been aggrandised and modernised. It is built on the slopes of the hills over looking the water, to which many of the shorter streets descend very steeply. The coast line is very rocky, there being no stretches of sandy beach beneath the cliffs. Yet Ilfracombe can boast of what is described as the largest covered swimming-bath in England, as well as a great rock-guarded pool for ladies, access to which is gained from the promenade gardens by tunnels. In one of the caves hard by, according to tradition, Sir William Tracy, one of the murderers of Archbishop Becket, concealed himself for a fortnight, before he made his escape from England.

A mile due west from here is Morthoe Point, a crawling, rocky promontory from which there is a fine view. Journeying along the rock-bound coast we come to the little white town of Bideford, made famous by Kingsley. On the very first page of Westward Ho he gives us a charming picture of the town, standing at the mouth of a river, enclosed with hills and knolls beneath a soft Italian sky, fanned day and night by the fresh ocean breeze, which forbids alike the keen winter frosts and the fierce thunder heats of the Midland.” It is an interesting circumstance that these words were actually written in Bideford, and the Royal Hotel contains a hand some apartment that is pointed out as Kingsley’s room.

Three miles from Bideford is the popular resort of Westward Ho, which, of course, takes its name from Kingsley’s famous work. Unlike the other North Devon coast towns it has a fine stretch of smooth sand, two miles in length, and of considerable width at low tide. The United Service College, where Rudyard Kipling was educated, and which he celebrates in Stalky Co.” is situated here. The coast in both directions comprises some of the very finest scenery in North Devon.

Thirteen miles away is Clovelly, the most beautiful village in all Britain.” Hung, as it were, in a narrow and umbrageous combe, it consists of one street running down to the sea. The cliff is so steep that the road is made like a staircase, paved with round stones or cobbles.” With their white walls, unequal levels, and hetero generous shapes, the houses are decidedly quaint. The picturesque balconies, gables, bay windows, relieved here and there by climbing fuchsias and wisteria make up one of the strangest and prettiest pictures imaginable.