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Ruth Marshman (1808-1878) the witch of Shepton Mallet, Somerset, England

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Ruth Marshman (1808-1878) the witch of Shepton Mallet, Somerset, England





Just finished the research article on Ruth Marshman and posted it on the website.






Some of you may have seen some parts of the following already on my facebook page.




I will post here the two newspaper article that described her dealings as a witch and charmer.




~ November 1856


Ruth Mashman, a reputed witch, was charged and convicted of extorting money and she was committed to the Shepton-Mallet house of correction for six weeks.


This case described some of the items that were part of her witchcraft.  Such as the enchanted box, when opened the devil's portrait, by Mashman, in colours, was found inside, together with a verse of scripture written backwards, and some toads' legs.



From the newspaper, Sheffield Daily Telegraph - Saturday 08 November 1856:




A woman named Bathe preferred a charge against Ruth Mashman, a reputed witch, for extorting money, at the petty sessions, Shepton-Mallet, on Wednesday last.

It seems that Mrs. Bathe applied to the witch to have her assistance in breaking the spell of another witch upon her husband, who lately has been very unfortunate in his undertakings.


Mashman agreed to charm away the spell, and as a remuneration she obtained a coup of onions, a great portion of the woman's clothes, and a large sum of money; indeed, she was in the habit of paying the credulous Mrs. Bathe a visit whenever she wanted any of the above articles, which was pretty frequently.

Mrs. Bathe one day, needing the witch's advice on some point, paid her a visit, and at the end of the conversation had a small box given her, with strict injunctions not to open or show it to any one but her husband.  Shortly after her coming into possession of the box she became very ill, and believed herself under the influence of the witch's craft, and the little box was considered the cause of illness.


At this point two "wis acres," respectable farmers, were consulted about the box, but on being told that the witch had averred the house would be blown up on its being opened, they declined doing it; and a man named Rood was sent for, who declared his readiness to open the enchanted box though the devil himself was there.

The box was opened, and sure enough the devil's portrait, by Mashman, in colours, was found inside, together with a verse of scripture written backwards, and some toads' legs.

The discovery led to the taking up of Mrs. Mashman, and it being proved she had obtained money, &c., by unlawful means, she was committed to the Shepton-Mallet house of correction for six weeks.


In the same woman's house, on it being searched a few weeks ago, Police-Constable Emery stepped on a loose stone, and on its removal discovered a crock containing several toads.

It is probable the practice has been handed down from the days of Shakespere of preserving under a stone, as in Macbeth: -

Toad that, under coldest stone, Days and nights hath thirty-one Sweltering venom sleeping got.

- Bristol Advertiser.





~ May 1862


Ruth Marshman was charged with being a rogue and a vagabond, and pretending to tell fortunes.  She was convicted and sentenced with two months' imprisonment, with hard labour.



From the newspaper, Wells Journal - Saturday 10 May 1862:




- An old woman, named Ruth Marshman, who has previously been in gaol for pretending to practice the "black art", was brought before E. H. Dickinson and John Hippisley, jun., Esqrs., at the magistrates' office, on Friday last, charged with being a rogue and a vagabond, and pretending to tell fortunes.

The only witness was a well-dressed young woman, named Priscilla Taylor, who said the prisoner met her one day and told her she had something to say to her.  As she could not stop then, she went to Marshman's house some time afterwards, when she told her she could get a young man with a fortune for her, and that they would be married on the following Saturday.


For this purpose she obtained 1s. 10d. and some articles from the girl, to work the "charm".  The prophecy not coming to pass, Priscilla gave information to the police.

The magistrates, sentenced the accused to two months' imprisonment, with hard labour.





This case was written by Owen Davies in his book.  He found the deposition of Pricilla Taylor of the case.



From the book, A People Bewitched: Witchcraft and Magic in Nineteenth-Century Somerset:


Page ? - ? (for some reason the page numbers are not shown)


"Cunning-folk were clever at building up the expectations of young female clients with their promises, and milking them of their money or property by pretending to slowly work spells over their future husbands.


This process is well illustrated by the experience of Pricilla Taylor, a single young woman, about twenty years of age, who lived in the Market Place, Shepton Mallet.  The following is her own account of her dealings with the cunning-woman Ruth Marshman, as deposed at Shepton Mallet magistrates' office in May 1862:


On the afternoon of the 20th January last, the prisoner met me in the street, and said she wanted to speak to me; I don't remember ever speaking to her before myself; I then told her I couldn't stop, and she asked me to go and see her, telling me where she lived; I said perhaps I might;


about a month afterwards I was coming home from Wells, when I called to see what she wanted of me; she brought forward some cards, and said she knew young people were fond of meddling with such things; I laughed, and she began to tell me different things; she said she saw by the cards there was a young man who wanted me then, but I was not to have anything to do with him, for she would get a young man with a fortune, whom I had never seen or heard of; that was on Monday, and she said she would get it all done, and we should be married by the next Saturday;


she also said I should enjoy better health than ever I had before; she asked me for 6d, and I gave it to her; I said to her "Do you really think there are such things?" - that was, what she had been telling me she could do; she replied, "Bless the child! I have turned many servants out of their situation and put others in," and said she had brought a Mr. Brown and his wife together; I asked her what the charge was to be for all this, and she told me 1s; but if I had no money she would take something the worth of 1s; I told her I didn't like to let my things go, and I would consider it;


I then went home, but before I had been there a quarter of an hour the prisoner came and asked me if I had made up my mind; I told her I did not know; I hadn't thought of it; she said I had no heart upon it, but I again told her I would consider it, and that I thought it was rather presumptuous work; she said, "Nonsense, girl! There's no time like the present", she also said I needn't be afraid, as it would be all right;


there was a shawl lying across the table, and I said she might have that; she took the shawl, but the young man never came, and I waited so long that I became uneasy about it, and went to her; she said the shawl was all right; she was working over it, and I must not move it, or the charm would be broken;

I afterwards found the shawl had been pawned, but on going and asking her for the pawn-ticket she said if I move the shawl I must give her something else to work upon, or the spell would be broken; she said I must cross my hand with a shilling, and I did so; she took the shilling and spat upon it, and said she could put the charm on again now; she then let me have the duplicate, and I redeemed the shawl;


She came to me some time afterwards, and said she must have something more to keep the charm on, and I let her have a dress; at other times I gave her a mantle, a piece of print, and 4d., because she said what she had was not enough to work with; I let her have all this to get the young man, but he never came.

After hearing Taylor's evidence a lengthy consultation ensued between the presiding magistrates, E. H. Dickenson and John Hipisley.  They finally decided on sending Marshman to gaol for two months with hard labour."






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Very interesting stuff, especially the parts about the toads.  It makes me wonder whether she got results other times considering her apparent stock of ingredients.  If so sounds like she got nailed due to failure to get results rather than just practicing.

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She sounds like a gypsy type.More faggin like then a witch but she must have known that if she played people she would have been in trouble. I agree with Aloe tho very interesting.

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Interesting !  Seems to me she was quite the conniver, yet Marshman did use " Personal Tag-locks " for her *charms*, yet Ms. Taylor was so daft as to keep giving them to Marshman.   What's that old saying.... " Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me " ? 



Thanks for sharing stories like this, you put in a lot of effort and time in doing so, I appreciate this.





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