The Last Witch Hunt

Information Taken From The Account At The Queen’s Head, Long Marston Regarding The Last Witch Hunt. In 1751 a woman was murdered in an atrociously cruel fashion by an enraged mob at Long Marston near Tring. THOMAS COLLEY the ringleader was hanged for it afterwards, but there were many who thought it hard that a man should be executed for ridding the district of a malicious witch.

A Publican named BUTTERFIELD declared that an old couple, JOHN and RUTH OSBORNE, had put a spell upon him. Mrs. Osborne had called at his house during the anxious time when Prince Charles Edward was marching southwards.) She asked him for buttermilk and he refused, saying he had not enough for his hogs. Whereupon she retorted that the Pretender would get him and his hogs as well.

Butterfield seems to have taken this as a sort of curse laid upon him. Soon afterwards his calves became ill, and a little later the fits from which he had suffered in his youth returned. In the course of many impassioned discussions in the inn, people were made to believe that the Osbornes were witches. It was decided to “swim the pair”, and Butterfield arranged for the town criers of Winslow, Leighton Buzzard, and Hemel Hempstead to announce it publicly in those towns. On the appointed day a huge crowd gathered to watch the proceedings.

The Osbornes, both over seventy, were hurried from the workhouse where they had lived and hidden in the church for safety. But the angry mob threatened to set fire to the workhouse and duck the master instead if they were not given up.

To the lasting shame of all concerned, the wretched pair were handed over to the mob, dragged two miles to the water at Long Marston, stripped and thrown in with their hands and feet tied.

Ruth Osborne floated at first, and Thomas Colley ran into the water to thrust her down with a stick. When she was at last drawn out her mouth and nose choked with mud, she was already dead or dying. Her husband died later from his injuries.

The polite world of the eighteenth century was greatly shocked by this outbreak of primitive savagery in peaceful Hertfordshire. Thomas Colley was executed in the following August; his body was hung in chains at Gubblecote Cross, Long Marston.

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  1. Unfortunately, this account in the Queens Head is wrong, it is based on an article written in The Gentlemens Magazine in 1751 and, in true journalistic fashion, contains a fundamental error.

    The Witch Hunt took place at Wilstone and the official documents of the Coroner’s Inquest which was held at The Half Moon still exist. My ancestor, Robert Gregory (1707-1775), who lived at Wilstone and was a chief constable of Dacorum Hundred at the time attempted, unsuccessfully, to stop the event and gave evidence at the Inquest.

    Ivor Gregory.

    Comment by Ivor Gregory — October 26, 2014 #

  2. Unfortunately, this account in the Queens Head is wrong, it is based on an article written in The Gentlemens Magazine in 1751 and, in true journalistic fashion, contains a fundamental error.

    The Witch Hunt took place at Wilstone and the official documents of the Coroner’s Inquest which was held at The Half Moon still exist. My ancestor, Robert Gregory (1707-1775), who lived at Wilstone and was a chief constable of Dacorum Hundred at the time attempted, unsuccessfully, to stop the event and gave evidence at the Inquest.

    Ivor Gregory.

    Comment by Ivor Gregory — December 10, 2014 #

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