Oakley Village

Witch Testing

Information detailed on this page is courtesy of the Bedfordshire Borough Council and / or the Heritage Gateway

Please note that you may find the content of this article disturbing.

The following is quoted from W. C. Sydney’s England and the English in the Eighteenth Century, vol. I., pages 282-284: -

In 1735 a married woman upwards of sixty years of age, who resided in the village of Oakley about three miles from Bedford, underwent the two ordinary popular modes of trying persons suspected of practising witchcraft.

Having long lain under an imputation of witchcraft, the wretched woman at last, through anxiety not only for herself but her children to be cleared of it, consented to be ducked. The spot selected for her trial by the parish officers was by a mill on the banks of the Ouse.

A concourse of people assembled, and on the woman presenting herself, she was tied up in a wet sheet. Her face was left uncovered, her feet and hands were tied together, and a rope was fastened round her body. As pins were supposed to prevent a witch from swimming, her person was searched for them. None being discovered, the woman was lifted up and thrown into the river, where the malignant vigilance of the bystanders was gratified in beholding that she floated, though her head was all the while under water. Seeing this, the spectators instantly jumped to the conclusion that she was a witch and a cry arose of “A witch! Drown her! Hang her!” After remaining in the water for a few minutes, the woman was pulled out more dead than alive. As soon as she had recovered her breath, she was a second time placed in the river, and was again seen to float, which the ignorant multitude considered an infallible proof pf her guilt.

A little later she was hauled out of the water and laid down upon the grassy bank, speechless and in a dying condition. This, so far from exciting the pity or compassion of the bystanders, moved them one and all only to load her with abuse and reproach.

Before long, however, she regained consciousness, but as her persecutors were far from satisfied, they proposed to try her by another experiment, that of weighing her against the big Bible of the parish church; under the impression that, if really guilty, it would be impossible for her to outweigh it, as the Bible was undoubtedly the word of God, and consequently would prevail against the works of the devil. The question being carried, the wretched woman was weighed against the Bible of Oakley Church, which weighed about twelve pounds, with the result that she outweighed it. This convinced some of the spectators, and staggered others, but the parson of the parish went away firmly convinced that his unfortunate parishioner was a witch, and endeavoured to impress others with the same belief.

This shameful outrage, be it noted, was perpetrated in a village about fifty-three miles from the capital in 1735.