Superstition was rife in Peak District villages during the late 17th century. Here in Wincle, when local man Robert Hall died and the cause of death wasn’t obvious, people were quick to blame Mary Bagueley of Wildboarclough, three miles from Robert’s cottage. Mary seemed to have an unusual affinity for the frogs that lived in the stream outside her cottage in Wildboarclough because she spent a good deal of time in their company; and there was rumoured to be bad blood between her and Robert, though she was known to have visited him three or four times in the days and weeks before he died.
Mary was arrested by the parish constables and taken before the Assize at Chester. The case hinged on the little elm-wood box of dried herbs that Mary admitted to having left in Robert’s cottage. The herbalist summoned as witness couldn’t identify them, and Mary knew them by unfamiliar names. It was enough to prove that Mary was a witch. The verdict was inevitable. On the sixteenth of October 1675, Mary was convicted of killing Robert Hall of Wincle by magic, and on the following morning she was hanged.
One example of a superstition that survived in Wincle for many years concerned broken windows. To stop malicious fairies entering the house, the residents placed cobwebs across the gaps. But accusing and convicting witches was something of a national pastime during the 17th century. It wasn’t unique to the Peak District.
Two women from Rainow (not very far from Wildboarclough), Ellen Beech and Anne Osboston, were hanged after the 1656 Michaelmas Assizes at Chester for practising “certain arts from which wicked and devilish acts certain people of Rainow fell ill and died”. But not all people accused of witchcraft were found guilty. Elizabeth Johnson “of Ranowe” was also sent to trial at the same time, but she was acquitted because the evidence against her was deemed insufficient.