Jump to content


This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.


Ellen Hayward, 1906, last witchcraft trial in Gloucestershire

Recommended Posts


Ellen Hayward - Witch or Herbalist? The last woman to be charged with witchcraft in Gloucestershire


Parliamentary Questions

MR. MACVEAGH (Down, S.) I beg to ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether his attention has been called to the practice of witchcraft at May Hill and other parts of Gloucester; whether he is aware that, in the case of a family named Markey, four members last week lost their reason and one attempted to commit suicide at a place called Blakeley, as a result of these practices; and whether, in view of the alarm in the locality, he can state what action will be taken by the authorities to suppress witchcraft.

MR. AKERS-DOUGLAS I have made inquiry into this very curious case. I find that Markey and his wife consulted a supposed witch about some money which they believed to have been stolen, and that subsequently three members of the family became insane, while the wife left the house and remained concealed in a wood for nearly four days. If sufficient evidence is forthcoming to justify a prosecution, proceedings will be taken by the local police against the woman who was consulted. Hansard : 31st May 1905

She was known throughout the Forest as Old Ellen, and famed as a healer and "wise woman"


Ellen Hayward was born at Arlingham, a village across the River Severn and opposite Newnham, in 1839, the daughter of Charles and Mary Ann Hayward. Her home was at Pembroke Road, Cinderford.



As a herbalist she used potions to cure ailments and dress sores of both animals and human beings. Her herbs were gathered by moonlight and dried across the rafters in her cottage. She would cure forestry men, whose only protection against the elements was often only a sack split open and tied round them, of their chronic rheumatism. Farmers from Hereford used to ride over in their gigs seeking her help.


She was known to treat free of charge servant girls from Cheltenham, who suffered from housemaid's knee after washing stone corridors every day, free of charge. She normally charged no fees for her help and advice but simply accepted what her customers offered her. She also called herself a phrenologist. Phrenology is the science which studies the relationship between a person's character and the morphology of their skull. She appears to have been liked and respected by Forest of Dean residents. When sent for to treat a woman with a serious varicose ulcer in Mitcheldean her first action when entering the bedroom was to throw open the window and instruct the patient to keep it open. She cured the ulcer but would not let any man see what she was doing.


She had come to national attention in May 1905. Ellen was at that time visited by John Markey of May Hill who was worried that £50 had disappeared from a drawer in his house. Ellen advised him to go home and rest as she felt that he was unwell.

Within a week of this visit, three members of the Markey family had become violently insane. A daughter and granddaughter had to be taken to an asylum and his wife disappeared. After days of searching, she simply reappeared holding a hazel stick which, she claimed, was to protect against witches. Her son George, who had been involved in the search for his mother, then became violent and managed to impale his eye with a spike. After this 'bootless and hatless' he ran away and had to be detained by the police. He was later certified as insane.


In the villages of May Hill and Huntley people started carrying hazel sticks around as tales of what had happened to the Markey's spread. The newspapers got hold of the story which then spread nationally. Questions were even asked in Parliament as to what action the authorities were going to take to suppress witchcraft. In the midst of all this furor a letter was published in the Dean Forest Mercury in which Ellen denied pretending to be a witch but accepted that she was well known as a phrenologist. This letter, written either by Ellen herself or, more likely, on her behalf went on to explain that this "cruel attack" by the papers had left her unable to make a living and asked readers to send donations. The house in which the Markeys lived, now called 'Counties View', still stands in Folly lane.

In May 1906 Ellen Hayward (67) was summoned at Littledean Petty Sessions, Forest of Dean, for using, between November 21, 1905, and March 1, 1906, "certain craft, or means, or device, to wit, by pretending witchcraft, to deceive or impose upon one of his Majesty's subjects, to wit, James Davis."

The prosecutor was Sergeant William Packer of Cinderford police. Our photo below shows him after his promotion to Inspector in 1909. The son of a farm labourer, he was born at Southrop,Gloucestershire in 1860. He joined the Gloucestershire constabulary in 1878 and after serving as a sergeant at Painswick and Stroud was posted to Cinderford around 1903. Inspector Packer retired in 1919 after serving for 41 years. He died in 1929 and was buried at Cinderford's St. John's Churchyard, the same cemetery as Ellen Hayward.

Since 1854, Littledean gaol had been used as a police station and remand prison. In 1874 the east wing was remodelled as the Forest's petty sessional court.

The Dean Forest Guardian reported on May 21st 1906 - "The old lady, attired in black, with a big warm muffler round her neck, and carrying a large handbag, was accommodated with a seat. She pleaded not guilty."

James Davis, a 66 year old hurdle (fence) maker from Pauntley, Redmarley, had purchased a store pig at Newent Market for two guineas in September 1905. It was delivered to him on Gloucester's Barton Fair day. The pig was OK for three weeks and then was taken ill. He felt that someone had a spite against him, suspecting a neighbour, Mrs Amos, of putting a charm on it. He had not seen her on his premises or spoken to her for ten years but thought she was often around there. Davis had two store pigs suffer in a similar way a year earlier and also two cows had been sick."


For more, http://www.deanweb.info/history7.html


(It's at the bottom)

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

  • Create New...